Spicer hits back at Obama: Obamacare is dead

Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday disagreed with former President Barack Obama’s statements on the new Republican health care bill, saying Obama’s signature legislation is "dead."

Obama expressed disapproval Thursday of the bill on social media, saying it has a “fundamental meanness at the core of the legislation” and urged Senators to heavily consider the repercussions of the bill beyond partisan lines.

“The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill,” Obama wrote in his op-ed style post. “It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else.”

However, Spicer said the new bill benefits all Americans, since Obamacare was not doing what it proposed to do. Spicer also emphasized how the bill emulated Trump’s goals of making healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone, which was a large grievance for those who advocated against Obamacare.

“I don’t know how it’s mean to provide people healthcare, and that’s what we’re doing here,” Spicer said Friday morning on Fox News. “The real meanness is allowing the American people to believe that Obamacare is still alive.”

Spicer said Obamacare is not an option for Americans anymore.

“Obamacare has died – it is over – it is in need of its own healthcare,” Spicer quipped. “Luckily, we are coming to the rescue on that.”

House to vote on illegal immigration bills next week

House Republicans are preparing to take up a pair of bills next week that crack down on illegal immigration, according to leadership sources, in a bid to carry out President Donald Trump’s promise of tougher enforcement.

One of the bills to see a floor vote, dubbed Kate’s Law, boosts penalties for immigrants who try to reenter the United States after being deported. It is named after Kate Steinle, a young woman who was shot and killed in San Francisco by an immigrant who had been deported repeatedly yet returned. Trump frequently discussed the killing on the campaign trail last year.

The second is legislation that goes after so-called sanctuary cities — localities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, including by refusing to hold an immigrant in jail longer just so federal officials can pick him or her up to be deported. Sanctuary cities, usually liberal jurisdictions such as New York City, have also been a major Trump target.

The "No Sanctuaries for Criminals Act" would toughen penalties for sanctuary cities in multiple ways. For example, it would require that cities and counties comply with orders from federal immigration officials, such as "detainers" that keep immigrants in jail so they can be picked up for deportation. It would also bar Homeland Security and Justice Department grants from sanctuary cities that don’t comply.

The legislation, written by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), also expands mandatory detention policies to cover immigrants with drunken driving violations and those who have had their visa revoked.

The GOP’s trillion dollar tax problem

Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration, under pressure to deliver on what they hope will be the crown jewel of their economic agenda, appear close to formally jettisoning the controversial border tax proposed by House Republicans while still presenting a plan in two months that would include permanent changes to the tax code.

But whether they can dump the border tax — which would hit imports but not exports — and still meet the ambitious goals set out by President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan remains a daunting challenge. Ryan and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady were counting on the tax, formally called a "border adjustment," to raise more than $1 trillion to fund rate cuts without swelling the deficit.

Negotiators at this point want to deliver or at least get close to Trump’s proposed corporate tax rate of 15 percent, which is contrary to outside analysts who expect the rate will have to settle significantly higher. (The corporate rate is currently 35 percent.)

If the White House gets its way and kills the 20 percent tax on corporate imports proposed by Ryan and Brady, analysts say they’ll almost certainly have to aim higher on corporate rates — more in the 25 to 28 percent range, which means companies could still be enticed by lower tax rates in other countries.

That would minimize the impact of tax reform, a reason why, despite vocal critics both in and outside government, some version of the border adjustment remains part of the discussion.

Asked how they could kill the border tax, push down rates significantly and still have the proposal not add to the deficit over ten years, one senior congressional source close to the matter said: "Very, very carefully."

A senior administration official working on tax reform said while the border tax will not be part of any final plan, negotiators are working on ways to raise revenue and reduce erosion of the U.S. tax base. This person expressed confidence a deal would be reached by September. The biggest question, the official said, is whether Congress can agree on a budget resolution that would set the stage for passing tax reform this year.

When asked whether border adjustment, which he recently offered to phase-in over five years, is dead, Brady said, “We’ve invited solutions forward, whether from the Senate or the White House, and we’re working together on this. We’ve got to solve this problem” of businesses parking revenue overseas “to do tax reform effectively in the 21st century.”

Jettisoning border adjustment could also mean not going to full, immediate deduction (or "expensing") of large purchases for small businesses, a key benefit House Republicans have promised. Without border adjustment the budgetary price tag attached to expensing, which some economists argue would be more beneficial to growth than lower corporate rates, would be too high to keep it from adding to the debt.

The White House’s current public position is that tax cuts will pay for themselves through economic growth, though the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which helps run the economic and budgetary modeling of whether legislation meets the legal requirements for a budgetary maneuver Republicans need to use to pass reform, has warned that isn’t the case.

Though the administration knows everything has to go through Ryan, Brady and House Republican leadership, White House officials and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have begun meeting directly with other members of the House on tax reform.

On Wednesday, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chair of the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus, met with White House officials on the subject. Meadows is closer to the administration’s position of cutting rates and jettisoning border adjustment, but said that regardless of what direction the principals land on, they have to get moving sooner rather than later.

“It’s important that we go ahead with the president’s tax reform plan and put it on the table and let’s debate that and make sure that we’re debating that in real terms by the end of July,” the North Carolina Republican said.

Meadows and his predecessor Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) are both vocal opponents of border adjustment, though Meadows acknowledged the caucus, which often leverages its votes with Republican leadership for changes to major legislation, is split on the provision.

“I think there are a number of our Freedom Caucus guys who are for border adjustment and some that are against,” Meadows said, a split that also reflects the differing opinions of economists, conservative groups and industries on the key part of the Ryan-Brady plan.

Also bending the ears of Republicans on tax reform are former Trump campaign economic advisers Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore, who favor tax cuts without offsets. Going down that path would mean tax cuts would have to be temporary under the budget rules Senate Republicans plan to use.

“Of course a permanent cut is better than a temporary cut. I’d love to see it done, but you can’t do it in two months,” Moore said, using the administration’s deadline for reform of the tax code.

The issue is a major sticking point for Ryan and Brady, who have insisted tax reform must be permanent to have the biggest economic boost. The White House initially seemed willing to just drop rates and move on, even if it meant the cuts could expire. But now senior officials say they believe rate cuts should be permanent.

As part of any final plan, the White House wants to move to a territorial tax system in which overseas income of U.S. companies is no longer taxed in the United States. “You can’t go to a territorial system for a few years and then switch back,” the senior administration official said. “So it has to be permanent.”

Whether a narrowing of the divide between House and Senate Republicans and the White House is possible in the next two months, as National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn has promised, remains to be seen. Lobbyists and congressional staff continue to see the end of the year as a more realistic goal, and a Senate Finance Committee Republican staffer recently pointed to the first quarter of 2018 as the likely end of a window to pass tax reform, given the difficulty of passing major legislation in an election year.

For the time being, the Ryan-Brady plan is the script everyone is working from.

Several senators are at work on a less ambitious alternative, using portions of the 2014 tax reform effort drafted by then-Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). But that plan, including some of the provisions they’re weighing, faced the same stiff opposition from parts of the business sector that border adjustment now faces. And senators working on it have yet to produce anything as concrete as the blueprint the House has used as its tax reform template for the last year.

The one-page document outlining highly ambitious tax goals that Cohn and Mnuchin presented this spring was met with skepticism by many House Republicans, even those opposing or on the fence about the Ryan-Brady plan. One House Republican leadership aide characterized it as barely worth the time it took to read.

Cohn and Mnuchin’s relative inexperience on the politics of tax reform, and the way Washington works, has also irked Republicans. In early meetings on Capitol Hill, Cohn said a carbon tax, value-added tax, and elimination of the mortgage interest deduction could all be on the table — all three political nonstarters.

Congressional Republicans and tax lobbyists also see a president who isn’t firmly engaged on the issue, in stark contrast to the public engagement Ronald Reagan used to gather momentum for the last comprehensive overhaul of the tax code, in 1986.

Even Moore acknowledged that Trump will have to up his engagement both to the public and to members of Congress if the effort is to get off the ground.

“Trump is going to have take the lead on this,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ryan will have to make sure he can summon enough Republican votes to approve a budget that the basic outlines of reform will be attached to. That puts more pressure on all of principals to agree on a path forward in July, when the House will aim to pass the budget.

Rattled by shooting, GOP lawmakers discuss beefing up security funding

House Republicans, still reeling from last week’s baseball field shooting that nearly killed Majority Whip Steve Scalise, are floating a sharp increase in spending to hire personal security and protect their homes and district offices from potential violent attacks.

In a closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference, Speaker Paul Ryan discussed beefing up members’ security budgets by as much as $25,000 apiece. Lawmakers exiting the meeting said the funds would likely help lawmakers hire personal protection, especially in districts where local police aren’t able to provide round-the-clock security. The funds could also be used to help members pay for alarms in their homes or panic buttons if they’re ever in physical danger.

In a tense political environment where physical threats are increasingly common, lawmakers say the funding is necessary to ensure their safety and peace of mind, especially when they’re away from the heavily-secured Capitol.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), who was among those who dodged bullets in last week’s attack, said lawmakers were discussing “whatever preemptive measures we can take.”

“I think this is a bipartisan issue,” he said.

Members also discussed obtaining a blanket waiver from the Federal Election Commission permitting members to use campaign funds for security while conducting political business as well. Members can obtain individual waivers now, but lawmakers are interested in securing a broader standing waiver that wouldn’t require them to individually seek FEC permission.

Loudermilk said current restrictions have left lawmakers hampered when it comes to spending on personal security, such as bulletproof glass for their offices.

W.H. Correspondents’ Association: We are not satisfied with off-camera briefings

White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said they are "not satisfied" with the White House putting a halt on their daily, on-camera briefings.

In an email to members of the association, Mason said he met with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to discuss the issues of the briefings. The White House has increasingly changed the daily briefings, either not having them on certain days, making them increasingly short, or hosting off-camera briefings, sometimes even not allowing the use of audio from the briefings.

"The WHCA’s position on this issue is clear: we believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions from an independent news media, in keeping with the principles of the First Amendment and the need for transparency at the highest levels of government," Mason wrote.

The White House has long signaled it would consider changing up the daily briefings and has already instituted some changes, such as incorporating "Skype Seats" to get questions from reporters and talk show hosts across the country.

"We’re going to do what we can to communicate our message," Spicer said at Tuesday’s briefing when asked about the frequency of press briefings. "The briefing is one aspect of what we do."

Taking the daily briefing off-camera is not a new idea. Former Press Secretary Mike McCurry, who served under President Bill Clinton, has publicly said he regrets being the first press secretary to put the briefing on camera. Now, he says, every reporter asks the same type of question just so they get the clip of themselves being tough on the press secretary. It all becomes just a show.

“The daily briefing has become less than helpful and I bear responsibility for that because I let it become a televised event. It should not be,” McCurry told POLITICO in November after the election. “It should be embargoed until completion and not carried ‘live’ except in unusual circumstances…like real news happening."

Several print reporters have made similar complaints in the past. Mason said in the email that while off-camera "gaggles" "can play an important role in informing the press and the public," they are "not a substitute for the open back-and-forth between reporters and administration officials that regular televised briefings allow."

The Trump White House briefings have become daily television moments. In the early days of the administration, Spicer’s briefings were attracting higher ratings than daytime soap operas and became regular fodder for skits for comedy shows like "Saturday Night Live." When they occur, they’re often still carried live by the cable networks. During Thursday’s audio-only briefing, CNN aired the entire briefing, putting up a photo of Sanders in place of video with chyrons later noting that the White House "Blocks Public From Viewing Daily Briefing."

"We are not satisfied with the current state-of-play, and we will work hard to change it," Mason wrote. "In the meantime, I have asked that reporters be able to use audio from all gaggles going forward. We will keep you posted as developments occur."

Trump on Comey tapes: ‘My story didn’t change’

After announcing Thursday that he did not have recordings of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey – recordings that weeks earlier he had suggested might exist – President Donald Trump said in an interview that aired Friday that “my story didn’t change.”

“I don’t have any tape and I didn’t tape,” Trump told Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” in an interview taped on Thursday, reiterating what he had announced earlier that day on Twitter. “My story didn’t change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth.”

The president fired Comey last month, a decision he later said he made with the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government’s effort to interfere in it weighing on his mind. Days after that firing, Trump wrote online that the fired director "better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

Comey, in subsequent testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that that tweet had prompted him to relay to the media the contents of his notes from meetings with the president in which Trump allegedly asked him to end the bureau’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

At the hearing, Comey said it had not occurred to him that tapes might exist until Trump raised the possibility. The former bureau director told the committee "Lordy, I hope there are tapes," publicly giving the president his blessing to release them if he did.

Until Thursday’s announcement from Trump, the White House had been unwilling to either confirm or deny the existence of recordings, leaving the question open for weeks.

Trump said his suggestion that tapes might exist kept Comey from lying about his interactions with the president.

"When he found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed," Trump said. "You’ll have to take a look at that, because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events… You’ll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed."

"So it was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings?" Fox News anchor Ainsley Earhardt followed up.

"Well, it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that. He was — he did admit that what I said was right. And if you look further back, before he heard about that, I think maybe he wasn’t admitting that," Trump said without specifying to which of Comey’s past statements he was alluding. "So you’ll have to do a little investigative reporting to determine that. But I don’t think it will be that hard."