White House press secretary Sean Spicer held the first on-camera press briefing of the month today, March 7. The most recent on-camera briefing had been held on February 27. Spicer hosted a number of smaller, off-camera press “gaggles” over the past week, which tend to be shorter in duration and more casual in nature. The 8-day gap between on-camera briefings is considered unusual. Spicer’s predecessor, Josh Earnest, held an on-camera briefing every 2.6 days, on average.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl noted the gap yesterday:
The last time @PressSec held an on-camera press briefing was a week ago today. The streak continues today pic.twitter.com/Acln3Rm7sc
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) March 6, 2017
A lot has happened since Spicer’s last on-camera briefing, from revelations that AG Jeff Sessions appeared to deliver false testimony to Congress about his meetings with Russia, to his boss’s accusations that former President Barack Obama without evidence ordered Trump’s phones to be tapped during the 2016 campaign.
The relationship between Spicer and the White House press corps also seems to be more tense than usual right now. According to Politico, the embattled Spicer told the press gaggle on Monday that Trump indeed has “sources” for his phone wiretapping claim. When CNN’s Sara Murray asked him who exactly those sources were, he went after her, saying: “Sara, you’re not on camera, you don’t need to jump in.” Will CNN be allowed to ask a question today? (Spoiler alert: Yes)
It will be interesting to see the mood in the room today with the cameras back on. Spicer surely hopes to field more questions about the GOP’s new healthcare plan, and fewer regarding his boss’s unfounded wiretapping claims.
Spicer kicked off the briefing at around 1:35 p.m. ET by addressing the increase in anti-Semitic attacks across the country, reiterating that the White House will continue to condemn the attacks.
A couple minutes later, Spicer turned it over to Tom Price, the new secretary of Health and Human Services, who spoke at length (and took many questions) about the GOP’s new healthcare plan. HHS Sec. Price hammered home that the plan is “patient-centered healthcare.” (he likes to call it “Patient care,” not necessarily “Trump care”). Dr. Price was at the podium for about 25 minutes.
An administration seemingly in love with props and visuals, Spicer had two stacks of paper placed on a table next to the podium. One was a copy of the ACA and the other the new GOP healthcare replacement bill. The GOP bill was smaller of the two stacks.
After Price’s 25-minute appearance, Spicer fielded questions for about 40 minutes.
Perhaps the aforementioned tweet got Spicer’s attention, because question No. 1 went to Karl. Yes, it was about Pres. Trump’s unfounded wiretapping accusations.
“It has been a full 3 days since Pres. Trump said that Pres. Obama had his wires tapped at Trump Tower. In those 3 days, has he come up with any evidence to prove that allegation?,” asked Karl.
Spicer: “I have addressed this multiple times already. We put out a statement yesterday which said we have no further comment, and we are asking the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to look into this concern and report back, and into other classified leaks.”
Karl continued to press the issue: “Can’t the president just ask the FBI Director? Has he asked him?”
“No, the president has not and we’ve gone back and forth there’s clearly a role that Congress can take,” said Spicer. “They made it very clear they have the staff, resources and the process, that’s the appropriate place for this to handle. If we were to get involved you would then write stories how we were getting involved and it’s a no-win situation. The smartest way is to ask the House, Senate intelligence committees to look into this and into other leaked classified information.”
Karl’s next follow up: “Do you personally believe the President Obama ordered this?”
Spicer’s response: “My job is to represent the president and talk about what he’s doing and what he wants and he’s made very clear what his goal is, what he would like to have happen. I’ll leave it at that. We have tried to play this game before. I‘m not here to speak for myself. I‘m here to speak for the President of the United States and our government.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta followed up on the wiretapping accusations later in the briefing. “Where is the evidence, where is the proof that Pres. Obama bugged Pres. Trump?” He continued: “Will the president withdraw the accusation…are there no regrets?”
New York Times’ Glenn Thrush also followed up on the subject: “Have you seen any evidence yourself, has the evidence been shared with you or other members, senior members of the president’s staff as to why he made this particular accusation?”
NBC News’ Hallie Jackson also asked about the wiretapping accusations: “…trying to get clarity, you said that the president stands by his tweets Saturday morning, that President Obama ordered this wiretap. You said he found out this information, and he wants congress to investigate. Bottom line, why would the president want congress to investigate for information he hard has?”
Spicer gave a similar response he originally gave to Karl, stressing that the president won’t walk back his statements, and that he wants to allow the Senate and House to investigate this and other leaks from the government.