White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters held a press gaggle on Air Force One en route to Ohio:
MS. WALTERS: So, as you know, we are headed to Richfield, Ohio, where the President will deliver remarks on his infrastructure initiative before an audience of local workers. Following on the great success of tax cuts and reform, and alongside his administration’s sustained regulatory reform efforts, infrastructure is the next piece of the President’s economic agenda.
Yesterday, the Council of Economic Advisers released a report that shows the President’s plan could add between 0.1 and 0.2 percentage points to the average real GDP growth every year for 10 years, and that the plan would likely result in the employment of 290,000 to 114,000 additional infrastructure workers over a 10-year window.
These jobs would particularly benefit workers who have a high school degree or less, and tend to be better paid than other occupations. The audience of over 400 workers that will be in attendance at today’s speech represent all of the hardworking Americans across the country who will participate in the rebuilding of our nation’s infrastructure led by the President’s vision.
The venue is a training site for many members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18, which is a local, diversified union representing heavy equipment operators, mechanics, and surveyors in the construction industry, and also stationary engineers who work in operations and maintenance in building and industrial complexes.
In addition to being the home of these tremendous workers, Ohio is also a state that is already working to achieve a goal of the President’s infrastructure initiative: returning power to the state and local governments that are better suited to make decisions for their communities.
The state of Ohio has signed an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration that allows the Ohio Department of Transportation to assume some of the responsibilities for environmental review, consultation, and other actions for infrastructure projects. Since then, the state has successfully progressed a project, the I-71 and the US 36 Interchange Modification Improvement Project, through the environmental review process.
And with that, I’m going to take your questions. I’ll take a few questions, and then I’m going to let my colleague give you a deeper dive into the President’s infrastructure initiative, as well as take infrastructure questions.
Q Is the President planning any specific initiatives to rein in Amazon?
MS. WALTERS: You heard the President speak this morning on his displeasure regarding Amazon. He has made it clear that his concerns — you know, some users of Amazon are not paying state sales taxes, which is putting many brick and mortar retailers out of business.
Q Lindsay, the President said a couple of weeks ago that he was getting “very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.” With the departure of Secretary of State Tillerson and now VA Secretary Shulkin, is he there? Does he have the Cabinet that he wants?
MS. WALTERS: I haven’t had that conversation with the President. As you saw last night, there was an additional change, and I’ll have to get back to you on that further.
Q Our reporting shows that Amazon customers do pay sales tax in every state that has a sales tax. So why the focus on Amazon?
MS. WALTERS: Again, the President has made it clear, before, his concerns regarding online retailers versus brick and mortar retailers and the taxes. As I said earlier, some of the users are not paying sales tax — third-party vendors in that situation.
Q How do you explain his argument that Amazon is hurting the U.S. Postal Service when other — you know, a lot of experts would argue it’s actually helping the U.S. Postal Service because they ship so many packages and keep the Postal Service in business.
MS. WALTERS: The President has expressed his concerns with Amazon. We have no actions at this time.
Q But he specifically talked about the U.S. Postal Service in his tweet this morning. So what did he mean by that? What are the facts?
MS. WALTERS: (Inaudible) — don’t have anything further to add.
Q Dr. Jackson — obviously, he’s had a distinguished medical career, but has he at any point had an executive, sort of, leadership position over — he’s going to be leading the second largest federal agency — or federal department in the government. He doesn’t seem to have, sort of, experience with some of the bigger questions about insurance and privatization. And also, should we interpret that selection as a signal that the President wants to see a greater privatization of the VA?
MS. WALTERS: Admiral Jackson is a distinguished physician who has bipartisan respect. He knows what the care soldiers need on the battlefield and what they’ll need when they come home as veterans. The status quo has clearly failed, and we need somebody who understands healthcare. The President has full confidence in his pick in Admiral Jackson and trusts his abilities, and believes he will be able to give our veterans the care they deserve.
And, no, there is no intent at this point to privatize the VA.
Q Who’s replacing Dr. Jackson as the White House Physician and head of the medical unit?
MS. WALTERS: Dr. Jackson and his team are currently still serving the President as the head of the medical unit. He will be up until his transition for his confirmation, at which point we will let you know.
Q And Hope’s last day was today. Can you just tell us a little bit about what her actual biggest achievements were in this White House? Like what — I mean, I know that people know — you know, he trusts Hope, he relies on Hope, she translates for him to the rest of the staff. But what did she actually — like what were her biggest aims in her job? Like what did she do?
MS. WALTERS: Hope is a tremendous leader for the team. She’s someone who’s been with the President since the early days; one of the longest standing advisors who has been by the President’s side. She was part of a team that was very small in the campaign that to led to the President — and ultimately winning the American vote and becoming the President.
And since being in the administration, she has provided countless amounts of advice, has worked with all of you day in and day out. And I think you can all attest to the wonderful job that she has done in her different roles and her latest one as Communications Director at the White House.
Q Will Dr. Jackson have to retire in order to become — to lead a Cabinet department? Do you know if he’ll have to retire from the military in order to do that?
MS. WALTERS: Yes, he’ll have to retire upon being named Secretary of the VA.
Q Secretary Shulkin today, in an op-ed, fought back against the situation where he was let go. And he came off kind of as a victim; he tried to paint himself as a victim. Has the President seen the op-ed or have an opinion about Shulkin trying to recast why he was fired?
MS. WALTERS: I have not asked the President if he’s seen the op-ed.
Q Two more questions. One on Admiral Jackson. Yeah, on Admiral Jackson. As Justin was getting at, he seems to have no apparent management experience. And I’m wondering what convinced the President that he had the chops to lead the second largest agency in the government. There are 360,000 employees of the VA; it has a sprawling network, as you know, around the country; and has been plagued by mismanagement for years predating this administration. And what in Jackson’s background convinced the President that he could manage the agency?
MS. WALTERS: As I said earlier, the President has full confidence in Admiral Jackson. The President did have several individuals that he was looking at, but continuously went back to Dr. Jackson to fulfill this role as VA Secretary, and ultimately decided that his healthcare experience, his distinguished career in the medical profession was something that would be beneficial at the VA. And at the end of the day, as I said earlier, the status quo was not working. We need somebody who understands the healthcare system.
Q Is Ronny going to be —
Q Sorry, Phil, did you have another one?
MS. WALTERS: Second question, Phil.
Q The second one was on — just on Stormy Daniels. When can we expect the President to address the American people and clear up, you know, some of the allegations that she’s raised, that her attorney has raised? He’s not spoke on this subject in months, really. I don’t think he’s addressed it all since 2016.
MS. WALTERS: So the President has spoken about it previously. Sarah has addressed this multiple times from the podium. And we do not have any further comment at this time.
Q Is Dr. Jackson going to make the rounds up in the Senate to get more acquainted with the people up there?
MS. WALTERS: Admiral Jackson will follow standard protocol for the nomination process of becoming a Cabinet Secretary. He will be working with the team to ensure that he is going through the standard rounds of meeting with members on the Hill, as well as the necessary — other necessary protocols in becoming a Secretary.
Q Could you talk a little bit — what’s the President going to be doing all weekend? What should we expect?
MS. WALTERS: Well, today we are focused on going to Ohio where he’s going to roll out his infrastructure initiative, which is the perfect time to let my colleague here, since we are near landing, give you a little bit more insight into the President’s initiative.
Q Can I just ask one quick about the —
MS. WALTERS: One question —
Q Yeah, about Administrator Pruitt. ABC was reporting today that he lived in an apartment that was owned by the wife of a lobbyist who has got a number of clients that do business with the EPA. I’m wondering if the administration feels confident that he was paying, sort of, the market rate for that apartment. And secondly, if there were any general concerns about the fact that he’s living in an apartment that is tied to a lobbyist that has business before the EPA.
MS. WALTERS: At this point, I would refer you back to the EPA.
With that —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you.
MS. WALTERS: And just to clarify, we are going to do this portion on background as a senior administration official. So just to be clear that my colleague will be a senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, Lindsay. Do you have any questions about what we’re doing today? Or —
Q Is he making any new proposals today, or is he just sort of selling his infrastructure program?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, as you all are familiar, on February 12th, he released a very detailed plan to Congress. This is part of the drumbeat of explaining to the public the benefits of the plan. Obviously, today’s focus is going to be on workers and what this plan will do for the American workers.
Q Any significance in it being in Ohio, which is usually a key swing state in elections?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, Ohio is just a good, strong Midwestern state. And the facility we’re going to is a facility that was built by the operating engineers. So they used their workers there to do this. And it feeds into a component of our infrastructure proposal, which is workforce.
So obviously, a key part of what the President wants to accomplish is not only having $1.5 trillion of new investment going to infrastructure, shortening the streamlining process from 10 years to 2 years, and investing in rural America. But a big component is making sure that American workers are trained and ready to go when these projects start getting built.
Q Will Governor Kasich be attending the event?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I do not know if Governor Kasich will be there or not.
Q What is the status of the infrastructure proposal on Capitol Hill? I’ve seen it described as stalled. Is it stalled? Is it going to go anywhere this year? Or what’s the state of play?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is a great question. So, because we always get the question of, “Wait a minute, it’s not in the form or not moving fast or it’s moving too slow” — it’s moving as we expected, which is, we have a large proposal — unlike tax reform where the Ways and Means Committee and the Finance Committee — so basically two committees focused on it.
With infrastructure, we have several committees on both sides of the Capitol. They’re going to be working on this proposal. There are a number of pieces of it that are moving. Some of it in the omni — was included in the omnibus. So what we’re going to do is, watch as Congress moves different pieces or parts of this legislative package — is help move all of those and get the President’s mission accomplished through that.
What we don’t want to do is hold and wait for everything to try to move one big chunk. It makes much more sense for, as Congress is passing legislation, for us to tack on things that the President cares about as part of those pieces of legislation.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, guys.