tv MSNBC Live With Craig Melvin MSNBC April 11, 2017 10:00am-11:01am PDT
good afternoon. craig melvin live in washington, d.c., on another busy tuesday. happening right now, rex tillerson to russia, choose. a stern warning from the secretary of state as he lands in moscow. will russia respond to that ultimatum siding with the u.s. or syria? also, this afternoon, help wanted, hundreds of top white house jobs are still unfilled. why and what that means for achieving president trump's agenda. plus, big league effort, the president lending his voice to the effort to get kansas republicans to the polls for a special election today. will he help or hurt the cause? all of this as we wait on today's white house press briefing moments away which we will bring to you live when it happens. we start with secretary of state rex tillerson in moscow. the secretary landing there just a short time ago with one mission, help convince vladimir putin that its time for
syria's bashar al assad to go. >> i think it is clear to all of us that the reign of the assad family is coming to an end. i hope that what the russian government concludes is that they have aligned themselves with an unreliable partner. >> vladimir putin meanwhile, does not seem open to losing his key ally in that region. today, he raised the fake news flag, suggesting not only is syria being framed for the april 4th chemical weapons attack, but that future chemical weapons attacks could happen and also be wrongly blamed on assad. here to talk about all of that nbc's chief white house correspondent hallie jackson, chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell, again in moscow for these talks, and we have michael crawly, senior foreign affairs correspondent for politico and
"the washington post's" ann gearon with me in washington. let me start with you, because i understand you have new reporting on that syrian chemical attack. what can you tell us? >> senior white house officials spoke with reporters and walked through what they described as some newly declassified information to help frame what was characterized as essentially this narrative of russian disinformation to help obfuscate who was actually behind this attack. the white house, these officials, talking with us very clear that it was the syrian -- they believe all evidence points to the syrian regime here. some of the top headlines from the attack itself confirmation that's was sarin gas based on physiological samples, that's a new piece of information. there was a discussion of personnel who are known to be affiliated with the syrian chemical weapons program prior being seen at this air base, the one that president trump issued that strike on last week, in mid-march and then again on the day of the chemical weapons attack which is also new
information. there have been a lot of questions and a lot of questions reported out about the what russian partners, russian regime partners, partnering with the regime, new about this chemical weapons attack either before or after it happened and there was not -- the white house, i will tell you this, these officials walked up to the line but did not cross this. one of these officials said, essentially, that there was an operational calculus made by the syrian regime and perhaps its russian advisors about this attack and there was a very strong suggestion that the international community needs to now get involved. we heard a lot about that to essentially declare to bashar al assad and the syrian regime that chemical weapons are not to be tolerated and a call for the international community to look into where thesehemical weapons came from, w created them, how much there is left, if at all, or what else there is left inside syria. it's a lot of information we're still processing as we walked out of the briefing, craig, but some significant headlines
coming out of the white house today as it relates to the russian role and the russian involvement with bashar al assad. >> and one has to assume that this is something that we'll hear more about in a few minutes when sean spicer takes to the podium. want to talk to you about north korea in a moment but andrea, bring you into this conversation, the message that rex tillerson, that secretary of state, the message he is carrying to russian officials on this trip, what is it? >> well, it is that the very message that halle was saying, this was likely sarin gas, the evidence is untra vertble and he is saying what he said in italy earlier today before coming here, with the g7 ministers, is that russia needs to decide where they going to stand with assad and his chemical weapons use, a violation of every international norm and international law, it's a war crime, or is russia going to stand with the west?
interestingly, vladimir putin, had a news conference today and prebutted tillerson and the white house claims about the sarin gas and chemical attack by saying, you know, this sounds like 2003, when america was claiming that saddam hussein had wmd. so he is throwing that up against tillerson and trying to dismiss all of these charges, evenefore the white house put their evidence, declassified evidence, out today about two hours later. it's going to be a tough meeting with lavrov. lavrov is a tough customer and tillerson has been taking the hardest line of any of the u.s. officials, of any of the trump administration officials. it's very different from what vladimir putin certainly must have expected from donald trump, given all of the praise and the claims that, you know, there was nothing wrong with putin and the disclaimer from president trump not even accepting the argument
that russia had interfered with the u.s. election and tried to interfere with the u.s. election. tillerson's people have said to us he is going to raise those issues as well. so he is not contradicting the intelligence community conclusion about the election hacking either. so these could be very difficult meetings and it's unclear whether there will be a meeting with vladimir putin, certainly one was expected, it was never, quote, officially scheduled, so they could always say it was never put on the schedule, but if it does not happen it will be quite a slap in the face. >> andrea mitchell there in a very busy downtown moscow, ann, let me bring you into the conversation, a lot of russia watchers say if you want to get vladimir putin to do anything you need leverage of some sort. what leverage does this administration have regarding assad? well, less than they helped for going into the tillerson meeting. the united states had hoped to have a strong unified message coming from the g7 nations,
which was -- where tillerson just was in italy for two days prior to his meetings in moscow. he was meeting with the foreign ministers of other group of seven countries. he did not get that unified statement of support for the idea that those countries would act together to apply pressure to moscow to, in turn, apply pressure in syria, to back away interest assad, to rein in assad, to try to end the war. and so going in to these meetings, tillerson has -- does not have that weapon in his arsenal of a unified western front here. he also -- it's not clear how much leverage he has from their other strategy which is to essentially shame russianto backing away from assad. a lot of u.s. officials think that the russian leadership is
fed up with assad, would cut him loose if they could, may be looking for a reason to do so, and so what tillerson and others have been saying in the last couple days is, okay, russia, whose side do you want to be on? do you want to be on the side of the guy who lied to you, made you look like fools, after you said he had gotten rid of all his chemical weapons with your help, and by the way on the side of iran, sometimes not a friend to russia, and hezbollah, not a friend to russia, or do you want to be on the side of the united states, not always a friend to russia, and other countries that are trying to do the right thing and end the war. that's a very complicated argument to make, but it -- bottom lines as where do you want to be positioned. and that's essentially the argument he's got going in tomorrow. >> michael, jack reed, ranking democrat on the senate armed services committee, this is something he said on our air a short time ago. take a listen.
>> we don't seem ourselves the united states to have a plan or a strategy. the administration has been going very quickly from toleration it appears of assad to now rejection of assad. >> and there does seem to be a bit of a split inside the administration on just precisely how to deal with all of this. ambassador nikki haley talk regime change, tillerson say assad's fate is up to his people. what do we know aut this administration's position on the fu of syria and on the future of bashar al assad. >> it seems like they're still trying to figure it out. they do not seem to have adopted a policy of further american intervention to try to push assad out. nikki haley, her comments were interpreted that way from her appearances on the sunday talk shows. i don't think she was talking about an emerging american strategy where we, for instance, arm and train more syrian rebels to try to, you know, take
damascus. she seemed to be saying that the u.s. supports some kind of outcome of a larger process with assad no longer there. i think that goes back to the question you asked ann about what leverage rex tillerson has going into this meeting. you know, we can try to sort of name and shame the russians and embarrass them and say do you really want to be associated with this thug, but, you know, my sense is that the russians are not discriminating about who they sort of hang out with, so to speak, or consort with, and they want to be with the winner and unless the u.s. continues to intervene militarily and weaken assad's forces, he is on track to be the winner in syria and i think that's probably what matters most to vladimir putin and so that would be the leverage, the real leverage, tillerson could have. by the way, that john kerry always wanted in dealing with the russians was more credible american threat of force or even covert action or use of force to say to the russians we're
serious here. although we did the strike and i'm sure putin took notice of that and looking to see what else we do, at the moment i don't see evidence we're going to continue to use military action in syria and i think that would be where tillerson would have the real leverage and i don't think he's got a whole lot of it. the rhetoric is only going to get him so far. >> hey, hally, you've got to get to the briefing room here, but before you go, president trump sending a message to china and north korea. >> yeah. >> using twitter today. north korea apparently responding with their own threat as well. what can you tell us? >> threatening to go nuclear essentially, craig, as this situation, obviously, you're seeing tensions rising in the korean peninsula. the u.s. navy moving a strike force closer to the korean peninsula, a closer signal to knock it off and the president's tweets about this, a message not just to north korea but china. i'm not sure if we have them but essentially warning that hey, if china doesn't get on board we will as you see it here, solve the problem without them and then in a later tweet linking
trade talks with ina to their interactions and their involvement with north korea. so it is some messaging out of the trump white house but there are questions from people about hey, does this mean, you know, trade is now linked to our national security priorities when it comes to the korean peninsula? what do you do if china doesn't get on board with the trade negotiations as you want them to do? does that signal sort of more aggressive action toward north korea. so these are all questions that will be proposed to the president himself and to sean spicer in that press briefing in about 15 minutes from now. craig. >> we'll let you get inside and ann gearon, here's the thing a lot of concern not just in the korean peninsula there that north korea will launch a sixth nuclear test but all over the world, it's one thing to strike in syria, it's another thing entirely to threaten to strike inside north korea, knowing the potential repercussions that that might trigger. >> absolutely.
>> what can we glean so far about this administration's approach to how it's going to deal with that guy, kim jong -u? >> two things mainly, they're trying to ignore him. so the -- on the theory that what he wants most is to throw them off their game, to pursue a strategy that's worked for him in the past, at the start of american leadership, worked for previous north korean leaders in the kim dynasty to essentially force a new american administration into a corner where north korea's calling a t of the shots. they're trying not to lt that happen. this is a consequential week. this week in north korean history is the birthday of the -- >> his grandfather. >> exactly. >> and typically, around that, the country has something that is both a national celebration and an international provocation or show of force. so more or less expecting they will do something, a nuclear
test is clearly likely, but you don't hear a lot of american officials saying a lot about it, that is a concerted strategy. the other thing to try to apply leverage on china. many past american presidents have tried it unsuccessfully. trump is framing his conversations with president xi as productive on that front and leading it as a challenge to china. are you going to follow through or not. >> hey, michael, we heard yesterday from press secretary sean spicer, once again intimating that the united states is not going to be policeman of the world. we look at what's happening in syria, we look at the threats against north korea, what happened to america first? >> everybody's looking for it. you know, under the couch cushions and, you know, in the trunk of the car. i mean it seems to have vanished as far as it goes for foreign policy and it's really difficult to explain. i think, look, there are a
couple -- having said that there are a couple theories i would present. one is, you know, trump needed competent foreign policy professionals to run his national security apparatus. there's only so many people who can do that. you really can't find many people who are way out on really what was kind of a fringe position that he adopted in the campaign. you have people like h.r. mcmaster, general mattis, as defense secretary, and a lot of the other people who have come in around him to formulate policy are much more kind of mainstream, center right, establishment figures who i think are counseling him and sort of educating him. that's the other piece of this. trump is now getting daily briefings and intelligence briefings, learning a lot more about the world, discovering that things are happening on his watch, like the gassing of women and children, and suddenly people are turning to him and saying what are you going to do about it. it was easier to tweet criticisms of another president when in a tower in midtown
manhattan and never really engage with this stuff in any detail besides what you see on tv. the combination of the team coming in and trump having this education/accountability as president, has sort of drawn him into the foreign policy mainstream that frankly he really campaigned against. so the sort of foreign policy establishment is generally pretty happy about this but i would think a lot of his supporters, ones that thought he would usher in this dramatic break in american foreign policy must be feeling betrayed by him right now. >> we'll leave it there, michael, thank you. ann, thank you. hally and andrea, big thanks to both of you as well. turning now to a story that continues to spark a whole heck of a lot of outrage today. the fallout over that dramatic video of a passenger being dragged from a united plane because the airline needed those seats for crew members. that's today's microsoft pulse question of the day. should airlines -- should they
stop overbooking flights even if it means you pay more? that's the question. the pulse is live. it's pulse.msnbc.com. we'll check your responses later in the broadcast. we'll have the latest on that story for you a little bit later in the broadcast as well. up next, though, help wanted. a startling number of key jobs still unfilled in the trump white house, as a west win power struggle rages on. george w. bush's former chief of staff about those challenges that the white house is facing and we are expecting to hear from one of the top staffers inside the trump administration, sean spicer set to take to the podium roughly 15 minutes from now. give or take a few. it's the daily press briefing. we will bring it to you live on msnbc.
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afternoon to meet with russian officials. the meetings taking place as the controversy grows over russia's role in syria's civil war and its support of syrian president bashar al assad. the international crisis coming amid reports of in fighting among top leaders in the white house. the michael cohen, the president's personal attorney, said this morning that the media is blowing the whole thing out of proportion. >> i don't know who's leaking the information, if there's a leak at all. it doesn't, to me, it doesn't
make any sense. is there fighting between jared and bannon and bannon and priebus and this one and that one? probably. probably. and it's not fighting the way that the media wants to portray it. it's a difference of opinion. >> the media. andy card, white house chief of staff under president george w. bush, now an msnbc political analyst, good to see you. >> good to be with you. >> an insider with a unique perspective. >> a former insider. >> no. you're still plugged in. does what's going on here, does it sound like simply a difference of opinion or do we think there's more to it than that? >> first of all, you do not want a white house staff that is monolithic in its thinking. >> okay. >> you want them to understand the responsibility to help the president do his job, so you don't want them tearing the building apart or the presidency down, but you don't want monolithic thinking. you want different views, people to express them firmly, but also
to express them with an invitation for respect. so you want mutual respect. but it'sot like you want everybody to get along and sing the same song. you don't mind a few different voices speaking out and offering opinions. it's the chief of staff's job to make sure when people speak out, they do it respectfully, that their voices are heard, but ultimately you're there to inform the president and then when the president makes the decision, and it should be a top decision, you say we'll implement it. >> secretary tillerson, after meeting with europe's foreign ministers, this is what he said about regime change in syria. i want to get your take on the other side. >> i think it is teclear to us that the reign of the assad family is coming to an end, but the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important in our view, to the durability, the stability inside of a unified syria, and
its stability and durability of the outcome going forward. >> the reign of assad coming to an end. that's the headline there. it may be the most decisive comment we've heard from the administration with regards to the future of assad in syria. i know that you said you thought that the president was decisive in ordering those strikes. did you think that by now we would have a much clearer picture of the path forward in syria? >> i hoped we would have had a clearer path. i don't see that path but i do appreciate the direction that they want to take the world in, and quite frankly this is not just america doing something, they're calling for the world to step up and say assad's got to go and the reign has got to be over. but it's not a simple path and they should not think it's simple. lavrov, the foreign minister of russia, is a very, very abled diplomat, he's been around for a long time and he's played a lot
of games. i think we have to be very serious about how we're going to find a diplomatic solution to this terrible problem and yes, there should be a path outled. i'm not sure that everybody in america has to know what that path is, but the secretary of state, the white house, should be working on what the path would look like and guide the rest of the world to get on that path because this can't happen if it's just the u.s. >> i need to ask you quickly about this staffing issues that seems to be emerging at this white house or persisted for a few weeks now. politico reporting of the 553 key appointments that require senate approval the white house has nominated 24 people, 22 have been confirmed, that as you might imagine, trails previous administrations. what's happening inside this white house with regards to filling these positions? >> this is one of the most important things for the administration to focus on right now. they need to have teams of people at the departments helping to make sure those
departments understand what the president's expectations are. so they've got to get those names before the senate so that the senate can confirm them. i'm going to challenge the democrats, they should be doing everything in their power to help the president get people who are competent in the departments and agencies, yes, have your partisan battles but people the people there. too important. >> doesn't sound like democrats are getting the names. doesn't -- at least according to politico the names aren't being put forward. >> the first problem is at the white house. get the names forward, get them nominated to the senate, but the senate should be inviting those names to come up and not scaring people to say, i don't want my name to go to the senate, i don't want to be dragged through the mud. >> andy card -- >> helping the president do his job. >> we will leave it there. good to have you. we didn't talk about the gamecocks. >> go gamecocks. what a year. >> what a year, indeed. big league effort, president trump rallying republicans to get out and vote in a special election today in kansas. >> we're going to do things
really great for our country, our country needs help. i need republicans like ron estes to help me get the job done. >> will the gop face a voter backlash in kansas? can democrats pull off a win in a reliably red district. we are waiting for sean spicer to make his way to that podium for today's daily press briefing. when it happens we will bring it to you live. remember when you said men are superior drivers? yeah... yeah, then how'd i get this... ...allstate safe driving bonus check? ...only allstate sends you a bonus check for every six months you're accident free. silence. it's good to be in, good hands. i own my own company. i had some severe fatigue, some funny rashes. finally, listening to my wife, went to a doctor.
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attorney general jeff sessions is on the arizona/mexico border. the visit coinciding with a new memo in which he is directing federal prosecutors to bring more cases against those who enter the country without documentation. also, he's promming to add more than 100 judges to tackle the backlog in immigration cases. >> be forewarned this is a new era, this is the trump era, the lawlessness, the abdication of
duty to enforce our laws and the catch and release policies of the past, are over. >> cnbc's deadria is live in arizona where she was with the attorney general as he toured the border. what else did he say? >> that's right. well, he was just speaking about five minutes from here and he said that this right here is the nation's southwest border is ground zero for the so-called fight to protect our borders. he got to see firsthand how drastically different the wall can look, even just within this town of arizona. to the right of me you'll see this structure that's about 25 feet tall. you can see through it. but further down the road, about a mile from here, it's concrete. it's solid. you can't see through it. guys, down the road, the other way, it's actually just a fence that you can easily step over. so guys, until president trump finds a way to build his so-called great, great wall, sessions is talking up as you
mentioned a deeper bench to bring these cases to court, harsher punishments as well, to prosecute some of these offenses, as well as as i mentioned harsher punishments. for trump's vision of the wall, that remains to be seen. earlier this month, he got about 450 proposals for what a new wall would look like. what happens then is about 20 of them are selected to build prototypes near san diego and then it could be realized. of course the big question is, who's going to pay for it. until then sessions got a look at how difficult that task is going to be. back over to you. >> traveling there with the attorney general along the border, thank you. to wichita, kansas, where voters are heading to the polls today to fill the house seat vacated by cia director mike pompeo. ron estes hoping to fend off democrat james thompson in the historically gop fourth district with the race looking tighter than republicans expected, the party's big guns are pitching in.
vice president mike pence, senator ted cruz and president donald trump. >> we're going to do things really great for our country. our country needs help. ron is going to be helping us big league. but i need republicans like ron estes to help me get the job done. this is an important election. there's really few very much more important and i need your vote for ron estes on tuesday. >> nbc's jacob ras cone is in witch tap what are you hearing on the ground there? >> we talked to dozens of people who have come to vote. a lot of them say they are voting republican and that's because, in part, they've always voted republican and this is just how this district does things. it's been more than 20 years since a democrat took office, but those who are voting for the democrat, political newcomer jim thompson, say they feel for the first time in a while, that their candidate could have a real shot. they say partly because the
governor of kansas has very low approval ratings and president trump also has low approval ratings. we have somebody with us, we're going to ask a couple questions. mr. deyoung. thank you for talking to us. you're one of those who has voted republican and you believe that it will go republican. why is that? >> i would assume that it's going to go republican because this is the state of kansas. but i have been surprised by the amount of advertising on the television and the interest so that behind the scenes i wonder if something else is going on. >> and the advertising you mean against the democrat or for the democrat? >> both sides are doing it more intensely than what i expected. >> because it's the first special election since. do you think that the fact that the governor has low approval ratings is a factor here? >> no, i don't believe that has much to do with this particular election. i think the citizens are quite aware that they're sending a
completely different person to a completely different place. >> thank you very much. of course, we find out at 7:00 tonight central time what the end result will be. craig? >> all right. jacob rascon in wichita, kansas, thank you. for a wider look at the special election there and one happenin in georgia, let's turn to politico's jake sherman. good to have you in the flesh. >> good to be here. >> this race in kansas has gotten a lot of national attention. how worried are republicans, how worried should they be? >> i was e-mailing with a senior republican involved directly in this race. they are not worried and they believe this candidate will win that republican ron estes will win by 6 or 7 points. let's be clear here this is a district that donald trump won by 27 points. for republicans to minimize this is a tactic, not a strategy. they have -- they are going to have problems in 2018. they have a special election in georgia which is very competitive. yes, they will probably win this race because the dynamics of the
district are very conservative, but it does speak to a larger problem, whether it's sam brownback the unpopular governor or donald trump the president, it does speak to a larger dynamic about a distaste for republicans in that specific district. >> let's turn to georgia. you mentioned here the race to replace the hhs secretary tom price, how worried should republicans be there? >> very. they have 13 candidates and john ossoff the democrat has raised $8 million. >> this is a 30-year-old kid, never held any sort of elected office. >> no. he worked on capitol hill as an aide so all the aides on capitol hill can feel good they can be a congressman. if this guy gets above 50% on april 18th, just a week away from today, he's in congress. and republicans have a huge black eye. now, i think that they are hoping to keep him below 50% and if they keep ossoff below 50% it goes to a rf arepublicans will most likely win the runoff. republicans in the house have refused to kind of get involved
in these primaries. they take them at arm's leg and this is what happens, a mess, 13 candidates fighting it out giving the democrats a chance. >> to be clear this particular district in georgia, i mean there had been a demographic shift afoot for some time there, correct? >> yeah. trump only won by a point i believe in the election 2016, but this is tom price's seat and newt gingrich's seat, a republican district that should be voting republican. georgia still a couple years away from being -- having a chance to elect a statewide democrat. >> how predicative might these mid-terms be? are we blowing this, perhaps, out of proportion? >> yeah, probably. >> look, we know that turnout is historically low. you've had cases in the past, scott brown comes to mind, i think he wins a special election and two years later he loses his seat. >> and democrats won a bunch of special elections 2011 after republicans took the house over and they are still out of power.
special elections are weird but a snapshot of the mood and more importantly they're a snapshot of the tactics and strategies parties take in elections. >> jake sherman, politico's very own, good to have you. >> good to be here. >> tensions mounting, will secretary of state rex tillerson get the cold should from russian officials after his ult may tum that he choose between us or syria? we'll preview his two days of meetings there in russia. we are still waiting for sean spicer to give the daily press briefing. he appears to be running just a few minutes late. when it happens we'll bring it to you live. it's the phillips' lady!
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make sure the germs they bring home don't stick around. use clorox disinfecting products. because no one kills germs better than clorox. as promised white house press secretary sean spicer here with the daily press briefing. >> discussions and outcomes with the president. the meeting was hosted by the american office of american innovation and was another opportunity for the administration to engage with the private sector and harness its knowledge to develop innovative solutions to some of our country's biggest problems like the crumbling infrastructure and broken system at the veterans administration. also, this morning, the president completed several procedural steps to ratify the protocol for montenegro's ascension to the treaty, following the senate's bipartisan vote of support of this ratification. the united states looks forward to formally welcoming montenegro
as the 29th member of the nato alliance and later today the president will have a series of meetings with his national and economic security team. later the attorney general is also at the southwest border to announce specific new actions. the trump administration is taking to secure our borders and keep the country safe. the administration's committed to ending the practice of smuggling gangs and cartels across the border that flood our country with drugs and violence. these actions, which include a strengthening of the laws applying to those who are caught attempting to illegally return to the united states, after prior removal, and those who profit off smuggling people across the border, will once again make it clear to the brave men and women of law enforcement that the trump administration has their back. secretary tillerson finished the g7 foreign ministers meeting today and now in moscow for meetin with his russian counterpart. the visit is part of our effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior russian officials and to ensure
that the united states' views on the situation in syria, counter terrorism efforts, north korea and other matters, are clearly conveyed. we're open to strategic koorpgs with russia when we can achieve a shared goal, such as defeating isis, but we'll stand up for our interests and values when we do not see eye to eye. russia must honor the commitments on syria, ukraine and intermediate nuclear treaty and other topics of international concern and secretary tillerson is going to make that clear during his visit. i also want to make it known that secretary mattis and general votel, who is the commander of central command will be giving a full briefing on the strike in syria that occurred today at the department of defense at 3:30. then at 4:00, i'll be back up here, for an off camera briefing with director mulvaney of the office of management and budget and omb senior adviser linda springer regarding the president's executive order on
reorganizing the executive branch. that gives us three briefings and this today. not to get you real excited but another one tomorrow morning, in advance of the nato meeting with the secretary general. this afternoon's briefing we'll be discussing the plan on reforming the federal government and reducing the size of the federal civilian work force that omb was directed to produce by executive order. so we'll be spending a lot of quality time together over the next 48, 24 hours. with that, i would be glad to take a few questions. ken? >> sean, russia to start, does the administration believe that russia had any advanced knowledge of this chemical attack in syria and does the administration believe that russia may be complicit in the attack? >> i believe the -- there is a background briefing earlier today where that was discussed. at this time, there is no consensus in the intelligence community that that's the case. is there any thought within the intelligence community or some sands of the intelligence community -- >> at this point the only thing
i'm going to say there's no consensus in the intelligence community there was involvement. >> today in the briefing, officials accused russia helping syria cover up assad's chemical weapons. in the past trump praised putin calling him smart and expressing general admiration. does he still think putin is very smart and does this change the relationship? >> i think a couple things. number one, i think the president made it clear from the beginning that he entered office thinking that if he can get a deal with russia in our national interest, which we -- i discussed during the opening remarks as part of secretary tillerson's conversation with foreign minister lavrov we're going to do it, but if we can't get a deal and find an area of national interest, then we won't. and in this particular case, it's no question, that russia is isolated. they have aligned themselves with north korea, syria, iran, that's not exactly a group of countries that you're looking to hang out with.
with the exception of russia, they are all failed states. there is clearly a -- russia is on an island when it comes to its support of syria or its lack of frankly acknowledgement of what happened. the facts are on our side. the actions of syria are reprehensible. and i think that russia has been party to several international agreements that syria is not holding up to, in fact that russia needs to hold themselves up to. i think the president has been very clear with his stance on russia and in this particular case, we're going to be very forceful and i think as will secretary tillerson during his visit to make sure that we -- make sure we let russia know that they need to live up to the obligations it has made. cate lynn. >> the administration has said sanctions against syria are forthcoming, what will they look like and when can we expect them? >> great question. i think you know well enough at this point we're not going to announce any of that kind of
action until it's ready to go. i think the presidents has made it clear that additional action with respect to syria in terms of its failure to stop engaging in actions that harm its people will result in action and so i'm not going to get ahead of what he is planning to announce or when, but as he has made clear on a variety of circumstances he's not one to telegraph his actions until he's ready to make those announcements. >> has the administration identified an opposition party that could come to power in syria if there is a regime change? >> i think first and foremost, and i stated this yesterday and again, our number one goal is to defeat isis. that is the number one thing. secondly, the political conditions that are existing in syria right now are such that what we need russia and others to do is to help create a political environment in which the syrian people can choose a leader that is more suited to them. i think getting into who that should be, i think what we're trying to do right now is shape
the environment to allow the syrian people to determine their outcome. blake? >> change a topic, mark said earlier this morning that he thinks, quote, topic. -- said earlier this morning that he thinks, "we're very close," as it relates to health care and the two options were given to the house speaker. does the white house believe that you're very close on health care, and have you signed off on those two options? >> well, two things. one, i think we're getting closer and closer every day. this has been a process that, as you know, the chief of staff, vice president and others have been extremely engaged in behind the scenes. we clearly are getting closer. more votes are moving in our direction and these ideas i think are very helpful and the conversations are getting closer. i don't want to prejudge the
outcome at this point but i would say we feel very buoyed by the direction this is going. part of the conversation has to be figuring out whether or not those attract additional votes and gain additional support and don't detract. i know it sounds very simple, but that's what this entire process has been about. so he is reviewing a couple of the provisions he wants to make to the ongoing amendment. >> have you signed off? >> it is not a question of us signing off. i think we're good with the direction that this is going, as long as it continues to grow the vote. a lot of these provisions that are being discussed give states the flexibility to enact certain provisions which is consistent with our general philosophy of giving more competition and more choice to the people in the states. >> secdly, that video of united airlines, do you think the government should investigate them, the industry
as a whole, as it relates to passenger treatment? >> i would just say that i think there have been clearly -- law enforcement is reviewing that situation. i think there's plenty of law enforcement to review a situation like that and i know united airlines has stated that they are currently reviewing their own policies. let's not get ahead of where that review goes. it was an unfortunate incident. clearly, when you watch the video, it is troubling to see how that was handled, but i'm not going to say if they have clearly stated their desire to review this situation. law enforcement is reviewing it. i think for us to get in front of what should be a very local matter, not necessarily needing a federal response. hallie. >> two questions. just a follow-up. has the president seen that video? >> i'm sure he has. >> what was his reaction?
>> i don't think anybody looks at that video and is a little disturbed that a human being is being treated that way. one thing people have to understand is that when there is a potential law enforcement matter, for the president to weigh in, pro or con would prejudice a potential outcome. clearly seeing another human being dragged down an aisle watching blood come from their face after hitting an arm rest or whatever, i don't think ther is a circumstance that you can t back and think this probably couldn't have been handled a little bit better when you are talking about another human being. but again, i don't think that it is my place to get in the middle of judging how a company dealt with this. i think there is clearly going to be enough review, both on a corporate side and then on a law enforcement side on how this was handled. but i think from a human to human standpoint, to watch a human being get dragged down an aisle with their head banging off arm rests and not think that it could have been handled better, i would assume that -- and we could probably all agree
on that. >> john. >> i had two questions. first, on foreign policy. one on syria. this administration is continuing to fight for a travel ban that would in part limit people coming in from syria. there have also been images of refugees, heartwrenching. is the president giving any thought to reconsidering that aspect of his travel ban? >> in terms of leftletting them? >> yes. >> a lot of these refugees in particular are not looking to flee. i think the number one goal of this president is to make sure that we protect our people, our country, and to keep those people from having to flee. they have family there. and so that's our number one goal, creating a safer environment, de-escalating the conflict there. not to figure out how many people we can -- i think the
u.s. has been extremely supportive when it comes to the financial piece of this and looking for ways to work in a diplomatic fashion. but the goal isn't to figure out how manyople we can just import to this count. i think there's clearly a security concern -- >> [ inaudible question ] >> -- they have touched him. that's why i've made very clear. with the consent and guidance of his national security team, it was very extreme -- it was moving. going back, i don't mean to make two examples of this, but i don't think you can watch those things, not that you should have any human being but when you see in particular young children and babies being gassed, it should move any being that has a heart. i think that partially dealt with why he acted so decisively. to see an individual in assad in that regime act in a way that reacted to -- we can't condemn every act but i think you'll literally see when there's gas. you think about it, it is in the
same category at nuclear weapons for a reason. it is that lethal, it is that deadly, it is that horrific. then when you recognize that use of chemical weapons is put in the same category of weapons of mass destruction and so many other things because of what it does to an individual and the nature of an attack like that, that even first responders, if you saw some of the tape, were getting grossly affected by this. it moved him tremendously. that's part of the reason he acted the way he did. >> on north korea, sean, have you seen the latest provocations from pyongyang? the president tweeted if china will help the u.s. will solve the problem. what does he mean by that? >> i think he has been very clear that he will not tolerate some of the action by north korea. but to answer your question, i think i've said this before on a variety of topics. the president is not one who is going to go out there and telegraph his response. i think he keeps all options on the table. he keeps his cards close to the vest. as he showed last week with respect to syria, when the
president's willing to act, it is going to be decisive and proportional to make it very clear what the position of the united states is. that's not what i said. i just said that, as you know, when the president is ready to act he makes it very clear and i think there's no question that when the president is ready to make a statement, he will do that. but i think he has made it clear with respect to north korea that their behavior and their actions with respect to the missile launches is not tolerable. the last thing we want to see is a nuclear north korea that threatens the coast of the united states or, for that matter, any other country in any other set of human beings. so we need stability in that region, and i think he has put them clearly on notice. john. >> the alliance between russia and syria is a strong one. it goes back decades. president putin has supplied personnel and military equipment to the assad government. what makes you think that at this point he is going to pull back his support for president assad and for the syrian government right now? >> i think a couple things.
you look -- in world war ii, you someone as despicable at hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons. so you have to, if you're russia, ask yourself is this a country that you -- and regime that you want for align yourself with? you have previously signed on to international agreements. rightfully acknowledging that the use of chemical weapons should be out of bounds by every country. to the no stand up to your own word should be trouing. russia put their name on the line. so it's not a question of how long that alliance has lasted, but at what point do they recognize that they are not getting on the wrong side of history in a really bad way really quickly. again, look at the countries that are standing with them. iran. syria. north korea. this is not a team you want to be on. and i think that russia has to recognize that, while they may
have had an alliance with them, that the lines that have been crossed are ones that no country should ever want to see another country cross. >> two things. first one coming up on tax day. when does the white house plan on releasing president trump's 2016 returns, and are there any concerns about possible conflict of interest reflecting on his tax return when it is released. secondly -- [ inaudible question ] >> two tough ones. on the first one, i think we've asked and answered that several times and the president's been under audit. i think when you look at -- we filed our financial disclosure forms the other day in a way that allows everyone to listeni tax return clearly lists how many money you make, how much tax you paid. when you look at a financial disclosure form, it lists every asset, every debt you owe, where you get your money from, a much
more comprehensive understanding. i think this question has been asked and answered over and over again. i think the american people are -- frankly, the middle class in particular, companies that are trying to grow here in the united states are much more concerned about tax reform and allowing our economy and bottom line to grow. with respect to the easter egg roll, it is a huge topic. i appreciate that. i think we're going to have an eggs-ellent time. come on! you can't ask the question and not get the answer. we're going to have a very, very enjoyable day on monday. tickets have been sent out to all the schools in the area. there will be a large military contingent that will be participating as well. i think there's five waves over two-hour periods in which children and their families will be able to come to the white house. we've done extensive community outreach to really bring a lot of the school children in from the area and it is going to be a great y.