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Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

Sean Spicer on Friday resigned as White House press secretary after exactly six months on the job, in which time he racked up his fair share of memorable and meme-able moments from behind the podium in the White House briefing room.

Spicer had the difficult and unenviable task of defending President Donald Trump and explaining his often convoluted and controversial tweets and interviews. In doing so, Spicer ended up making bold declarations about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, making several horrifying slip-ups while referencing the Holocaust, and, in one instance, literally hiding from reporters in the bushes outside the White House.

Below are a few of the highlights from Spicer’s spin as press secretary:

Inauguration crowd sizes

The day after Trump’s inauguration, Spicer faced the media for the first time from the podium in the White House briefing room and reamed out reporters over their portrayal of the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration. Aerial photos of the crowds showed more open space at Trump’s in January 2017 compared to Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

“This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period,” Spicer huffed at the time. “Both in person and around the globe.”

He left the first briefing of his tenure without taking a single question.

Frederick Douglass

After the President made confusing comments about Frederick Douglass that left it unclear whether he knew the black abolitionist leader had died in the 19th century, Spicer also came across as fuzzy on who Douglass was. He used the present tense while trying to explain Trump’s remarks.

“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer said. “And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”

‘The silliest thing I’ve ever heard’

During a February briefing, SiriusXM White House correspondent Jared Rizzi pointed out that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had said that Trump did not have time to tweet about everything, even though the President had just tweeted about his daughter Ivanka Trump’s fashion line.

During the subsequent heated exchange over Conway’s comments, Spicer told Rizzi, “What are you—you’re equating me addressing the nation here and a tweet? I don’t, I mean that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. OK. This is silly.”

‘Stop shaking your head’

During a March briefing, Spicer grew exasperated with American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan as she quizzed him about the White House’s image following a report that the Trump administration tried to keep former acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying in Congress. He told Ryan to stop shaking her head.

“April, hold on, it seems like you’re hell-bent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays,” he said. “I’m sorry, please stop shaking your head again.”

Hitler and ‘Holocaust centers’

During an April briefing, Spicer took a wild stab at explaining why Russia might pull its support for Syrian president Bashar Assad following a reported poison gas attack.

“I think a couple things. You look—we didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Spicer said. “You had a—someone as despicable as 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 a regime that you want to align yourself with?”

The remark was particularly tin-eared given that Hitler oversaw the execution of millions of Jews, many of them in gas chambers.

Spicer proceeded to muck up his first attempt at clarifying his comments later in that same briefing, referring to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”

“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” he said.

“There was not — he brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that,” Spicer added. “But I’m saying that in the way Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent — into the middle of towns. It was brought — the use of it. And I appreciate the clarification there, that was not the intent.”

‘That’s what I’m telling you’

In early May, Spicer got into a tense exchange with a Breitbart News reporter who suggested that Trump would put up fencing along the southern border before a wall could be built. Spicer protested this vehemently.

“No, what I’m telling anybody is that the President said he was going to build the wall and he’s doing it,” Spicer said. “That’s what I’m telling you.”

Hiding in the bushes

After Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, White House reporters relayed that Spicer literally hid in the bushes outside the White House following a television interview in order to avoid their questions. He eventually agreed to answer a few questions in the dark, but still refused to be filmed.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has been one of a handful of Republican senators who is consistently unsatisfied with the Obamacare replacement plan devised by Senate leaders, and in a Thursday interview with Politico, he defended his staunch opposition to the legislation.

“I’m not being an absolutist,” Lee told Politico. “I’m a little frustrated by some who are eager and willing to call me out for saying this doesn’t go far enough in doing what we promised to do for seven years.”

The senator has opposed the Senate’s bill to repeal and replace Obamacare from the start, saying that he will need an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that allows for the sale of cheaper, non-Obamacare-compliant plans, in order to back the bill. Lee, along with moderates who oppose the bill’s cuts to Medicaid funding, has helped block the replacement plan from moving forward.

But he told Politico that his Republican colleagues should be just as concerned that some GOP senators have not supported full repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“If Republicans want to criticize someone for having problems with this bill, why are they not equally critical of anyone who wouldn’t stand behind full repeal?” he told Politico. “It is not nothing to ask someone holding an election certificate in the United States Senate to provide his or her vote. I’m not going to provide it simply because others in my party are providing theirs.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), an ally of Senate leadership, criticized Lee’s die-hard opposition to the replacement bill to Politico, complaining that it “seems like he’s against everything right now.”

“I am stunned by that suggestion,” Lee told Politico, responding to Hatch’s comments. “I am surprised that he would purport to know what my thoughts and intents were, what I was thinking or intending. He could not be more wrong.”

 

President Donald Trump has appointed Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, several news outlets reported on Friday.

Scaramucci, a former adviser to Trump’s transition team, had often publicly defended the President as a surrogate before he was offered formal role on the White House staff.

With Scaramucci’s hire, Press Secretary Sean Spicer has resigned, reportedly over objections to Scaramucci’s appointment.

The news that Scaramucci is expected to be named to the communications role was first reported by Axios Thursday night. NBC News later reported that Scaramucci’s hiring is expected to be announced Friday, citing an unnamed White House official. However, Reuters reported that while Scaramucci has been interviewed for the job, he has not yet been offered the position, citing an anonymous senior White House Official.

The role of communications director has been vacant since Michael Dubke resigned from the post in late May. Spicer had been handling the communications director’s duties in the meantime.

Aides to President Donald Trump are looking for ways to hamstring and delegitimize special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, according to Thursday night reports in the New York Times and Washington Post.

The reports show that Trump is still fuming and obsessing over the Russia investigation, which continues to dominate headlines almost daily. The President fired James Comey as FBI director, partially out of unhappiness with the Russia probe, precipitating Mueller’s hiring as the special counsel. He’s also openly expressed his anger with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the investigation, signaling that Trump is unhappy with his lack of control over its progress.

It’s against that backdrop that his aides are looking for ways to derail and discredit Mueller’s investigation, possibly building an argument for firing the special counsel.

Trump’s aides have been looking into the backgrounds of Mueller’s team for conflicts of interest they can use to discredit Mueller or possibly to fire him, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the effort. They are looking at past campaign donations and clients, as well as at Mueller’s relationship with Comey, per the New York Times.

The President has also asked about his power to pardon his aides, his family, and himself, the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the effort. Another source told the Post that Trump’s aides have been discussing pardons amongst themselves.

Trump was recently set off by reports that Mueller is looking into his past finances, and Trump was particularly “disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns,” the Washington Post reported.

Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s outside legal team, complained to the Washington Post about a Bloomberg News report that Mueller’s team is looking into some of Trump’s real estate deals.

“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

The Thursday night reports follow a Wednesday interview with the New York Times during which Trump voiced concern about the possibility of Mueller’s team looking at his financial records. But Trump stopped short of telling the Times that such a move would prompt him to fire the special counsel.

Sekulow told the Washington Post that Trump wants to make sure Mueller is staying within the bounds of the Russia probe.

“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow told the Post. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”

After his office announced that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) published a tweet Thursday saying that he’s thankful for the “outpouring of support” he’s received and assuring his Senate colleagues that he will “be back soon.”

McCain has been out of work on Capitol Hill for about a week following surgery to remove a blood clot from above his eye. The Mayo Clinic, where McCain is being treated, then announced Wednesday night that doctors had discovered glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. McCain and his family are considering treatment options, which may include chemotherapy or radiation, according to the Mayo Clinic statement.

Senate Republicans are working to revive a deal to repeal and replace Obamacare in McCain’s absence, and it’s still unclear when, if at all, McCain will be able to return for a vote on the legislation.

The Department of Health and Human Services has been using government funding earmarked for efforts to educate Americans about the Affordable Care Act to produce anti-Obamacare online videos, according to a Thursday Daily Beast report.

The report, which cited several unnamed “sources at various agencies and on the Hill,” stated the department used its internal studio to film testimonials of people who say they have been hurt by Obamacare, which were then used to create more than 100 videos. HHS also used taxpayer money to pay for the travel costs of individuals who flew to Washington, D.C., to be interviewed for the videos, per the report. The department posts the videos to the HHS YouTube channel, describing the families and doctors as “burdened by Obamacare.”

The Trump administration has also used official Twitter accounts to promote Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, while the HHS website currently features a banner that sends people to a page arguing that Obamacare has done “damage” to health insurance markets.

Democrats in Congress have asked the government to look into whether HHS is misusing the funds for an effort to sabotage Obamacare, per the Daily Beast.

Earlier this year, HHS also had pulled ads encouraging people to enroll in health insurance plans through the exchanges for 2017, saying that the department would not “continue spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars promoting a failed government program.” The department said at the time that it would return the costs savings to the U.S. Treasury.

As the HHS works to sabotage the ACA and Senate Republicans fail to agree on a plan to replace it, President Donald Trump this week suggested that Republicans just “let ObamaCare fail” and then eventually work with Democrats on a new law.

Read the full Daily Beast report here.

 

After President Donald Trump on Wednesday pressured Senate Republicans to vote for a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House aide Kellyanne Conway echoed the President, noting that those who vote down repeal “will be held accountable” in a Wednesday interview on Fox News.

“Any Republican Senator who votes against a motion to proceed is basically saying, ‘we’re proceeding with ObamaCare,” she told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Hannity then jumped in to note that “we’re going to hold them accountable.”

Conway agreed, saying, “That’s right, they will be held accountable.”

She then told senators who have issues with the bill to allow the legislation to proceed on the floor and then offer amendments.

The President gathered Republican senators at the White House on Wednesday for a lunch to discuss health care. During the lunch, he implored them to vote to repeal Obamacare.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you are fine with Obamacare,” the President said. “But being fine with Obamacare isn’t an option for another reason because it’s gone. It’s failed. It’s not going to be around.”

Watch Conway’s interview via Fox News:

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, will testify in a closed door session on Monday with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia probe, Kushner’s lawyer told ABC News and Politico.

“As Mr. Kushner has been saying since March, he has been and is prepared to voluntarily cooperate and provide whatever information he has on the investigations to Congress,” Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s lawyer, told ABC News in a statement. “Working with and being responsive to the schedules of the committees, we have arranged Mr. Kushner’s interview with the senate for July 24. He will continue to cooperate and appreciates the opportunity to assist in putting this matter to rest.”

Kushner has come under intense scrutiny as the Russia probes proceed and new encounters come to light. Recently, Donald Trump Jr. revealed that Jared Kushner attended a meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. The meeting was pitched to Trump Jr. as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump, and Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s son-in-law had already been a focus of the Trump probes, however. Kushner held meetings with the Russian ambassador last year, as well as a meeting with the head of a Russian bank. Federal investigators are also looking into whether Kushner was seeking Russian financing for his family’s struggling Manhattan building.

During an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, President Donald Trump warned special counsel Robert Mueller against looking into his finances as part of the Russia probe, but he stopped short of saying he would fire the special counsel for doing so.

Asked if it would be a “breach of what his actual charge is” if Mueller looked at the President’s finances, Trump replied, “I would say yeah.”

“I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia,” Trump added. “They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that.”

Trump was then asked if Mueller would have to step down if he looked into the President’s finances.

“No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company,” the President responded.

When asked if he would fire Mueller if he went outside the parameters of the Russia probe, Trump wouldn’t say.

“I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the President said.

Trump also criticized Mueller for having conflicts of interest.

“I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts? But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point,” Trump told the Times, describing his reaction when Mueller was appointed special counsel of the Russia probe.

Earlier in the interview, Trump suggested that James Comey, the former FBI director, told Trump about the dossier with unverified allegations about Trump so that he could use it as leverage to keep his job.

“I think he shared it so that I would — because the other three people left, and he showed it to me,” Trump said when asked why Comey told him about the dossier.

“So anyway, in my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Trump added.

“As leverage?” New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asked.

“Yeah, I think so. In retrospect,” Trump replied.

Read excerpts from the New York Times interview here.

 

After most of the Senate GOP caucus trekked to the White House for a lunch with President Donald Trump to talk health care on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that the Senate will hold a vote next week to proceed on an Obamacare repeal bill.

In remarks during the lunch that aired on the cable news networks, Trump told Senate Republicans that he would prefer they repeal and replace Obamacare at the same time and pressured them to pass a bill before they skip town for August recess. Despite Trump’s assertion that a repeal and replace strategy would be ideal, McConnell made no assurances that the Senate would proceed down that path.

“Next week, we’ll be voting to get on the bill,” McConnell told reporters after the lunch. He did not specify which bill the Senate would vote on, but he said earlier this week that the Senate will vote on a straight repeal bill.

Already three Republican senators have said they would not support a motion to proceed on a clean repeal bill—enough to block the Senate from moving forward with the plan. But even though he yanked the Obamacare replacement bill on Monday when it became clear he didn’t have the votes to proceed, McConnell was insistent that the vote will take place this time, saying he has “every expectation that we’ll be able to get on the bill.”

Asked about Trump’s push for repealing and replacing Obamacare simultaneously, McConnell said that a concurrent replacement would be ideal and suggested that the Senate could vote on either straight repeal or a concurrent plan.

“I think we have two options here. There is a large majority in our conference that want to demonstrate to the American people that they intend to keep the commitment they made in four straight elections to repeal Obamacare,” he said when asked about Trump’s latest preference. “I think we all agree it’s better to both repeal and replace, but we could have a vote on either, and if we end up voting on repeal only, it will be fully amendable on the Senate floor, and if it were to pass without any amendment at all, there’s a two-year delay before it kicks in.”

“So, the takeaway from what I’m telling you is, no harm is done by getting on the bill. Wide open for amendment no matter what I offer as a substitute at first, it’s fully amendable,” the majority leader added.

Asked if he was experiencing “whiplash” from Trump, who has vacillated several times between pushing for straight repeal and calling for a simultaneous replacement, McConnell chuckled.

“Well, it’s pretty obvious we’ve had difficulty in getting 50 votes to proceed,” he then said. “But what I want to disabuse any of you of is the notion that we will not have that vote next week. We’re going to vote on the motion to proceed to the bill next week.”

McConnell also said that Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials would be on Capitol Hill Wednesday evening to talk with senators who “had some difficulty in getting to yes.”

LiveWire