Politics

White House Mum on Debt Ceiling, Flirts With Dem Drug Bill

‘We’re not aware’ of any federal inquiry targeting Trump, Spicer says

The entrance to the West Wing of the White House on a recent evening. On Thursday, Sean Spicer created some debt-ceiling drama. (John T. Bennett/CQ Roll Call)

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday held the new administration’s cards close when asked whether President Donald Trump favors raising the federal debt ceiling, and again said he is unaware of any federal probe focused on the president. 

Spicer would not say whether Trump and his budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, will push to raise the debt ceiling later this year. He said only that the administration will “work with Congress” when the time comes to address the federal borrowing limit.

Experts and lawmakers from both parties have warned that not raising the debt ceiling would have disastrous consequences for the country’s financial picture, including a downgrade of its credit rating and the degrading of the dollar as the planet’s most reliable currency.

But some GOP fiscal hawks have said it should not be raised — among them are members who believe, with nothing but evidence to the contrary, that a debt-ceiling breach would have zero effect on the U.S. economy. That’s why Spicer’s caginess creates some early debt-ceiling drama.

[Health Groups Left Out as GOP Sought ‘Patients-Centric Bill’]

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week urged lawmakers to raise the debt limit “at the first opportunity.” His department pointed to March 15 as the initial breach date, though he said Treasury will then begin taking “extraordinary measures” that will buy more time for a solution to be drawn up.

For the fourth consecutive day at the briefing room podium, Spicer faced questions about the president’s Saturday morning tweets alleging, without evidence, that former President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of phones in Trump Tower.

And, once again, Spicer told reporters the White House is unaware of any federal investigation looking directly at Trump of which such surveillance might be a part.

“We’re not aware” of any investigation that has Trump as its target, the press secretary said. On Wednesday, Spicer had said there was “no reason to believe he’s the target of any investigation.”

Thursday’s back-and-forth on the subject was the latest instance of how the weekend tweet barrage succeeded in drawing attention away from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from any Justice Department inquiry of the Trump campaign’s links to Russian officials. But it has also distracted from the president’s health care overhaul push.

Trump has asked the congressional Intelligence committees to determine whether there was any Trump Tower wiretapping.

Another of the news briefing’s noteworthy moments came when Spicer would not rule out the president possibly preferring a coming Democratic bill on paring prescription drug prices. However, he quickly suggested that House GOP leaders will likely have another way to address what is a major priority for Trump.

Democratic Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Peter Welch of Vermont met with Trump for about an hour behind closed doors Wednesday, with drug prices the top agenda item. 

Cummings later told reporters that “I’m going to join with you” were the president’s “exact words,” according to reports.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.