Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah joined me this morning to discuss a host of issues including the Wolff book:
HH: I begin this second hour of today’s program with Raj Shah. He is the White House deputy press secretary. Raj, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you on.
RS: Hugh, thanks so much for having me on.
HH: The Reflecting Pool froze yesterday, but Hell is freezing over, because there’s so much coverage of everything except the news, including the U.S. sanctions on Iran over the missile program, the Trump administration proposal for certain ACA protection rollback, and the expansion of offshore drilling. You should be making a lot of news, but it’s all about Fire and Fury. How frustrated are you?
RS: Well, to be honest, we’re kind of used to it these days. You know, the press likes to focus what it likes to focus on, but we keep getting the job done for the American people. I think the three issues that you mentioned are very important. You know, they help our economy and energy development, and they keep us safe. And we’re going to continue, and this President’s going to continue taking action for the American people.
HH: I want to come back to each of those in turn, but first, I want to ask you did you have any personal dealings with Mr. Wolff?
RS: I did not, no.
HH: So you don’t expect to be quoted in this book? And is there a supply of books around the White House right now?
RS: Well, I think we’re going to be picking up a few copies. You know, we need books to be, you know, door openers and holders and things like that. But you know, it’s a bunch of fiction. It’s tabloid trash. I think a lot of folks who are quoted in the book have already come out and spoken out and said they didn’t either say those things or they never even communicated with Mr. Wolff. So there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s highly suspect. The President’s lawyers have been engaged. You know, this book is really not worth the paper that it’s going to be printed on.
HH: All right, the second question I have to ask, I think I understand this, but the White House put out a new policy yesterday. I’ve only been on the grounds three times since the new administration arrived, and each time I’ve had my devices with me. But devices will no longer be allowed in the White House. Does that extend to the press room itself?
RS: No, it will not. It won’t affect how press who cover the White House and the President can use their mobile devices. This is a security measure that’s focused on White House personnel. You know, it’s a cyber matter, and a matter for that’s been driven by security personnel in the Secret Service. And we think it’s the right step.
HH: Yeah, it is consistent with how I have been treated when I have been in the Pentagon. I’ve had to leave my devices in boxes when you get close to sensitive areas for fear that they have been compromised unknown to the carrier thereof. Let me talk in turn about the three matters I brought up in reverse order. Did Secretary Zinke talk with the President about the offshore drilling expansion which extends to basically every mile of coast in America the opportunity to bid for a lease?
RS: Yeah, look, Secretary Zinke has been talking to the President, members of the administration, talking about this measure for some time now. We believe that developing U.S. energy resources is the key to energy independence. It’s a key to jobs, and it’s a huge boon for local economies both in terms of creating jobs, but also in terms of revenues for their states.
HH: 90% of offshore areas are going to be open for drilling as part of the five year plan as opposed to only 6% under President Obama. That is a massive amount of opportunity to drill. Now I spend most Saturdays running past Huntington Beach offshore platforms, so it’s not really a big deal for me. But how much of a backlash do you expect on this, Raj Shah?
RS: Well look, it’s been a pitched issue for years, but the President campaigned on this. He ran on this. He was very clear, and this is going to be the largest expansion of leasing in American history. We’re very proud of it, very excited for the next steps as we move forward. And look, it’s going to create billions of dollars in revenue, millions of jobs, and it’s going to be a boon for the U.S. economy.
HH: All right, second issue, what exactly happened on the ACA, the Obamacare plan issues, the regulations that were issued yesterday, proposed regulations, it’s still notice and comment period for them?
RS: Well, this administration has been working to fix our health care system, you know, in dealing with the kind of disaster of Obamacare since day one. You know, the President signed the tax bill which also had a repeal of the individual mandate last year, and now we’re looking to chip away at the measures that we can to make insurance more free, to give consumers more choice. The thing that you’re referring to is the Department of Labor just issues regulations to create association health plans, basically allowing small businesses that are forced right now to either purchase plans through the individual marketplace or to purchase them through the Obamacare exchanges, given them the option to band together if they’re similar sizes, if they have similar needs, and negotiate cheaper health insurance for their employees. We think it’s a really good step. You know, the slew of Washington regulation that prevents people from having the choices and the freedoms and the best options have to end. And this administration is going to take action.
HH: Small association health plans would allow for the number of critical benefits included under the ACA to be pared back to a bare minimum, which would of course lower the price. Do you have any projection on the number of people who might take advantage of these Labor Department association plans?
RS: I don’t have specific numbers. I know hundreds of thousands of businesses certainly would qualify, and that means millions of potential employees and people getting insurance for the first time.
HH: All right, now there was a meeting at the White House yesterday on immigration with seven senators, the Vice President and the President. Afterwards, Senators Lankford and Tillis issues a rather bleak assessment of where we are. I have been pushing the idea of an exit tax on Americans crossing the border to the south to be used to build the wall, and that therefore put into reconciliation. Does the President consider the reconciliation process, which only requires 51 votes, as a vehicle for moving the wall forward?
RS: Well, the reconciliation process could be used for taxes and could be used for funding. But eventually, the appropriations for building the wall, actually constructing it, must come through a measure that passes Congress through the normal process. So you know, it would be a 60 vote process in some measure. The key here, though, is when we look at budget negotiations, and we look at immigration negotiations, the President’s been pretty clear about his priorities. We released them last year, I believe, in October. And it involves a physical barrier on the Southern border. It involves greater interior enforcement. It involves reforms to the legal system to end chain migration, to end things like the visa lottery and move toward a more merit-based system. And if there is any issue that this President ran on and was clearly, you know, making promises to the American people on, it’s this issue. He’s going to demand some significant concessions and progress on his priorities for Democrats to kind of get the issue of DACA resolved.
HH: Raj, far be it for me to argue with you on the air, but I do believe reconciliation allows for the use of excise taxes collected and thereby spent pursuant to its actual direction, thus not requiring a 60 vote margin. I leave that to the White House lawyers to look at and advise you on, Mr. McGahn and crowd. But I actually believe you can get the wall built without 60 votes. And so I just, I leave it there. Let’s talk a little bit about the President and his media strategy going forward. Look, Washington’s consumed with the Wolff book. This will last a week, then it will be done. And it will be a bookstop, and people won’t read it. They’ll get the most salacious stuff. But the President has actually stopped the kind of flood the zone coverage he used to do. I saw he was on with Tucker Carlson. I’ve been sending Hope, you know, a note like once a month asking to come in and sit down with the President for the last year and a half. Not happening. What’s his deal? Why isn’t he out there engaging? He’s very good in those settings with reporters.
RS: The President’s tremendous in those settings with reporters, and he’s also his own best advocate. He does a lot better than sometimes we can do. But you know, look, the President also doesn’t want to give this stuff oxygen. He responded to Steve Bannon. He’s responded to this book. And you know, it is a fabrication. There are so many things in there that are made up out of whole cloth. The basic reporting standards and fact-checking that should exist for books or even articles, 500 word articles that are done in a matter of hours, weren’t carried out in this case. So it shouldn’t be taken seriously. It shouldn’t demand the President of the United States’ time.
HH: But I’m talking about other interviews like he used to do with Anderson Cooper, like he used to do on this radio show. He stopped that, Raj Shah. Do you advise him he ought to get back there and talk to people about issues?
RS: Well look, this is the most accessible president in history, I think, in modern history. This president talks to media all the time. He talked to the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt over the winter, rather the Christmas break. He frequently while just heading out will pop by the traveling press pool covering him at the White House on the way to Marine One, impromptu press conferences, gaggles, all the time. He answers the questions, and he answers them with frequency. But you know, the press and others are always going to want more access, and I’m sure…
HH: I’m among them. I’m among them. Put my name down on that list, Raj. Last question, Joe Scarborough has a Washington Post op-ed this morning in which he asserts I asked President Trump a blunt question, do you read. Have you discussed with President Trump whether he remembers being asked that question?
RS: Well, I don’t know if he’s been asked that question by Joe Scarborough. Look, the President has briefings all day about important policy matters. And you can, rather than get into the weeds on people’s reading habits or how they get information or how they digest information, look at the results. Look at the results of this administration. You mentioned three big issues that we took action on yesterday. Look at the first year. You have a record stock market. You have ISIS destroyed overseas. You have the unemployment record, a near two-decade low. You have the crushing of regulations here at home. There’s so much that this administration has done that’s been successful, and it’s been led by the President and his agenda.
HH: Last question very quickly, does the President retain confidence in the Attorney General, Raj Shah?
RS: Yeah. If the President doesn’t have confidence in the Attorney General, the world will know.
HH: Okay. Raj Shah, deputy press secretary, great to talk to you, my friend.
End of interview.