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Interview with President Barack Obama; Interview with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan; Death Penalty Sought for Boston Bomber

Aired January 30, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States spoke to only one show after his State of the Union address. You happen to be watching it right now.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead: President Obama takes his show on the road, and so do we. We sat down with the commander in chief for his first interview since he laid out his vision in his State of the Union address. Get your very first taste of it right here, just moments away.

The politics lead, the president in his backyard, Congressman Paul Ryan's backyard, Ryan, the man who now leads the pack for the 2016 GOP nomination, according to a brand-new poll. Ryan will join us to react to my exclusive interview with the president.

Also in national news, if the government gets its way, the surviving Boston terror suspect will die for his alleged crimes, the Justice Department putting the death penalty on the table a short time ago for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're today coming to you live from Waukesha, Wisconsin, where, just a short time ago, I sat down with the president of the United States exclusively for his very first post-State of the Union interview. We're going to show you the first piece of that interview in just a moment.

But, first, in our national lead, the reason President Obama appeared here in Wisconsin, I was in the crowd as the president took the podium here at the General Electric gas engines plant in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He is here to say that he's going to make good on his vow to push his agenda by going around Congress wherever and whenever he can with executive actions and executive orders.

He signed one of those executive orders right here, though it was one of the less controversial ones. The memorandum directs Vice President Joe Biden to lead a review of federal programs that train people to do jobs that don't necessarily require a degree, but do require a lot of skill and a lot of know-how, like many of the jobs plants here at this G.E. plant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have got a lot of programs, but not all of them are doing what they should be doing to get people filled for jobs that exist right now.

And we have got to move away from what my labor Secretary, Tom Perez, calls train and pray. You know, you train workers first, and then you hope they get a job. We can't do that.


TAPPER: The president's arrival in Wisconsin led to an odd little dynamic. The state's Republican governor, Scott Walker, well, he met with the president, but his Democratic opponent for this November's election, well, she did not.

Governor Walker, you can kind of see his hairline there as he talks to the president, went out to meet Air Force One on the tarmac. He was eager to discuss Wisconsin's propane shortage in this bitterly cold winter. But the Democrat running against Walker, Mary Burke, well, she was on the other side of the state.

Her spokesman says she was busy campaigning during the president's visit. Republicans say the real reason is she's afraid to be seen with him. After signing his executive order here, the president flew off to Nashville, Tennessee. He's scheduled to touch down there in just a few minutes.

In Nashville, he's expected to touch a little bit on gun violence, an issue that got a lot less play in this year's State of the Union speech compared to last year's. The president will speak at a high school today that was rocked earlier in this week, Tuesday, when one student was accused of fatally shooting another off-campus.

Before the president got back on Air Force One and left Wisconsin, he did sit down with me right here at this GE plant, where he signed that executive order. As we mentioned, this is his first interview following his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

In this exclusive sit-down, we touched on a whole range of topics, the economy, jobs, immigration, national security, foreign policy, even marijuana.

I began by asking him just how far he thinks his new go-it-alone attitude towards Congress can actually get him and the rest of us.


TAPPER: Thanks for doing this, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Great to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: So your big push in the State of the Union and here is whatever you cannot accomplish with Congress, you will take executive action or issue executive orders.

How much can you really accomplish doing that? OBAMA: Well, first of all, my big push is making sure we're focused on opportunity, making sure that every single day, all of us in Washington are trying to think about ways that we can help folks get good jobs, make sure that they're trained for the good jobs that are out there, make sure that those jobs pay, make sure our kids are getting a great education.

Those are the issues that the American people still, you know, very much are concerned about.

And, obviously, there is going to be more that we can do if Congress is able to break through some of the gridlock. And if we're able to, for example, pass immigration reform, that is going to add growth to our economy reduce our deficits...

TAPPER: You don't seem confident that that's going to happen, though.

OBAMA: No, actually I -- I actually think that we have a good chance of getting immigration reform done.

TAPPER: Oh, I don't mean immigration reform. I mean the jobs issue, though.

OBAMA: I -- I think there are going to be some issues where it's going to be tough for them to move forward. And I am going to continue to reach out to them and say here are my best ideas, I want to hear yours.

But, as I said at the State of the Union, I can't wait. And the American people, more importantly, cannot wait.

So, when, for example, yesterday I signed an executive order helping to set up starter retirement accounts for folks who may not have retirement accounts on the job it is not as big as if we change -- overhaul our tax code so that we're providing more incentives for working families to save, the same kinds of incentives that folks at the very top have, but it's still significant. It still makes a difference.

And what we're doing here today, talking about job training -- we actually already have a lot of resources for job training. The problem is, it's not well-coordinated and oftentimes it's not funneled to those programs that are allowing companies to help, maybe colleges, let's say, design the training so that somebody who goes through it knows they're going to get a job at the other end of it.

Tomorrow is a great example of something that we're doing that doesn't involve any legislation or funding. We know that one of the biggest problems right now in the jobs market is the long-term unemployed.

TAPPER: Yes, they're having trouble -- people won't hire them...

OBAMA: People...

TAPPER: ... because they've been unemployed so long. OBAMA: ... because they've been employed -- unemployed so long, folks are looking at that gap in the resume and they're weeding them out before these folks even get a chance for an interview.

So what we have done is to gather together 300 companies, just to start with, including some of the top 50 companies in the country, companies like Wal-Mart and Apple, Ford and others, to say let's establish best practices. Do not screen people out of the hiring process just because they've been out of work for a long time.

We just went through the worst recession since the Great Depression. And so I'll be convening a meeting where a -- a number of these top companies will be coming in, agreeing to these best practices. And we'll have an opportunity to you know, encourage more people to come in.

All those things cumulatively are going to have an impact.

Will we be able to have more of an impact if we can get Congress, for example, to pass a minimum wage law that applies to everybody, as opposed to me just through executive order making sure that folks who are contractors to the federal government have to pay a minimum wage?

Absolutely. And that's why I'm going to keep on reaching out to them. But I'm not going to wait for them.

TAPPER: Your critics say this is diminished expectations. And I've been covering you for a long, long time, as you remember, 2005-2006 in the Senate. I remember during the campaign when you talked about your presidency being a moment when the rise of the oceans would slow and the nation and the world would heel.

And now you're talking about pen and phone and executive orders and executive actions.

Do you think you were naive back then or have you recalibrated your expectations and your ambitions?

OBAMA: Well, part of it is we got a lot of that stuff done. We've got in this country a health care reform that has already signed up millions of people and make sure that everybody who is watching, anybody who already has insurance, will not be dropped because of a preexisting condition. And if they don't have health insurance, they can get it on

We have made enormous strides on the education front, changing our student loan programs. And millions more young people get student loans.

And so part of what's happened is that checklist that I had when I came into office, we have passed a lot of that and we're implementing a lot of it.

Where we haven't, we've taken some administrative actions. So, on climate change, which has to be a top priority for all of us, we are going to make sure that one of the biggest sources of the pollutants that are causing climate change are regulated by regulations on existing power plants. And that's a big piece of business.

And so in no way are my expectations diminished or my ambitions diminished, but what is obviously true is we've got divided government right now. The House Republicans, in particular, have had difficulty rallying around any agenda, much less mine.

And in that kind of environment, what I don't want is the American people to think that the only way for us to make big change is through legislation. We've all got to work together to continue to provide opportunity for the next generation.


TAPPER: So that's just a piece of the far-reaching conversation I had with the president.

We also got into the security situation at the Sochi Olympics. We spoke about Sergeant 1st Class Cory Remsburg, the wounded soldier the president honored so memorably during his State of the Union speech.

I got to give the question, of course, that's on everyone's mind.


TAPPER: I'm going to give you a choice. You just have to pick one. I will give you two.


TAPPER: Hillary vs. Biden or Broncos vs. Seahawks. You have to tell me -- you have to pick one and give me the winner.



TAPPER: So you will be able to hear the president's answer to that. That's just a slightly lighter moment from the walk-and-talk part of the interview, most of it, of course, more serious about more substantive issues. And all of that will air tomorrow.

First, we will start airing it on "NEW DAY" at 6:00 a.m. Eastern, and then right here on THE LEAD at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Tomorrow, Friday, you will be able to see the entire thing.

When we come back, I'm here in the home state of a man who hoped things had gone a little differently in 2012, former vice presidential candidate Congressman Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin. He will join me next to react to what we just heard from President Obama and his reaction to the president's State of the Union speech.

And, later, two suspects arrested for a terror attack last month in Russia, is there a connection between them and recent threats on the Olympics? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're coming to you live from Waukesha, Wisconsin, where we interviewed President Obama just a few minutes ago. More of that interview will air tomorrow on "NEW DAY" and then again on my show, THE LEAD, here at 4:00 tomorrow.

We're going to continue with our politics lead now, though, with a native son of the Badger State, Congressman Paul Ryan, who remains a rising star on the right and Republican power player. He now holds a slight lead in the latest polling for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

So, how does he feel about the current administration's vision for the year ahead?

And joining me now exclusively with his reaction to the first portion of my interview with President Obama, Congressman Paul Ryan, former Republican vice presidential candidate for 2012, of course.

Congressman Ryan, good to see you. I know we're catching you at the House Republican retreat. We appreciate your time.

Tell us your response to President Obama's new thrust, his new push for executive orders, executive actions, of course, the announcement about what he's doing tomorrow in terms of getting the 300 largest companies in the country to agree to set of best practices so that the long-term unemployed are not discriminated against in hiring.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Well, clearly no one wants the long- term unemployed to be discriminated against. With respect to your first original question there, there's a difference between effectively using the bully pulpit to encourage good things in America and doing an end run around Congress.

Look, every time a president or member of Congress is sworn in, they swear to protect and uphold the Constitution. It sounds like, to me, the president -- it looks he is willing to circumvent the Constitution. The presidents do not write laws. That's what Congress does. That's Congress' job.

And if the president tries to circumvent Congress by writing their own laws, then he is circumventing the Constitution. That is not our formal government.

So, if there's something that he thinks should be changed, he needs to make the change to Congress.

He was in Waukesha today talking about job training. I wish he would have looked at the bill we have sitting over in the Senate called the Skills Act that we passed last year reforming our job training programs to make it easier for people who want to work, to get the skills they need to get the jobs that are out there. That's what we've done in Wisconsin with a lot of job training reform, that's what our Skills Act bill does that's sitting over in the Senate, and it's as if we weren't even part of this conversation.

So, that's why a lot of us are frustrated. TAPPER: So, I understand the frustration with what theoretically he might do but have you heard anything from President Obama anything specifically in terms of the executive orders he talked about today here in Wisconsin, or yesterday in terms of increasing the federal minimum wage for federal contract workers, or what he said he's going to do tomorrow in terms of getting businesses to commit to lot discriminate against the long-term unemployed.

Are any of those outside the realm of the Constitution, in your view?

RYAN: Well, I think he's already done that. That's what's concerning to us. In 2013, he did that in health care. He unilaterally waved and delayed the employer mandate. He unilaterally waved other mandates, which the law does not allow him to do.

So, he's already shown that he is prone to circumvent the legislative branch and abuse the powers of the executive branch with these executive orders. So, he's already shown that he's willing to do that. So, I see this as just more of the same.

TAPPER: You're kind of a popular guy right now when it comes to Republicans and the speculation about 2016. A new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll puts you as the favorite among potential Republican candidates in a hypothetical 2016 matchup. Here's what number two on that list, Jeb Bush, running right behind, says about running.


JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I'm deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year. And the decision will be based on, can I do it joyfully? Because I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits. It's a pretty pessimistic country right now. And is it right for my family?


TAPPER: I know you haven't decided, you haven't made any decisions, you haven't sat down with your lovely wife and kids and talk about the decision. But do you think theoretically you could do it joyfully?

RYAN: I wouldn't do it if I couldn't do it joyfully. Yes. Look, I'm a believer in the Ronald Reagan/Jack Kemp school of politics, which is inclusive, which is aspirational, appealing to people's better selves, not preying on the emotions of fear and being (ph) anxiety, like a lot of people cynically do these days.

But, look, I'm focused on doing my job right now. I'm focusing on solutions in 2014 because we have problems that need to be dealt with. I'm not closing my options but I'm just not focused on that right now. It's great that -- I feel good that some people like me in a poll. That and $3 basically gets a cup of coffee as far as I'm concerned right now, because right now, we've got things to do in this Congress, in 2014.

So, we shouldn't be clouding our judgment as to how this helps us or what we're going to do two years from now when Americans are hurting today, when there are things to do to improve people's lives, to get poverty addressed, to get joblessness addressed to create more economic growth. That's what I'm focused on right now.

And I'll worry about these things later at the appropriate time.

TAPPER: Among Tea Party supporters, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tops the polls. There's a division within the Republican Party. I don't know how you would describe it. Some describe it, some sympathetic to you would describe it as the bomb throwers versus those who are interested in governing. I know the Tea Party supporters would describe it quite differently.

Do these divides in the Republican Party worry you at all?

RYAN: They really actually don't, Jake. I am encouraged by the Tea Party because, look, as a person who has been authorizing budgets, when I first rolled out my budget back in 2008, I had something like eight or nine co-sponsors. Now, we passed it because three years in a row because of the Tea Party, because of the new members of Congress who came to make a difference here in Washington.

So, I think it's been a very constructive force for good, for fiscal conservatism, for constitutionalism, for limited government, free enterprise, opportunity. And look at what's going on. We have a vibrant debate of ideas in our party.

This is a good thing. This means that we are becoming the party of ideas again. I see that as nothing but a good thing.

We may disagree from time to time on tactics. But we don't disagree on the big picture. We don't disagree on the outcome we want, which is a reinvigoration of the American idea, getting people out of poverty and back into work, improving people's lives, renewing the vigor of this country, which is the condition of your birth doesn't determine the outcome of your life, and we want to make the boundaries of economic growth.

We're tired of settling with slow growth, high poverty, poor performance in America. And that is something we all agree on and we may disagree tactically from here and there on how to get to that objective, but we share the same principles and we share the same objective and we're having vigorous engagement of ideas, of reforms on how best to achieve that, that's a good thing.

TAPPER: I know one of the things that you're discussing probably very intensely behind closed doors there at the House Republican retreat is the immigration reform bill that I know you and Speaker Boehner really want to pass that is an area that President Obama has signaled as a place where he thinks Democrats and Republicans can come together. It seems as though the big sticking point is a path to citizenship.

Do you think there should be a path to citizenship in an immigration reform bill? And can something like that pass the House?

RYAN: Well, so this is among the debates or the conversations that we're having with ourselves today and our caucus health care, job creation, debt reduction and immigration.

I do not think you should have a special path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrant. I've been pretty clear about that. This is why we're not going to take the Senate bill and we're not going to engage in a process that could result in a Senate bill. That's why the House has long said we're going to do it our way and among the top concerns we have is security.

Look, we started this interview with our concerns about executive orders and end runs around Congress and not enforcing the laws as written. That's a big concern we have here with immigration. So the approach that people like me want to take is, it's not "trust but verify". It's "verify and then trust".

Verify that we've got the border secure. Verify that we have interior reinforcement. Verify that we've got the right rule of law, reforms in place so that we don't have this problem 10, 15 years down the road while we fix the broken legal immigration system.

And so, those are the some of the principles that drive us. I've got my own set of ideas that I think ought to be a rule-basis system so that we secure the border, interior enforcement, while we fix and get people right with the law without producing amnesty or some special pathway. But we're going to have a conversation with ourselves in our caucus about how best to advance these things.

But, look, we know that immigration is America. Immigration is important for America, but it's also very important in this post- 9/11 environment that we know who's coming and going in this country, that we have security of our borders.

You know what these cartels and drug smuggling and all these issues, we don't have operational security of t our border and we want to make sure that whatever we do guarantees that that actually happens and that the president actually enforces the laws that Congress writes.

TAPPER: Congressman Paul Ryan, as always a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time out of the retreat to talk to us. We appreciate it.

RYAN: You bet, Jake. Have a good one.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: the federal government decides it will seek the death penalty for the accused Boston marathon terrorist. Next, how bombing survivors helped the Justice Department come to that decision.

Plus, she was hired to turn around Yahoo! But 18 months, some are wondering if Marissa Mayer was the right person for that job.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, coming to you live from a G.E. plant in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where earlier today, I had an exclusive interview with President Obama. As that interview happened, Attorney General Eric Holder made an announcement concerning one of the darkest moments of the president's time in office, the Boston terror bombings. Holder says he has decided to seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was captured in a city-wide manhunt in April after his brother and fellow suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed.

Federal officials weighed the opinions of victims in the attack and their decisions. Survivors were asked to fill out a questionnaire about the death penalty.

Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, good to see you.

Did you ever expect the DOJ would say that it wasn't going to seek the death penalty in this case?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, if the country is going to have a death penalty, as we do, it's hard to think of a crime that more qualifies for it than this one. I mean, here you have extensive premeditation, obvious intent to kill, multiple deaths, including an 8-year-old boy.

I mean, this is a case that if you believe in the death penalty seems to cry out for the death penalty, even though the defendant is only 19 years old and potentially the junior partner to his late brother. But I think this is a very predictable decision.