Return to Transcripts main page


Supreme Court Sides With Hobby Lobby's Religious Rights; Live Coverage: Obama Nominates Bob McDonald As New Veterans Affairs Secretary; Tornado Warnings

Aired June 30, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Jeffrey, let's talk about the slippery slope though, because I understand this was a narrow decision and Carrie's right about that. But if the principle that the court ruled on is taken to the next step, what is to stop another closely held company, a small company of 50 people, fewer than five own more than half the company, what is to stop them from saying I'm Catholic and my religion teaches me that the birth control pill is wrong which is part of Catholic faith?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Nothing. And I don't think this is a narrow decision. What I heard Carrie say is, well, courts have to balance the religious views of the owners of the company against what the law says. That's a lot of owners of companies. That's a lot of lawsuits from companies that don't want to pay for certain procedures.

And I think Carrie was very accurately stating that this is an invitation not cutting off these sorts of losses. This is an invitation to owners of companies who -- prior to today we didn't even know corporations had freedom of religious views. But today, the court made clear that they do. And they are going to exercise those rights to cut away from paying for stuff they don't want to pay for.

TAPPER: Carrie.

CARRIE SEREVINO: First of all, corporations have long been held to have religious perspectives. There have been many businesses that haven't happened to been organizes as corporations who have been found to have religious rights, like Jewish owned businesses. If they incorporated they wouldn't have lost those rights -


TAPPER: Hold on. Let her finish her point.

CARRIE SEVERINO, JUDICIAL CRISIS NETWORK: They wouldn't have lost those right. And I think, yes, people that are in similar situations should be able to exercise their religious freedom the same way.

But in this case, the government has already offered to many other faith-based organizations a way that they would not have to participate in this and violate their religion. It's also exempted under other laws. I think more than half the American workforce because of the size of businesses, etc., and grandfathering, it's unfair to give exemptions for all those secular regions to exemptions - to other religious organizations and not to give them to people like the Greens.

TAPPER: But Neera, let me ask you, millions of Americans think that the birth control pill is -- because it extinguishes a fertilized egg - it does not let it --


TAPPER: Some birth control bills. Millions of Americans think, people who subscribe especially to Catholic dogma but also evangelical Christians - that that is ending a life. Why should anybody who thinks that way be required to pay for insurance that covers it?

TANDEN: So Justice Ginsburg addressed this in her dissent, which is to say that there's a governmental purpose in insuring that people have these rights. And this wasn't like a congressional decision. This was a decision made by medical experts to say you know what? Contraception is a health care issue. And I think the challenge here is to get the courts involved and business leaders involved in their narrowly deciding what is a contraceptive right versus not.

I think the challenge with this decision is that it gives this power only to company CEOs, business leaders. There are important rights here for employees, workers. I'm a Hindu. I don't have the same beliefs that a boss could have. Why are my beliefs circumscribed? What I find damaging about this decision is that it places all the burden on workers and says the only people who have rights here are these CEOs.

TAPPER: All right. Carrie Serevino, Neera Tanden, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, we're waiting on President Obama to announce his nomination for Veterans Affairs secretary. Why he isn't going with a career military man this time around.

Plus, another - yes, another -- major recall from General Motors. This time more than eight million vehicles. Details coming up.


TAPPER: Here we have President Obama introducing his new nominee to be VA secretary.

OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. Please be seated. Let me start by thanking Acting Secretary Gibson for welcoming us here today. I'm pleased to be joined by our vice president, Joe Biden, from leaders across this department, and our many partners, particularly representatives from our incredible veterans and military family service organizations.

I want to begin by making a basic point. Those of you who serve here at the VA, do absolutely vital work every single day for our veterans and their families. I know how deeply you care about our veterans. Many of you are veterans yourselves, veterans serving veterans.

You help them to transition to civilian life, go to college, buy their first home, and start a new business. You have some of the best doctors and nurses in the country and provide some of the best specialized health care. At our national cemeteries you lay our veterans to rest with dignity and compassion.

I know that millions of veterans are profoundly grateful for the good work that you do. And I am grateful as well.

But, we're here today because of problems that have outraged us all. That includes the inexcusable conduct that we've seen at too many VA health care facilities.

So I'm here for two reasons: to update you and the American people on how we're fixing these problems, and to announce choice for the next secretary of veterans affairs to help move us forward.

The first thing everyone should know is that those responsible for manipulating or falsifying records at the VA, and those who tolerated it, are being held accountable. Some officials have already been relieved of their duties and investigations are continuing. And as I've said, where we find misconduct, it will be punished.

And I've made it clear that I expect the VA's full cooperation with all of the ongoing investigations into wrongdoing.

Second, we've reached out to 135,000 veterans so far to get them off those wait lists and into clinics. We've added more staff, sent mobile medical units, and we're making it easier for veterans to use hospitals and clinics outside the VA.

And we're going to keep at it until every one of the veterans is off a wait list and they receive the care that they've earned.

Third, we're moving ahead with urgent reforms at the Veterans Health Administration. That 14-day scheduling goal has been removed from employee evaluations. So there is absolutely no incentive to engage in inappropriate behavior.

Providing the highest quality care, when our veterans need it, that's your incentive. There will be new measures of patient satisfaction from the veteran's perspective. And today's outdated VA scheduling system is going to be overhauled with the latest technology. More broadly, the review that Rob Nabors conducted of the VHA found, and I'm quoting, "significant and chronic systemic failures, including too little responsiveness, transparency, and accountability."

That is totally unacceptable. It recommends that the VHA be restructured and reformed with stronger management, leadership, and oversight, as well as more doctors and staff. And I totally agree. And we're going to make that happen.

I've asked Rob to remain at the VA for now to help move these reforms forward. Hiring of new VWA leaders has been frozen -- VHA leaders has been frozen to make sure the new team we're putting in place is the right one.

Based on the recommendations of our panel of experts, I will be nominating the next leader of the VHA. I want to get the very best leader on the job and get going on these reforms. And we're going to work with Congress to make sure that the VHA has more of the doctors and resources it needs to deliver the care that our veterans deserve.

Fourth, we're instituting a new culture of accountability. The very idea that senior VHA executives would receive bonuses this year rightly appalled many Americans, and those bonuses have already been canceled.

A review is now under way to make sure that when employees speak up about a problem, action is taken, not to intimidate or retaliate against the employee, but actually to fix the problem. Everyone is going to be held accountable for doing better.

And Congress can help by giving the secretary more authority to remove senior leaders.

Finally, we're rebuilding our leadership team here at the VA. I want to thank Sloan and others here who have stepped up to serve in new roles during this critical time.

And I have to say, Sloan, you have been an outstanding driving force behind the reforms that are now under way, and we'll be relying on your steady hand during this period of transition and through your continued service as deputy secretary.

And I know all of you will have an outstanding partner and secretary in my choice to lead the VA going forward: one of our nation's most accomplished business leaders and managers, Robert McDonald.

Now I've gotten to know Bob a bit over the years. He has come to the White House to share his perspectives as we've worked through complicated issues. He's no-nonsense. He's pragmatic. He does not seek the limelight.

He repeats a Japanese saying, he worked and lived in Japan for six years while at Procter & Gamble, the saying goes: "He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool." (LAUGHTER)

Now Bob actually climbed Mount Fuji, once.


Bob is a wise man. And if you need any more evidence that he's wise, you need to meet Diane and his family who are here today because they are a wonderful family, and obviously they've served along with him in the past.

For Bob and his family, the mission of caring for our veterans is deeply personal.

OBAMA: Bob is a wise man. And if you need any more evidence that he's wise, you need to meet Diane and his family who are here today because they are a wonderful family, and obviously they've served along with him in the past.

For Bob and his family, the mission of caring for our veterans is deeply personal. His father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II. Diane's father was a POW. Her uncle was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and still receives treatment from the VA.

So this is not an abstract mission for them. Bob is a veteran himself. He graduated from West Point where he and Sloan were classmates. So this is a bit of a reunion. Bob served as an Army Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division. Back home in Cincinnati, he and Diane have teamed up with the USO to honor our veterans.

But, what especially makes Bob the right choice to lead the VA right now is his three decades of experience in building and managing one of the world's most recognized companies, Procter & Gamble.

The VA is not a business but it is one of our largest departments: some 340,000 employees working in more than 1,700 facilities serving nearly 9 million veterans. And the workload at the VHA alone is enormous: some 85 million appointments a year and some 25 million consultations.

As CEO of Procter & Gamble, Bob oversaw more than 120,000 employees with operations around the world selling products in more than 180 countries, in more than 2 million stores reaching some 5 billion customers.

In other words, he knows the key to any successful enterprise is staying focused on the people you're trying to serve. He's renowned for his operational excellence. He started his career out in the field and worked his way up serving at virtually every level of Procter & Gamble.

He understands the grand plans are not enough and what matters is the operations that you put in place and getting the job done.

Bob is an expert at making organizations better. In his career he has taken over struggling business units. He knows how to roll up his sleeves and gets to work putting an end to what doesn't work, adopting best practices that do, restructuring, introducing innovations, making operations for efficient and effective. In short, he's about delivering better results. He also knows the importance of building what he calls a high- performance team, putting the right people in the right jobs and rewarding them when they do well, and holding them accountable when they do not.

And finally, Bob is known for integrity. He is still guided by that cadet prayer from West Point, "choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong." He served our country in uniform. He is now prepared to answer the call once more.

So let me state the obvious, this is not going to be an easy assignment. Bob knows that, but like any Army airborne ranger, Bob has a reputation for being ready, jumping into tough situations, taking charge, and going all the way.

So, Bob, on behalf of all of us, to you, to Diane, and your family, thank you for your readiness to serve again.

My bottom line is this, we've got to change the way VA does business. Over the past five years, this agency has done some excellent work in dealing with a whole range of real difficult challenges, and I don't want people to forget that.

We have had a huge influx of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. We have had -- I think had to manage what was a good decision to make sure that folks who previously had difficulty accessing VA services were finally admitted, whether it's because they had PTSD or folks with cases previously of Agent Orange, all of which meant more people coming into the system.

We have had to get up and running and it's now we're doing quite effectively work in terms of the post-9/11 GI Bill to make sure our young people are able to get the training they need after they leave our military.

So across the board there has been some terrific work. But there's a lot more that has to be done. We've got to fix some things that are broken. And Sloan has started that process but we're going to have to keep on driving until we get it done.

We've got to regain the trust of our veterans, with a VA that is more effective, more efficient, and that truly puts veterans first. Bob is the manager we need to help get this done. So I urge the Senate to confirm him as soon as possible.

I also urge the Senate to finally confirm my nominee for CFO, Helen Tierney, my nominee for assistant secretary for policy, Linda Schwartz, and my nominee to lead the Board of Veterans Appeals, Constance Tobias.

They have all been waiting and waiting and waiting for a vote, in Constance's case, for more than a year. We need them on the job now and Congress needs to act and help us do right by our veterans.

We've got to do right by veterans like Corporate Kyle Carpenter, some of you may have seen the story of Kyle. I recently had the privilege of presenting Kyle with the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan where he used his body to shield his best friend from a grenade blast.

Kyle spent two-and-a-half years in the hospital. He endured nearly 40 surgeries to rebuild his body and his face. And he has gone through excruciating rehab. And to see him standing in the White House, strong and proud, receiving his Medal of Honor was something I will never forget, it was an inspiration.

Today Kyle is medically retired, so part of his journey of recovery has involved the VA. On the one hand, he's now in college, and with the help of his VA educational benefits. And it's an example of the good work that the VA has done.

On the other hand, his experience with VA health care has often been frustrating. He said it was OK that I share this with you today so I just want to use Kyle as an example.

Here's an American hero, by any definition, sometimes we use that word too loosely. This guy is a hero and deserves everything we can do. But like other veterans, Kyle sometimes had trouble just making an appointment or had to wait a month to see his doctor only to be referred to another doctor and wait another two months for that appointment.

He often felt like a number, he said, being passed between doctors who sometimes didn't know his situation or why he need certain medication. He has relied on the help of a patient advocate but at so many steps along the way, it has just been a lot harder than it should have been. As his advocate said, it shouldn't be this way.

So VA does many things well, like delivering Kyle's educational benefits. And we need all of you to keep doing that important work, like reducing the disability claims backlog and improving care for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, building on the good work that has already been done and reducing homelessness among our veterans, helping veterans get their education under the post-9/11 GI Bill, and helping find new civilian jobs so they can enjoy the American dream that they helped to defend.

And it's a good time to mention the great work that the VA has done with Joe Biden and Michelle in partnering with the private sector so that that transition from military to civilian life is a lot easier for our veterans.

But when it comes to delivering timely quality health care, we have to do better. We have to do better for Kyle. We have to do better for all of our wounded warriors. We have to do better for all of our veterans from all of our wars.

They are looking for us to fulfill Lincoln's pledge, to care for those who have borne the battle, and for their families and survivors. I'm confident we can do that. And so long as I'm president, we're going to keep doing everything in our power to uphold what is a sacred obligation.

With that, I want to invite Bob to say a few words.

Thank you so much, Bob, for taking on this assignment.

MCDONALD: Thank you, Mr. President.


MCDONALD: Mr. President, thank you for your confidence in me that this nomination demonstrates.

It would indeed be an honor and a privilege, if confirmed by Senate, to serve as secretary of veterans affairs, to improve the lives of our country's veterans and help change the way the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does business.

Mr. President, in your remarks just now, you've made it clear what you expect, a VA that is more effective, more efficient, and that truly puts our veterans first. If confirmed by the Senate, my priority would be to lead that transformation.

My life's purpose has been to improve the lives of others. I went to West Point to be an officer in the Army to try to help free people who were living in non-free societies. I became an airborne ranger infantry officer in the 82nd Airborne Division because I wanted to be on the front line in leading that change.

I joined the Procter & Gamble company 34 years ago because of its purpose, which is to improve the lives of the world's consumers.

Mr. President, thank you for mentioning my father, Diane's father and uncle. Yes, for our family, taking care of our veterans is very personal. We need to put care for the veteran at the center of everything that we do at Veterans Affairs.

At Procter & Gamble, we always focus on our customer. At the VA, the veteran is our customer and we all must focus all day, every day on getting them the benefits and care that they so earned. That's the only reason we're here.

I look forward to working with the dedicated men and women of the Veterans Affairs to accomplish this mission.

I'd like to thank my family for supporting me throughout my life, but especially during this next chapter, my wife Diane, my daughter Jenny, my son-in-law Scott (ph), and my son Rob, are all here today.

My parents and Diane's mother could not attend here today. But thank you for your love and support.

Thank you, again, Mr. President. I look forward to working with you to transform Veterans Affairs to better serve our country's veterans. Thank you.


TAPPER: You just heard President Obama nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. So let's take a moment to talk about what veterans might think of this choice.

Joining me is Paul Rieckhoff, he is the founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He served as an Army first lieutenant and an infantry rifle platoon leader in Iraq. Let's also bring in CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin who broke the VA scandal story that is obviously had such repercussions.

Paul, let's start with you. You said that Bob McDonald was not on anyone's radar for this position as a veteran and representative of the Iraq and Afghanistan vets. What do you make of this choice?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: It's a surprising choice because he doesn't come from the military. He doesn't come from the health care community. He doesn't come from inside the VA. So he is not a name that was on anyone's radar. Look, we need a turnaround artist. If he's got experience that can turn around the VA, that's what our veterans need because the trust is broken.

Right now, it going from P&G to the VA is going to feel like driving a Ferrari. The VA is so deeply entrenched and has criminal investigations going on. Mr. McDonald, if confirmed, is going to have to get used to operating in almost a constant state of chaos and regain the trust of our veterans nationwide over 9 million who depend on VA for their health care. That's got to be priority number one.

TAPPER: Drew, let's look at Mr. McDonald's background for a second. He has more than 30 years of experience at Procter & Gamble. He's from the Cincinnati area. He's given campaign contributions to Republicans, like Mitt Romney and House Speaker John Boehner. Why do you think he was tapped for this job?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: I think as the president said, he was tapped because of his organizational skills and making other people in an organization better and better performing. This guy is what the VA needs. They need a businessman to run this like a business and deliver the product in this case, what we're talking about, health care, to the veterans of this country.

I think they also needed, and I think the president was smart to do this, they needed an outsider who was unencumbered by any kind of ties in Washington, D.C. or the VFW or anything else because I think his first order of business, Jake, is going to be to can a bunch of people. He's got to lay waste to a lot of the managers and the senior administrators there who got the VA into this mess.

TAPPER: Paul, after General Shinseki resigned as VA director, did anyone in the White House in any way, formally, informally, did anyone reach out to you to talk about who might take that job?

RIECKHOFF: No, we got one call from Mr. Neighbors. This hasn't been an open process where the president reached out to veterans groups. He's reached out to veterans across the country. I think Mr. McDonald will have to do that immediately. He is going to have to get out on the road and have to talk to patients. He's going to have to talk to VA employees and especially the new generation.

Our average member is in their late 20s. They are dealing with very different issues than the VA has been seeing in the past. He's got to understand that community and really get to know them and ensure that he can be an advocate for us in the important years to come.

TAPPER: Drew Griffin and Paul Rieckhoff, thank you both for your important work.

Coming up, it could be the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season and it could make landfall on the 4th of July. Details on some nasty weather kicking up off the coast coming up ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In national news, it's the kind of deep red you never want to see over your area on a weather map, a line of extreme weather moving across the Midwest right now bringing the threat of floods and hail and twisters to cities like Chicago. A tornado was already reported on the ground in Iowa.

And if that isn't enough to mess with your holiday week, forecasters are watching a storm system off Florida that could hit your east coast beach get away as a tropical storm on the 4th of July. Chad Myers is in Atlanta tracking all of this for us -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Jake, big storms, a big squall line right now heading into Chicago. You have a couple hours, but you need to batten everything down in Chicago. Anywhere along I-88 through Northern Indiana, Northern Illinois, this weather is pushing ahead like a bulldozer.

The problem is the bulldozer is going 60 to 70 miles an hour. That's wind you'll see through Chicago and all the suburbs in the next probably two hours or so eventually blowing into Lake Michigan. That's the area that you're talking about, the risk of big time severe weather risk across the Northern Illinois.

And then this, what will probably become Arthur, the first tropical storm of the year, I know it looks like it's going to affect Florida and it will along the beaches but what we're really expecting, major rip tides, rip currents here across the east part of the coast and a lot of people on these beaches.

You have to be careful. Guess what, on the morning of the 4th of July, that storm is forecast with all these computer models to be right over the outer banks where at least hundreds of thousands of people will be trying to enjoy the 4th of July. Pay attention to this one. It's still very close.

TAPPER: Outer banks, beautiful place to be on the 4th of July except maybe this year. Chad Myers, thank you so much.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and at the leadcnn, check out our show page at for video and blogs and extras. That's it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Brianna Keilar who is filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Brianna.