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President Obama Holds News Conference,: Still Working To Close Guantanamo; Did Philippines President Apologize?; Obama Responds To Trump's Criticism At Forum; Working With China To Rein In North Korea; Obama's Legacy On War And Peace. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 8, 2016 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:00] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- an engagement is sustained. And my hope and expectation is that my successor will, in fact, sustain this kind of engagement because there is a lot happening here. You know, you've got countries here that are taking off. You've got one of the most dynamic and youngest populations in the world. This is where the action's going to be when it comes to commerce and trade and, ultimately, creating U.S. jobs by being able to sell to this market.

And that's the only feedback that I've received, and that's not just based on what leaders tell me. If you read multiple newspapers or you talk to people, that's been the same commentary that we receive generally.

With respect to Guantanamo, I am not ready to concede that it may still remain open because we're still working diligently to continue to shrink the population. I continue to believe that Guantanamo is a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations. That it clouds and sours some of the counterterrorism cooperation that we need to engage in. And it's not necessary and it's usually expensive for U.S. taxpayers.

Is there strong resistance in Congress? Absolutely. But as we continue to shrink the population to the point where we're looking at 40 or 50 people and are maintaining a multi-million dollar operation to house these handfuls of individuals, I think the American people should be asking the question why are we spending this money that could be spent on other things when it's not necessary for our safety and security.

So, there's no doubt that because of the politics in Congress right now it is a tough row to hoe. But, you know, I expect to work really hard over the next four months -- five months -- four and one-half months -- Margaret Brennan.

MARGARET BRENNAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: Thank you, Mr. President. Can you tell us if, last night,Philippine president Duterte offered his apology to you and if you said to him the U.S. will continue to help the Philippines push back against China?

And last night, sir, Donald Trump said Vladimir Putin has been more of a leader than you, and then he said you have reduced American generals to rubble. Do you care to defend your legacy? OBAMA: (Laughing) Do I care to defend -- OK, OK, respond, got it. I did shake hands with President Duterte last night. It was not a long interaction and what I indicated to him is that my teams should be meeting with his and determine how we can move forward on a whole range of issues.

As I said when I was asked about this in China, I don't take these comments personally because it seems as if this is a phrase he's used repeatedly, including directed at the Pope and others. And so I think it seems to be just a habit, a way of speaking for him.

But as I said in China, we want to partner with the Philippines on the particular issue of narcotraffickers, which is a serious problem in the Philippines. It's a serious problem in the United States and around the world.

On that narrow issue, we do want to make sure that the partnership we have is consistent with international norms and rule of law. So we're not going to back off our position that if we're working with a country, whether it's on antiterrorism, whether it's on going after drug traffickers.

As despicable as these networks may be, as much damage as they do, it is important, from our perspective, to make sure that we do it the right way because the consequence of when you do it wrong way is innocent people get hurt and you have a whole bunch of unintended consequences that don't solve the problem.

[05:35:00] It has no impact on our broader relationship with the Philippine people on the wide range of programs and security cooperation that we have with this treaty ally. And it certainly has no impact in terms of how we interpret our obligations to continue to build on the longstanding alliance that we have with the Philippines. However, that may play itself out.

My hope and expectation is that as President Duterte and his team get acclimated to his new position that they're able to define and clarify what exactly they want to get done. How that fits in with the work that we're already doing with Philippine government and, hopefully, it will be on a strong footing by the time the next administration comes in.

As far as Mr. Trump, I think I've already offered my opinion. I don't think the guy's qualified to be president of the United States and every time he speaks that opinion is confirmed. And I think the most important thing for the public and the press is to just listen to what he says and follow up and ask questions about what appear to be either contradictory or uninformed or outright (audio gap) petty he is.

There is this process that seems to take place over the course of the election season where somehow behavior that in normal times we would consider completely unacceptable and outrageous becomes normalized, and people start thinking that we should be grading on a curve.

But I can tell you from the interactions that I've had over the last eight or nine days with foreign leaders that this is serious business and you actually have to know what you're talking about, and you actually have to have done your homework. And when you speak it should actually reflect thought-out policy that you can implement.

And I have confidence that if, in fact, people just listen to what he has to say and look at his track record, or lack thereof, that they'll make a good decision -- (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (blank tape) -- four and one-half months in office. And second, is it time for a fundamental rethink of North Korea policy, given that all these years of condemnations and increasing sanctions haven't led to a desired outcome? Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, those are good questions. In my meeting with President Xi, we emphasized the importance of full implementation of the U.N. sanctions that have been put forward. I can tell you that based on not only their presentations but actually intelligence and evidence that we've seen China has done more on sanctions implementation than they have on some of the previous U.N. Security Council sanctions.

But you are absolutely right that there are still places where they need to tighten up and we continue to indicate to them the importance of tightening those up. You may have noted that China continues to object to the THAAD deployment in the Republic of Korea, one of our treaty allies.

And what I've said to President Xi directly is that we cannot have a situation where we're unable to defend either ourselves or our treaty allies against increasingly provocative behavior and escalating capabilities by the North Koreans.

[05:40:00] And I indicated to him that if the THADD bothered him, particularly since it has no purpose other than defensive and does not change the strategic balance between the United States and China, that they need to work with us more effectively to change Jong-un's behavior. Now, when it comes to changing Jong-un's behavior, it's tough.

It is true that our approach -- my approach since I've been president is to not reward bad behavior. And that was based on the fact that before I came into office you had pattern in which North Korea would engage in some provocative action and as a consequence of the equivalent of throwing a tantrum, countries would then try to placate them by giving them humanitarian aid or providing other concessions, or engaging in dialogue which would relieve some of the pressure and then they would just go right back to the same provocative behavior later.

And so our view was that wasn't working, let's try something else. Now, it is entirely fair to say that they have continued to engage in the development of their nuclear program and these ballistic missile tests. And so we are constantly examining other strategies that we can take -- close consultations with the Republic of Korea and Japan, as well as China and Russia, and others who are interested parties.

And we do believe that if there are any signs at any point that North Korea is serious about dialogue around denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula, that we'll be ready to have those conversations. It's not as if we are looking for a problem or avoiding a willingness to engage diplomatically, but diplomacy requires that Jong-un meet its international obligations.

And not only is it failing to meet those international obligations, it's not even suggesting that they have any intention to do so anytime in the future, regardless of the inducements that might be put on the table.

So, look, we are deeply disturbed by what's happened. We are going to make sure that we put our defensive measures in place so that America's protected, our allies are protected. We will continue to put some of the toughest pressure that North Korea has ever been under as a consequence of this behavior.

Can I guarantee that it works, no? But it is the best options that we have available to us right now and we will continue to explore, with all parties involved, including China, other potential means by which we can bring about a change in behavior -- Bob Woodruff.

BOB WOODRUFF, CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Thank you, Mr. President. First of all, I just want to let you know that this is going to be more of a personal question for you. We are almost the same exact age, born in August 1961, but I'm two weeks younger than you.

OBAMA: You know, I noticed that when we were in the gym together you were working out a little harder than me. (Laughter) So those two weeks clearly are making a difference.

WOODRUFF: But I want to ask you about some of your thoughts all those years ago since we were living in those days of the Vietnam era. What were your thoughts about Vietnam -- the war at that time and certainly as time went on? But, more importantly, about the Secret War, when you found out about that and also as time went by.

Given what you learned about that and what you see now, and what you witnessed when you're here, do you -- do you think you should apologize fully to the country of Laos?

And one other very important thing, too, is for those American veterans who did serve in the Secret War -- those that are special ops, CIA, certainly pilots that dropped the bombs -- those are the ones that targeted known enemies in a war they did not create. Would you be comfortable, in Laos, calling them heroes, as we do with those that served in Iraq and Afghanistan?

OBAMA: Well, because we're the same age you'll recall that at the peak of the war we were still too young, I think, to fully understand the scope of what was taking place. It was the tail end of the war where -- when we were in high school and starting to understand the meaning of it.

[05:45:00] But at that point it was -- I think the debate had raged. Even those who had been strong supporters of the war recognized there needed to be some mechanism to bring it to an end. And so I can't say that I was so precocious that I had deep thoughts about it at the time, other than the images that we all saw on television.

Standing here now, in retrospect, I think what I can say is that the United States was on the right side of history when it came to the Cold War. There may have been moments, particularly here in Southeast Asia, in which in our singular focus on defeating an expansionist and very aggressive Communism that we didn't think through all the implications of what we did as policymakers.

And certainly when you see the dropping of cluster bombs, trying to figure out how that was going to be effective, particularly since part of the job was to win over hearts and minds, how that was going to work. I think with the benefit of hindsight we have to say that a lot of those consequences were not ones that necessarily served our interest.

Having said that, and I've said this before, regardless of what happens in the White House and decisions made by policymakers, when our men and women in uniform go into action and put their lives on the line and they're carrying out their duty, my attitude is they're always heroes because they are -- they are saying that I am willing to do whatever it takes -- what my commander in chief has ordered -- in order to keep the American people safe.

And, by definition, their job is to put their lives on the line and make sacrifices, both seen and unseen, that have longstanding ramifications. And that act of sacrifice is heroic. And one of the things that I think about, in terms of legacy, and I think reflect back on my presidency as it comes to an end, is the degree to which I came in respecting and honoring our men and women in uniform. I leave here even more in awe of what they do.

And it also is one of the reasons why I take so seriously the decisions Imake about war and peace because I know whatever decision I make, there are men and women out there who will carry out my decision even if they think it's wrong. Even if they didn't vote for me. Even if they have completely different ideas about what's required for our national security. That's heroism, that's service. That's the definition of it.

And that puts a special burden on the occupant of my office to get it right or, at least, as right as you can. And hopefully, when people look back 20 years from now or 30 years from now at the decisions I made, they'll be able to say that he did pretty good, all right?

Thank you very much, everybody. Let's go home.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama just finishing up a news conference in Laos, there. He did take some questions about his trip overseas. He opened with a statement there. But I think what caught everyone's attention is when he was asked about the current U.S. presidential election, specifically comments made by Donald Trump last night that Vladimir Putin is a better leader than Barack Obama. And the president had a very stark response to that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: He did. He said I don't think he is qualified to be president of the United States. And he said every time you listen to him speak that opinion is confirmed. Basically saying that the level of discourse in a presidential election season -- he said we start to grade on the curve where the more outrageous or outlandish something the candidate says is reported and synthesized and discussed where in normal times it wouldn't even be uttered.

[05:50:00] BERMAN: Joining us now, Eugene Scott from CNN politics. And, Eugene, the president said -- he called on the American people to listen to Donald Trump and make their own decisions, but he called on, I think, the public discourse and the press, really --

ROMANS: In particular.

BERMAN: -- to question Donald Trump on some of the things that he says.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It seems like the president is tired of having to repeat some of the same things, the same arguments that he's made before about Donald Trump not being qualified for this position. To the president, it seems to be pretty clear, based on the evidence that has been laid out before, that the best person to carry on his legacy and move the country forward is Hillary Clinton. And it seems like nothing's going to change that between now and November.

ROMANS: That comment about grading on the curve was sort of interesting, that in normal times you wouldn't even have this conversation. Do you think that the president was kind of blaming the press a little bit for indulging in -- you know, letting Donald Trump set the parameters for polite discussion in politics?

SCOTT: I think we've seen in the past that this current president hasn't had the smoothest relationship with the press in terms of what he thinks the media should cover when and where. I think he would certainly like to see us be more difficult and tougher on Donald Trump. I'm not quite sure, though, that voters will respond differently and will see different outcomes from Donald Trump's base based on what we do.

BERMAN: I think it's interesting. I think Eugene might be right. The president's tired about answering questions about this when he's in a formal setting like this, like in a news conference in Laos or perhaps at the White House in some kind of formal setting.

But we do know that he's eager to get out on the campaign trail. We saw him at the Democratic Convention and he was perfectly willing, happy, and eager to go after Donald Trump there.So he is chomping at the bit, I think, to get out there and do this in a more direct way, maybe just not right here, right now.

SCOTT: Very much so. I remember when he first hit the trail -- I was in North Carolina, I believe -- campaigning for Hillary Clinton and he seemed so exuberant and full of life and very eager to make the case that this is the direction he thinks the country needs to go in.

ROMANS: The other news that we learned there was that he met with the Philippine president. Maybe not a formal meeting, but they shook hands. They shook hands after the Philippine president had called him a couple of kind of terrible things.

BERMAN: Son of a whore. Let's just say it.

ROMANS: OK, you say it, it's 5:52 a.m. in the East. But he did, and you know -- look, you know, the question that was asked to the president was did you tell the Philippine president that you will continue to be -- the United States will continue to be an ally with the Philippines and help thwart sort of the -- I guess the will of China or the influence of China in the region. And the president said look, we did shake hands.

SCOTT: Yes, it will be interesting to see future interactions between this president and whoever takes over the country after this election, given how this was received internationally in the media and even by citizens of both countries. I was actually involved in some conversations on social media with people from the Philippines who were very embarrassed by the interaction.

BERMAN: Is it -- and President Obama said, you know -- he was asked if he got an apology. The president did not say he got an apology directly from the president of the Philippines, but he also said he didn't take the comments personally. It turns out, Barack Obama said, that that phrase "son of a whatever" is just something that the Philippine leader says a lot.

We did turn around some sound which, again, we talked about a moment ago, of President Obama responding to Donald Trump's claim that Vladimir Putin, of Russia, is a better leader than President Obama. Let's listen to that.


BRENNAN: Donald Trump said Vladimir Putin has been more of a leader than you, and then he said you have reduced American generals to rubble. Do you care to defend your legacy?

OBAMA: (Laughing) Do I care to defend -- OK, OK, respond, got it. I don't think the guy's qualified to be president of the United States and every time he speaks that opinion is confirmed.


BERMAN: Yes, there it was. You can see the president there, laughing derisively in some ways at the concept of Donald Trump saying those things.

SCOTT: Yes, very much so. It seems that if President Obama has any questions about his legacy they're not from Donald Trump. He doesn't feel like the candidate has brought anything to his attention or the attention of voters that he needs double theme.

BERMAN: There is a risk here, though, right? There is a risk, which is Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. And the president -- you know, there's a lot of criticism out there of President Obama. I mean, yes, his approval rating is high but there's still 48 percent or 47 percent of the country who does not approve of his job. And he just can't dismiss the criticism that's out there.

SCOTT: Yes, very much so. How he goes about dismissing the criticism will be very interesting because Donald Trump isn't just speaking for Donald Trump. He's speaking for a significant component of the American people who do agree with him.

[05:55:00] ROMANS: Let's listen to -- he also talked about Guantanamo Bay. He's got four and one-half months left in office and that early campaign promise of years ago that he would close Guantanamo Bay -- it has been a thorny issue. He's been unable to do it. Let's listen to the president talking about Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


OBAMA: With respect to Guantanamo, I am not ready to concede that it may still remain open because we're still working diligently to continue to shrink the population to the point where we're looking at 40 or 50 people and are maintaining a multi-million dollar operation to house these handfuls of individuals. I think the American people should be asking the question why are we spending this kind of money that could be spent on other things when it's not necessary for our safety and security.


ROMANS: A thorny issue from day one for this president -- Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has been.

SCOTT: Very much so, but I think what the president has tried to communicate is that he is still president and he's not walking away from some of the promises he made, even in his first term. And he thinks that some of those things that have not been accomplished there's still time for, but we'll see.

BERMAN: He didn't close Guantanamo Bay. It was one of his campaign promises to close Guantanamo Bay. He didn't close the prison there.

SCOTT: Right.

BERMAN: It seems unlikely that it will happen in the next four and one-half months. This is a criticism -- when he is criticized for this, this is a criticism that comes the left. This is the left that says that he didn't do what he said he would do here. It's the same wing of the party that occasionally criticizes him for drone strikes.

SCOTT: Right.

BERMAN: You know, for the excessive use of drone strikes. And sometimes a more aggressive military policy. It's the Bernie Sanders wing of the party to a certain extent. And for Hillary Clinton, this is part of the party she needs before November 8th.

SCOTT: Right, and so it will be really interesting to see how she responds to those demands and those requests from that wing of the party. If they'll be more confident in her moving forward to honor those. From Sanders supporters and people even left of him, I don't think -- I can't imagine that there will be much more confidence but that's not going to stop the requests.

ROMANS: Again, sort of the political headline from this speech from the president in Laos is that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president. That's the view of the president of the United States right now to the criticism from Donald Trump last night who said that Vladimir Putin is a better leader than the President of the United States.

I wonder if you think that the president on the campaign trail in the coming weeks before the election -- do you think that the birther issue is going to continue to come up? Do you think that you're going to have the president of the United States and Donald Trump still talking about that old birther issue that Donald Trump says hasn't really come up anymore? But reporters have been asking about it a lot. Is Donald Trump going to apologize for those statements?

SCOTT: I think it will continue to come up. We had Ben Carson on the air in the last couple of days showing that that is one of the issues that probably has resonated worse with a lot of black voters who Donald Trump needs. Him questioning the Americanism of the president just because he is different. So how Donald Trump responds to that remains to be scene.

BERMAN: Mike Pence, his running mate, said that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. He said it just yesterday. Something that Donald Trump has yet to say. So we will see if that happens going forward. Eugene Scott, great to have you here with us to share the morning.

ROMANS: Nice to see you, Eugene. Thank you.

SCOTT: Thank you.

BERMAN: Again, a big morning here. Barack Obama responding to Donald Trump, once again saying Donald Trump is not qualified to be president. "NEW DAY" picks it up right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY, and we do begin with breaking news. President Obama, just minutes ago on an international stage, saying last night's forum makes clear Donald Trump is not qualified to be president.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The president warning voters about Trump hours after Trump criticized the president's foreign policy. CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president and she joins us live from Laos -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, after what was said last night let's put this in perspective. There was another press conference two days ago. The president was not asked a single question about Donald Trump. This time, it was the first thing out of the gate. Asked about Donald Trump's comments on generals -- that Obama has reduced them to rubble. Asked about what Donald Trump said about President Obama being humiliated on this trip to Asia. And we heard President Obama respond in a way similar to how we've heard him -- things that we've heard him say before. He started off by saying Donald Trump is unqualified to be president of the United States and the president said he confirms that every time he speaks.

But then he took it a step further, saying that you need to listen to some of the things Donald Trump says -- listen.


OBAMA: I don't think the guy's qualified to be president of the United States. And every time he speaks that opinion is confirmed. And I think the most important thing for the public and the press is to just listen to what he says and follow up.