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Horror in Syria; Exxon CEO Nominated as Secretary of State; President Obama Signs Moonshot Cancer Bill. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 13, 2016 - 15:00   ET



JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He said, "We are unwilling to postpone."

We all here are unwilling to postpone, unwilling to postpone another minute, another day in doing what we know is within our grasp. It shows the government at its best, Mr. President, and it shows our politics can still come together to do big, consequential things for the American people.

I see my friend Senator Hatch, who I worked with for years and years, who stood up in this. All junior senators, senior senators, everyone came together.

So, Jill and I are proud to stand beside you, Mr. President, as you sign this last law of our administration, proud to have served with you, Mr. President, and your absolute commitment to changing the way in which we deal with our health care system.

It's making a -- it's going to make a big difference. And this particular bill is going to allow people to live, live longer and live healthier. And so -- but, most of all, Mr. President, I think it gives people hope.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I always kid the president that, when he asked me to join him in the ticket, my daughter came home at lunch. She's a social worker. And she said: "Did he call? Did he call?"

And I said, "Yes."

She says, "You said yes, didn't you, daddy?"


BIDEN: And I said, "Yes, of course I did."

She said; "This is wonderful. You know how you're always quoting Seamus Heaney about hope and history rhyming?"

I said, "Yes."

She said: "This is hope and history."

I'm history. Here's hope. (LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Oh, no need. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you very much.


OBAMA: Thank you very much.


OBAMA: Thank you.


OBAMA: Please, have a seat. Thank you so much.

Well, welcome to the White House, everyone. It's December, so it's holiday time around here. And we thought it was a good occasion to have one more party. And this is a celebration worth having.

I want to, first of all, thank Joe Biden and Jill Biden and their entire family, who have been such extraordinary friends to us. And what a fitting way for us to be able to signify our partnership as our time comes to an end together. It makes me feel very good.

I want to thank David and Kate Grubb for sharing their family's story. As David said, we have a lot in common, and nothing more than the love of our children, our daughters.

When I first met them in Charleston, their story was, unfortunately, more common than we would have liked. And I indicated a number of the people on this stage are people who have gone through tough times or have seen their loved ones suffer, either because of opioid addiction or because of cancer, who had bravely shared their story and channeled their passion into increasing the urgency all of us feel around this issue.

And so, more than anything, this is a testimony to them and an extraordinary commemoration of those that they have loved. So we're very grateful to them.

Please give them a big round of applause.


OBAMA: We're joined by a whole bunch of members of Congress here today. And it's wonderful to see how well Democrats and Republicans around the closing days of this Congress came together around a common cause.



OBAMA: And I think it indicates the power of this issue and how deeply it touches every family across America.

Over the last eight years, one of my highest priorities as president has been to unleash the full force of American innovation to some of the biggest challenges that we face.

That meant restoring science to its rightful place. It meant funding the research and development that's always kept America on the cutting edge. It's meant investing in clean energy that's created a steady stream of good jobs and helped America become the world's leader in combating climate change.

It meant investing in the medical breakthroughs that had the power to cure disease and help all of us live healthier, longer lives.

So, I started the 2016 State of the Union address by saying we might be able to surprise some cynics and deliver bipartisan action on the opioid epidemic.

And in that same speech, I put Joe in charge of mission control on the new Cancer Moonshot. And today, with the 21st Century Cures Act, we are making good on both of those efforts. We are bringing to reality the possibility of new breakthroughs to some of the greatest health challenges of our time.

Joe's already indicated some of the scope of the bill, but let me repeat it, because it's worth repeating.

First, this legislation is going to combat the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic that is ravaging too many families across the country. This is an epidemic that can touch anybody, blue-collar, white-collar, college students, retirees, kids, moms, dads.

I have had the chance to meet people from every stage of recovery who are working hard to sustain the progress that they're making. And I have meat parents like the Grubbs who work tirelessly to help a child struggling with addiction.

It could not be clearer that those of us called upon to lead the country have a duty on their behalf, that we have to stand by them, that all too often, they feel as if they're fighting this fight alone, instead of having the community gather around them and give them the resources and the access and the support that they need.

So, today, I could not be prouder that this legislation takes up the charge I laid down in my budget to provide $1 billion in funding so that Americans who want treatment can get started on a path to recovery and don't have to drive six hours to do it.

It's the right thing to do, and families are ready for the support.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: Second, the Cures Act provides a decade's worth of support for two innovative initiatives from my administration.

The first is the BRAIN Initiative, which we believe will revolutionize our understanding of the human mind. Now, when I sign this bill into law, it will give researchers new resources to identify ways to treat, cure and potentially prevent brain disorders like Alzheimer's and epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, and more.

We are also going to support what we have called our Precision Medicine Initiative, an effort -- we started to use data to

help modernize research and accelerate discoveries, so that treatment in health care can be tailored to specifically to individual patients.

This spring, with the help of this legislation, the National Institutes of Health plans to launch a groundbreaking research cohort, inviting Americans from across the country to participate to support the scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow.

Number three, the Cures Act improves mental health care.


OBAMA: It includes bipartisan reforms to address serious mental illness. It takes steps to make sure that mental health and substance use disorders are treated fairly by insurance companies, building on the work of my presidential task force, and it reauthorizes, meaningfully, suicide prevention programs.


Many reforms align with my administration's work to improve our criminal justice system, helping us enhance data collection and take steps so that we're not unnecessarily incarcerating folks who actually need mental health assistance.

Fourth, we're building on the FDA's work to modernize clinical trial design, so that we're updating necessary rules and regulations to protect consumers, so that they're taking into account this genetic biotech age. And we're making sure that patients' voices are incorporated into the drug development process.

And, finally, the Cures Act invests in a breakthrough effort that we have been calling the vice president's Cancer Moonshot. And I think the Senate came up with a better name when they named it after Beau Biden.


OBAMA: Joe said Beau loved me. I loved him back.

And like many of you, I believe that the United States of America should be the country that ends cancer once and for all. We're already closer than a lot of folks think.

And this bill will bring us even closer, investing in promising new therapies, developing vaccines, and improving cancer detection and prevention. Ultimately, it will help us reach our goal of getting a decade's worth of research in half the time.

And, as Joe said, that time counts. In this effort, Joe Biden has rallied not just Congress, but he has rallied a tremendous collection of researchers and doctors, philanthropists, patients.

He's showing us that, with the right investment and the ingenuity of the American people, to quote him, there isn't anything we can't do. So, I would like everybody to just please join me in thanking what I consider to be the finest vice president in history.


OBAMA: Joe Biden.


OBAMA: Go ahead and embarrass Joe. Go ahead.


OBAMA: So, we're tackling cancer, brain disease, substance use disorders and more.

And none of this work would have been possible without bipartisan cooperation in both houses of Congress. A lot of people were involved, but there are some folks who deserve a special shout-out.

That includes Senators Alexander and Senators Murphy.


OBAMA: Representatives Upton, Pallone and DeGette and Green.


OBAMA: And, of course, we couldn't have gotten across the finish line without the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, who are here...


OBAMA: ... as well as leaders from both houses, Speaker Ryan, Leaders McConnell and Reid, and Senator Patty Murray, not to mention all the members of Congress who are sitting here that I can't name. Otherwise, I'm going to be here too long, and I will never sign the bill. But you know who you are.

I want to thank all of you on behalf of the American people for this outstanding work. These efforts build on the work that we have done to strengthen our health care system over the last eight years, covering preexisting conditions, expanding coverage for mental health and substance use disorders, helping more than 20 million Americans know the security of health insurance. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it means they have access to some of the services that are needed. I'm hopeful that, in the years ahead, Congress keeps working together in a bipartisan fashion to move us forward, rather than backward, in support of the health of our people, because these are gains that have made a real difference for millions of Americans.


So, this is a good day. It's a bittersweet day. I think it's important to acknowledge that it's not easy for the Grubbs to come up here and talk about Jessie.

It's not easy for Joe and Jill, I know, to talk about Beau. Joe mentioned my mother, who died of cancer. She was 2.5 years younger than I am today when she passed away.

And so it's not always easy to remember, but being able to honor those we have lost in this way and to know that we may be able to prevent other families from feeling that same loss, that makes it a good day.

And I'm confident that it will lead to better years and better lives for millions of Americans, the work that you have done. That's what we got sent here for. And it's not always what we do. It's a good day to see us doing our jobs.

So, with that, I think it's time for me to sign this bill into law.


OBAMA: Gather around here. Get over here.


OBAMA: Get close. All right.

Those of you who have not attended this before, I have to use all these pens.




OBAMA: But it works for us, right? I don't care what other people say.

There we go.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: This is just really special to watch here. We will stay on the pictures.

But let me just point out a couple things. First, we all know someone and have loved someone we have lost to cancer. So the fact that this Moonshot bill now law thanks to President Obama and those 10 or so pens will help, at least hopefully, prevent deaths in the future.

Of course, he mentioned his own mother passed away. She would have been -- it would have been 2.5 years younger than even the president when she passed away. Of course, Beau Biden passed away last January to brain cancer. So, this is incredibly important to both the president and the vice president that this is happening.

And, number two, let just me point out, you're seeing members of Congress, of course, there and other family members shaking hands. Also, in the audience, you have moms and dads of little ones who were killed in Sandy Hook four years ago today.

And so they, I'm sure, too, were hanging on the president's every word when he was talking about mental health. As the president pointed out, it's a bittersweet day for him and so many people in that room.

So, that's what's been happening at the White House.

And now to the transition of President Obama's successor. The suspense is finally over regarding president-elect Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, but the drama looks like it is just getting started over perhaps the confirmation of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

The business titan with no government or diplomatic experience has long held business ties with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. And their friendship is putting several senators, several Republican senators on edge. You have Senator Marco Rubio, who is on the committee that Rex Tillerson must pass through in order to reach that full Senate confirmation.

In a statement Senator Rubio said -- quote -- "While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination."

He goes on: "The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America's interests and will be a forceful advocate for America's foreign policy goals to the president within the administration and on the world stage."


Still, though, to Rex Tillerson's credit here, he has some major Republican heavyweights supporting his nomination.

So, let's begin this hour with CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, who is here.

And tell me who these Republicans are who really helped make this happen.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, we know that Condi Rice, former secretary of state, was one of the

people who promoted this, as was former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Now some very serious Republican heavyweights are lining up to also endorse him.

James Baker, former secretary of state, just put out an announcement today. He said: "Rex Tillerson, who is a friend of mine, is an excellent choice to head the State Department and has an opportunity to be a very effective secretary of state."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said that Tillerson was -- quote -- "an inspired choice" and went on to say: "He has the vast experience, ability and judgment to deal with the very dangerous world we find confronting us. His extension knowledge of the global situation will be an asset in representing our nation."

And just before we went on the air, I'm turning to Twitter, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld just tweeted, make it came up: "With the addition of Tillerson, a talented exec and skillful negotiator, @realDonaldTrump seems to be assembling an accomplished and able Cabinet."

You know, for those who are concerned about Rex Tillerson's relationship with Russia, we're going to hear a phrase over and over again friend of Putin, friend of Putin. These five people are not soft on Russia or Vladimir Putin.

When you have Condi Rice, Bob Gates, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, James Baker all standing up for Rex Tillerson, that's a pretty heavyweight crowd. That said, we are hearing this confirmation is going to be tough. Every administration has a target, someone that they go after. It looks like Rex Tillerson is going to be that target.


BALDWIN: Let me ask you to stand by. I want your voice in this panel.

Also joining us now, CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and CNN political commentator Mary Katharine Ham, who is also a senior writer for "The Federalist."

Ladies, welcome.

Nia, to you. Jamie points out some heavyweight Republicans who are not soft on Russia are saying yes to Rex Tillerson. That said, you heard the other Republicans who are in Congress and will be part of the process are not thrilled. This could be a nasty fight. Do you think that the Trump team knows it and says bring it on or are they being naive?


They have always in some ways been, bring it on, particularly with the establishment crowd in the Senate and in the sort of Republican firmament more generally. Interesting here that he is rolling out the architects of the Iraq War and what he has seen in many ways as Bush's failed foreign policy, sort of co-signers to this pick.

I guess that in his mind and in the folks surrounding him, that sends signals to people like John McCain, people like Lindsey Graham who are Republicans in terms of their hawkish stance on foreign policy, but, listen, I think you will have to look to see what they do, somebody like John McCain, somebody like Marco Rubio, even somebody like Rand Paul. What do they do?

Are they going to be get out of this committee, 10 Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and nine Democrats? They don't have much of an edge and they have a very small window for error there, because you imagine that Democrats are going to keep their coalition together on that Foreign Relations Committee.

Are they going to be able to keep Rand Paul if you're on the GOP side and Marco Rubio, who has oftentimes made noises as somebody who would like stand up to the establishment, but has oftentimes sort of turned around and done -- kind of fallen in line. So I think we will have a real battle and those confirmation hearings are going to make for good TV.

BALDWIN: But, Mary Katharine, what do you think? And do you think some of these names that Jamie just rattled off are people who could really assuage the concerns of these Republicans a la McCain and Rubio?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's a very on- brand pick for Trump, where it's sort of -- it's very outside the box. He's a businessman, he's an oil guy, and then he also has these like establishment ties and friends speaking up for him.

It seems calculated to sort of scramble all the partisans' brains and go, I'm not sure what to think about this guy anymore, which is sort of Trump's specialty. Look, I don't think you need to worry about Tillerson not knowing things.


He's had vast experience around the world doing big deals in very many countries and particularly Russia. Now, I am concerned about the fact that Trump has been consistent about his rather sanguine view of Putin and Russia and that perhaps Tillerson is a pick in that model.

That being said, he was serving Exxon's interests at that time, which are different than the United States of America as a country's interests. And so this confirmation hearing will be about sussing that out and figuring out how you're going to get through sloughing off those interests and what that looks like.

And the thing about whether he takes a lot of attacks, I think he will, he may take more because thanks to departing Senator Harry Reid, there is no filibuster, so you kind of have to concentrate your fire on one nominee if you want to take someone down, because there's this 50-vote threshold now, not 60. BALDWIN: Just quickly before I move on to Rick Perry, Jamie, when she

mentions the confirmation fight, remind us of the backdrop. What has Senator Corker announced?

GANGEL: Senator Corker, the very powerful chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has just announced, he told Manu Raju that he is going to hold hearings looking into the Russian hacking.

So on the one hand, he's going to do this. President-elect Donald Trump has not been so excited about this. And at the same time we have a nominee here who critics are very concerned about his relationship.

BALDWIN: OK, it's just worth a note.

We are short on time. We have to go. Ladies, I appreciate all of you, Mary Katharine, Nia-Malika Henderson, and Jamie. Thank you.


BALDWIN: Just ahead here, something I didn't think I would be talking about today, but guess who popped by Trump Tower? Kanye West. Yes, meeting with the next president of the United States, then pausing for cameras, talking to reporters. Hear why he was there and what they said.

Also ahead, President Obama says American voters should have cared more about Russia's interference into the election. But the question is, was the president vocal enough all along?

And breaking news today, as Syrian forces reportedly execute dozens of men and women and children, their families are taking to social media to say goodbye.