Return to Transcripts main page


Confirmation Hearings Begin Soon for Trump's Cabinet; GOP to Speed Repeal with Some Replacements in Bill; Trump Names Son-in-Law as Senior White House Advisor; Obama to Give Farewell Address. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2017 - 07:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And welcome to your NEW DAY. I'm in Washington, D.C., this morning, because in just hours, confirmation hearings will begin for President-elect Trump's cabinet picks.

First up is a big one, and it's going to be in the Senate hot seat for sure. Attorney general. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. You're also going to see the hearings for homeland security chief. That's going to be a different game, Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Also, Chris, it's Mr. Trump's choice for senior White House adviser, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that's also raising some questions. How will they get around a federal anti- nepotism law, among other things?

All this as President Obama delivers his farewell address to the nation tonight.

We are just 10 days away from inauguration day, so let's begin our coverage with CNN's Jason Carroll. He is live at Trump Tower in New York. What's the latest, Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Alisyn.

The president-elect feeling confident about his cabinet choices and his son-in-law. Despite all that, they're expected to face some tough opposition in the coming hours and the coming days.


CARROLL (voice-over): The president-elect says he's confident in all eight of his cabinet nominees facing confirmation hearings this week.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: The confirmation is going great. I think they'll all pass. I think every nomination will be -- they're all at the highest level.

CARROLL: Trump's controversial pick for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, is first up, followed by retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, who is up for homeland security secretary, but it is Trump's move to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as senior White House advisor that is raising lots of questions.

Top Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee calling for a review of the appointment, arguing the anti-nepotism law leaves Kushner ineligible for the job, but Kushner's attorney maintains the anti- nepotism statute excludes West Wing posts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell us how the transition is going.

CARROLL: Meantime, Kushner is moving to resign from all executive positions at his companies and divest a significant number of assets, including all foreign investments, to comply with government ethics rules, something the president-elect has yet to do.

An official briefed on the transition says Kushner will not take a salary at the White House, and not all Democrats are wary of Kushner.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: I'm certainly pleased he'll be in that role. I find him to be a lot more reasonable and a lot more moderate.

CARROLL: It's not clear what role Kushner's wife, Ivanka, will have, or whether the first daughter will have a West Wing office.

TRUMP: Well, we'll talk about that on Wednesday.

CARROLL: That's when Trump will hold his first press conference in nearly six months, where he is expected to be pressed about his conflicts of interest.

TRUMP: It's very simple, very easy.

CARROLL: And whether he accepts the conclusions of intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.

TRUMP: We'll talk to you about that at another time.


CARROLL: Well, Chris, much of the focus is on the incoming president. Tonight the focus will be, in part, on the outgoing president. President Obama expected to give his farewell speech tonight from Chicago. Much of the speech will focus on thanking his supporters over the years. It's expected to be forward-looking and written from the heart -- Chris.

CUOMO: Jason, thank you very much.

A busy week of Senate confirmation hearings kick off on Capitol Hill behind us in just a few hours. History is going to be made at the hearing for attorney general, because you've got nominee Jeff Sessions. You've got Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who's going to take an unprecedented step of testifying against his Senate colleague. Why? He says Session's civil rights record demands it.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has more from Capitol Hill.


This has never happened before, where you have a sitting senator testifying against another. Senator Cory Booker saying he did not make this decision lightly, but, quote, "The immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience. The attorney general is responsible for ensuring the fair administration of justice, and based on his record, I lack the confidence that Senator Sessions can honor this duty."

And this is very unlikely to stand in the way of his confirmation but keep in mind there is some history here, too. This is the same committee that rejected Senator Sessions back in the '80s when he was up for a federal judgeship. That derailed over some of Senator Sessions' past statements, racially incentive statements in the past.

Questions that will very likely come up again today. Now, in his opening statement, just released by the Trump transition team, Sessions makes no mention of his controversial past, but he does defend his civil rights record, saying in his opening statement, quote, "I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters. I have witnessed it. I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by the LGBT community."

[07:05:17] And also happening today, but far less controversial, will be the confirmation hearing of General John Kelly, Trump's nominee for secretary of homeland secretary -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, it will be very interesting to see what happens today. Sunlen, thank you for that.

The Republicans, as you know, plan to repeal Obamacare, but with no alternative on the horizon, they are now looking at simply replacing some elements of the law. Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill with more.

So how's that going to work, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Alisyn, Republicans are moving very rapidly to repeal most of the law as early as a self-imposed January 27 deadline, and they can do that under the rules of the Senate that allows them to use the budget process to repeal that law without getting any Democratic support. Actually using a procedure to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

Now, replacing the law will require Democratic support, and that's something Republican leaders say could take some time. Now there is anxiety in the ranks among Republicans that they need to have a replacement at the same time as they repeal the law, including from an influential senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don't see any way you can intelligently have a replacement plan by January 27, when your HHS person isn't going into office until, at the earliest, January 20. People who really want to see good things happen for our country, which there are many of those, are beginning to understand that it's problematic.


RAJU: Now, in order to alleviate some of those concerns, Republican leaders are talking about moving up the time line to replace part of the law, including to add some of those replacement provisions in that initial repeal law. But the question is whether or not they can do that under the rules and whether or not they can get enough support to do it.

A lot of questions right now about how to move forward on this key issue -- Chris.

CUOMO: Manu Raju. Key grab with Bob Corker, because he is one of these GOP senators that are starting to talk about the timing of what to do on Obamacare. We'll get into that now. Thank you for that, my friend. Lots to discuss.

Joining us is Congressman Chris Collins. He's a congressional liaison for the Trump transition team and co-chair of the Trump House leadership committee. Congressman, always a pleasure.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Chris, welcome to D.C.

CUOMO: Thanks. Good to have two New Yorkers here in a foreign land. So let's talk about Jeff Sessions. OK? You got to know him in an unusually intimate way through what's going on with the Trump transition.

COLLINS: Correct.

CUOMO: What did you learn about him that you think should matter to the people who start measuring him today?

COLLINS: Jeff Sessions is a true gentleman. He is thoughtful. He cares about America. He cares about people. He's just a very soft- spoken southern gentleman, and to be tagging him with some of the adjectives that people are today, it's just not the Jeff Sessions that I know or I think that America got to know on the campaign trail.

CUOMO: What is motivating Cory Booker, the Democratic senator from Jersey, mainly seems to be that, as A.G., Sessions used his prosecutorial discretion to go after civil rights advocates that were trying to sign people up to vote as an extension of his powers there. And they believe that it speaks to his disrespect for that community and those rights. What do you say?

COLLINS: Well, first of all, Cory Booker is all about the latest stunt. I mean, if you remember what he did when he was mayor in New Jersey, the first thing he does is he tries to grab international headlines. What he's doing today, never before in the Senate, I mean, it's not surprising at all that Cory Booker is the one pulling this off.

CUOMO: Well, he did do the prosecution. He did celebrate openly when the Supreme Court turned down some of the supervisory roles of the federal government over voting.

COLLINS: In the question and answer session, they could have that conversation. What Cory Booker is doing is nothing but self-serving, grabbing headlines.

So Jeff Sessions is going to answer those questions. Jeff Sessions, as a senator, I think in the last go around, was the only senator in the United States that didn't even have an opponent. That's how much he is loved by the people of Alabama, and so the Q&A is going to occur. And I can assure you Jeff Sessions is going to answer the question. He's a Constitutionalist. He's a conservative. And we can all agree to disagree on certain issues.

The Constitution is first and foremost with Jeff Sessions. That's what he is going to uphold, and Cory Booker should be asking the questions like senators have done for decades. Not pulling a stunt like he's doing. He's just grabbing headlines.

CUOMO: All right. So let's see how it goes today when they start asking those questions and hearing those answers. Jared Kushner. How do you give comfort to people? The congressman is a businessman and then went into politics.

So you understand -- this is a different presidency than we've seen before. Trump's business portfolio, Kushner's business portfolio. The law will be a little bit of an issue here. It's kind of unclear.

[07:10:11] But let's say they get past that. You have the major issue, which will be the ethical considerations. Jared Kushner is a son-in-law. He's got big business interests. He's brought people to meet the president-elect already who he's done business with. What confidence can you give me and the American people that this young man will put the country first, not his own interests?

COLLINS: Well, first of all, he is already taking the steps to separate himself from Kushner Companies, which is the real-estate company that he's been running since, you know, he was in his mid-20s, very successfully, by the way.

What I think should give the country comfort is Jared Kushner, if anyone has the ear of the president, he and his wife, Ivanka, along with Don Jr. and Eric, who are staying on the business side. But for Donald Trump to have his key advisors, which is Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, General Mike Flynn, that was the team that was part of the campaign. That was the true inside. They are all going to be together as Donald Trump starts his presidency. These are the folks that Donald Trump trusts.

I mean, we all know that Jared has a different style. He's soft- spoken, but he's a very smart, very thoughtful, very focused individual who puts America first and also wants to make America great again. So that's how Donald Trump will be making decisions, is getting input from other folks. He's surrounded himself with people he trusts. A president has to trust his advisers.

CUOMO: They have to be trusted by the people who are around them, as well. That's why these questions come up.

COLLINS: Correct. And Jared Kushner is taking the steps to separate himself, as are the other cabinet officials, and very complicated. These are very successful people. We should be very thankful that we're getting the level of successful individuals into the president's cabinet who know how to get things done. They are no nonsense. They ask the right questions. They hold people accountable. These are CEOs of major companies, real estate in the case of Jared Kushner, who get results. And so I think they're going to -- that America is going to see a presidency focused on results right out of the box.

CUOMO: All right. Now one of those results is getting pushed you now in terms of its timing, changing the ACA, what's known as Obamacare. Repeal and replace.

Now, you do have to give a nod to the idea that that's not normally what you would do. You come up with a plan of here's what we're going to do exactly, and then let's get rid of there right now, especially with something this important as this. You're getting senators now, Congressman, who are starting to say, "We've got to slow down. We need more time to figure this out. Don't just go for the bang for the buck of the political score of the repeal."

Do you give a nod to that consideration?

COLLINS: Well, a promise was made by Donald Trump and by the Republicans to repeal Obamacare. We did it nine months ago. The Senate and the House did it. We put it on Obama's desk. Now he vetoed it, which we knew.

CUOMO: You knew that was going to happen. So you didn't have to think it through. It would not have captured all the people who need insurance right now, and it wouldn't have changed the situation.

COLLINS: I would say this to my fellow Republicans right in the Senate and the House that don't want to do it. That's basically saying to America I was pretty disingenuous nine months ago.

I put a bill on the president's desk that, you know, was not going to get signed. That's why I passed it. You know, I think that's a dangerous slope. We promised to repeal it. We should repeal it quickly.

Now, there's no coverage changes in Obamacare for the next two years.

CUOMO: Why are you repealing it?

COLLINS: Well, we have to repeal it in order to then get through the insurance issues, like right now 17 plans are set. The 18 plans have to be out in the next 60 days. So there's no way we could change coverage in the next two years, just based on insurance requirements in different states. So individuals don't need to worry, with Obamacare, that they're going to have any coverage changes in the next two years.

But then the replacements have to come out with the insurance companies designing new plans, many in conjunction with the companies they're going to be insuring. That process, you know, is a lead time. So we make sure coverage doesn't change. We get the replacement out, say, sometime this year. That gives the insurance companies time to get the new plans out for 2019.

So it is a two-step process, but the message to America is, in many cases, we're getting rid of the onerous parts, the employer mandates, the employee mandate, and things of that sort.

CUOMO: Well, we know it's going to be complicated. We'll stay on the story. We look forward to talking to you about it.

COLLINS: It's good to be with you.

CUOMO: Congressman, always a pleasure.

All right. Alisyn, over to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. After eight years in the White House, today, President Obama says farewell. One of his closest advisers joins us live next to preview that speech and tell us what's next for President Obama.



[07:18:52] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can tell you what I'm feeling right now is that I'm busier than I expected these last two weeks. A great deal of emotion around the people that I've worked with and the gratitude I feel for the sacrifices they've made on behalf of the American people but also on behalf of me personally.


CAMEROTA: So President Obama will return to Chicago today, where he says it all started; and that's where he will deliver his farewell address to the nation tonight.

So joining us from the White House with a preview is senior adviser to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett. Good morning, Valerie.


CAMEROTA: So we know that the president has been hard at work on this speech, and we've heard that he wants to end his time in office the way he started it, quote, "with optimism and hope." Now...

JARRETT: That's absolutely right.

CAMEROTA: But Valerie, that sounds like it's going to be a hard needle to thread, given this climate, you know. All the stuff that has been said during the campaign, how toxic it became and with a president-elect that President Obama did not support.

JARRETT: Well, you know, I think the president's optimism comes from the American people. He's had the privilege the last eight years of traveling our country, meeting so many ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things, who are committed to our country, to making it better. He is enjoying, you know, high popularity among the American people. He's proud of his track record.

If you think about when he took office, the fact that we were losing nearly 800,000 jobs a month, an unemployment rate ticking up to 10 percent. Now it's down to 4.7. High school graduation rates are up. College admissions are up. Poverty is down. Typical family income is up. There's so much that's going on that's positive.

His record-breaking announcements on climate change, both here domestically and around the world. Bringing so many of our men and women home who have been serving our country. There's just a lot to feel very positive about.

And he wants to reflect briefly on the progress that we've made but also looking forward, taking the long view about why he's optimistic about the future of our country.

CAMEROTA: And yet, Valerie, I mean, so many Democrats would not describe what they're feeling today as hope, including the first lady, Michelle Obama, who sat down with Oprah and said, 'Now we know what it feels like not to have hope."

JARRETT: I wish you could have heard her speech last week when she spoke to young girls as we were honoring the best counsellors in the country. And she spoke directly to them and said, "I have so much -- so much faith in you; and we're counting on you, and I want to lift you up." And I think the young people give both the president and the first lady hope, and they always take the long view.

As the president has said, you know, the progress of our country has always been messy. There are going to be zigs and zags along the way. But if you really focus on what makes our country extraordinary, what makes it great, I think that there is reason to be optimistic and hopeful.

CAMEROTA: As you stand there, still at the White House, ten days out from -- from leaving, what do you think the future of Obamacare is?

JARRETT: Well, I hope that the future of the Affordable Care Act, called Obamacare, is positive. There are 20 million people who never had health insurance before, many who never had it before who have it now.

Everyone is covered if they have a preexisting condition. Young people can stay on their parents' plan until they're 26. Senior citizens are getting help with prescription drugs. Women can get preventative care without a copay. There's so much in it that is positive. I would hate to think of taking those important benefits away from the American people.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, you know that Republicans say it is their first order of business to repeal it.

JARRETT: I think as we saw yesterday, they're finding that it's a lot more complicated than they may have originally thought. The president tried to engage the Republicans as we went through Congress the first time to get the best ideas that they would have to try to incorporate them into a bill that had bipartisan support. And they opted not to participate.

And now the burden is on them, and they're seeing it's challenging. It's a complicated piece of business, and many of the pieces are interrelated. If you care about covering everybody with a preexisting condition, well, then you really have to have a requirement that everyone buy health insurance. It's very difficult when you start to break apart the pieces.

CAMEROTA: What do you think of the news that Donald Trump would like his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to become his senior adviser, the role that you have played for the past eight years?

JARRETT: Well, you know what, Alisyn? My first priority right now, as set by the president, is to help President-elect Trump's team with the transition in every way possible, so that it's smooth and orderly, the same way President Bush helped us. So I'm not going to comment on every single appointment that the president-elect makes.

What I can tell you, though, having co-chaired President Obama's transition ,is that he said to his lawyers, "Tell me where the lines are, and then I'm going to color well within the lines." He did that with the appointments in the White House, and he also did that with his cabinet. He wanted to make sure that our due diligence was done ahead of time, that we knew everything that was important to know about a nominee, because that nominee was going to represent the president.

CAMEROTA: So what advice would you give to Jared Kushner?

JARRETT: Listen to the American people. Make sure you stay in touch with them. Make sure you have your pulse on them. Washington can swallow you up whole, and I think it's incumbent upon all of us who serve in the White House to remember every single day who we're here to serve. We're here to serve you, the American people.

CAMEROTA: Valerie, what's next for President Obama? What role will he play in the country and in the Democratic Party?

JARRETT: Well, he's looking forward to working on the Obama Center. We're just thrilled. I am personally, because I'm from Chicago to see it located on the South Side of Chicago, his adopted hometown where, the first lady was born and raised, where so many of his initial support came from.

And he wants it to be more than just a library reflecting on the past and his important time in office but really a beacon of hope for not just Chicago but the world about the future, thinking of ways of creating a platform to be a force for good. And he's going to spend a lot of time, after a much-deserved rest, focusing on that.

CAMEROTA: Valerie Jarrett, we look forward to seeing what you will do next after also much-deserved rest. Thank you.

JARRETT: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for being on NEW DAY.

Let's get to Chris.

CUOMO: All right. The confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions. He's a senator from Alabama. He is the president-elect's choice to be our next attorney general. A big deal will be the past and allegations of racism. Could they hurt him now? The senator's spokesperson joins us next.


[07:29:27] CUOMO: This is a big week, and it starts today. In just two hours, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the president-elect's choice to be our next attorney general, will be in the Senate hot seat for his confirmation hearing,, the same Senate committee that denied him a judgeship back in 1986. He is well-liked by colleagues on Capitol Hill, but he's been down this road before, and as I just said, it didn't go well.

CNN's Dana Bash has the story.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a man who is respected by everybody here.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, was the first U.S. senator to endorse him.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: This is a movement. Look at what's happening.

BASH: The Alabama Republican gave the New York reality TV star credibility with the GOP...