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Trump to Appoint Son-In-Law as Senior Adviser; Senate to Begin Hearings on Donald Trump's Cabinet Nominees; Interview with Senator Ron Johnson. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are the absolute highest level.

CHARLES SCHUMER, (D-NY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: President Obama's nominees met all the standards and Trump's nominees have not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are false charges and distortions of anything that I did.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: There's no smoking gun between these hacking activities and the election results.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am terrified that the Republicans will repeal the Affordable Care Act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We damn well are not going to see it repealed and have no replacement.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The concentrated interactions and experience you have here I don't expect you can duplicate anyplace else.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. I'm in Washington D.C. this morning because in just over an hour the confirmations hearings for president-elect Donald Trump's cabinet picks. First up you have his nominees for attorney general and homeland security chief, Alisyn, very big.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Also, Chris, it's the president-elect's choice of son-in-law Jared Kushner as senior White House adviser that's raising some questions today. How will they get around federal anti-nepotism laws? All this as President Obama delivers his farewell address to the nation tonight. We are now 10 days away from inauguration day, so let's begin our coverage with CNN's Jason Carroll. He is live go at Trump Tower in New York. Good morning, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Get ready for a packed schedule of confirmation hearings today, tomorrow, and Thursday. Expect there to be some fireworks, but having said that, the president-elect said he's feeling good about what is to come.


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

TRUMP: The confirmation is going great. I think they will all pass. I think every nomination will be -- they're 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 adviser 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.

In the meantime Kushner is moving to resign 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 am certainly pleased he will be in the 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: 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: So looking at a very busy day tomorrow. You have got the confirmation hearings. You've got the president-elect holding that much-anticipated press conference. In addition to that tonight you have got President Obama giving his farewell speech. Certainly, Alisyn, there will be no shortage of political news to report on.

CAMEROTA: That's right. We will be busy all day, and, well, for the next few years. Thank you very much, Jason. Confirmation hearings are getting under way soon on Capitol Hill. Things are already getting contentious. History will be made at the hearing for attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions when Democratic Senator Cory Booker plans to testify his senate colleague. CNN Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill with more. How is this going to go, Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, this is quite franly something that never happened up here on Capitol Hill before where you have a sitting senator testifying against another senator. Senator Cory Booker saying it was not a decision he made lightly to do so 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 confidence that Senator Sessions can honor this duty."

It's important to note here it is very unlikely that this will derail or call into question Sessions confirmation in front of this committee, but keep in mind there is some history here for Sessions. This is the same committee who rejected his federal court judgeship in the '80s over allegations of racially insensitive comments that he made in the past.

[08:05:04] Senator Sessions according to his prepared remarks today will make no mention at all of his controversial past, but he will defend his civil rights record writ large. He will say, quote, I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights have 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.

Also happening today but by far a lot less controversial is the confirmation hearing of General John Kelly for secretary of homeland security committee. Chris, it is expected that he will be easily confirmed.

CUOMO: Perfect segue for our guest. Sunlen, thank you very much.

Joining us now is Republican senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin. He's the chairman of the committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He's also a member of the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations. Perfect guest for us this morning.

SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: Good morning, Chris.

CUOMO: Good to see you, Senator.

So General Kelly, you had told the administration you thought he would be a tremendous choice for secretary. Why?

JOHNSON: Well, just his background, 45 years of serving this nation. He's a four-star general, a gold star parent. His most duty was head of southern command. If you look at the threats facing this nation, and our totally porous southern border, so much of that is porous because of what is happening south of the border. As head of southern command in many respects he was America's number one diplomat to all the countries in this hemisphere of south of Mexican border. He assembled and got the presence of the countries together and he fully understands the danger of the drug cartels potentially combined with transnational criminal organizations, potentially terrorist organizations. He knows this region and he knows the threats, and he is a very serious individual and willing to speak truth to power as well. He is going to tell this administration, he's going to tell Congress exactly what he believes, and I think that's a good thing.

CUOMO: We may see that right out of the box, right, because one of his concerns is going to be cyber security. He has very different ideas about the threat that Russia poses than apparently our president-elect does. How do you reconcile this? You have the president-elect who won't accept the intelligence from the community and their investigation, and you have Kelly that says Putin is one of the biggest threats facing this country?

JOHNSON: That's the premise of your question. But I think you take a look at who president-elect Trump is nominating, there's a diversity of views. I think just taking a look at who he has nominated, he wants that discussion. He wants to fully vet issues, and then he will make the decision, something that came across very clear in General Kelly's response to our questions, 70 pages worth. He is going to in the end follow the command of his leader, but he is going to push back and tell the president exactly what he believes. And from my standpoint, he has a lot of good thoughts on what we need to do to secure our border.

CUOMO: Do you know where he fits in terms of how he feels about what is going on with the intelligence of Russian hacking and what needs to be done? He's going to be asked it.

JOHNSON: I think he believes, as most of us do, and I think the president-elect does as well, intelligence gathering is our first line of defense to keep this nation and our homeland safe. We have to have an effective intelligence gathering tool. Listen, Chris, I am pretty troubled by the leaks out of apparently the top people in the intelligence community, politicized leaks, and I was one of the 12 members of Congress in the first secure briefing in September where the administration, and this is Jeh Johnson and this is Comey, this is Lisa Monaco, assuring all of us that we have got it covered, the election is going to be legitimate, the message out of this briefing ought to be this is going to be a good election, nobody can hack into the election system to change votes. We need to assure the American public. And then apparently the wrong person won, and all of sudden you have leaks and this administration and the intelligence community is putting into question the legitimacy of this election.

CUOMO: Let's balance that out.

JOHNSON: The bottom line is people are playing politics with this which I don't like to hear.

CUOMO: Let's put a name on some of the people. You did. Then another name you've got to include therefore is Donald Trump, because during the election, Trump was baiting about George Soros owning the voting machine. He was re-tweeting those things. His people were putting that out. He was saying question the legitimacy of the election. So add him to your list. And also, you still have to deal with this conclusion. The intelligence community comes out. Do you believe their conclusion that Russia motivated the attacks? You are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

JOHNSON: So here's my concern. I have not gotten the briefings yet.

CUOMO: You could.

JOHNSON: Maybe today. But I was back in town before Christmas to interview General Kelly before I went to Israel, and so I had an extra day. I asked the CIA, I asked the intelligence community to brief me on what they had. They refused to. We went to a briefing in the Senate Foreign Relations committee and no intelligence community individuals were at that brief. So no, there's been a real paucity of information to members of Congress on exactly what this is.

[08:10:00] Now, again, I have been concentrating at this hearing so I'm going to be briefed later today on exactly what the intelligence community has on this, but it renews your reports on the declassified, there's a lot of conclusions, not a whole lot of meat. We will see in the classified sections if there's more meat backing up their conclusions.

Again, from my standpoint, the leaks, I was briefed before the election, what the message was supposed to be, let's assure the American public this is a legitimate result no matter what the result, because we need to move forward. We need to have that peaceful transition of power. We've got to give the next administration a chance to set up an administration, get their nominees confirmed quickly. And by the way, that's one of my points here today is Napolitano, Secretary Napolitano --

CUOMO: Janet Napolitano.

JOHNSON: -- was confirmed the day the nomination. This president has to have his national security and homeland security team in place.

CUOMO: Don't you have to balance the timing with the vetting? Is General Kelly's complete package in?

JOHNSON: It is, yes.

CUOMO: So he is complete in terms of the ethics office being able to vet him?

JOHNSON: Ethics and FBI. Listen, of course this time is compressed, but it was in the last administration as well.

CUOMO: Everybody has their package complete?

JOHNSON: Seven of his nominees, President Obama's nominees were confirmed on the day --

CUOMO: All with complete vetting packages. That's not the case right now, so that's relevant.

One other quikc issue, you were talking about the need for the message of completely and timing to all be on the same page. That analysis falls into what is going to happen with Obamacare as well. I get the political currency of following through on a promise to repeal, but this is such a complex system, as you well know, senator, that you repeal, you get some political points, but you may take a big hit later on.

JOHNSON: First of all, I have taken flack a couple years ago when I started talking instead of repeal and replace, which I thought was completely possible before the implementation, but once implemented I think the strategy in what we had to do was first repair the damage and then transition to a system that actually works. And Chris there's a lot of damage to be repaired with Obamacare in Wisconsin. Individuals on the individual market have seen their premiums double and triple, out of pocket maximums, deductibles, have doubled and tripled. So even people who have obtained coverage, subsidized, paid by the American taxpayer can't use it because deductibles are so high. The press doesn't talk that much about that damage.

CUOMO: We talk about it, but -- you are dealing with a portion of 2 million out of 30 million that are covered by the plan. You don't want to make it seem like everybody is getting hit with price hikes when they are not.

JOHNSON: A lot of people are. Double and tripling, and that's the part of Obamacare really governed by the market reforms. So we need to address the market reforms. We need to ask some serious questions and get real information --

CUOMO: I agree with all of the questions, but will you vote for a repeal if you are not confident in the replacement?

JOHNSON: I will vote for this budget reconciliation that allows us to do certain things --

CUOMO: That's the first step that allows to go back to your committee to figure out --

JOHNSON: Yes, that's just the first step. I will support that. But from my standpoint, what I would like to see is us start voting on the replacement elements. Let's start repairing the damage. Let's start taking a look at the specific markets --

CUOMO: Do you think you can get it done by January 27th?

JOHNSON: No, I don't. I don't. So I think we need to lengthen out the process.

CUOMO: Talk about something people are not talking about it, that idea of not being able to get it done is a pretty quiet voice.

JOHNSON: Understand, the repeal they're talking about is not a full reveal. It's repealing the taxes, the subsidies, leaving all the market reforms in place. It's the market reforms that are causing premiums to skyrocket. So I want truth in advertising here --

CUOMO: You can't pay for preexisting conditions and lifetime caps if you don't have the revenue on the other side.

JOHNSON: Lifetime caps is a small percentage of the premium increase, maybe two percent.

CUOMO: It's an important protection.

JOHNSON: It's the guaranteed issue of preexisting conditions which I think we can handle a different way, still provide that guarantee without having premium skyrocket. That's the use of high risk pools. We already have high deductible plans, but give the subsidy to individuals for those type of high deductible plans, make them responsible for holding that, and then they can move into high risk pools if they have preexisting conditions. There's a way of doing this. It worked before with high risk pools and Obamacare pretty well wiped those out, unfortunately.

CUOMO: They can be very expensive also. A lot of details, look forward to hearing them from you. You are always welcome on the show.

JOHNSON: And welcome to D.C. Come back more often.

CUOMO: Always happy to talk about what you say the media keeps quiet. It's good to have you, senator, appreciate it. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Chris, President Obama, as you know, is set to deliver his farewell address to the nation tonight from his adopted hometown of Chicago. What can we expect from the president's big speech? CNN's Athena Jones is live at the White House with a preview. Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. We know the president is working up until the last minute on this speech. He has already gone through at least four draft with his chief speechwriter, and this is his last speech as president in the city that launched his political career, so it's not surprising to see him work up to the last minute on it.

[08:15:03] And we expect he's going to echo some of the themes we first heard from him more than a decade ago -- hope, optimism, that idea that there's more that unites us as Americans than that divides us. We expect to spend time reviewing his -- what the White House views as his successes of his presidency, from job growth to his work on climate change, and health care.

We also know that he's going to spend sometime talking about what he believes is necessary for the country, to meet the challenges of facing it in the future. So, he'll touch on things like fairness and justice, diversity as strength, some of those are themes that will likely see something of a rebuke to what we heard from the president- elect on the campaign -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Athena. Thanks so much for that preview.

So, President Obama, of course, is also trying to write his own history in this farewell speech. One of Mr. Obama's former advisers, as well as the author of "Hillbilly Elegy" will be here next to talk about what President Obama has meant to them.


CAMEROTA: President Obama will bid the country farewell tonight from his adopted city of Chicago. A senior administration official tells us that the goal of his speech will be to end his time in office with optimism and hope.

Here to reflect on whether that's possible, as well as Mr. Obama's legacy, is J.D. Vance, author of "Hillbilly Elegy," and former White House press secretary for the president, Jay Carney.

Great to see both of you.

J.D., I want to start with you, because you have an interesting op-ed in "The New York Times" talking about how President Obama basically surprised you. You had made a prediction when he first came into office that ended up not being accurate. Let me read it for everyone.

"I suspected that there were skeletons lurking in his closet. Surely, this was a man with a secret sex addiction, or at least an alcohol problem. I secretly guessed before the end of his term, some major personal scandal would reveal his family life to be a sham."

[08:20:01] So, how are you feeling today given that he has become this sort of pillar of a family man?

J.D. VANCE, AUTHOR, "HILLBILLY ELEGY": Sure, well, he obviously surprised me in a good way and I think it's important to contrast President Obama's legacy in that regard with President Clinton who's the person that I sort of came up in politics really paying attention to for the first time. And I think what happened with President Clinton as he inspired a certain doubt, a certain feeling that kids who grew up at a home like President Clinton's and frankly like mine were sort of doomed to repeat the mistakes of their home.

And I think what was so important about President Obama is he came from pretty stuff circumstances himself and, you know, whether you disagree with his politics as I do or not, he was a really good husband and a really good father, and I think that sets an important example for kids who grew up like I did.

CAMEROTA: So, Jay, beyond having a scandal-free presidency in terms of personal life scandals, what do you think President Obama's legacy is?

JAY CARNEY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think that it was scandal free beyond his personal life. The man's integrity, his decency and his optimism about America that he both embodied and pursued I think will be his legacy. For those of us who got to work for him and with him, it was one of the most profound positives of the experience that every day you came to work in the White House, you knew that the values that emanated from the top were patriotic and pure in a way that had become, as J.D. mentioned, seemingly rare in modern American politics.

And it was incredibly gratifying to have that that experience. I think that every day I sat in those rooms in the West Wing, I realized this was an entirely human enterprise, and humans are imperfect and make mistakes, but it was an honest and sincere effort driven towards the idea of making America better and improving the lives of everyday Americans.

And that's why you want to be there. And it all -- it started with and ends in many ways tonight with Barack Obama.

CAMEROTA: I don't want to relitigate the entire eight years, but obviously, Republicans don't think it was scandal-free, and I understand that was your perspective.

But, J.D., it's always interesting to talk to you because of your book, "Hillbilly Elegy," where your family sort of personifies the working class in the Rust Belt that turned away from Democrats in this election and voted for Donald Trump. So, what do you think all of your folks are feeling at the end of President Obama's eight years?

VANCE: Well, I think a lot of them share my personal admiration for the president, and a lot of folks are looking to turn the page politically. I think one of the failures of the Obama years is the failure to recognize I think both from Democrats and Republicans this sense of real existential crisis that a lot of Americans feel.

And if you think of the last 15 or so years of politics this way that we sort of have these big swing elections from one party to the other and I think we are in the middle of that, we're in the middle of a very long political moment where folks are very, very unhappy with how things are going and are constantly looking to turn the page. And I think that is one of the legacies of the president is that he lived in this moment where there was this constant swing first to him and to his party, but now away from him and away from his party.

CAMEROTA: Right. So, Jay, how does he address that tonight? Will he acknowledge there's a big divide in our country, and, frankly, his presidency didn't do anything to mend that rift?

CARNEY: I think that's his greatest regret, or, you know, the source of his greatest disappointment as president is that his hope that the partisan politics, the politics of division that he had seen before he arrived in the White House could somehow be repaired in a way that, you know, brought us together, and instead, as you said, it's only gotten worse.

I think J.D. is exactly right about where we are politically in the nation, that we tend -- when I was a reporter and we in general as observers tend to over-interpret election results as, you know, meaningful in the future when they are meaningful in the moment. Remember, when George W. Bus won reelection In i004, there was a lot of analysis that said this was going to solidify Republican control nationally for years to come. Of course, and two and four years later the opposite happened. And when Barack Obama was elected in what counts in American national politics as a landslide in 2008, the same thing was said about the Obama coalition and Democratic solidification. The election we just saw, as we know obviously, the Democratic candidate overwhelmingly won the popular vote. It was an incredibly close election, and it reflects the sort of balance and spaces that we've seen or a long time, and I think it does -- people are always looking for change and improvement over what they just experienced because no single leader and no party is able to fix all of the ills that they are experiencing.

[08:25:12] And there's a lot of impatience that is understandable out there.

CAMEROTA: So, J.D., your family in the Rest Belt, poor, the working poor, or at least working class at best, how are they feeling today? Are they hopeful that we've turned a page? Are they jaded? What's their feeling as we approach this new presidency?

VANCE: Well, it's probably a little bit of hopefulness, but also a little bit of jadedness. I mean, I do think that there's a sense that folks don't expect things to get better overnight, and that speaks to a certain cynicism about the political process but just about the direction of the country.

But, yes, a lot of folks feel, you know, their guy won, they are hopeful he will do things that make their lives better, and I think the real verdict, of course, is going to come over the next few years.

CAMEROTA: What do you want to hear, Jay, from President Obama? What is the thing you really want him to hit tonight?

CARNEY: What I have been struck by and I have seen him a few times in the last week, is how he has really been a beacon of optimism for a team of people that worked for him and with him and for supporters of his over the years, you know, who are pretty upset and despondent in the wake of the last election, because his personal story and his focus throughout his political career has always been on the idea that, you know, we can make progress, it's never in a straight line and there will be setbacks.

So, I think I will hear tonight a surprisingly optimistic speech that, you know, says, you know, we worked as hard as we could for eight years, we did a lot of good things and passing the baton over, don't be fearful, keep faith, and move forward. That's what I expect to hear.

CAMEROTA: Jay, J.D., thank you very much for your perspectives and previewing this with us.

Nice to see both of you.

VANCE: Thanks.

CARNEY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Let's get to Chris.

CUOMO: All right. We have a really important and actually interesting situation going on. The president-elect is testing an anti-nepotism law by tapping his son-in-law to be a senior White House adviser. What does the law say and not say about a West Wing role? What is going to happen with conflicts of interest? Very big question and we have a great panel for you, ahead.