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Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of State Begins Today; Trump to Hold First Press Conference Since Election; Future of the Democratic Party in Post-Obama Era. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:31:18] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: One of Donald Trump's most controversial cabinet picks for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. He's going to be in the confirmation hot seat today.

Lawmakers have information to work with, his ties to Vladimir Putin as a businessman, and this comes as Trump's pick for attorney general faces a second day of questioning.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill with the latest.


Rex Tillerson was already preparing to face many tough questions on Russia, but this new intel definitely adding some more fuel to the fire. According to a preview of his prepared remarks, he will be making a sharp departure from the rhetoric we're hearing from President-elect Donald Trump. Tillerson today will label Russia a danger.


SERFATY (voice-over): Former ExxonMobil CEO and secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, facing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. Tillerson is likely to address his 17-year relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the millionaire's opening statement released to CNN, Tillerson will say the U.S. government must be, quote, "clear-eyed about a relationship with Russia", that the country "poses a danger" and "must be held to account for its actions."

This as attorney general nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions, faces day two of an already contentious confirmation hearing.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: This is one of the more consequential appointments in American history right now.

SERFATY: In an unprecedented move, fellow Senator Corey Booker will testify against Sessions. On Tuesday, multiple protests broke out against the Alabama senator

over old allegations of racism which Sessions addressed head on and strongly denied.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: As a Southerner, who actually saw discrimination and have no doubt it existed in a systematic and powerful and negative way, I know that was wrong. I know we need to do better.

SERFATY: Sessions also breaking away from some of the president- elect's controversial statements, including Trump's campaign call for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S.

SESSIONS: I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States.

SERFATY: And Trump's vow to bring back waterboarding.

SESSIONS: Absolutely improper and illegal.

SERFATY: Sessions also pledging to enforce Supreme Court rulings on abortion and same sex marriage despite consistently voting against those issues in the Senate.


SERFATY: Meantime, General John Kelly, who was tapped to lead the Department of Homeland Security, he had a much smoother hearing up here on Tuesday and is expected to sail right through the confirmation and the same is expected today for the start of the hearing for Elaine Chao to be the next transportation secretary -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Sunlen, it is going to be a very busy day. Thank you for all of that. President-elect Trump meets with the press in just a few hours. He will no doubt have to answer questions about the new reports that Russia may have compromising information on him. We will discuss that and more with our panel, next.


[06:37:40] CUOMO: In just a few hours, Donald Trump is going to hold his first press conference since winning the election. In fact, the last one was nearly six months ago and, boy, are there some big issues on the table -- this reporting about Russia, his actually conflicts of interests that he said he would secure before he took office.

Let's bring back our panel -- Monica Langley, Errol Louis, David Drucker.

This is one of the problems with when you delay addressing the press. He's got big things to deal with today.

What do you think he comes out of the box saying? Do you think he wants to take the Russia allegations head on? And what is he saying?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he's -- there is a gigantic backlog, you're right. I think he then gets the ability to maneuver and steer things down this black hole of these unconfirmed reports.

My great fear is that a lot of time will be wasted on that, without any real light being shed on what happens, and then all kinds of other promises from the past about releasing his taxes, about disclosing his conflicts of interest and the resolution of them, about, you know, suing his accusers from back in the campaign. He has said a lot of different things.

And if the press is diligent and official it may be able to get through a lot of that stuff but it's not in Donald Trump's interest to get through a lot of that. So, I think, unfortunately, we're going to see a lot of fuzz today.

CAMEROTA: So, Monica, let's try to take it one by one.


CAMEROTA: What does he say? What does he have to say to mollify nervous lawmakers about any possible ties to Russia? Can he just dismiss as fake news?

LANGLEY: I think that's what he's going to do. I mean, we know Kellyanne Conway did that. We know he tweeted that.

I mean, this is typical Donald Trump. It's not true, end of question. I mean, he may say that 20 different times today if you look at pounding, pounding, pounding, and then of course, all his followers, all of the people who voted for him will say this just shows the liberal media, they're pounding on him with the allegations have not been proven. So, I expect that.

It is interesting that Donald Trump picked today and his people picked today for the press conference. One, because Obama spoke last night, and he wanted to change the new cycle to him, but also because he knew his cabinet nominees were going to be on the Hill and wanted to take heat off of them. Little did he know it was going to be this much heat.

CUOMO: Well, let's stay with you for a second, because in a way, it's easier to deal with the Russian allegations because by definition, an allegation is an unproven suggestion.

[06:40:02] It's not fake news because these documents either exist or they don't.

LANGLEY: That's right.

CUOMO: And in all likelihood, they do exist. It was not fake. It's about the implication.

What is very real is more troubling I would suggest right now, which is his conflicts. He said he would come out and say how he's going to separate from the business.


CUOMO: It didn't happen. He said he put out his taxes when the audit was over. We don't even know if he is under audit. Those are big problems.

Do you think he can fix them and will he suggest in a press conference?

LANGLEY: Well, I don't think they'll ever think he can fix them but he's planning to say he is going to remove himself from the business, as we know, and let his two sons run it. There was some suggestion for many months that he would put his assets in a blind trust. That was much maligned because how can you put assets --

CUOMO: It doesn't work.

LANGLEY: Yes. So that's out.


CUOMO: -- information about his business now because of these Russian allegations. Do people have to know more now?

LANGLEY: I think that's a really good question. I don't think that he's going to give that much detail about the real estate assets in his empire.

CAMEROTA: Hey, David, you know, obviously, his critics won't like what he says. His supporters will like what he says. What about the middle of the road Republicans, the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are trying to figure out how to navigate this new president? What does he need to say for them?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, look, I think they would probably like a clue as to how he wants this agenda to unfold on Capitol Hill. You know, we have been talking a lot about repeal and replacing Obamacare and we still don't know what Donald Trump wants from Republicans on the Hill. What will he sign or what won't he sign?

I think it will probably make a lot of Republicans feel better if he would come out once and for all to say that he thinks Vladimir Putin is not the nicest guy in the world and under his administration, we'll finally do something about cyber warfare and stop all of this hacking and take this stuff seriously. I think that would put his critics at bay. I think it would make Republicans on the Hill feel like he is starting to function as a president and not as a candidate.

And I think that's what they're going to be looking for today. I mean, most of his nominees are going to sail through without the problems a lot of us thought they would. And it is in part, as we saw from CNN's reporting, because they're all saying the right things.

And so, I think the issue is what is he going to accomplish with this news conference? There is so much information. When that happens, journalists ended breathing out of a -- it's like we're breathing out of a fire hose coming at us, and we can't hone in and focus on one thing. And so, I think it's going to be easier for Donald Trump in a sense to flood the zone and get away without having us drill down on some of these real important issues, whether it's ethics or Russia or anything else.

CUOMO: Right. Except now, Errol, what he doesn't want to talk about goes to the heart of the most troubling questions, right? He's not revealing his business information and not revealing his taxes now goes to the heart of these concerns and the Russian reporting. Rex Tillerson gets in the chair today.

Do you think his biggest problem is the Russian ties in light of his reporting? And also, have an answer for the fact that his business did transactions with countries that were under terror watch lists and they were banned from commerce --

LOUIS: Well, there's a couple of those things. We can't know about the Russian ties except under questioning. So, hopefully, the senators will do a good job of getting to the bottom of that.

Rex Tillerson, for whatever reason, the polls suggested he is more unpopular than any of the other nominees, even Sessions, as far as the general public are concerned. I don't know if that's because people don't like the people involved in the oil and gas business, they have to pay at the pump and so forth, or if there is something deeper there.

What we do have to get from Tillerson, though, is some sort of vision of the world. I mean, he's seen it from a very interesting angle. But how do -- how do all the pieces fit together? That we haven't heard from him in any kind of comprehensive way. Today is the day we have to find out.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much. It's going to be a very interesting day.

DRUCKER: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. A little bit of a weird story going on in sports. Knicks point guard Derrick Rose is missing from a game. He is now explaining his bizarre behavior. The question is obvious: why was he a no show at his team's game last night? He knows, in the "Bleacher Report", next.


[06:47:21] CAMEROTA: New York Knicks star Derrick Rose was back with his team yesterday, this after going AWOL, basically leaving for Chicago, missing a game Monday night without permission.

Hines Ward has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report."

What have we learned, Hines?

HINES WARD, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been an odd past two days for Derek Rose and the Knicks, and Rose was back in practice yesterday after he was a no-show against the Pelicans Monday night. And he explained his absence by saying that he had some family issues to take care of.


DERRICK ROSE, NEW YORK KNICKS: Things happened. And, of course, that's not the person I am. I explained to my teammates I didn't want any distractions. This wasn't me. This never happened to me before and I explained that to the team and the front office.


WARD: Now, the Knicks did say that Rose will be fined but he won't be suspended. He should play against the 76ers tonight in New York.

And the party in Clemson, South Carolina, is popping and there's no sign of it slowing down any time soon. Thousands of fans greeted the national champs yesterday as they returned home after beating Alabama. A big parade and celebration as their stadium is on tap for Saturday for the team's first title in 35 years.

So, listen, I remember flying back home as a champion. It was surreal. It was the greatest feeling in the world. So, congratulations to the Clemson Tigers.

CUOMO: Remember it for the rest of their lives.

Hines, thank you very much.

WARD: No problem.

CUOMO: So just nine days until Donald Trump becomes the leader of the free world. So, what does the future hold for the Democrats and citizen Obama? One of the Democratic Party's rising stars joins us, next.


[06:52:57] CUOMO: Just nine days, President Obama will leave the White House for good. So, what happens to the Democratic Party now? You got Republicans in control of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and both chambers of Congress and seeming to have a strangled grip on the dialogue in this country right now.

So, joining us is Jason Kander, Democratic former Missouri secretary of state. He ran for the Senate and lost but in a very close race in November.

It's good to have you on the show.


CUOMO: Why do I make something out of a defeat? Because Missouri, Trump crushed it there and yet you lost to an incumbent by just a few points. Your party takes stock in that, that you had a message that resonating.

Let's start with you real quickly. And what do you think allowed you to get close in that race?

KANDER: Well, I ran on a progressive message, but I just made my argument as a Democrat. I didn't, you know, apologize for the letter next to my name on the ballot or try to run a conservative campaign.

And I always believed that what happens in elections is that folks reward authenticity and they're willing to forgive you for holding positions that they don't agree with, as long as they know that you're really in it for everybody, and that you really mean what you say. That's what happened in my race and that's why we came so close.

CUOMO: So, the knock on your party, as a reflection of what happened in this election, setting aside the popular vote margin. You know, I understand that we're upside down in our analysis of what happened to bring Trump victory, but the narrative is that your party is worried more about diversity issues and cultural issues and the fringe with LGBTQ than you are with the working man and woman in the middle of this country, and their concerns. Fair criticism?

KANDER: Well, as Democrats, we have to get back to just making our argument to everyone. So, that doesn't mean that we stop talking about issues that affect some groups and some people more than others. It means that we have to just have the courage to make our argument about those issues to everybody.

So, for example, if I was in Ferguson, I would be talking about the fact that black lives matter but I was doing the same thing in my campaign in a rural area because you are rewarded when you tell people that lifting up people they don't know lifts them up too.

[06:55:05] What people really want, and president's farewell speech is a great example with this and why he's been successful, people want to know that you care about everybody including them and even if there are places where they don't agree with you, they'll say you know what, I can tell that he really means what he is saying. So, if your vision is for a country where everybody has a shot at the American dream, they don't have to agree with you in very single thing, because they know you want those folks to have a shot at the American dream, too, just like you do for them.

CUOMO: When you listen to the president last night, were you able to pick anything up where you said, OK, this was a strong message, but I get why there was space for this counter movement in this country about being left out. Do you hear what people are picking up on and his message made them against President Obama and the Democrats?

KANDER: Well, I would push back on the idea that folks were against President Obama. I agree with President Obama when he said that if he could have run for a third term, he would, you know --

CUOMO: Do you think he would have won?

KANDER: Absolutely. And, if you go back, if you look at '08, you look at '12, the president's message was a unifying message just as it was last night. I mean, last night, the president made an argument for democracy and an argument for staying engaged. What he said was, you know, just that it doesn't matter whether you're winning or losing, your obligation to stay engage doesn't change.

CUOMO: So, what do you say to people who say, yes, but there's something about that message in your party that counted me out? You know, you only started taking care of people who are like special interests groups now, whether it's because they're gay or transgender or from big cities. You don't care about me anymore. You're not legislating for my life anymore. You're trying to cut me out.

KANDER: There's a very fair criticism politically. A lot of the candidates over the last few years -- I just don't think it's fair criticism of the president.

Now, I would take this last election and the analogy I use is that of a closing argument at a trial. First lawyer comes up and first lawyer makes the same argument to all the jurors. Sometimes it wonders off. There's a little incoherent or offensive. But at the end of it, everybody knows what that lawyer's argument is.

And then the second lawyer comes up and individually argues with everyone listening to each juror about why they personally stand to benefit from a verdict of their client and skips two or three of the jurors because they decided they're probably not going to get their vote. But at the end of that argument, as compelling as that individual, customize argument may have been, you really doubt the authenticity of it because there's so many different arguments.

And that's the difference between what happened in this past election and what happened in '12 and '08 from President Obama.

CUOMO: But look at what happened in the election, right? Donald Trump's message, part of the magic is he is able to appeal with the group that he doesn't line-up with in terms of his life.

You know, he had the working man and woman in Missouri saying, this is my guy, when, you know, on paper, he shares very little with that person, except he was saying what they wanted to hear, which is, you matter. It's not just about all the minorities and everybody else. You matter. You're the heart of this country, not everybody else. You're not what needs to change. You're not what needs to be phased out. You're what matters right now.

What do you do with that?

KANDER: Well, it's going to be a real problem for President-elect Trump, soon President Trump. I mean, this is the person that campaigned on draining the swamp, and all of this stuff and puts around him all the same people that you expect. In fact, you know, he's made the swamp worse. I mean, if you look at some of the people nominated, just the same set of insiders, executives, you know?

So, I think that he is going to have a hard time maintaining that message when he actually has to put into practice, because he's not put people around him that want to do that.

CUOMO: The challenge for you guys will be to see where the Democrats worked with, and where they oppose and how.

Mr. Kander, good to have you on NEW DAY.

KANDER: Thanks so much.

CUOMO: All right. Thanks to our international viewers for watching. "CNN NEWSROOM" is going to begin for you in just a few moments.

For our U.S. viewers, stick around. NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Classified documents on Russian interference, included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP ADVISER: Nobody has sourced it. They're all unnamed, unspoken sources.

CAMEROTA: How will Mr. Trump respond?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world will witness the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next.

It has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won't stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My relationship with Vladimir Putin, I've known him since 1999.

CUOMO: Rex Tillerson facing a tough confirmation hearing.

SESSIONS: I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology.

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


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

We begin with Donald Trump facing a day of major test that could shape the course of his presidency. In just four hours, the president-elect is going to hold a press conference and hasn't had one in six months. How is he going to respond to CNN's report that Russia could have compromising information about him?

CAMEROTA: The president-elect will also have to address his many business conflicts of interest, all this as Rex Tillerson, Mr. Trump's pick for secretary of state, prepares for a confirmation hearing where senators are expected to grill him about his ties to Vladimir Putin.