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Education Nominee Betsy DeVos To Face Questions Today; Trump's HHS Pick Under Fire For Stock Buy; What Will President Obama's Legacy Be?

Aired January 17, 2017 - 07:30   ET



[07:33:38] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Confirmation hearings begin today for President-elect Donald Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Her critics say, she has no experience with the public school system and should be disqualified as a result with no prior experience as an educator or legislature either.

So joining us now is of Devos's supporters Andrew Campanella. He's the president of National School Choice Week and he has worked with Ms. DeVos for several years at the American Federation for Children. Andrew, thanks so much for being here.


CAMEROTA: So let's start there. Ms. DeVos did not go to public school herself. None of her four children go to public school. Of course, that's her prerogative. That's -- There's not a problem with that. But her critics say that, how then can she know in any sort of fulsome way what's going on in the public school system.

Let me read to you what Senator Warren says about this nomination. "There is no precedent for an Education Department secretary nominee with your lack of experience in public education. While past nominees for secretary of education have served as teachers, school system leaders, and governors, and came to the Department of Education with deep executive experience in public education, you have held no such position."

What's your response?

CAMPANELLA: Well, this is person Betsy DeVos who has worked for more than 25 years to improve education. Just because someone doesn't necessarily worked inside a system, but instead works on the outside, works full-time to try to improve education for children by putting kids first, giving parents more choices for their children's education doesn't mean they're unqualified in any way, shape, or form.

[07:35:14] You know, Alisyn, across the country, parents are told every single day in too many schools that they don't know what's best for their kids because they're not educators. But in reality, parents know their kids the best and that is the message of National School Choice Week which is coming up next week with 21,000 events across the country. Education is about kids and their parents and working with teachers, getting the best education possible.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Look, that sounds wonderful. What parent doesn't want more choice? What parent doesn't want to be involved in their kid's education? The problem in reality, Andrew, is that what the critics say is that, if you divert attention and resources away from public schools then public schools end up getting short shrift. There's 99,000 public schools in the country and that they sometimes pay the price for things like charter schools, et cetera.

CAMPANELLA: Well, I think there's a huge misconception here. And that is that school choice is somehow meaning that we're going to abandon public education. The reality is that school choice means all options that parents have or want to have for their kids education, that includes traditional public schools, public charter schools, which are public schools, magnet schools, also public schools, online academies, those are public schools and of course private schools and home schooling. So school choice is all options, not just private schools.

CAMEROTA: Right. But you know, the critics of what you're saying say that what ends up happening is the public schools go broke. Here's is Randi Weingarten. She is of course the president of the American Federation of Teachers Union. She says, "What this pick means of Betsy DeVos is far from ensuring that every child has the option of a great public education-the many who have it now will lose it. That's been the experience of 25 years of privatizing, it helps very few, and many students now go to schools that have faced years of austerity and disinvestment."

CAMPANELLA: Well first of all, I wish that folks who are involved in education would be optimistic. I'm optimistic about education in America. I'm that optimistic that more American parents than ever before are actively choosing the right schools for their kids. The result of that is higher graduation rate, increased parent's satisfaction, higher college acceptance levels, increased life time earnings for these kids, these parents have chosen schools and education and environments for them.

To your question about traditional district schools, research shows us over and over again that the more choices available to families, the better traditional district schools get.

CAMEROTA: One last point here and that is that Ms. DeVos is wildly wealthy. Her family -- she comes from a family of billionaires which is fantastic for her. However, she has also made lots of political contributions, including to four of the committee members who she will now be going in front of. How is that draining the swamp?

CAMPANELLA: Here's the thing, Alisyn. That's politics. It's Washington. Go to a parent across the country. Ask them, what did they want when it comes to education? They will tell you, they want their child to be in a school that is challenging, motivating and effective. And those options and the need of parent is what's going to be on display next week during School Choice Week where we shine our spotlight on all of the options parents have or want to have for their kids education.

They don't care how much money somebody donated to an elected official. They want their kids to be prepared so that they can live their own American dreams. That's really what this discussion needs to be about.

CAMEROTA: And we will see what happens today when the confirmation hearing begins. Andrew Campanella, thank you very much for being here.

CAMPANELLA: Thank you.


[07:38:49] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Ethics questions are swirling around Trump's choice for HHS secretary. Did Congressman Tom Price use his job and influence to make money off stocks? We're going to look at the potential conflict and its ramifications, next.


CUOMO: All right. President-elect Trump's choice for Health and Human Services secretary, Congressman Tom Price is facing big ethical questions. Why? House records show that he purchased shares of a medical device manufacturer just days before introducing a bill that would have directly benefited the company. The company also donated repeated the Price's campaign. This isn't the first time he's been a situation like this.

CAMEROTA: So, let's discuss all of this with Timothy O'Brien, the author of "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald." And David Fahrenthold, he is the CNN contributor and a political reporter at the Washington Post who covers Trump's conflict of interest.

OK. So, David, how big of a problem is it that it has been disclosed that he bought shares in this medical device company, Congressman Price did, a week or so before he tried to introduce legislation connected to that industry and in fact that would have affected that company?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's a serious problem. And -- Price has now said, of course, that some broker did this. And he didn't know much about it. But, that's the kind of thing that if you're going to be introducing legislation to help Biotech Company.

You should be in a look out for. You should make sure that doesn't happen because this like looks a very clear and clean more than you see in most cases involving stock purchases and legislation.

Yeah, you said, just a few days between buying the shares and doing something that would benefit them. That's a serious problem. It's not that much money. But it's an indication of judgment that is sort of troubling.

CUOMO: For the defense, because I know you guys have somewhat of a unanimity of purpose on this issue. One, bad fact for the defense is, they didn't go to the broker explanation when first asked the question. And there is something to timing of answers.

CAMEROTA: Who's sorry --

CUOMO: But, I'm just saying for disclosure. But, this legislation was sponsored by Democrats and Republicans. It wasn't something that he just owned it.

Two, we're talking about a small amount of shares. The reporting on it is somewhere between $1,000 worth and $15,000 worth. He has an estate value of something like $13 million which make someone him one of the cheap seats in the Trump cabinet. But, that's still a lot of money. It doesn't look like effective scam here.

[07:45:04] And the office of government ethics has taken a look at him and says they're only worried about conflicts going forward. So, they have no opinion on this. Why should you?

TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Well, the standards are a little lesser in Congress than they are in the executive branch. There's no question that members of Congress have some leeway around this.

But, it was troubling enough in the Congress going back to 2012 that they passed the STOCK Act to make sure that members of Congress weren't using inside knowledge to make money off of any business they oversaw or had a role in regulating. And that's a clear issue here in the Price example.

I don't think the amount of money matters. It -- the probably, the chain of command on the trades does matter. We need to know more about that. But it's also not an isolated incident.

There's also, you know, we've seen the "Wall Street Journal" reporting about the Australian biotech company innovative immuno which gave of Chris Collins and Tom Price sweet heart shares in the company before it tried to get into the U.S. market. And it was going to rely on legislation from people like Collins and Price to be able to compete.

So, I think this is a clear issue. And it also speaks, I think, more broadly to the problem that people are concerned about the Trump administration generally, which is they're saying they're going to drain the swamp. But, there's a concern that people are going to come in and try to buy pieces or sell pieces of that things.

CUOMO: We're just putting in bigger alligators.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yeah.

CAMEROTA: So now, Congressman Price says that he will fully divest from medical companies within 90 days of his confirmation. Problem solved?

FAHRENTHOLD: Yes. Well, that particular problem is solved. But, I think, we -- it's important to go back and look at what Price has done in the past and look at his judgment on issues like this. If he's done this sort of thing in the past and what measures did he take as we said --

CAMROTA: But we know that he has.


CAMEROAT: In fact, I mean we know that since the STOCK Act in the past four years that he has traded shares of medical companies while he was involved in legislation for them. That's a fact.

FAHRENTHOLD: So to me the important question for them to ask is confirmation hearings and I think it could slow down his confirmation. You know, why was he doing that? What measure that he put in place? If he had a broker, what was that broker instructed to do to make sure that there was no appearance of conflict? I think we'll hear a lot more about that.

CUOMO: You know, it's interesting though, there's a difference between being the new executive as a head of an agency and in Congress. You've got a file in Congress. They put a financial disclosure form every year.

They list their investments and potential conflicts of interest. So, the question becomes why would the congressman do something as blatant as this if he was trying to do something sneaky?

O'BRIEN: Well, because they're not caught. It's -- they're able to do things that are blatant because the parameters around monitoring and setting standards for good behavior are very, very porous.

And I think one of the things again this races is the rush to get these nominees through without proper vetting from the office of government ethics, while the office of government ethics is also being targeted by members of Congress and the Trump administration for being -- for doing their job, essentially. And it's going to be a continuing theme and it's going to be troubling, I think.

CAMEROTA: But does this trip up his confirmation?

O'BRIEN: Well, it's going to part of the confirmation hearing.

CAMEROTA: But he's going to be confirmed?

O'BRIEN: I have no idea. We'll have to wait and see.

CUOMO: You have to get Republicans to defect. And so, that's the question is, is this enough of something? Do you think that his ability to assuage, to defend, is weak enough that he may turn some Republicans against him?

FAHRENTHOLD: No. I mean, he's -- Price it was a member of Congress for a long time.

CUOMO: Right.

FAHRENTHOLD: He knows these people. He is like the sort of human embodiment of the Republican hopes to repeal and replace Obamacare. I don't think they have this much faith in anyone person as they --

CUOMO: He's the only guy with a plan right now. Well, either way, he's the only guy who has taken time to write something down basically on that side of ball of what could replace at least aspects of the ACA.

FAHRENTHOLD: Right. And so that is a really fraught prospect for the Republicans in anyway and to take a part -- to take out the one guy that they think maybe has a chance of doing it. I don't see that happening.

CAMEROTA: David, Tim, thank you very much --

CUOMO: He's the cutest been. He's been roughed up in the process of choosing teams. But he has the ball. So, you got to put him on one of teams.

CAMEROTA: I mean and he's also said that he's going to do the right thing going forward. So, it's hard to see how it does settle.

CUOMO: How does that work at home? The kids all always say they'll do the right thing when caught. Gentlemen, thank you very much. What do you think about this, tweet us @NewDay or post your comment on

[07:49:28] CAMEROTA: As everyone remembers President Obama ran on hoping change. Now, as he gets set to leave office were his hopes of the American people realized. We're going to take a look at his legacy, next.



BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: Even in the mist of the enormous challenges we face today I have great faith and hope about the future, because I believe in you. And that's why I wanted to tell you first that I will be filing papers today to create a Presidential Exploratory Committee.


CAMEROTA: That was nearly ten years ago, then-senator, Barack Obama, began his run for the presidency. And now, in just three days Mr. Obama will exit the White House. What will his legacy be? Let's discuss it with New York Magazine political columnist, Jonathan Chait. He is also the author of this book, on sale today. Excuse me -- Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail. Jonathan, great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: Can you sum up his legacy?

CHAIT: He did a lot of things. And it's hard to sum up. And as I was writing the book, I realized he did more than even I realized and I was following this the whole time. So the point of this, this book is that he really accomplished so much more than a lot of people understand.

CAMEROTA: Like what? I mean what are the surprising things that many of us must have forgotten?

CHAIT: So the economic rescue had a lot of components that people have forgotten, because they were really controversial at that time. The stimulus of course, people remember that. The bank rescue, that was tremendously unpopular, everybody hated it. It was mocked on "Saturday Night Live," and it completely worked.

And even the critics eventually went back and said, "You know what, he was right, but then it was just forgotten about," or the auto bailout incredibly unpopular, right. Even Democrats were nervous. The Republicans were saying, this is socialism, but it saved the entire Midwest. So the entire economic rescue then just disappeared from view.

CUOMO: But that's one of the tricks.


CUOMO: With the legacy in politics. This conversation in and of itself is part of the problem. People remember big things, things that they push. Has the administration done enough to cement the legacy?

CHAIT: You know, it's kind of an interesting irony, because when Obama came on the scene the clip you showed, a young guy, and what everyone knew about him is he hadn't accomplished much and he really hadn't. So this gap between his resume and what he had done sort of define him. And that image stuck to Obama throughout his presidency.

[07:55:08] But the truth I'm trying to show in this book it's really the other way around. He's a guy who is just focused on getting things done, details, accomplishments and not so much on the sales pitch.

CAMEROTA: And particularly with what you are talking about, about the stimulus.


CAMEROTA: Because the Republicans were so dead-set against it.

CHAIT: Right.

CAMEROTA: They didn't believe that that would turn around the economy. History has shown it did turn around the economy.

CHAIT: Right.

CAMEROTA: But even he has said that they failed in telling their own story, why didn't they trumpet that more?

CHAIT: They did try. But the truth is they passed the stimulus in three weeks. So once that passed, it was just on to the next thing. It was on to the next emergency, all the problems were, were hardly solved. They were focused on governing. And the news media isn't necessarily synced up with the way they see the world. They like to see -- they like to think what the big picture and what's going to matter over the long run. And in the news it's always what's happening today.

CUOMO: But it wasn't clean, either. He inherited a lot of that stuff. TARP and TALF was going on.


COUMO: I did a lot of the coverage of that for ABC News. And he didn't really own it. He didn't want to own the problems, made it harder for him to own the solution. They just wanted to get away from it and it was not something they kept coming back to, even the auto bailout.


CUOMO: He almost only uses it exclusively as a rejoinder to criticism.

CHAIT: Right.

CUOMO: That's not the way it works in politics. And, you know, a propel of an intended pun trumpet. Trump knows how to sell, what is great and going to be great. Is that something the administration needed to do?

CHAIT: It's kind of an irony that Trump has probably spent more time defending the 500 jobs he saved at one plant in Indiana than Obama did the millions of jobs in the stimulus. But the timing worked against him in a way he couldn't really control. Think about Franklin Roosevelt, he came at the trough of the depression three years after the stock market crash. So then everything bad has already happened. And he can get credit for the rise.

Obama comes in, as they're going off the cliff, right? So he can only say it would have been so much worse if I hadn't been here. But things get worse immediately after he takes office. So the timing doesn't make it so easy for him to sell what he has done.

CAMEROTA: OK. So you put that in a win column for him.

CHAIT: Yeah.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about some of his losses or failings, actually. He promised that he would be a post partisan president. Spoiler alert.

CHAIT: Right.

CAMEROTE: That did not happen.

CHAIT: That did not happen.

CAMEROTA: And in fact he engaged in partisanship. And so the tone --

CHAIT: Yeah.

CAMEROTE: Actually did declined during his presidency.

CHAIT: Right.

CAMEROTA: How much does he own or should he own of that?

CHAIT: So one of the arguments I try to make in this book, is that he actually embraced some of the best elements of the modern and liberal Republican tradition. His health care plan was based on what Mitt Romney did. His Cap and Trade environmental plan was something that John MacCain had endorsed in 2008. Inversions of it have been done in Republican states as well. And he hired Romney's environmental administrator to carry out his climate regulations.

So he thought he could come up with proposals that met the objections of his Republican critics and hush up the details. And they decided correctly that they opposed everything he did. That was their best chance to regain power. So he didn't succeed in getting Republicans to go along with him, which is, of course, something he can't control. But he did change the policies.

CUOMO: So "Audacity," the name of the book, comes from the Latin that how to do with having the nerve. And it's an interesting test of Obama. It's such a sports fan. It played out in an interesting fashion, with his love of the White Sox, but his need to put his arms around the Cubs showed an interesting side of him as well. Why did you make of that?

CAMEROTE: Let's watch this first.

CUOMO: OK. Let's play for everyone.


OBAMA: Now, listen, I made a lot of promises in 2008. We manage to fulfill a large number of them. But even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the World Series. But I did say that there has never been anything false about hope. Hope. The audacity of hope.


OBAMA: Yes, we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: They like that moment.

CHAIT: You know, I've never have seen a president say -- you know, I didn't like this squad, or who would get spin, with all the players he didn't like. But they tend to root for everybody who wins, right.

CUOMO: But it was interesting. And aside of him that you didn't get to see that often, and there are good reasons for that as well. He was really under siege most of the time, but what do you make of that part of him?

CHAIT: That part of him is, he does love sports. I mean, he's a sports person and he tried to use this to connect to white Americans who might not other have other basis of connections to him sometimes.

CAMEROTA: And Jonathan Chait, the book again is "Audacity," a great read. Thank you so much for being here, for sharing it with us.

CHAIT: Thanks a lot for having me.

CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news this morning, so let's get right to it.


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was inappropriate for a president- elect to be stepping in the politics of other countries.

TRUMP: Well, I start of casting vote. And let's see how long that last.

CUOMO: Donald trump, with an historic law approval rating heading into the White House.