Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Gives Final White House News Conference; Senate Democrats Hammer Four of Trump's Cabinet Picks; Democrats Portray Trump Education Pick as Unfit. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:05] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening from Washington, where inauguration preparations have really ramped up and the man at the center is about to reach another milestone.

In the final two days before becoming president, President-elect Trump landed tonight at national airport for a pair of dinners tonight, one for Mike Pence, the other for his cabinet. When he flies back to New York later, it will be his last time for a while on his private Boeing 757. He'll return tomorrow on an Air Force jet which will land at Joint Base Andrews and, of course, after Friday, he'll be taking Air Force One.

We've got breaking news about efforts to his cabinet picks confirmed, as well as George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush both in the hospital tonight. The 41st president in the intensive care unit.

We begin, though, with the outgoing 44th president and a milestone for him, his final press conference, including new insight on his conversations with the president-elect, how he sees his role as a former president and the mission of a free press.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have enjoyed working with all of you. That of course does not mean I've enjoyed every story that you have filed but that's the point of this relationship.

You're not supposed to be sycophants. You're supposed to be skeptics, supposed to ask me tough questions. You're not supposed to be complimentary, but you're supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here. And you have done that.

And having you in this building has made this place work better. It keeps us honest. It makes us work harder. You have made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we're able to deliver on what's been requested by our constituents.

But there's a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake. I put in that category, if I saw systemic discrimination being ratified in some fashion, I put in that category explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise. I'd put in that category institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press.

And for me, at least, I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else when they love this country, they are our kids' friends and their classmates and are now entering into community colleges or in some cases serving in our military. The notion that we would just arbitrarily or because of politics punish those kids when they didn't do anything wrong themselves, I think would be something that would merit me speaking out.


COOPER: Mr. Obama at his last news conference. What he thinks Donald Trump will do as president, here's some of what he said.


OBAMA: It may be that on certain issues, once he comes into office and he looks at the complexities of how to in fact provide health care for everybody, something he says he wants to do, or wants to make sure that he is encouraging job creation and wage growth in this country, that that may lead him to some of the same conclusions that I arrived at once I got here.

But I don't think we'll know until he has an actual chance to get sworn in and sit behind that desk. And I think a lot of his views are going to be shaped by his advisers, the people around him, which is why it's important to pay attention to these confirmation hearings.

That's probably the most useful advice, the most constructive advice I've been able to give him, that that if you find yourself isolated because the process breaks down or if you're only hearing from people who agree with you on everything, or if you haven't created a process that is fact checking and probing and asking hard questions about policies or promises that you've made, that's when you start making mistakes.

[20:05:12] And as I indicated in some of my previous remarks, reality has a way of biting back if you're not paying attention to it.


COOPER: Well, the president ended his talk with some thoughts about where he believes the country is headed and some reassurance.


OBAMA: I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. I believe tragic things happen. I think there's evil in the world.

But I think that, at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we're true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time. That's what this presidency tried to be about. I think we're going to be OK. We just have to fight for it, work for it, and not take it for granted, and I know that you will help us do that.

Thank you very much, press corps. Good luck.


COOPER: Well, he had plenty more to say. Here to talk about it all, CNN "INSIDE POLITICS" anchor, John King, CNN political analysts Gloria Borger, Carl Bernstein, Kirsten Powers, Kristen is also with "USA Today", Carl, as you know, used to work for a local competitor, though I always forget the name of it.

Van Jones is here, he's former Obama senior adviser. Trump supporter and "American Spectator" senior contributor Jeffrey Lord joins us as well. So does "The Daily Beast's" Matt Lewis.

Kirsten, it seems like one of the big headlines out of that press conference is that President Obama, when he is civilian Barack Obama, he's not going to stay quiet when he believes what he talked about is the core values of America, maybe --

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's really huge, especially when you compare it to how George W. Bush sort of went off into the sunset and we didn't really --

COOPER: In fact, George W. Bush said that President Obama deserves his silence.

POWERS: Yes, I think a lot of people, at least Obama supporters and perhaps Obama himself really appreciated that.

So, the difference is I think President Obama, I mean, it's pretty clear that he is looking ahead and I think he's expecting that there's going to be some things that he's going to need to speak out about. These are things that he cares deeply about, and there is a real divide between him and Donald Trump.

And so, you know, it's interesting now, he's still very much in president mode because he is president and saying we're going to be okay. It will be interesting to see what he says when he's not president, if he's still going to be as positive about --

COOPER: It's interesting, though, Van. I mean, George W. Bush could have said when President Obama became president -- well, when the core values of the Second Amendment are threatened, I'm going to speak up. I mean, and yet, he didn't. He said he deserved silence.

Why doesn't Donald Trump deserve President Obama's silence?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's very simple, because Obama came in to fix things that W. broke. Trump is coming in to break things that Obama --

(LAUGHTER) JONES: Trump is coming in to break up what Obama fixed. So, it's literally the exact opposite situation. W. horribly unpopular, W. passing off a broken economy, passing off two terrible wars, said Obama deserves my silence.

Obama passing off a growing economy, passing off at least not two land wars, and frankly, a country that under his leadership at least was wrestling with some of these issues around inclusion. Trump coming in basically saying, all that sucks, I'm going to break it.


COOPER: I have to let you respond.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, of course, we have been at war every day for the Obama administration for all eight years. I think that breaks a presidential record.

But in seriousness, you know, I understand why both in the media and the country get fixated on the personality of a president, any president. But the fact of the matter is that underlying this all the time are issues, serious issues, that go on until the country feels they are resolved satisfactorily.

So, as presidents shift, the issues keep chugging along here. And it doesn't make any difference whether you're shifting from Washington to Adams or Bush to Obama or Obama to Trump. The issues if you they're not solved are going to keep going until the country feels they are solved.

So, there's nothing new about this. And that the then-former President Obama goes out and does that because he feels strongly about that, God bless him. I frankly wish President Bush had spoken up.

MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY BEAST: I think there's a tale of two Obamas. So, mostly today, what we had is the nice Obama, the type of peaceful transfer of power, I'm moderate, I'm responsible Obama. I like that Obama.

There's also the Obama who on his way out the door commutes a sentence of Chelsea Manning.


LEWIS: Jeopardizes lives and puts -- makes a lot of --


LORD: (INAUDIBLE) terrorists.

LEWIS: And you've got the Obama administration who did that thing with the U.N. resolution saying that Israeli settlements are illegal.

[20:10:07] So, on one hand, it's the conciliatory Obama, on the other hand, it's the very partisan, rub it in your nose Obama on the way out the door. Which one will he be as an ex-president? COOPER: Gloria, I mean, he also very pointedly talked about the importance of the press and not that he said he always liked the --


COOPER: That was not in a vacuum.

BORGER: You think?

First of all, I've never heard a president be so nice to the press in my entire -- no president of the United States loves the press. It's not our job to be loved by the president.

I think he kind of laid it on a bit thick today because he was making the point that, yes, the pressroom should be here right in the White House and you're so important. I don't believe for a minute he doesn't believe these things, except he didn't like it when he got some bad press, but he was making a point about us, which is that we are important.

Can I just say one other thing about George W. Bush? He wanted to get out of here. He wanted to be done with politics. He wanted to go to the ranch and that was it.

I don't think that's the way Barack Obama feels.

LORD: Right.

BORGER: He's going to be in Washington. His daughter has got to finish high school. And I just think, you know, he's not done in some way, shape, or form.

COOPER: John --

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To me, just watching that event today, it just brought into full life and view the conflicts, the mixed signals, the paradox, call it what you will. He leaves office with a 60 percent approval rating. The election was 10 weeks ago. The anti-Obama is going to take the oath of office here, the guy who ran against everything, different in personal style, different on how they carried themselves, so different in how they communicate, so different in the policy than they did before.

So, he's leaving with a 60 percent approval rating. If he's so popular, why did the American people do what they did?

Harry Truman was the Democrat who put health care for all on the table. It took 50 years. He's the Democrat who got it but now at risk. He's the first Democrat since FDR I think to win two terms with 50-plus percent of the vote, and he leaves office. He can be proud of that fact in history.

His party is decimated. The Republicans control the Senate, they control the House, they control most of governorships, and I think most importantly, the Democrats lost a thousand seats at the state legislative level in the Obama years. It went from Democrats to Republicans.

Those are your future State Senator Barack Obamas, those are your future governors, your future congressmen. So, it's just this paradox that he is personally popular but in any election where he was not another the top of the ballot, his party got sank.


JONES: And part of the reason it's hard for him to go off into the sunset is it's probably what you're saying, there are not 20 other Barack Obamas who are ready to step up and lead this fight.

LORD: Cory Booker doesn't think that's true.

JONES: At least 19 people not be mad at me. But there are not 20.

And what I think he's trying to signal to the anti-Trump resistance is, you're mostly on your own but there are some issues will help you on. The right wing heard it differently. We heard it as you're mostly on your own but there are core issues I will fight for.


CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there are much deeper things he was trying to get across here. First of all, it goes to the nature of Donald Trump and how different a president he is than any in our history. And Donald Trump in his view is ready to decimate those core values.

Also when it comes to the press, he is talking about the fact the sub rosa message here is that Donald Trump has already tried to make the conduct of the press the issue, will continue to do so rather than the conduct of Donald Trump. Same thing that Richard Nixon did. It is a very effective tactic and I think the president was saying, don't let this happen.

And he also -- I thought one of -- first of all, I thought he had an enormous dignity today that we've seen throughout his presidency and it really goes with his territory, and part of it came -- I was very moved when he said about one of the reasons that Trump won, and that was a whole bunch of folks who voted for the president-elect because they feel forgotten and disenfranchised as if they're being looked down upon and their kids aren't going to have the same opportunities they did.

He was talking about white disenfranchised Americans.

LORD: As he once said the bitter clingers.

BERNSTEIN: It was a remarkable moment and one that I think that had Hillary Clinton taken note of that, she might be president.

COOPER: A lot more to talk about. More breaking news ahead tonight, including serious heat on Capitol Hill when Senate Democrats grilled four more of Donald Trump's cabinet picks today. They took off the gloves. It got ugly at times, we'll show you that. Plus, we're keeping a close on the condition of President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush, both hospitalized tonight. President Bush in the ICU. Chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is going to join us ahead.


[20:18:51] COOPER: More breaking news to tell you about tonight. Another busy and bare knuckles day on Capitol Hill. The Senate holding confirmation hearings for four more President-elect Trump's cabinet nominees.

The least controversial of the four, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. As for the other three, Democrats grilled them on a host of issues, including potential conflicts of interest. In the case of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price, some questionable stock purchases.

Now, CNN's Manu Raju tonight has more.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): President- elect Donald Trump's cabinet picks on the Democratic firing line in contentious hearings today, starting with his choice to lead the Health and Human Services Department.

At issue, Tom Price's stock trade while pushing legislation that could benefit those companies including the medical device firm Zimmer Biomet.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Did you buy the stock and then introduce a bill that would be helpful to the companies you just bought stock in?

REP. TOM PRICE (R), DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES NOMINEE: The stock was bought by a directive by a broker making those decisions. I wasn't making those decisions.

WARREN: Because you decide not to tell them, wink, wink, nod, nod, and we're supposed to believe that? Did you take additional actions after that date to advance your plan to help the company that you now own stock in?

[20:20:03] PRICE: I'm offended by the insinuation, Senator.

RAJU: Price traded roughly $300,000 worth of shares in health care companies over the last four years. Republicans came to his defense, calling the Democrats hypocrites.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: This appears to be a hypocritical attack on your good character and I personally resent it because you've always disclosed -- can you confirm you have always followed the law relating to trading in stocks while serving as a member of Congress?

PRICE: Thank you, sir. Everything that we have done has been aboveboard, transparent, ethical, and legal.

RAJU: The battle overshadowed Price's main job if he's confirmed to the post -- to repeal and replace Obamacare. Price said that replacing the law would take time.

PRICE: I think that for individuals -- the American people a need to appreciate that the last thing we want to do is go from a Democrat health care system to a Republican health care system.

RAJU: Three other Trump nominees also faced tough questions from senators, including billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, to head the EPA.

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA SECRETARY NOMINEE: As I've indicated, the climate is changing and --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: You haven't told me why you think the climate is changing.

PRUITT: Well, Senator, the job of an administrator is to carry out the statutes as passed by this body.

SANDERS: I'm asking you a personal opinion.

PRUITT: My personal opinion is immaterial --

SANDERS: Really?

PRUITT: -- to the job of --

SANDERS: You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?

RAJU: But Pruitt broke with the president-elect who has called global warming a hoax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Donald Trump is wrong?

PRUITT: I do not believe that climate change is a hoax.

RAJU: And in South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's hearing to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She took a tougher line on Trump on issues like Russia.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. NOMINEE: Russia is trying to show their muscle. It is what they do. And I think we always have to be cautious. I don't think we can trust them.


COOPER: And Manu Raju joins us now from Capitol Hill.

There are questions about another of Trump's nominees. RAJU: Yes, that's right. That's Mick Mulvaney, the person chosen by

Donald Trump to be his budget director. He's acknowledging in a questionnaire to the Senate that he did not pay taxes on a household employee between 2000 and 2004, a transition source telling CNN that actually that was a babysitter looking a after his triplets after they were born.

Democrats saying this was enough of a similar tax issue that actually dogged the HHS nominee Tom Daschle under Barack Obama in 2009 forcing Daschle to pull out. They're saying it's time for Mulvaney to pull out, but right now, Trump's team is standing firmly behind him -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks.

Even as today's hearings were unfolding, key players in both parties are taking stock of the damage done to Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos at her hearing yesterday. DeVos is one of Trump's perhaps most controversial cabinet choices and the grilling she got in the Senate has gotten a lot of attention, including what's now being called the grizzly bear moment.

Jeff Zeleny tonight reports.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Betsy DeVos is a Michigan billionaire, for decades, she's been a vocal advocate of charter schools, investing time and money trying to overhaul America's classrooms, believing that tax dollars should be diverted from public schools in favor of school choice.

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY NOMINEE: It's time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids, to what moms and dads want, expect, and deserve.

ZELENY: Republicans argue she's committed to reform but she was on the defensive from Democrats who called her unfit for the job.

Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned her qualifications to oversee the student loan program.

WARREN: Mrs. DeVos, have you ever taken out a student loan from the federal government to help pay for college?

DEVOS: I have not.

WARREN: Have any of your children had to borrow money in order to go to college?

DEVOS: They have been fortunate not to.

ZELENY: Under questioning, she at times struck to her script.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you insist upon that equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program? DEVOS: I support accountable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding?

DEVOS: I support accountability.

ZELENY: On protecting the civil rights of students with disabilities, DeVos said she favored local control, before being told it was a federal law to provide all children access to a public education.

DEVOS: I may have confused it.

ZELENY: Trump aides believe she will ultimately be confirmed, but two top Republicans on Capitol Hill told CNN, DeVos had a rough day and were surprised at how she was thrown off on basic questions.

One comment about grizzly bears and guns went viral.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Do you think guns have a place in our schools?

ZELENY: Senator Chris Murphy, a leading critic of gun policy in the wake of the Newtown school shooting, pressed her about guns in public schools.

[20:25:01] MURPHY: You can't say definitively today that guns shouldn't be in schools?

DEVOS: Well, I will refer back to Senator Enzi and the school that he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there's probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.

ZELENY: She also faced questions about Trump and his behavior toward women that surfaced during the campaign on that "Access Hollywood" tape.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: If this behavior, kissing and touching women and girls without their consent, happened in a school, would you consider it a sexual assault?


ZELENY: DeVos was Trump's first nominee to sit for a confirmation hearing without completing a full review of potential conflicts of interest. Hers is still pending, in part, because her Amway fortune, estimated at $5 billion, is a complicated portfolio.

Senator Bernie Sanders zeroed in on her family's wealth and political contributions.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Would you by so kind to tell us how much your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?

DEVOS: I wish I could give you that number. I don't know.

SANDERS: I have heard the number was $200 million. Does that sound in the ballpark?

DEVOS: Collectively between my entire family?

SANDERS: Yes, over the years.

DEVOS: That's possible.



COOPER: And Jeff Zeleny joins us now.

There's some new reporting I understand about her serving on the board of a particular group.

ZELENY: There is indeed, Anderson. She was actually asked that at the hearing last evening. And it's the group of her mother's family foundation that some gave controversial contributions years ago. She said she was not involved in those decisions and it was a clerical error she was listed as the vice president.

Well, as it turns out, she's provided more information to the committee, she was on this foundation board, the board of directors for almost two decades here. So, some senators, some Democratic senators believe they were misled last night when she said it was a clerical error because it seems it was a long one.

The reality is it may not matter at all. Republicans, of course, control the Senate; Democrats can raise questions about this. She has long relationships with Republican senators and we should also point out the ideology here the different. Democrats simply don't like her view of education. This has been a long running debate. Donald Trump is likely to get his cabinet nominee in Betsy DeVos.

COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, Jeff, thanks very much.

You saw the opposition from Democrats there. Coming up, new details about how they plan to try to either stop or at least stall some of the nominations.

And the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, tonight in intensive care. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us with the latest in his condition, as well as his wife, Barbara, who is also now in the hospital.



[20:31:40] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We've been reporting on the highly contentious confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill for President-Elect Trump's cabinet nominees. None of them has been confirmed yet but with two to go until the inauguration. Tonight, we're getting new reporting about negotiations between Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Phil Mattingly joins me out from Capitol Hill with the latest. So, what about these behind-the-scenes negotiations? What do you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to Senate, Democratic and Republican aides were involved in these negotiations. They are intensive. They are fluid. And there is a recognition how important the end game here is for the president-elect's new team.

Here's the dynamics at play here right now. Democrats want concessions. You've seen the very real possibility that they set up roadblocks two Trump's nominees, two his potential cabinet selections.

Republicans right now working behind-the-scenes to try and clear those away, but in order to do that, Democrats want something in return. Right now they're asking for space. They want more time to consider the nominees, more opportunities to vet some of the nominees. There's been a lot of complaints about how fast this process has moved.

As of now, there is no resolution yet but this will go a long way to deciding not just who the president-elect who sits in the president- elect's cabinet but who sits in it from day one, Anderson.

COOPER: But Phil, I mean, how realistic is it Democrats would actually be able to stop any of these nominees without help from Republicans? It's not possible, right?

MATTINGLY: It's not. That's exactly right. And I think that's kind of the crux of the issue right now.

Democrats really don't have a lot of leverage. They don't have a lot of power. So what they're threatening kind of -- is procedural roadblocks, making things take a lot longer than they should. What they're threatening is not stopping a nominee cold but keeping him or her out of the position or her out of the position for a long period of time, stopping up other initiatives and priorities for the president-elect and his team. That's the threat here. And that's the leverage that they've got right now.

But, Anderson, you nailed it. Democrats on their own can't block anything on their own. That's why you're seeing the posturing, that's why you're seeing a lot of the rhetoric, that's why you're seeing these very intense behind-the-scenes negotiations right now on timeline.

COOPER: Did a lot of Republicans are -- you know, they're pointing in 2009 when seven Obama cabinet nominees were confirmed. How likely is that this time around?

MATTINGLY: Yeah, confirmed on the first day. I think that's the metric when you talk to Republicans. Publicly they say, look, we expect the same thing this time around. Here's kind of the reality and this is what's going behind-the-scenes. There are three national security nominees that are expected to be approved on Friday on that first day if negotiations continue to move along, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Homeland and Security John Kelly, and CIA Director Michael Pompeo.

What is the wild card now is who else could also get there. There are enough kind of non-controversial nominees to get the number up to five, six, or seven confirmed cabinet officials.

Anderson, the big question is do Democrats get what they want in these negotiations to let that happen? As of tonight, they have not. We expect news coming soon.

Again, negotiations still very fluid. Republicans want as many nominees as they can. They know that's a huge component of the success of at least the initial stages of President-elect Trump's time in office, Anderson.

COOPER: Phil Mattingly, appreciate the update. Back now with the panel.

John, how much of these, you know, these hearings are really just about politicians pontificating, wanting a sound bite that gets played on their local news?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's some of that, always. You know, all politics there's ego to all politics, there's local politics to all politics. But, we also have a president-elect soon to be president who's never held elective office. We have a president-elect who's taken some positions outside the mainstream or at least outside the establishment.

[20:35:05] And so it's very important. He took some positions in the campaign that are contradictory, changed his mind, nothing wrong with changing you mind, but he's about to be president. So it's very important to have these hearings.

Republicans want the answers a lot of these issues just as much as the Democrats. But some of this stuff about how many votes do you get on this day, we want a second round of questioning, the old "Saturday Night Live" skit, Quien es Mas Macho.

Chuck Schumer is the new leader of the Democrats. He's trying to prove himself to his people. Mitch McConnell has all 52-48 majority. So he wants it within how he defines reason, give the Democrats something so you don't get off to a toxic start and how all these plays out.

But, there's also selective memory. They're talking about, you know, this Mulvaney, the OMB pictured withdraw because like Daschle, he has a tax problem.

For President Obama, that his treasury picked Tim Geithner who had an even bigger tax problem. And the Democrats right him saying he paid his back taxes --

COOPER: So, it's fine for Democrats when Geithner did it?

KING: Yeah. It happens every four years. This is bipartisan amnesia. COOPER: To me when the headlines that came out of theses hearings is how few these nominees have actually talked about major policy issues --


COOPER: -- with Donald Trump. I mean to me was the most fascinating --

BORGER: Stunning.

COOPER: -- thing of all.


BORGER: You had Rex Tillerson saying it never had an in-depth conversation with the president-elect on Russia. You had Price who's being nominated for HHS saying he hadn't recently talked to the president about what he intends to do with social security, Medicare and Medicaid. No small topics. You had Nikki Haley saying they haven't had the conversation about Russia and China.

My question is, is this about their own credibility or is this about giving Donald Trump some deniability when he says, "Well, we never had that conversation and here's how I feel about X, Y and Z." I mean you're smiling, Jeffrey, but --


BORGER: Maybe there's a strategy to this. I don't know.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's very concerning. I don't think they're ready. I don't think they're ready. And that's dangerous. I remember how hard the Obama team worked to be ready on day one. We had a bunch of problems to solve but then it was a relentless sobriety about being ready. My concern is, this is not partisan. I don't think they're ready.

KING: The cabinet level though. The concern you care from the agencies the people in transition is that the number two, the number three, the number four and the names nobody ever hears --

BORGER: Right.

KING: -- the people who sit at the desks doing all the work.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But these are picks. These are not picks that are managerial picks. If you wanted to run a large bureaucracy like the Department of Education and, you know, take care of student loans, you probably wouldn't pick Betsy Devos. These are picks that are about reform and vision, right? So Betsy Devos is about a big idea, a big thing, school choice and --

JONES: By the way, --

LEWIS: Sessions. JONES: -- is not ideology over competence.

LEWIS: Well, that's one way --

LORD: Well, can we talk about swamp for a minute?

LEWIS: Sessions is about law and order, Flynn is about ISIS, Price is about Obamacare. So I think what Donald Trump is trying to do is actually tackle some really big things.

LORD: Yes.

LEWIS: And I think these nominees are indicative of that. But I also agree with Van. It would not surprise me at all if Trump is able to accomplish a few really big things --

COOPER: Let me ask --

LEWIS: -- and if there's a huge scandal because of --

COOPER: Kirsten let me ask you about this Betsy Devos the grizzly bear moment, because that's getting obviously a lot of --

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think it's fair. The big problem with Betsy Devos for the Democrats is really is an ideological problem.

LORD: Yes.

POWERS: They have a really different point of view. People have latched on to this because they think it's funny and they can make fun of her. You know, but what she really said was this is something should be left to locales and states, which is a boilerplate conservative thing to say.

It's all over the world who think anything of that. And in fact, there is a school in Wyoming where -- that has a problem with grizzly bears. That's a true statement. Whether it should be handled with guns or bear spray is a separate question. But her point it's a local issue actually isn't that crazy.

COOPER: Right, she was referencing some --


COOPER: -- would talk about it not.

POWERS: Yeah, right.


CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, we have a president- elect of the United States who went to the voters and said I'm going to drain the swamp and what a lot of the stuff is about is the absolute unwillingness to the Republicans to go anywhere near draining the swamp. They want to rush these things through. They don't want these people properly vetted.

And what we see in a couple of these nominees is they're waist deep in a big money. Price, for instance. And they just want to push them through.

While meanwhile, the great dismal swamp is Trump's conflicts of interest that the Republicans don't want to look at themselves. The greatest conflicts of interest absolutely unheard of for a president of the United States. If Hillary Clinton had them, she'd be hauled up there for hearings tomorrow.

COOPER: We got to take a break. We got more breaking news ahead. We're going to have new information tonight from a family spokesman on the condition of the 41st President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, both in the hospital tonight. Also our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us. Just ahead.


[20:43:49] COOPER: Well, more breaking news. The nation prepares for the inauguration of the 45th president. The attention is focus tonight in the 41st president, George H.W. Bush and his wife. Former President Bush was admitted to the intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital. Today his wife, Barbara, was admitted to the same hospital as a precaution we're told. Join us by phone is the Bush family spokesman Jim McGrath.

Thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us how our Former President Bush and Mrs. Bush are doing?

JIM MCGRATH, BUSH FAMILY SPOKESMAN: Well, thanks, Anderson. Happily, the news this evening is they're both on an upswing. President Bush in particular had a rough morning, Mrs. Bush did for that matter as well, and -- but, you know, Houston Methodist, best doctors, best nurses in the world, they're getting the best care and they were able to certainly treat what was ailing the president this morning, successful procedure, and now he's in stable condition. They're going to keep him in the ICU for some observation.

Mrs. Bush woke up this morning not feeling so hot, persistent cough and just general fatigue, and so she also went down to Methodist. She's resting comfortably. And I think she's on probably a quicker glide path to discharge. They're encouraged by what they found. It's not great to have a 91 and 92-year-old in the hospital, but they're fighters and there's not a lot of money to be made against George and Barbara Bush.

[20:45:16] COOPER: They're certainly incredibly strong and tough. The former president, how long has he been suffering from pneumonia?

MCGRATH: He was admitted on Saturday, Anderson, with a shortness of breath. But he responded initially very well to the treatments. In fact if we were having this conversation 24 hours ago, he would have told you and I would have told you he was going to be discharged on Thursday or Friday. It's the complication that arose this morning, pneumonia related, that kind of set us back here. But again, the team at Methodist was able to address it quickly and successfully and so, you know, we're going to hope that the medicines continue to do their job. But it's a wait and see game and we're going to take it day by day. We're not going to talk about discharge until they're fully on the mend.

COOPER: And just to be clear, President Bush is in the ICU still.

MCGRATH: He is, yeah.

COOPER: OK. Mr. McGrath, our thoughts are certainly with both Bushes and the entire family. Please pass that along. Thank you for talking with us. We appreciate it.

MCGRATH: Most kind, Anderson. Thank you.

COOPER: Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now along with CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel. Just in terms of what they're facing, Sanjay, how serious is this? What do we know about it?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, given his age, given the fact that this is pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs, that's different than a bronchitis, for example, which is inflammation of the air ways that lead to the lungs --

COOPER: A bronchitis can lead to pneumonia.

GUPTA: Bronchitis can lead to pneumonia but they're different things and pneumonia, obviously, more serious. You know, 92 years old, you and I have talked about this, you don't measure age in years always when it comes to this sort of things, but 92 years old, his immune system is clearly going to be weaker.

Jamie and I talked about this earlier. He had not previously been intubated, put on a breathing machine for pneumonia. He's had pneumonia in the past but it's never this serious to the point where he needed a breathing machine. So, you know, I think cautiously optimistic.

COOPER: And in terms of Mrs. Bush, how common is it for somebody to be hospitalized just out of precaution?

GUPTA: Well, it sounds like there probably was enough -- you know, when they say out of precaution, probably sort of a combination of -- there's enough there to be hospitalized. She could possibly be at home but it's safer in certain situations again because of her age. She's 91 years old. Sounds like she has bronchitis-type symptoms, again, different from pneumonia.

COOPER: Shortness of breath.

GUPTA: Shortness of breath. And you're 91 years old you want to make sure someone could be closely monitored.

COOPER: And Jamie, I mean, I know you've been talking to the sources, talking to family, what are you hearing?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So two things. Just to confirm, she was diagnosed with bronchitis not pneumonia. So that's a good thing.

The other thing is I think he gave everyone quite a scare this morning because I think he was having trouble breathing, they couldn't stabilize it, and it led to the intubation. That said, when he comes back from these things, he really -- the sense of humor comes back. So he's now alert, he's conscious, he's going to be intensive care for a while.

But, I am told that he had a video get-well message from none other than Suzanne Somers, and when he heard about it, his eyes lit up.

COOPER: Really?

GANGEL: Classic --

COOPER: Somers' fan.

GANGEL: He is now.


GANGEL: Classic Bush 41. That sense of humor comes back --

COOPER: Oh, that's very sweet.

GANGEL: -- right away. But, look, in 2012, he was in the hospital for two months with this kind of infection. And so, this raises alarm bells. People were very worried. He had another incident in 2014. But I tell you, I saw him several times this summer and he was in fabulous shape. He was smart, alert, absolutely. He said to me, Jamie, I'm going to live to be 104.

So, you know, this is a setback, but he's dealt with these, you know, challenges before, so.

COOPER: Yeah. He's a fighter, there's no doubt about it. Jamie, thank you so much. Dr. Sanjay, good too as well.

Up next, inside a shocked Obama White House the day after Donald Trump won its presidency, something you will not see anywhere else. We'll Be right back.


[20:53:17] COOPER: At the top of the hour, something you'll only see on CNN, a really fascinating look at what it's been like as the Obama administration draws to a close. "The End: Inside the Last Days of the Obama White House." Here's Press Secretary Josh Ernest talking of speaking for the president after Donald Trump had won the election.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White House where reporters are gathered and everyone is here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are all waiting to find out what will be said. What will be said publicly?

JOSH ERNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The first couple of days immediately after the election, you know, other than the statement that the president delivered in the Rose Garden, I was basically the only Democrat in the country who was out publicly answering questions and that's the nature of the job.

But all of the questions centered on the painful outcome of the election.

I know it's been less than 24 hours, but obviously the Trump message resonated with the majority of the voters what happened last night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president feel that the results were some sort of rejection of him? This is now real. Truly the president must have some real concerns right now.

ERNEST: Listen, I want to be real clear about this. The election is over. Those briefings were difficult for me and my staff. This isn't just a job. This isn't just a 9:00 to 5:00 gig to pay the mortgage. A lot of the work is something people feel called to do.

So what are you suggesting?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is progress remade over the last eight years.



COOPER: Well, it's called "The End: Inside the Last Days of the Obama White House." It's really unprecedented to get cameras in like this in the last days of administration. It airs in just a few moments. I hope you watch it.

Joining us now, two individuals who were there at the beginning or before, Dan Pfeiffer served in the 2008 campaign and later it's White House Communications Director then senior adviser to the president, he's now a CNN political commentator.

[20:55:10] David Axelrod has known Barack Obama since the early 90's, served in a variety of capacities including as his chief campaign strategist, and he's currently our senior political commentator and host of "The Axe File" podcast.

It's interesting. I'm sure you both relate to what Josh Ernest is saying, the sense of it being a calling. Whether you're serving Republican administration or Democratic administration, I think the feeling for many in the White House has got to be the same.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, no I think so. We certainly felt it. That was a big ethic of Obama campaign. You know he said, in his farewell address, that he urged young people to hitch themselves to something larger than themselves. And that's the way everyone felt. That you were there, and it was a calling. And so, there's a real seriousness about this.

COOPER: As this new administration faces the beginning, I mean you were there at the beginning, how do you transition from a campaign to governing? What is that transition like?

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's really hard. And presidential campaigns are challenging things. Governing is 10 times harder, right? It is double A ball in a campaign. And it's Major League fastballs in the White House. And it's going to be a real challenge. Those first few months and those first few years were the hardest. The pace was the fastest.

COOPER: A governing is harder just because, why, there's more moving parts?

PFEIFFER: There's more moving parts. The things you say matter, right? Like what the press secretary says to podium can make the market drop, it can start international incident. Campaigns are -- they're hard and they're challenging but they're different. The stakes matter unless (ph) you feel at the day you walk in that building.

AXELROD: And when we entered office, we were in the midst of the raging economic crisis. We had 180,000 troops in Afghanistan, and Iraq. And so, you didn't need any reminders about the stakes that you were dealing with.

COOPER: You know, we heard on Capitol Hill from a bunch of the Donald Trump's nominees that they haven't had substantive or serious in-depth discussions on major policy issues with --


COOPER: -- the president-elect. Does that surprise you? I mean, go back to --


COOPER: -- the Obama transition. Had his candidates for, his nominees, had major policy discussions?

AXELROD: I think the interviews with the nominees were substantive discussions of issues. I sat, my office was rights outside of his in the transition headquarters and people would go in and they come out quite a while later. And he would come out and review these discussions. So, yes, there were deep policy discussions before he made those decisions. So it is unusual.

COOPER: And in terms, I mean, obviously, the obvious question, sort of the legacy of Barack Obama and it's probably too soon to tell and it often takes history, you know, decades to assess a president. But, how much of President Obama's legacy is vulnerable is at stake, depending on what Donald Trump decides to do? PFEIFFER: Well I think some of the substantive accomplishments the president hoped would be here for the next four to eight years and decades are going to be something the Democrats will have to fight about for next few years. I think in the history books over time as people look at what he did to save the economy. How he inspired young people. I think that is going to stand the test of time and they'll be up for historians years from now to write that. But I feel very confident -- held in very high regard.

AXELROD: I also think that there is this sense that somehow, all of these accomplishments will be reversed. The fact is the debate is much different now because of what Barack Obama did. Even on this healthcare debate, the discussion, well, of course we're going to cover these 20 million people, of course we're going to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

COOPER: I mean a few years ago that would not --

AXELROD: That would not have been the discussion. That is true on climate change and renewable energy. And fuel efficiency standards and a whole range of things that will never go back. Certainly gay rights will never go back. And there are whole ranges of thing that happen in this administration that changed this country in ways that, that won't be changed in four years or in the future.

COOPER: And when you heard President Obama today talking about not remaining silent when he believes core values of America are being threatened. Did that -- what do you think that actually mean logistically?

AXELROD: I think he's deeply concerned about democracy. And when he thinks that there are fundamental Democratic principles at stake, that go to discrimination, free press, and so on, he's going to speak out. But it also means he's not going to involve himself in day to day policy debates. And people expect him to be the point of the spear on those things, should not expect that.

PFEIFFER: It wouldn't be good for the country or for Democratic Party I think in the long run for him not to give the stage to the next generation to start making a name for themselves and sort of be the point of that spear.

COOPER: Which is the concern about the losses, the Democratic Party has faced in State, Houses, sort of the bench is not as deep as it might have been.

AXELROD: Although people are going to have to emerge. I mean, I think that's part of what he's been saying as well.

COOPER: Yeah, David Axelrod, Dan Pfeiffer, guys thank you very much.

PFEIFFER: Thank you.

COOPER: That does it for us. Thanks for watching. CNN films presents, "The End: Inside the Last Days of the Obama White House." And it begins right now.