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Former President George H.W. Bush Hospitalized; More House Democrats Boycott Inauguration; Obama Approval Rating Soars as Term Ends; Four Trump Nominees Face Hearings Next Hour. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That is a sweet story on every level. So we're going to be live tomorrow in Washington, D.C., of course, for Donald Trump's inauguration. We're there, also, Friday starting extra early at 5:00 a.m., so set your DVR for that.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And we're also covering the inaugural parade together. We'll be out there.

CAMEROTA: In the rain.

CUOMO: Maybe so. Time for the NEWSROOM with Carol Costello. No umbrellas on the parade route.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I'm going to cross my fingers for a beautiful day. You guys have a beautiful rest of the day. NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning and thank you for joining me live from Washington, D.C. We're overlooking the U.S. Capitol. I'm Carol Costello.

We do begin with breaking news this morning. George H.W. Bush, the former President, resting this morning in a Houston hospital.

He was admitted Saturday for shortness of breath and a cough. He's 92 years old. He suffers from a form of Parkinson's disease. But his office says he is responding well to treatments.

Joining me now on the phone is CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel. She has more on President Bush's condition.

Jamie, what are you learning?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Look, we have some very good news. By all accounts, former President Bush or, as we like to call him, 41, is doing much, much better.

As you mentioned, he was admitted to Houston Methodist Hospital on Saturday. But I'm told it was really as a precaution because he was suffering from shortness of breath and a persistent cough, which they suspected might be early pneumonia, but they have not had a diagnosis yet. As a result, CNN has learned that he was put on antibiotics. And I'm

told that he has responded so well that, spokesman Jim McGrath told me earlier this morning, that everyone is so pleased with how he's doing. They really hope he's going to be released and going home in a couple of days.

His wife, Barbara Bush, came to visit him. His son Neil Bush came to visit him. And also, his Chief of Staff, Jean Becker, told us he is doing fine. That she went to see him, that he was alert, chatty, and very engaged.

So, look, Carol, this is all good news, but, as you mentioned, to put it in some perspective, he is 92 years old. He's had similar health problems in the past. In 2012, he was actually hospitalized and in intensive care for two months with bronchitis and a cough. So no one is taking any chances, Carol.

COSTELLO: No one is taking any chances. You know, I just wonder if his son will attend Donald Trump's inauguration or feel the need to be with his father at this time.

GANGEL: You know, I asked about the family. President George W. Bush 43 is actually in Florida right now with some of the other family members.

And from everything I've been told, you know, President Bush 41 really is doing much better, and we have every reason to think that President Bush 43, his son, will still be attending the inauguration.

I think the bottom line here is the word "precaution." You know, he's had these problems in the past. They didn't want to take any chances, but he has responded very well to the antibiotics. And he's 92, but they really think he's going to be getting out of the hospital shortly.

COSTELLO: I hope so. Strong guy. Jamie Gangel reporting live for us this morning, thank you.

Of course, we're following some other major stories this morning. Two days before his presidential inauguration, and Donald Trump appears headed to the White House without a single Cabinet position filled.

Soon, hearings are going to get underway for four more of his nominees. Expect fireworks for Health and Human Services nominee, Tom Price. He faces a grilling not only about Obamacare but his questionable stock dealings as a Georgia congressman.

In the meantime, more House Democrats are boycotting Friday's inauguration, nearly five dozen in all joining the protest. And President Obama, just hours from his final news conference, wrapping up his term with sky-high approval ratings.

We are covering all the fast-developing angles of this government in transition. Let's begin, though, with CNN's Jason Carroll. He's live outside of Trump Tower.

Good morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. And let's begin with that interview that the President-elect gave. And he has been talking about a number of familiar topics to Fox News.

He explained that he's still angry over that unsubstantiated report that leaked about him and Russia.

He still had some choice words about the wall and Mexico, saying that Mexico will, in fact, reimburse the United States for the cost of the wall but did not give specifics about how and when that would happen.

And still, again, speaking out about Congressman Lewis and those Democratic lawmakers who say they are boycotting his inauguration.


[09:05:09] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think for him to have grandstanded, because I think he just grandstanded, John Lewis, and then he got caught in a very bad lie, so let's see what happens.

As far as other people not going, that's OK, because we need seats so badly. I hope they give me their tickets.

Are they going to give us their tickets, or are they going to give them to other people?

AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You're OK with them not going?

TRUMP: No. What happens to their tickets? I hope they're going to give us their tickets.


CARROLL: He also said in that interview that he would be agreeable to sitting down, Carol, with an interview to speak with Congressman Lewis.

Also, in a separate interview with a new media outlet called Axis (ph), he also made other key points. He said that his confrontational style, Carol, is misunderstood. He also said he is not a divisive individual.

He also says that health care is his most urgent domestic matter. And he said he just had a conversation with President Obama about that on Monday, Carol.

COSTELLO: Jason Carroll reporting live outside of Trump Tower in New York, thank you.

President Obama is holding his final press conference in just a matter of hours. And he's going out with sky-high approval ratings, 60 percent. Sixty percent compared to other outgoing presidents. He is topped only by Clinton and Reagan.

CNN's Athena Jones has more on this. She's live outside of the White House.

Good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN REPORTER: Good morning, Carol. Not a bad way to be leaving the White House, as you mentioned, sky-high approval ratings.

This is the President's highest approval rating since June of 2009. And he fares well when compared to other past presidents, almost doubling the approval rating of the man he replaced, George W. Bush.

Now, let's look at some of the issues. We see that President Obama has good marks on his handling of the economy and race relations.

He got mixed reviews when it comes to health care policy, which is, perhaps, not surprising. That has been a hot button issue since the very beginning of his presidency.

And he got bad reviews on handling of ISIS. You'll remember he once called the Islamic state the junior varsity, the J.V., team. And so he's been criticized for being late to taking ISIS seriously by his critics.

Now, majority of Americans say that they will miss him. This is interesting in light of what the President told his old friend, David Axelrod, just last month.

He said that he felt that his message of unity and hope could have mobilized a majority of the American people once again in this past election. That's another way of saying that he believes his message could have won. And so that 58 percent approval rating is interesting there.

And when it comes to the first lady, she is ending with her highest favorability ratings, 69 percent, since 2012. That matches her January 2009 favorability rating. That was just before the inauguration that year.

So, overall, very good numbers as the first family prepares to say goodbye to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Athena Jones reporting live from the White House. Thank you.

One topic that is sure to be the focus at the President's last press conference, oh, yes, that decision to commute the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning.

The former Army soldier was convicted of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks. The decision, which was made despite opposition from the Defense Secretary Ash Carter, sparking sharp criticism on both sides of the aisle.

And this morning on CNN, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest spoke out about the factors that influenced President Obama's actions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: She has served her time. The seven-year sentence, the seven years that she's served behind bars, is consistent with the sentence that was handed down to other people who have committed similar crimes but got less attention for committing them. And the President believed that this was an appropriate punishment.


COSTELLO: CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joins me now in London.

Good morning, Nic.


Well, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange congratulated Chelsea Manning, as did NSA leaker Edward Snowden who's in Russia.

Julian Assange is in the Ecuadorian embassy behind me. He's been there for about four and a half years now, facing extradition to Sweden on charges completely unrelated to WikiLeaks. However, he tweeted just a couple of days ago that if President Obama commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence, then he would turn himself over to U.S. authorities.

His lawyer has tweeted today that Julian Assange will stick to his word. The lawyer has tweeted that Julian Assange believes he can now get a fair trial in the United States.

Of course, this comes very hard on the heels of WikiLeaks, and by implication, Julian Assange's connection to the Russian hacking that U.S. intelligence officials believe was designed to help get Donald Trump elected. So it's unclear if Assange will leave the Ecuadorian embassy here. We don't know of the specific charges that he might face if he did.

[09:10:19] COSTELLO: All right, Nic Robertson reporting live from London for us. Thanks so much.

Let's talk about all of these. With me now is Dan Pfeiffer, CNN political commentator and former senior adviser to President Obama. Abby Phillip is with me. She's a CNN political analyst. And Andre Bauer joins me as well. He's the former lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

Welcome to all of you. So, Dan, I'll start with you. President Obama is one busy lame duck.


COSTELLO: I mean, is it possible that he can leave office and not still be involved?

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, as he has said in a number of these interviews on his way out the door, that he's going to take a vacation. He's going to get some sleep. He's going to start the process of thinking about his memoirs, working on his library.

I think, over the course of time, he'll still be involved in issues he's cared about, but he's going to step away for a little bit. And that's the right thing for him, and I think, it's the right thing for the Democratic Party.

COSTELLO: He's going to step away for a little bit.

PFEIFFER: I think he's going to play a role similar to other ex- presidents we've had. He has been clear that if Donald Trump were to do something that really cut -- he was going to give Donald Trump space.

But if he'll do something that really went at the core of sort of the moral fiber of this country -- he's going to start deporting some of the DREAM kids or a Muslim reg or something like that -- he might feel compelled to speak out. And that would not surprises me.

COSTELLO: Interesting. So President Obama is going out on a high. President-elect Trump is going in on a low, right? So is the Trump team concerned that President Obama will step in and be vocal and make things more difficult for Donald Trump?

ANDRE BAUER (R), FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't think they're concerned about it. Donald Trump has a clear vision of where he wants to take the country. It's vastly different from where President Obama did.

But make no mistake, President Obama is a young man. He has a lot of life left in him, and he's a big, big figure. He's a big leader, and he will be an important part of where history goes. When he weighs in to something, it will have impact. I hope that --

COSTELLO: But will he welcome input from President Obama?

BAUER: I hope Donald Trump will welcome input from anyone that is a big figure and at least listen to their perspective, which it seems he's doing more and more of that.

But I hope that President Obama will, at least, give Donald Trump some time to get there, work on his priorities. And then if he disagrees with him, my hope is they'll sit down and work together on certain issues.

I hope they'll find common ground on a lot of things where he can use some of the wisdom President Obama picked up over the last eight years.

Look, President Obama came in as a very, I don't want to say, naive, but came in as a person that didn't have a whole lot of background in the job, but he evolved into the job --

COSTELLO: But President Obama came in with very high approval ratings. It was 80 percent.

BAUER: Well, my point is he had to adapt to the office, and he got help from other people. And I watched "THE END" last night, which will air on CNN tonight, and I thought, he was so humble in how he talked about how President Bush helped him, and it made it so easy to transition in.

And I thought he was very humble in himself and how he treated President Bush and gave him accolades. And I hope that he would do the same for President-elect Trump.

COSTELLO: Mr. Trump sat down on Fox News, gave an interview to one of the anchors on "Fox and Friends." And he was asked the question about why so many celebrities were backing out of performing at the inauguration.

And in the course of his answer, he did mention President Obama. So listen and then I'll ask what you think.


TRUMP: I have prepared it. And well, the first line is thanking everybody, all of the presidents, and including, by the way, President Obama and Michelle, who have been absolutely nice.

I'm thanking just President Obama. I'm thanking his very lovely wife because they have been so gracious.

Many of the celebrities that are saying they're not going, they were never invited.

EARHARDT: Well, same with --

TRUMP: I don't want the celebrities. I want the people. And we have the biggest celebrities in the world there.


TRUMP: The biggest in the world.


TRUMP: Well, I won't say that. But we have the biggest -- and President Obama.

EARHARDT: How about these designers that are saying they don't --

TRUMP: And President Obama.


COSTELLO: So the biggest celebrity there would be President Obama. And he is probably joking. But he said lovely things about the outgoing President.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is the interesting thing about the behind the scenes. What we see on the public stage is a little bit different from what's going on behind the scenes.

Trump said yesterday also that he had spoken to President Obama this weekend. After all of this stuff with John Lewis and the questions about legitimacy, after his aides went on television on Sunday morning and essentially blamed Obama for the legitimacy questions.

The relationship between Donald Trump and Barack Obama is not necessarily what we are seeing and hearing from Trump's aides out in the public. And I think that is a result of the fact that these two men are doing a job that not very many people in the world ever get to do, and they are on a different plane.

They are doing things over here, and we are watching things happening over here. I think Donald Trump, actually, is very much appreciative of the fact that Obama has gone out of his way not to put knives into him, at least rhetorically, although I think there's some other stuff going on in terms of policy.

COSTELLO: Although, you know, wouldn't it be really bad if he talked against a guy that was incredibly popular right at the moment?

[09:15:01] PHILLIP: It might be. But given the history between the two, I mean, Donald Trump spent years questioning whether Obama was born in the United States. There's no reason necessarily for Obama to put that aside, but he has. I think that's one of the things that Trump, to his credit, acknowledges and appreciates.

COSTELLO: Something else that was interesting, Kellyanne Conway this morning on GMA said that Trump prepared his own inaugural address. It will be all about unity. It will be a beautiful message about bringing the country together.

PFEIFFER: I am skeptical of that. I'm skeptical he wrote it since he -- there's never been a documented instance of him writing any speeches or paragraphs.

COSTELLO: Well, he ad libs a lot.

PFEIFFER: If it's 140 characters, maybe he did write it.

He said after the election he was going to try to bring the country together. Since that day, he has done the exact opposite of that. I hope as an American, that he does something different when he comes here on Friday. But I think there's good reason for skepticism.

COSTELLO: Good reason for skepticism?

BAUER: No. I'm an eternal optimist.

Donald Trump cares about his legacy, too. He wants to be the guy that goes down in history that really god something done. Through his life it's been about accomplishments, not just about rhetoric.

So, he's going to be concerned that he enters this going all out and he has a good year, that he starts out with a positive and gets things done. I think part of that is working together with Congress. I would rather him not pick a fight with John Lewis. But, you know, hopefully, we'll move on quickly.

PHILLIP: Carol, one of the things that Mike Pence said over the weekend is that Donald Trump on Friday is going to be the same guy we saw in the campaign. I think that's true. I think Donald Trump is not going to change. He's not going to back away from who he is. That might be divisive. But that's who he's been pretty consistently.

COSTELLO: Well, we'll speak on Friday, right? You guys stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

And also, don't forget to tune in for this CNN film "The End: Inside the Last Days of the Obama White House." That's tonight at 9:00 Eastern, only on CNN. I had to get that in. They ordered me to. It's going to be great. Hope you watch it.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, bracing for fireworks on Capitol Hill as four more of Trump's cabinet picks take the hot seat. We'll talk about that next.


[09:20:43] COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. You have picture of Washington, D.C.

And, of course, confirmation hearings about to get under way on Capitol Hill. That will happen at the top of the hour.

The toughest questions may be in store for the man who would oversee the replacement of Obamacare, this after a contentious hearing last night for the education secretary.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill with more details.

Good morning.


Yes, pressure is certainly mounting on Tom Price today here on Capitol Hill. He's Donald Trump's nominee for Health and Human Services. Not only today have Democrats signaled it is the first part of a two-part hearing, that they intend to really hammer him on his plans and intention for Obamacare, but he goes into this hearing with many allegations of insider trading which Democrats have already said that they intend to drill him on today.

But going forward, there are four confirmation hearings on the Hill today. Yesterday, a very contentious hearing for Betsy DeVos. She's Trump's education secretary nominee, facing a slew of questions from Democrats not only on her support for school choice and vouchers, her past donations to Republicans, but an interesting exchange when she was asked specifically whether guns have anyplace in the classroom.

Here is her response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: You can't say definitively today that guns shouldn't be in schools?

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

MURPHY: If President Trump moves forward with this plan to ban gun- free school zones, will you support that proposal?

DEVOS: I will support what the president-elect does.


SERFATY: That term grizzlies there, that reference to grizzly bears drawing some laughter in the crowd at that confirmation hearing. Senator Chris Murphy afterwards taking to twitter to register his displeasure saying he was shaken to the core by her answer -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Sunlen Serfaty reporting live for us.

So, with me now, my panel joins me -- Dan Pfeiffer, Abby Phillip, Andre Bauer.

So, Dan, we know that Mr. Trump is for guns in the schools. If Betsy DeVos is confirmed, do you think that will happen?

PFEIFFER: It's not something in the death purview of the secretary of education. I think the grizzly bear answer was interesting. The overall performance was alarming to both people on both sides of the aisle in terms of her preparedness on some of the basic core issues around IDEA funding and things like that. That you would have thought she practiced those answers before she got to the dais.

COSTELLO: Of course, Andre, Democrats found that whole confirmation hearing very disturbing. Republicans were more positive.

From your perspective, what did you take away from that? Especially the part about the guns, because that got most parents' attention. Do you want guns in a kindergarten class?

BAUER: Well, it's a very sensitive issue. Quite frankly, if people knew that a teacher that was trained had a gun, you might have less school shootings. I mean, when people -- you don't see places where there are a lot of guns get robbed. So, it gets very contentious.

As a parent, I would have a different feeling and would be ultimately concerned. But make no mistake: he has assembled and all-star group. I hope the Senate will be more constructive and less obstructive and they'll get things done for the American people.

He's put together a bunch of business leaders, a bunch of folks from the private sector that are giving up great-paying jobs and are going to come to Washington put up a lot of B.S. because they have a vision to make our country better. So, I admire them, I applaud them and I hope we won't get hung up too

long on sound bites and senators trying to look good in their districts, but truly excited to do --

COSTELLO: That's not just a sound bite, though, Abby, to say that --


PHILLIP: But there were substantive issues that were brought up in that hearing, one being whether she knew that there was a federal law that governed the treatment of students with disabilities. She didn't seem aware of that and she acknowledged she wasn't aware of it.

Last night, Democratic senators were trying to make a point. They wanted more questions. There was only one round of questioning for her nomination.

[09:25:03] It happened around 6:00 in the afternoon. It was very late, and they wanted to make the point that she would have -- they deserved an opportunity to question her more, to evaluate where she stands on certain issues. And I think they actually did it pretty successfully because they were able to reveal some cracks in her preparation and her lack of knowledge about certain things that are directly under the purview of the secretary of education.

COSTELLO: So, Tom Price's confirmation hearing for health and human services should be even more interesting and perhaps more contentious because there are a number of ethics concerns surrounding him as far as him investing in this medical device company and then voting on legislation a few days later.

How do you suppose that will play out later this morning?

PFEIFFER: It does -- I think he'll be more prepared on the issues than the education secretary nominee, but these conflict issues are very real. They are very concerning. They're the sort of things that have led to investigations, ethics investigations, Justice Department investigations, SEC investigations. And from a political point of view, it runs the exact opposite of what Donald Trump claims to have run on. He wants to, quote/unquote, drain the swamp and he's picking someone who had jurisdiction over an issue, bought stocks that would benefit from his legislation and took money from the lobbying group for that industry.

All those things are exactly what he claims he wants to end in politics.

PHILLIP: There's also a distinction between the kinds of things that can actually jeopardize a nomination and the things that might not. I actually think that not being able to answer certain questions in a hearing is not the kind of thing that might cause you to not be confirmed. But financial and legal troubles are the sort of thing that in the past nominations have been jeopardize bid that sort of thing. That's what makes the Tom Price situation a little bit more serious. I think we still have some facts to find out about what exactly happened there. But it has the potential to turn into something that Republican senators say we don't want to deal with this right now, let's move on.

COSTELLO: Well, something else that might throw a wrench into things from a Republican perspective is the ideas Tom Price has to replace Obamacare. His ideas are very different from many Republicans in the House or the Senate rather. How might that play out?

BAUER: I don't think Republicans will debunk him. He's still very respected on the Hill, coming with a doctor background. I don't think you'll see a lot of pushback from the Republican side.

COSTELLO: No? Not all? Really? I mean, surely, they'll ask how he plans to replace Obamacare.

BAUER: Sure they will. And they'll find common ground. I mean, this is a complex issue. To think that they're going to do it in this short time frame I think is unrealistic in the first place.

COSTELLO: So, Mitch McConnell came out this morning and said his plan is to get six Trump nominees confirmed on inauguration day. Do you think that's possible?

PFEIFFER: I do not think it's possible. I think what is interesting is that Mitch McConnell set a standard for Obama nominees for having ethics paperwork filled out, a lot of other stuff, he's now adopted a new standard for President Trump where they don't have to do any of those things. This is notable in the Betsy DeVos hearing, which is, she has a lot of potential conflicts of interest, right? There's a process that goes into place to analyze conflicts of interest.

Mitch McConnell pushed it through before that analysis was done. And therefore, members of the Senate were not allowed to ask her questions about that, because they didn't have the necessary information. That's not a good way to do business and it certainly runs counter to what he thought should happen when President Obama was coming into office.

COSTELLO: So, Abby, there is a difference between how the confirmation hearings went down under Obama and how they're going down under Mr. Trump.

PHILLIP: But there is, but I would add just one caveat to that. Obama did have all his paperwork in order before folks went into their Senate hearings, but it hasn't always been that way. In 2001, when George Bush was going through this process, some number, about a handful of them did not have their paperwork in before they confirmed. Some of them only had it completed like the day before they ended up being sworn in.

So, there is a little bit of inconsistency in the historical record. But, you know, Dan is right, Obama did have that all in order in part because he wanted to have his cabinet in place when he got started on January 20th. You have to remember, he was facing the economy in basically shambles. He wanted everything to be ready to go on day one.

Obviously, the Trump administration isn't there yet, and they are not going to have everybody ready on day one. And even beyond these top- level nominations, we're still looking for names for undersecretaries for some of these cabinet positions. There are a lot of positions left unfilled going into inauguration day.

COSTELLO: We'll see what happens. Thanks to you all. Thank you very much. I do appreciate it. Abby Phillip, Dan Pfeiffer and Andre Bauer.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: the vice president, Joe Biden, says Russia's election meddling will not stop with the United States. His warning to the international community, next.