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Donald Trump Inauguration Tomorrow; Cabinet Ethics Questions; Obama's Farewell. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 19, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:11] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump one day away from assuming the Oval Office. Final preparations underway behind us as Trump rounds out his cabinet. We are live here in Washington.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Growing ethics questions surrounding the top cabinet picks. Can Democrats block these nominations?

ROMANS: And President Obama meets the media for the last time as commander in chief. We're going to tell you his advice to the incoming administration.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START pre-inauguration edition from Washington. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, January 19th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Welcome to the last full day of the Obama presidency.

Tonight, right there behind us, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. That building is my favorite on earth. I think it is the pretty and majestic. Majestic.

And now, with just hours to go, the rush of last-minute preparations underway across the city, today, the president-elect flies here back to Washington. For the first time, he will arrive on Air Force jet. Not his own sort of gold lamed jet.

This afternoon, he will attend a wreath-laying at Arlington and attend two concerts as well.

CNN's Athena Jones joins us with the lay out of the day ahead.

Good morning, Athena.


As you mentioned, he is expected to arrive midday on a military aircraft. He's going to attend that wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery. And then, he'll head to a Voices of the People pre-concert in the mid-afternoon and in the late afternoon and evening, he's going to attend what's being dubbed a Make America Great Again Welcome Concert. That will be a concert down at the Lincoln Memorial featuring acts like Toby Keith and Three Doors Down, among many others.

Now, he was here in D.C. last night attending two dinners. One honoring cabinet secretaries and the other to honor his incoming vice president, Mike Pence. He tweeted out a photo of a meeting with wounded warriors that took place at that dinner with Mike Pence.

Notably, he did not eat, we're told, at either of those dinners. He instead ate at his own hotel, the Trump Hotel. Also, as he prepares to take the oath of office, with just one day to go, he is finalizing his cabinet. He's picking -- he's tapping the former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary. And with that pick, this means that Trump's cabinet will not had any Latino representation. For the first time in almost 30s, Latinos have served in cabinet positions in every presidential administration since 1988. So, that's something that is likely to be noted -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Athena Jones for us. Great to see you, Athena.

You know, I don't like to eat in public either. So, I don't blame the president-elect for not eating at either at those dinners last night.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Athena.

The race is on to get cabinet members confirmed before the end of Donald Trump's first day in office tomorrow. And slowing the process are growing ethical questions about some of these nominees. Mr. Trump's pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Congressman Mick Mulvaney, had admitted he failed to pay employment taxes for a babysitter. Mulvaney says he mistakenly believed sitters were not taxable employees and paid the taxes as soon as he learned otherwise.

Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross had a housekeeper he said he just learned was undocumented. He said he did his best to verify the employee's documents at the time of hiring, but, quote, "It turned out that was incorrect."

And there are questions about an investment by the Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price. More on that in just a moment.

BERMAN: Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is calling this the swamp cabinet, carefully chosen words there, and he is slamming what he calls the rushed schedule of these hearings.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The past two weeks, we have seen repeated efforts from the Trump transition aided and abetted by Senate Republicans to jam through nominees in a way that hides their views from the American people.


BERMAN: Senator Schumer says Democrats may try to slow down this whole confirmation process.

Let's get more on the hearings -- well, no, there are more hearings set for this morning, I should say. Former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin, who's done a number of other jobs as well. He is up for treasury secretary, those hearings today.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry up for energy secretary. He will appear before the Senate today and this follows a day of tough hearings for some of the nominees.

Manu Raju has more from Capitol Hill.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Good morning, John and Christine.

Four of Donald Trump's nominees getting pretty intense questioning yesterday, mostly from Senate Democrats who were concerned about their ideological views. And none more than Tom Price, Georgia congressman selected by Donald Trump to be the new head of Health and Human Services, not just on his ideological views about Medicare and Social Security, what he would do to repeal and replace Obamacare.

[04:05:00] But also, a number of questionable stock trades that he made while at the same time as pursuing health care legislation. Take a listen to how some Senate Democrats approached him yesterday.

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

REP. TOM PRICE, HHS NOMINEE: The stock was bought by, directed by a broker who was making those decisions. I wasn't making those decisions.

WARREN: When you found out your broker made this trade without your knowledge, did you reprimand her?

PRICE: What I did was comply --

WARREN: Did you fire her? Did you sell the stock?

PRICE: What I did was comply with the rules of House in an ethical and legal and aboveboard manner and in a transparent way.

WARREN: Because did you decide not to tell them, wink, wink, nod, nod, and we're all just supposed to believe that?

PRICE: It's what members of this committee, it's the manner of which members of this committee. I understand that. But it's important to appreciate that that's the case.

RAJU: Now, also the same time yesterday, other nominees being questioned, including Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Democrats questioning his views on climate change. He acknowledged that he does think that global warming is a hoax, but also question some of the science behind it in terms of how much man is actually contributing to climate change. SCOTT PRUITT, EPA NOMINEE: Science tells us the climate is changing.

And human manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.

RAJU: We are looking to see which of these will get confirmed, how quickly they'll get confirmed, because Democrats right now are signaling they may drag out the process on some of these nominees, because they do not believe they have been questioned long enough -- John and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Manu Raju, nice to see you this morning. Bright and early for us. Thank you, sir. A lot more work to do today.

Joining us to discuss all this, let's start with the confirmation hearings. CNN politics reporters Tal Kopan and Eugene Scott, and CNN contributor Salena Zito, reporter for "The Washington Examiner" and columnist for "The New York Post".

BERMAN: A full table here this morning.

ROMANS: Bright and early. We love the early birds with us.

Let's start with Health and Human Services because I think -- I mean, I don't remember a time when there was such -- that -- whoever gets that job, Tom Price will have a humongous responsibility in terms of Obamacare and what's going to happen to Obamacare.

Listen to this exchange between Congressman Price and Senator Bernie Sanders yesterday.


PRICE: I look forward to working with you to make certain that every single American has access the highest quality care and coverage that is possible.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Hs access to does not mean that they are guaranteed health care. I have access to buying a $10 million home. I don't have the money do that.

PRICE: That's why we believe it's appropriate to put in place a system that gives every person the feasibility to be able to purchase the coverage that they want for themselves and for their family. Again, not what the government forces them to buy.


ROMANS: Guys, do we know more today about what replacement will look like or are we still talking generalities here? Eugene?

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I think we are certainly talking in generalities in part because President-elect Donald Trump seems be to taking this in a direction that many of his fellow lawmakers from the GOP aren't so certain about himself. We know he said he was close to completing this plan. Whether or not price and other lawmakers know what that plan is, according to them, it's not clear yet.

BERMAN: And, of course, Salena, Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, is getting its best numbers ever lately. Now it is on the verge of going away, you know, you see sort of just a majority of people in most polls that are coming out saying that they approve of it. They certainly don't want the provisions taken away. You can see some politicians like Tom Price allowing distance with himself and president-elect.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, I think the thing we don't know is we don't know anything, right?

BERMAN: Right.

ZITO: I mean, you know, there's a lot of moving parts. I think that the intent before the inauguration or before he became president, the intent all along was to repeal it but then slowly replace it. I think the lesson that the Republicans are trying to learn is in 2009 when the Democrats started the process with health care, they went too fast. That ended up costing them in the down ballot elections in 2010.

So, I think that is always in their mind's eye. We better move this slowly. Sort of the way that Rahm Emanuel said when he was the chief of staff for Obama. Let's take this slowly. That would be the wisest thing they do. But who knows what they're going to do at this point, right?

ROMANS: Another interesting exchange co-starring Bernie Sanders yesterday, the EPA, so many hearings. Let's play a little bit of sound and again, you can hear Bernie Sanders sort of -- this is sharp wording here. Listen.


SANDERS: Why is the climate changing?

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR NOMINEE: Senator, in response to the CO2 issue, the EPA administrator.

SANDERS: I'm asking you a personal opinion.

[04:10:00] PRUITT: My personal opinion is immaterial to the job --

SANDERS: Really? You are going to be 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?

PRUITT: Senator, I acknowledged to you that the human activity impacts --

SANDERS: Impacts?



ROMANS: Tal, what do you make of that?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: This is something we heard over and over throughout the confirmation hearings. You know, it depends on the nominee, but there are questions we've heard multiple times. And in many of those cases, the nominees have actually as you said earlier shown daylight with Donald Trump. So, the climate change question, we heard from Scott Pruitt, what we heard from some of the other nominees will have an impact on climate change, which is we acknowledge that the climate is changing, we acknowledge that man may have some role in that, and the debate it unsettled on what that role is.

So, that's sort of the official line we're getting from nominees. Of course, the way this is asked of them is, do you believe climate change is a hoax because Donald Trump is sort of famously on record tweeting and saying multiple times that climate change is a hoax. None of them have agreed that climate change is a hoax.

And so, we are going to see how that plays out in their policies. But that seems to be the consensus among the nominees.

BERMAN: It's also interesting to see Bernie Sanders emerging once again as a champion of progressives, you know, seemingly happily emerging.

Ethics coming up for a number of these nominees, largely because the Democrats are bringing them up and largely because of information is coming up, Mick Mulvaney, a congressman, he's up for OMB, Office of Management and Budget. And it turns out he did not pay $15,000 in taxes for someone he is calling a babysitter.

Chuck Schumer, the minority leaders, says that's a big deal. Listen to this.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMR (D), MINORITY LEADER: What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If Tom Daschle could not become a cabinet member for not paying taxes for a household employee, then the same standard ought to apply to Mick Mulvaney.


BERMAN: So these taxes over the years have kept people from being in the cabinet. Tom Daschle, who had been a senator, was up for HHS eight years ago, he had to pay $180,000. It was a lot more in taxes and had to do with car services. But the point is well-taken by Chuck Schumer. In the past, these things have derailed nominations. I'm not sure I get the sense that they will this time.

ZITO: I don't think they will either. But, really, Chuck Schumer, he's having a lot of fun. I mean, if he could not be the majority leader, this is sort of the best thing. Get out and get the Democrats' message out there. Just sort of nitpick at all these problems whether big or small.

You know, I mean, as the party of the opposition, that's sort of his job and he's doing it beautifully and dramatically. But as far as the pick goes, you know, I think they all get through. You know, they just don't have the numbers to be able to not allow them.

BERMAN: But get through bruised.

ZITO: Absolutely. That's their job, right? The minority party's job is to start to take a stance on who they are going forward. It starts when you are in the minority. That's how you build.

ROMANS: All right. Guys, stick with us for a second. We got a lot to get through. There's another big confirmation hearing today. The big one I'll be watching is treasury secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin. A former Goldman Sachs banker turned Hollywood producer.

Those jobs likely will be the focus today. Democrats could hammer his record at another job he had. OneWest, it's a bank he formed by purchasing the failed mortgage lender IndyMac. This week, two advocacy groups filed a claim alleging that OneWest discriminated against minorities, critics have also blasted the company's mortgage practices. Mnuchin is a frequent critic of Dodd-Frank, the banking regulations passed after the financial crisis. Trump has said he wants to dismantle those.

Trump also wants tax cuts, lawmakers may ask Mnuchin how he wants to pay for them, and if his plan matches with the president-elect's.

Finally, one of the -- his first duties dealing with the debt ceiling. Guess what? That is coming up again, March 15th. Write it down in your calendar. That is the deadline to raise that cap on how much the government can borrow. So, we will watch that today.

BERMAN: I think they're going to ask about "Avatar", too.

ROMANS: You think so?

BERMAN: Steve Mnuchin was a founder of "Avatar."

ROMANS: You know, people keep saying "Goldman Sachs alum, Goldman Sachs alum". He went on after Goldman Sachs to have a varied kind of investment banking career. But, you know, there are a lot of Goldman Sachs people at the seat with Donald Trump. Ironic after all of the attacking he did on Goldman Sachs during the election.

BERMAN: All right. President Obama held the final news conference as the commander in chief. What is his sense of the direction of this country? That's coming up.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You find yourself isolated because the process breaks down or if you are 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 you made, that's when you start making mistakes.


BERMAN: President Obama doing something he will never do again. Giving a press conference, answering questions from reporters inside the Brady briefing room as president of the United States. He's done. He's out of here tomorrow. That was his last news conference.

Joining us again, our panel, Tal Kopan, Eugene Scott and Salena Zito.

You know, he had an agenda in this news conference. First of all, you could tell who he picked on. You know, it wasn't the normal range of reporters. It was a reporter from FOX News. It was a reporter from Al Arabiya. There was from an LGBT publication, so he wanted to show I think diversity and he also wanted to send a message I think to the incoming administration on the importance of the media.

Let's listen to what he said about that.


OBAMA: 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 and what we do and whether or not we are able to deliver on what's been requested.


BERMAN: Now, President Obama in this White House hasn't been the most press friendly White House we had. Let's just stipulate that.

But that was a clear message, Eugene, to the incoming administration.

SCOTT: Certainly so. And I thought it was interesting because of the ongoing relationship between the media and Obama, just hasn't been the friendliest consistently. But I think the media sort of felt affirmed in that moment to continue going after not just President-elect Donald Trump, but this entire administration to serve the citizens they say they most want to protect.

ROMANS: You know what I heard in that press conference? I heard a president who may not go quietly, because he really talked about a lot of things that matter to him. And he talked about being a voice for people who don't have a voice. And he feels if people who don't have a voice are sidelined, or disregarded, he will speak up. He will spend the next year reading and writing and being quiet unless he thinks he needs to speak up.

[04:20:03] He mentioned something about voter access, you know? Voter rights. He also talked about voting fraud and brought up the whole fake news moniker. Let's listen to that.


OBAMA: This whole notion of election or voting fraud -- this is something that is constantly been disprove disproved. This is fake news. The notion that there are a whole bunch of people out there who are going out and not eligible to vote and want to vote. We have the opposite problem. We got a whole bunch of people who are eligible to vote who don't vote.


ROMANS: Salena, what did you make of that?

ZITO: Well, I mean, he was definitely sending a message. I mean, the hallmark of who he is. He's always standing up for the people that he feels are underserved or left behind or, you know, not always had a voice in the process. He was also saying we need to know and we need to make stark lines between what is real news and what is fake news.

ROMANS: Right, right.

ZITO: And it's our responsibility as reporters and as journalists to get that out.

BERMAN: You know, the president very careful, Tal, to this point, not to criticize the incoming president-elect, but again, he did draw lines and he does stake claims. He did on voting rights and voter access. He did on press access.

He also did on Russia. He continues to offer warnings to the incoming administration about how they should look to Vladimir Putin.

KOPAN: Yes, absolutely, and DREAMers. He also, included if they try to institute deportations of some of the people who he protected would came here and young children and lived their life in America, he said he would stand up for them as well. And, yes, he -- you know, he sort of sent messages. The kids call them sub tweets, you know?

The note on press access, how important it is to have in the building directly related to some of the threats of kicking them out of the building that have been circulating, you know, on Russia. But he never goes after Trump himself. It is interesting to watch him.

He truly seems to respect the importance of the presidential deference to the next guy. George Bush did it for him. He has really looked at George Bush as a model for how to handle this transition. So, it's going to be really interesting to watch him navigate this delicate balance of criticizing policies, but always being very respectful to the man occupying the White House.

BERMAN: I like the idea of sub tweeting. I'm going to steal that and pretend that (INAUDIBLE)


BERMAN: All right, guys, stick around. A lot more to discuss.

Meanwhile, some other big news. 2017 hall of fame class is announced. Who made the cut? Who did not? Some people not on the rise in this voting. That's coming up.


[04:26:07] BERMAN: Breaking overnight: dozens people feared dead after an avalanche slammed into a hotel in Italy. This is the look at the scene. Officials say the roof partially collapsed. So far, two people have been rescued. At least 22 were staying at the hotel nearby.

Several staff members were also on duty. Authorities say a series of earthquakes in central Italy triggered the avalanche.

ROMANS: Right. The teenager who was discovered 18 years after being abducted as an infant from her mother's bedside in Florida speaking out for the first time. Alexis Manigo said she has accepted the fact that she was actually born as Kamiyah Mobley and that the woman she called mom all those years took her from her birth parents. But she says it's hard to view her parent abductor in a negative way.


KAMIYAH MOBLEY, TEENAGER KIDNAPPED AT BIRTH: I feel the same about her. There is nothing different. There's nothing different. I'm processing it.

Like I said, well, I'm a big girl. There's just life at my front door. I'm a big girl. I can process it all. But my feelings toward my mother will never change.


ROMANS: A DNA test revealed last week that Alexis was the infant stolen from a hospital in 1988 by a woman posing as a nurse. That woman who abducted her and raised her, Gloria Williams, is in jail, awaiting trial.

BERMAN: All right. Nine years after being passed over for the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is an outrage. Not a problem now for Tim Raines, who was elected in his 10th and final year of eligibility. Raines, first baseman Jeff Bagwell, a long time Houston Astro, and catcher Ivan Pudge Rodriguez, they make up the Hall of Fame class of 2017.

Bagwell, who came up in the Red Sox farm system and was traded away before he made the Major Leagues, this was his seventh appearance on the ballot. Pudge Rodriguez, his first, one of the great catchers all of time, just a second catcher ever voted in his first ballot, joining Johnny Bench. Pitcher Trevor Hoffman barely missed, he was just five votes shot, great relief pitcher.

And there was a surge in support for people who were connected in some way to the steroids era. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens saw their vote totals go up, you need 75 percent of baseball writers to get in.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: Those guys had been in the 40s. This time around, there were in the 50s. They are on the rise. Sooner or later, here is betting that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds get in.

ROMANS: And here's betting that John Berman, he get a Red Sox reference in any kind of sports --

BERMAN: But we traded a Hall of Fame first baseman, that was disparaging to Red Sox.

ROMANS: OK, OK, all right.

Twenty-eight minutes past the hour.

Ethics questions for some of Donald Trump's cabinet nominees causing concerns in Washington this morning. How Democrats say they could try to prevent confirmation. That's next.