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Dems Focus on Ethics Issues of Trump's Cabinet Picks; President Obama Believes 'America Will Be OK'. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 19, 2017 - 06:00   ET



REP. TOM PRICE (R), HHS SECRETARY APPOINTEE: Everything that we have done has been above board and transparent and ethical and legal.

[05:58:44] SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: This is a swamp full of bankers and billionaires.

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

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're only hearing people who agree with you on everything, you start making mistakes.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N. NOMINEE: Russia is trying to show their muscle. I don't think that we can trust them.

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), VICE-PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump is going to hit the ground running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than 30 percent of House Democrats now boycotting the inauguration.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What do you say about the word of the commutation of the sentence of Chelsea Manning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not support the direction the president went.


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

CUOMO: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Thursday, January 19, 6 a.m. here in Washington, D.C. This is where history will be made. Donald John Trump sworn in tomorrow as the 45th president of the United States. The president-elect hoping most of his cabinet will be confirmed as he takes office.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But Democrats trying to slow things down, focusing on ethical issues for some of Mr. Trump's nominees, and there are questions about the incoming administration's readiness to take the reins of federal government. We are one day away from the inauguration.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She is live on Capitol Hill this morning -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Alisyn.

President-elect Donald Trump is pushing for his cabinet nominees to be confirmed quickly. Republicans up here on the Capitol Hill, they say they want seven nominees confirmed in the hours on Friday after Donald Trump is inaugurated, but Senate Democrats are now hitting the brakes, saying they are not going to rush this and accusing Republicans of trying to jam these nominees through.


SERFATY (voice-over): Top Democrats hoping to jeopardize the confirmations of Donald Trump's cabinet picks.

SCHUMER: This is a swamp cabinet full of bankers and billionaires.

SERFATY: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer trying to slow down the process as Senate Republicans push for confirmations of seven of his nominees on his first day in office.

SCHUMER: It's no surprise Republicans are trying to rush through these hearings. They don't want people to know the true views of their nominees.

SERFATY: Democrats focusing on ethics concerns of three of Trump's picks in Wednesday's hearing.

PRICE: Everything that we have done has been above board, transparent, ethical and legal.

SERFATY: Grilling the president-elect's nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, about stock purchases that could have benefitted from legislation he proposed during his time in the House.

PRICE: I knew nothing about those purchases.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to have a diversified portfolio by staying clear of the six companies that were directly affected by your issue?

PRICE: I don't have any knowledge of those purchases.

SCHUMER: It's a very narrow specific company that dealt with implants, hip and knee, and the legislation specifically affects implants. He puts it in a week after he buys the stock? That cries out for an investigation.

SERFATY: Mick Mulvaney, Trump's choice to head the Office of Management budget facing scrutiny after admitting he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for household employees.

And Department of Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross revealing that he unknowingly employed an undocumented immigrant. Meantime, Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, grilled on his views on climate change.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Why is the climate changing?

SCOTT PRUITT, EPS ADMINISTRATOR NOMINEE: Senator, in response to the CO2 issue, the EPA administrator is constrained by statutes.

SANDERS: I'm asking you a personal opinion.

PRUITT: My personal opinion is immaterial.

SERFATY: The president-elect, though, has repeatedly denied climate change is real.

SANDERS: So Donald Trump is wrong.

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

SERFATY: And Nikki Haley, chosen by Trump to be the ambassador to the United Nations, also publicly splitting with her new boss's views on foreign affairs, questioning Russia's agenda and showing support of NATO.

HALEY: That's how an administration works. You surround yourself with people who don't just say yes to what you think.

SERFATY: And today on Capitol Hill two more confirmation hearings, Rick Perry to the energy secretary and Steve Mnuchin to be treasury secretary. And today President-elect Donald Trump will nominate former Georgia governor Sonny Purdue to be potentially his next agriculture secretary. Chris, this officially marks the last cabinet pick for Trump's cabinet.

CUOMO: All right, Sunlen. Thank you very much. In just hours the president-elect himself will move from New York to Washington ahead of tomorrow's inauguration. So is his team ready to go or not? We know the question surrounding the cabinet picks, but there are many other vital agency posts that still lead staffing.

So let's get to CNN's Jason Carroll, live at Trump Tower in New York with more -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you, Chris.

And as the president-elect flies out, he'll be doing it on military aircraft, not the private Trump jet that we've seen fly out so many times in the past, but even as he heads to Washington D.C., there's some real questions about whether or not his transition team for national security is really ready to take on what lies ahead.

This after CNN has learned this team has been slow to interact with Obama's National Security Council. The council has prepared a number of briefings and memos, and it's unclear to them if team Trump read through all of them. There are also similar concerns at the state House.

Team Trump really pushing back on this, Chris, saying that they are ready to go, that there are landing teams ready to go, that their deputy national security advisor, K.T. McFarland, has met with her counterpart many, many times. Mike Pence says they're also ready to go and to take on Obamacare.


PENCE: I think that you can expect that a President Donald Trump is going to hit the ground running on day one come Monday morning, and the first week there will be a series of executive actions, both putting executive orders into place, repealing some executive orders and continuing to work very energetically with the Congress to both repeal and replace Obamacare.


[06:05:03] CARROLL: Again, very clear they want to repeal. But still unclear, in terms of specifics, what exactly they'll be replacing it with, although Pence says that replacement plan will be coming very soon.

Looking ahead to the inauguration and Trump's speech, he worked on it here when he was yesterday in New York. Some of the themes that he's expected to hit on and include job creation, defeating terrorism and America's shared values -- Chris, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Jason, thank you very much. You've given us lots to discuss with our political panel. So let's bring them in.

We have CNN contributor and reporter for "The Washington Examiner" Salena Zito; CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" reporter Abby Phillip; and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner" and host of the podcast "Examining Politics," David Drucker. Great to have all of you on this

momentous occasion.

David, let me start with you. So let's talk -- let me just pull up for people, so we condense some of the problems we're seeing with Mr. Trump's nominees. So this is just a handful. There are more, but Betsy Devos. There's been concerns about her knowledge of policy, particularly as it relates to public education. HHS secretary, Congressman Price, he helped push a bill of a company. I mean, it would have aided a company he bought stock in, I believe, more than once this has happened.

And B, as we know, Congressman Mulvaney failed to pay some payroll taxes and then, of course, Rex Tillerson has links to Russia. Attorney General Sessions, people have accused him of racism in the past. Are any of these things going to be tripping up the nominees? Are any of them not going to be confirmed?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's hard to say with certainly right now. I don't see anything in that list that is necessarily fatal politically to them getting a job. I think Democrats are making it very clear, two points that they are going to pick their big battles. Obviously, Russia being one. The future of Obamacare is going to be another where they're going to

dig in and say this is ground that we're going to hold. And the second point is we're seeing a growing resistance on the part of Democrats to Trump his cabinet and his government that I think at this point is moving toward the kind of resistance you saw from Republicans.

So I think Trump has a choice to make. He's going to dig in or he's going to find ways to confuse his opposition to force them across the line to work with them, because right now, I see the progressives of the Democratic Party digging in, saying we're going to fight him all the way.

CUOMO: So let's assume that the votes, just the way they're stacked, you're not going to be able to stop any of these, unless you get defectors. Rubio had made some noise, David Drucker. But it doesn't -- there's been nothing since then to the point of cleverness.

Did they know about the issues that are presented specifically, let's say, via Price? And if so, why were they OK with putting him up with such an obvious conflict issue?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, we see this every four or eight years when you have new cabinet nominees. As much vetting as you can do and as much digging into somebody's background as you can do, these things pop up all the time.

Eight years ago it was the Senate Finance Committee, controlled by Democrats, that figured out that Tom Daschle had some tax issues that derailed him from HHS secretary, which was a really big deal at the time.

Well, I think what Democrats are dealing with now is their shortsightedness in 2014 when they used what we call the nuclear option. They changed the rules of the Senate to change the rules. To remove the ability of the minority to filibuster executive branch nominees except for Supreme Court nominees. Had Democrats not done that and been more patient and taken a long view -- and by the way, roiled the chamber. Republicans were very upset about it.

CUOMO: They like it now.

DRUCKER: They would -- yes, they do. They would have been in a position today to actually have the votes to block nominees to really go to the mat.

As it is they can come up with clever slogans. And Chuck Schumer is a master at that with his bankers and billionaires. And Schumer is a very able leader, but there's really not much they can do, unless something like what we're dealing with Price and his stock issue just derails them on their own.

ABBY PHILLIP, POLITICAL ANALYST: But to your point about Tom Daschle, you know, Donald Trump has a nominee up right now who failed to pay income taxes on a household employee. Another nominee acknowledged yesterday that he had hired and employed

an undocumented worker for almost a decade in his household. These are things that have actually derailed previous nominees; and we're looking at a situation where Trump's nominees are not backing out. They're not likely to, and it's not -- it doesn't seem to be enough to coalesce any Republican opposition to some...

CAMEROTA: Salena, why have the rules changed? Why have Republicans -- what Republicans used to bristle at and not like in terms of not paying your taxes, why now are they giving it a pass?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They won, right? I mean, they won, and they're taking advantage of that situation just the way that the Democrats took advantage of it in 2009. We'll see how that works, because as you know, right after 2009, when the president came in and he had this great big win.

And the Democrats have every -- you know, held the majority in every office. They just blew it by being too much hubris, too much "I have a mandate." Too much "I'm going to do everything I want." The Republicans really need to remember that moment and not do the same thing.

[06:10:19] GREGORY: But I think it's related to Trump himself. I mean, this is a guy who didn't release his tax returns.

DRUCKER: Right. I think that's the problem with it. Isn't that the problem? That they are -- to Alisyn's question, they're showing that they're OK with things that he supposedly rejected all through the campaign...


DRUCKER: ... and that they have rejected. I mean, especially where prices are going, nanny taxes. Seems like nothing matters to them. From an ethical standpoint. If it's OK for the boss, why isn't it, then, OK for his underlings?

CUOMO: It's a weird image.

GREGORY: But again Democrats have to make a decision. They can make a decision where they really want to take a stand, and it's not just Democrats. Again, I think the big issues is you look at these hearings so far, Russia and Obamacare. And there's some on the regulatory side, as well.

So if you look at small business, views about climate change, what are the big progressive issues that the Democratic Party wants to rebuild itself around and really fight and resist on. Those are the issues that they're going to resist on here. Whether or not they can take down the nominees.

CAMEROTA: Are you saying that, with in the House, these Democrats sitting out the inauguration, are we starting to see a splinter group that will be obstructionists and, you know, just separate themselves from the people... CUOMO: No senators, interestingly.

PHILLIP: But I think this is very similar to what we saw from Republicans going into the Tea Party movement in 2010. It was a -- it was a subsection of the Republican Caucus that said "No way" to everything. And I think Democrats are going to be in a similar position. There are going to be some among them who want to say no to everything and others that don't.

And what we have to look for is going into 2018, who's going to win out? Are the loud voices in the Democratic Caucus going to be able to gin up their supporters to take back the chamber. And if they are, then you'll see their power grow.

DRUCKER: And they're responding, really, to the progressive base. They want Democrats to fight on every front. They don't want compromise, and I think what the Democrats have to figure out strategically is what is the best path forward for them.

One thing to remember: the minority never gets points for helping the majority govern. All voters pretty much decide, I'll tell you, the majority is doing a pretty good job. Let's give him another couple years.

CUOMO: That's the politics of it. What about the practicality of it? Salena, they're concerned that the team isn't ready to go. That he needs these big picks, because he doesn't have the underling picks staffed in so many agencies. They're not even talking to Obama's National Security Council.

ZITO: Right? I mean, that is a concern, right? You know, I think they want that imagery of getting these big picks picked while they take care of the problems that they have underneath. The problems that we don't see. Those relationships and those lines of communication between the national security intelligence groups and, you know, those sort of areas.

CUOMO: Is it intentional to ignore the existing NSC?

ZITO: Is it intentional? Well, I don't know that, but it sure appears that way.

GREGORY: I mean, I don't know the same question, is it intentional. I mean, they want a completely different approach to foreign policy. They want to renegotiate these relationships. It's a big part of what he campaigned on. It's very important to know that there is continuity of government. You and I were talking about it. Ash Carter, secretary of defense. If general Mattis is confirmed.

You know, from a national security point of view, the commander in chief will have what he needs at his disposal. But he will be tested, and if government is not up to speed you have -- you know, you have to worry about that, and you have to worry about his response time and the way he responds, given how young and disparate this staff is. Not literally young, but it's just now coming together.

CUOMO: What a good panel. They should stay.

CAMEROTA: Let's do that. Would you guys stay? That would be great. Fantastic. We'd love that.

We also have a quick programming note for you. NEW DAY will begin an hour early tomorrow.

CUOMO; What?

CAMEROTA: For inauguration. Yes, I'm breaking the news for you.

CUOMO: I'm shocked every time.

CAMEROTA: Chris and I will be live here in Washington at 5 a.m. Eastern. Set your alarm.



CUOMO: All right. President Obama taking questions from the press one last time, and he was nice to us. What advice did he have for the president-elect? Next on NEW DAY.


[06:18:13] CAMEROTA: President Obama taking questions from the press one last time. Mr. Obama says he believes America will be OK, and he reveals his advice to the president-elect.

CNN's Athena Jones live at the White House with more. Tell us what happened, Athena.


I thought it was interesting to hear the president talk a bit about the conversations he's been having with the president elect. He describes them as cordial, constructive and fairly lengthy at times.

I also thought we saw a president who seemed to be trying his best to take the high road in his final hours in office. He avoided, for the most part, any direct criticism of the man he campaigned so vigorously against. But he did have some subtle warnings for Trump, and he also suggested that Trump could use his thinking on issues like Obamacare and jobs might shift once he's hit by the complexities of the issues.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At my core, I think we're going to be OK.

JONES (voice-over): President Obama standing by his signature message of hope.

OBAMA: I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. JONES: Using his final press conference to reassure the country ahead

of one of the most significant transfers of power in modern history.

OBAMA: The only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world.

JONES: The outgoing president upbeat but sending clear signals to the president-elect, vowing to speak out if America's core values are threatened, using one of Trump's favorite terms to stress his commitment to voting rights.

OBAMA: This whole notion of election or voting fraud, this -- this is something that has constantly been disproved. This is fake news.

JONES: Obama shedding light on the type of advice he has given his successor.

OBAMA: This is a job of such magnitude that you can't do it by yourself. If you're only hearing from people who agree with you on everything. That's when you start making mistakes.

[06:20:10] JONES: And cautioning the president-elect against acting hastily when he's in office.

OBAMA: The actions that we take have enormous consequences and ramifications. We're -- we're the biggest kid on the block. If you're going to make big shifts in policy, just make sure you've thought it through.

JONES: The commander in chief also defending his controversial decision to commute the sentence of national security leaker Chelsea Manning.

OBAMA: Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence. I feel very comfortable that justice has been served.

JONES: And emphasizing the importance of a free press.

OBAMA: You're not supposed to be sycophants. You're supposed to be skeptics. You're supposed to ask me tough questions. You're not supposed to be complimentary.

JONES: An apparent jab at the man who will soon take Obama's place behind the White House podium.


JONES: Now the president declined to comment on the more than 50 House Democrats who are boycotting tomorrow's inauguration. He would only say that he will be there, and so will the first lady -- Alisyn, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Athena, thank you very much.

All right. So the president was striking that likable enough tone and kind of dealing with what this transition will be like yesterday. Now that leads us to another question. What about the ACA? Is it likable enough for the American people?

A new poll asks Americans about his signature legislation or Obamacare. It's more popular than it's ever been. 49-47. Not exactly a home run but 82 percent of people relying say it's likely that president elect Donald Trump will repeal and replace the law. A new CNN/ORC poll asks Americans about his signature legislation, the ACA, or Obamacare. The law is more popular than it has ever been.

What does that mean in numbers? What you see on your screen, 49-47. Not exactly a home run. But 82 percent of people replying say it's likely that President-elect Donald Trump will repeal and replace the law. Discuss.

Salena Zito, David Gregory, Abby Phillip and David Drucker.

David Gregory, isn't it as simple as listen 49-47 doesn't scare anybody. This is what we campaigned on. This is what we must do. Repeal and replace.

GREGORY: Yes, it also means that people don't like you to give them a benefit and then take it away. And that means people will benefit from it. It means states that are trying to implement it under expanded Medicaid. It means hospitals who are getting more money under Obamacare. It means insurance companies, all of whom have had to adapt over 7 years.

Usually, the market just wants certainty. They know what they're doing, and then they can start to implement it. And then they can find some of the problems.

But it's divided, and that's why there's a constituency out there that still doesn't understand how Obamacare works, or maybe they're paying more in premiums and say, yes, get rid of the whole damn thing. But what I think has penetrated is this idea that you don't want to leave people out in the cold. And some of the people who could actually get left out are people who voted for Donald Trump. They could be older. They could be sicker. They could be whiter.

And you heard from Tom Price yesterday, we don't want to pull the plug out from people. This is now a huge undertaking, and I think that this tension between the president-elect saying, "Oh, yes, coverage for everybody and, you know, conservatives in the House saying, "Well, let's just

see how many people get covered. And across state lines -- and we're going to pull this and eventually will be piecemeal, is confused. They're going to have to own it. They're going to have to campaign on it. They're going to have to spend a lot of time on it.

CAMEROTA: How are the people that you're talking to feeling about it? Because Mr. Trump's voters are benefitting from Obamacare.

ZITO: Sure. They're benefitting from it. Here's the problem Obamacare faces right now. It has been, up until this moment, in the low 40s in terms of how people felt about it. Probably why you see the bump is what David said. It's uncertainty. People don't like change, even if they don't like what they have. Change is scary, especially when it impacts your pocketbook and it impacts your healthcare. You know, that's an important component of your life. It's an important component of your daily budget.

So, you know, the big premiums go up at the end of this month. We're going to go up 25 percent. I feel like this -- all of that dislike is going to re-erupt, and people all across the country when I did that drive across the country, that was the single most thing that I think people missed a lot about how much they didn't like Obamacare.

CUOMO: When there are few issues that present an opportunity for misinformation and deception the way this...

ZITO: All around.

CUOMO: Premiums going up are often a function of what your baseline price was, and that rate increase can look a lot scarier than it was in practicality. Not to say there aren't problems.

Just a moment of broccoli. Just one moment of broccoli.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Mr. Casserole.

CUOMO: But the idea of "Hey, this is scary," the Democrats say. "People are going to lose their coverage."

"No, no, no," say the Republicans. "We'll take care of it." If you repeal, what that means in real terms -- tell me if I'm wrong -- is that you are defunding different elements. Every time you defund an element of this plan, people are vulnerable if there isn't a simultaneous replacement of the funding that you are defunding. True or false?

PHILLIP: I think that's true. It becomes a house of cards. You cannot just pull one card out and not expect the whole thing to crumble under the weight, so Republicans have to give people at least what they have now. And give them more of that in terms of the lowering of the costs.

What people don't understand, to your point earlier about broccoli, is that their healthcare costs will rise, no matter what. Obamacare or no Obamacare. And that's the danger that Republicans face is that they have not really prepared people for that reality that healthcare costs rise over time.

And so, if they are going to replace them, and that still happens, people will blame them for -- for their cost and their pocketbook going up.

DRUCKER: I think a lot of the reasons why we have seen a bump in Obamacare's numbers is one, nostalgia among Democrats. One of the reasons the law has been popular, not just because of Republicans and independents who don't like the law, but a lot of people thought it didn't go far enough.

And now as they see Obama leaving office, they're looking at a signature achievement, which at least the first time, created a national healthcare scheme, there's newfound love for Obamacare.

The other thing is they don't know what the Republicans are going to replace it with. And just like eight years ago, well, no, and that's the difference we'll get to. Just like eight years ago, when Democrats couldn't figure out how Republicans could oppose healthcare reform and profit politically, well, it was the unknown: "What are you doing with a system I don't like? It could be worse."

And so I think the unknown is helping to create that. And this is why Republicans are working so hard -- and you heard it from Tom Price yesterday and saying we're not going to pull the rug out from under anybody. We're going to have an orderly transition so that nobody ends up worse for the wear. They have a front row seat to Obamacare's failures they don't want to repeat.

GREGORY: Priorities. Every president has priorities. When I covered George W. Bush, it was tax reform. It was education reform, boom, boom, boom. Then 9/11 happened, and everything got turned upside down. We don't know what that test is. He can only do so much. Can't renegotiate NAFTA and also undo health care, these things are going to require a lot of time and effort. It's unclear where he wants to spend...

CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, thank you very much for all of that.

We also want to give you this development. Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara both hospitalized in Houston. The latest on their conditions and a live report next.