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Trump Slams Environmental Regulations; Spicer on Unemployment Rate; Trump Action on Pipelines; Trump to Approve Pipelines; Tom Price Faces Grilling; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 24, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And I will say, the industry went along with a lot of these initiatives over the past, you know, past couple of administrations to try to make cars cleaner and to make -- try to make factories cleaner.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of them, including Ford, developed electric cars.

ROMANS: That's right, Carol. You're right.


ROMANS: So I think what you see there is you see CEOs who are -- they're going to -- there's going to be a trade here. And the president said so yesterday. You are going to build in this country or I'm going to give you a 35 percent border tax. I'm, in exchange, going to cut regulation and I'm going to do tax reform. And that is why i think so many of these CEOs are listening, and they are believing the president, that he's going to change things, because they want to be -- they want a seat at the table for cutting their taxes and they want a seat at the table for cutting regulations, the regulations they'd like to get rid of.

COSTELLO: OK. So, Jackie, is that what Mr. Trump is talking about when he says he's going to reduce taxes? So he's going to reduce taxes on business and on every American?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, sure, that's what he's saying today. It kind of changes day-to-day. But, you know, I think the other thing these car companies are looking at is they don't want to be the target of Trump. When he goes on Twitter and he goes after them, you know, we've seen their stocks go down. So there's -- there's also -- they've sort of -- just to be, you know, perfectly blunt, they want to get on his good side because his bad side has proved detrimental to their bottom line. So they have every reason to play nice with him right now.

COSTELLO: So, Errol, just -- I mean isn't it a good thing, though, that Mr. Trump is doing this so very publicly?


COSTELLO: Putting business leaders on notice? LOUIS: It's fascinating. I'm starting to wonder if he's going to even

need a commerce secretary. Maybe Wilbur Ross could go find something else to do.

ROMANS: Oh, he's going to be the (INAUDIBLE). And the irony here is that China and Chinese leaders have step forward for the past few weeks and said, don't worry, for the rest of the world, we will be your arbiter of free trade and globalization while the United States turns inward, which is really ironic.

COSTELLO: I want to go back to these unemployment numbers because as I -- as I said before, we went to Mr. Trump meeting with those CEOs, Sean Spicer refused to say what the unemployment rate was. And we know during the campaign that Donald Trump inflated those numbers. So, Errol, what's the reason that Sean Spicer refused to give out the unemployment rate, which everybody can find from the Department of Labor Statistics?

LOUIS: Well, Sean Spicer is a very smart guy and he knows that he's got to keep his principal happy. He has seen that clip that you just played. If he hadn't seen it before, he probably saw it this morning. And that all kinds of numbers were thrown out on the campaign trail. So he's going to have to check and they're going to have to arrive at some sort of consensus about which number or numbers they're going to use.

There is a perfectly valid point about, you know, those who are discouraged are not counted in the unemployment statistics.


LOUIS: There's a perfectly valid point about those who are underemployed.


LOUIS: Yes, you have a job, but now you're making $15 an hour instead of $35 an hour.


LOUIS: Those are all perfectly valid. But they're going to have to get the language right because what you showed, which was the jumble of campaign candidate Trump throwing out whatever number would please the crowd in front of him is really not going to fly.

ROMANS: And he's hearing from these CEOs right now. He's hearing -- Mr. Trump, President Trump, we can't find the skilled labor we need. That's what he's hearing from them.


ROMANS: Also, the good men and women, the economists and the statisticians who are career government accountants and economists, they put those numbers together. They now work for President Trump. And so he's got a whole bunch of people who are apolitical who put these numbers together and now they work for him.

COSTELLO: All right, we'll see what happens. I've got to leave it there. Christine Romans, Errol Louis and Jackie Kucinich, thank you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a whirlwind day on Capitol Hill. Next hour, a round of new cabinet confirmation hearings are set to begin. Our special coverage coming up.

But first, the major foreign policy issue that one of Trump's top cabinet picks just split with him on.


[09:37:53] COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello.

We have a first 100 days alert to share with you right now. President Trump is expected to sign an executive action regarding the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines. Now, you might remember the huge protests over that pipeline in North Dakota. Huge numbers of people protested that over environmental concerns. President Obama eventually stepped in and stopped the construction of that pipeline because of those environmental concerns. But again, President Trump is expected to sign an executive action in regards to the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines and I suspect that he will allow that pipeline to go forward.

Back with me now to talk about this is Christine Romans, Errol Louis and Jackie Kucinich.

So, Errol, no big surprise here, right?

LOUIS: No, no, not at all. I mean if you think candidates are supposed to fulfill their campaign promises, this is somebody who is going to fulfill this particular promise. I don't see any indication that he would step back from it one bit.

He may find a lot more political blowback than he expected. There is, in fact, a climate change movement that is active and on the march. They are going to file lawsuits. They are going to try and get in the way. But this was a fight that I think he was always ready for.

COSTELLO: And, Jackie, you remember those demonstrations. They were huge out there in North Dakota involving hundreds and hundreds of people. There was violence between protesters and police. It took them months and months to make those protesters go home. It could get ugly again.

KUCINICH: You have to imagine that they are getting ready to go back out there again. And the difference is, is they don't have someone in the White House who -- who could potentially back down on this. And you also had a lot of lawmakers going out there and supporting the protesters and speaking on their behalf. So he has opened up something that is going to cause quite a bit of friction and unrest.

COSTELLO: You know what's really interest, Christine, you know, we always say that we want America to be energy independent, and we pretty much are, what, 75 percent energy independent, right? So -- and there's a big natural gas industry in states that voted for Mr. Trump, like Ohio.

ROMANS: Right.

COSTELLO: So if you have like a glut of oil here and gas, that will affect that industry adversely.

ROMANS: It will affect --

[09:40:05] COSTELLO: And those people aren't going to be too thrilled with that.

ROMANS: Well, that's the interesting thing about the coal industry. When you talk about, you know, bringing coal jobs back, but it's the natural gas, it's all this fracking that's brought so much of that resource that's put market pressure on the other.

Look, the other part of the story about the Keystone and the Dakota Pipelines is some of the proponents that always said this is going to be a job creator. Well, it would be a temporary job creator for the construction of it, but mostly once these pipelines are running, it doesn't take a lot of people to monitor and for the upkeep.

The other part of the Keystone deal that was so interesting is that that's going to connect products all the way down to the refinery section of Texas, right, which doesn't really lower your gas prices in the Midwest or anything. It doesn't really affect Americans' gas prices, many economists have told us.

Another part of the story that I think is really interesting, and I've been out in the sand hills of Nebraska and seen where this Keystone was going to go through. It's very Republicans, very red around there, but they didn't really like it either. They didn't really like the idea of, you know, companies having so much control of the -- of the natural resources.

COSTELLO: There's a lot of farm land out there.

ROMANS: A lot of farm there. And it is -- it is kind of fragile. They graze cattle out there. There's the crazy little sand hills with, you know, tufts of grass that the cattle graze on. So it is -- it is like of a fragile ecosystem, you know. I mean I've seen it firsthand.

So I think there will be a big environmental blowback to the president on this, no question. And it's already proven in the Dakota Pipeline. It was proven to be very well organized and tenacious. It was freezing cold out there and there were thousands and thousands of people who would not leave.

COSTELLO: Yes. So, first 100 days, Errol, it's the second day, so far?

LOUIS: I don't know. So far, I mean, you know, moving at light speed, as was promised. I mean, listen, for all of the criticism that Donald Trump gets from a lot of different sources, nobody has said that he's slow or that he's lazy or that he doesn't mean what he says when he says he's going to move some things forward. I think we're going to find that on Obamacare. He's really pushing Congress further and faster than they're ready to go. On a lot of -- on the signing of the executive orders, it was planned weeks in advance. And, lo and behold, he's sitting down spending hours issuing the executive orders that he promised.

COSTELLO: Jackie, your view?

KUCINICH: I think it's going to be really interesting to see how Republicans in Congress who control Congress react to this because they really criticized President Obama for using his power of the pen during his presidency. And now Trump is doing the exact same thing and is poised to continue if Congress does not do what he wants. So it will be -- Capitol Hill is going to be a place to watch over the next 100 days and beyond.

COSTELLO: Oh, we'll be watching.

Jackie Kucinich, Errol Louis, Christine Romans, thanks to all of you for a great conversation.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a busy morning on Capitol Hill with cabinet confirmation hearings. The biggest for Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price. Special coverage begins in just a few minutes.


[09:46:57] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jake Tapper, live in Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We have special coverage, breaking news from the White House and on Capitol Hill.

President Trump's cabinet confirmation hearings are set to resume just minutes from now. His pick for Health and Human Services secretary, Congressman Tom Price, he's back in the hot seat. Not only will he face questions about the fate of Obamacare, he's also facing ethics concerns about his personal finances.

Also, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on Senator Jeff Sessions, the president's controversial pick for attorney general. But Democrats on the panel plan to delay the vote over concerns about the senator's commitment to civil rights.

Also facing a confirmation grilling, Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's pick for budget director. He'll have to answer for failing to pay thousands of dollars in payroll taxes for a nanny.

Linda McMahon, former chief executive of the WWE, has a hearing for the top job in the Small Business Administration.

And President Trump is expected to sign a new executive order at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

We're going to bring you extensive live coverage of all the breaking news here in the nation's capital.

TAPPER: Let's start at the White House, where moments ago President Trump sat down with CEOs from three Detroit automakers to discuss manufacturing in America, keeping jobs here.

CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray is at the White House for us this morning.

And, Sara, you have some news on the executive order Trump will sign today.


Donald Trump sort of dipped his toe in with executive orders on his first day, but today his administration is aiming to go big. We are expecting him to take executive action on both the Keystone Pipeline, as well as the Dakota Pipeline. So to open up some new areas for U.S. energy resources there.

Now, all of this comes at the same day that he is meeting with U.S. automakers. And I believe that we do have sound of what he had to say to them in their meeting. Oh, we don't have that sound available just yet. But he did say that he wants to make sure that the U.S. is the friendliest, most hospitable environment for businesses. That's what he said in this meet with U.S. automakers. Interestingly, he also said he's something of an environmentalist in this meeting and that he's going to be very good to the environment. Now, I'm sure that he is going to get a lot of protests, a lot of backlash on that, particularly in light of the announcements we're expecting this morning on the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines. And, of course, we'll bring you all updates on that from the White House today.


TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much.

BLITZER: You know, these are pretty controversial executive orders on the Keystone Pipeline, the Dakota Pipeline. They will generate a lot of protests out there. A lot of people are going to be upset.

TAPPER: That's right. And although they are in many ways campaign promises that President Trump made very clear where his position was on the campaign, especially when it comes to the Keystone Pipeline. When you look at all the things that President Trump has been doing in the last few days, as he started his presidency, with a fairly busy agenda, they are things that he said he was going to do.

[09:50:01] BLITZER: You're absolutely right. He said he would do it and now he's beginning that process of doing it.

We're also covering two of President Trump's cabinet nominees who are back in the spotlight this morning, including his pick for Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price. He would play a crucial role in Republican attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. Our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is joining us with the latest details. Set the scene for us, Manu.


Right here on the second floor of the Senate Dirksen Office Building, I'm right outside the hearing where Tom Price is going to face a grilling with the Senate Finance Committee. And that committee is very critical, because this is the one that actually will vote on Tom Price's nomination. Unlike last week's hearing for Dr. Price, the congressman from Georgia, that hearing by the Senate Health Committee, they don't have a vote. So this is very important. And it's part of this review that the Senate Finance Committee did on Congressman Price's record. They also found some issues that he did not disclose initially to the committee.

We have obtained a memo that the bipartisan staff from the Senate Finance Committee released late last night saying that he did omit some issues from his questionnaire, saying that he did not disclose late tax payments on rental properties. Also, he allegedly undervalued some stocks that he owned in that pharmaceutical firm. And that he also didn't disclose that he was, at one point, under investigation by the House Ethics Panel for fund-raising activity. He was later cleared from that, but he omitted those, so expect some Democrats to jump on that today. Republicans say those were minor omissions. He did submit this in good faith. And when he learned about the omissions, he did correct it for the record.

But it does play into the narrative Democrats are hoping to push about ethical concerns over Dr. Price and whether he was pursuing legislation in the House at the same time as trying to help some of those companies. That's an accusation that Price has firmly denied. But on top of all of that, as hard as Dr. Price moved forward with the efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, and as we know Donald Trump and one of his first executive actions, giving the new HHS secretary the authority to -- and discretion to ensure some flexibility for implementing Obamacare. How does Tom Price view that executive order? What will he do to change the law under his own administrative authority? Those are big questions that he'll have to answer in just moments from now here in the Senate Finance Committee.

Wolf and Jake.

BLITZER: Yes, and, Manu, have any Republicans at all expressed opposition to this nominee?

RAJU: Not yet. And that's the one thing that Tom Price has going for him. Right now, Democrats are universally opposed to his nomination, but Republicans have not yet buckled. Even moderate Republicans are still holding out signs that they're going to support him. So that is one thing that all of Donald Trump nominees are seeing right now. Republicans are falling in line. So he -- as -- but that could change, Democrats hope, if he stumbles in today's hearing. But right now we're not seeing any indication of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much. We'll get back to you. You know, Jake, the Republicans, they have 52, they have the majority.

Democrats, 48. If all the Republicans hold firmly, Donald Trump will get his entire cabinet confirmed.

TAPPER: And that's what happened with Rex Tillerson yesterday, at least coming out of committee. There were Republicans that expressed concerns about him, but ultimately they all fell into line and it was a party line vote.

Let's discuss, though, these things, these discoveries that the Senate Finance Committee, in a bipartisan memo, put out last night about Congressman Tom Price because it is illustrative to look back and it was eight years ago Tom Daschle was the nominee to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. And it was the Senate Finance Committee, in their through vetting, they have excellent investigators and auditors, finding information that Tom Daschle had not disclosed, and that ultimately sank his nomination. So what the accusations are about Congressman Price have to do with alleged failure to disclose late tax payments on rental properties, undervaluing stocks he owns in a pharmaceutical company, both to the committee and in his financial disclosure forms, and failure to disclose to the committee that he was previously investigated by an ethics panel for fund-raising activities.

Now, put yourself on earth two where somebody who is a Democrat is up for this position and does these same things, what would the response of Republican senators be? What would be the response if this Democrat was coming in, in an administration that had promised to drain the swamp? What would the reaction be? Answer that question for yourself at home.

BLITZER: Yes, those are great questions. And let's bring in our political panel to assess. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is with us, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, our political commentator, senior columnist over at "The Daily Beast," Matt Lewis, and political commentator, former spokeswoman for the Bernie Sanders campaign, Symone Sanders. Also joining us from Atlanta, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

[09:55:02] Those are great questions, Gloria --


BLITZER: That have been raised, bipartisan questions raised. But it looks like the Republican are standing firmly behind Dr. Price.

BORGER: I think the answer to Jake's great question is that Republicans would be outraged by this, would be complaining about it and would say that it's grounds for not approval of his nomination. Don't forget, this new stuff comes on top of a hearing we had last week in which Price was questioned extensively about his own conflicts of interest, about buying stocks over which he has some jurisdiction as a member of Congress. Insider trading was also an issue that was raised about him. So if you put all this into one big pot, you would have to say that there are very legitimate questions to be raised about Price's nomination and approval. But because this will be approved on a party line, I think that it's very likely that he'll get approved.

One other thing, and, Dana, you know an awful lot about this, having covered health care so much, is that he's also going to be questioned about this executive action and the mandate --


BORGER: And what that -- how he interprets that executive action, and what that will mean for people in terms of whether they've got to conform to the mandate or don't have to conform to it, and what that does to the risk pools, and whether this could completely upend Obamacare before anything is even legislated.

BASH: I mean that's an important point because the executive order that you're talking about that President Trump put in place right away is very, very murky. We don't exactly know what it means. And it will be largely up to the new HHS secretary to interpret that for agencies, for, you know, for governors when it comes to, you know, what the expectation is on the federal level.

But aside from that, which is important, if he gets confirmed, I just want to add one thing to Jake's rather long list that is also on this, that Dr. Price and his wife claimed nearly $20,000 in miscellaneous employment deductions citing their occupations as physicians. However, neither Price nor his wife were actively working as physicians at the time. Now, in real terms, apparently that didn't do anything for the taxes that they paid, because they were subject to the AMT, but that's different -- I mean that's sort of irrelevant when it comes to truthfulness. And why would they do that? Why would they say, in such a formal and important way, that they -- with their taxes, that they're working as physicians, when they weren't? It just -- it --

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But -- but I think part -- I think one of the differences -- you know we've talked about the fact that, you know, Republicans are probably being a little bit hypocritical on this and we've talked about the fact that, like, this isn't quite the show that it would be, because Republicans are, you know, going to vote to confirm him, barring some major unraveling. But I think the other factor here is the depth of outrage that we've seen since Tom Daschle, you know, eight years ago. I think it takes more now to get the American public riled up, partly because of all the weird things that we've seen in the last year (INAUDIBLE) --

BASH: Is it that, or is it, frankly, just being a little bit of hypocritical because --

LEWIS: Both.

BASH: These are -- I mean, you know, as a --


BASH: I mean this is not --

LEWIS: It would take some sort of major like sex scandal or a complete breakdown during a confirmation hearing where somebody is really tripped up. I think that all the numbers that you're citing, it looks, you know, it's unethical or, you know, problematic in some cases, maybe even illegal. But I think it would take something huge, because the American public, I don't think there's going to be clamoring against any of these nominees over failure to pay nannies or, you know, $15,000 tax --

BORGER: Well --

BASH: But --

TAPPER: But to -- to be fair, just to say -- there wasn't a clamoring by the public against Tom Daschle.


BORGER: No. He took himself out.

TAPPER: That was -- that was basically the Obama White House and Democrats on the Senate saying --

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: You know, we're not -- we're not going to put any skin on the game on this.

BASH: Exactly.

TAPPER: You know, you owes $100,000 in taxes and you didn't pay them.

LEWIS: The other thing -- yes.

TAPPER: And Republicans also saying, you know, we can't support this. But the public didn't know about it or care about it, I would say, in the masses.

LEWIS: Right.


LEWIS: Really I would say is that maybe they should have stuck by Daschle or maybe he should have stuck in the game because he gets out, and then Obamacare turns into kind of a disaster. Maybe if Tom Daschle had been there. And I think that's the problem with Price.

BASH: Well --

LEWIS: If Price gets out -- I've talked to three or four conservative leading health care experts yesterday who are gravely concerned about repealing Obamacare. They do not believe that Republicans understand the magnitude of what is about to happen. And I think --

BASH: In terms of what?

LEWIS: In terms of the complexity and seriousness of trying to repeal and replace. That -- that -- that's --

[10:00:02] BORGER: Is it Republicans or the president of the United States?

SYMONE SANDERS, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: Both, I would venture to say. Look, I think the difference here is one, yes, Republicans are being hypocritical, but, two, the Obama White House was a very risk adverse White House.