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Barack Obama Announces Additional Cabinet Appointments; Addressing the Scandal of Chicago Politics; Young Girl's Remains Discovered

Aired December 11, 2008 - 11:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Thursday, December 11th. And here are the top stories we're following for you this hour in the NEWSROOM.
America's broken medical system. President-elect Barack Obama names his health care Mr. Fix-it this hour, but distractions intervene. Political shenanigans in Obama's back yard involving the Illinois governor.

And Detroit on the skids. Senate Republicans may block loans for on-the-brink automakers.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. And you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And very quickly, we want to recap as we take a look now at the live pictures where we are awaiting a news conference from the president-elect in just moments where he will announce his pick for the next secretary of Health and Human Services.

But very quickly here, we want to get to the breaking news we're learning. As Heidi just mentioned moments ago, we're learning from our affiliate in the Orlando area, WFTV, that the remains of a young girl have been located in East Orange County at a location less than half a mile from the home of Casey Anthony's parents, the grandparents of Caylee Anthony.

Eyewitness News there, WFTV, has learned that a meter reader discovered a bag in the area of Chickasaw (ph) Trail and Suburban Drive. That is around three-tenths of a mile from the Anthonys' home. And according to information obtained by our affiliate in the Orlando area, when the meter reader picked up the bag, a skull fell out.

Obviously, we will continue to follow developments in this story, certainly not jumping ahead of the story at this point. When we get additional information of course we'll bring it to you right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

That live picture once again from Chicago, where another pick for team Obama is set to be announced any moment now.

Again, we are awaiting a news conference by the president-elect. He is expected to name former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as his choice for Health and Human Services secretary. But Obama is also likely to be asked about a lot of other stories in the news. Jessica Yellin live from Chicago with a preview for us.

Jessica, good to see you.

Tom Daschle, he is a man set to take on a really important job. He wants to help President-elect Obama reshape health care policy in the country. And yet, if we are honest with ourselves here, we can't wait to get to the Q&A portion of this morning's program.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Tony. And we expect when Barack Obama comes out here, he will introduce Tom Daschle and focus on health care reform and HHS, both issues, top priorities for Barack Obama as he looks forward.

He has made it clear, his team has made it clear that health care remains a priority. They plan to focus on this reform despite the fact that the economy is in such dire straits right now. They say that will not slow down their progress. And Daschle himself has made it clear that this will be his focus.

As you know, he knows as well as anyone how to work the halls of Congress and get legislation through. So that will be what we expect to hear Barack Obama talk about in his opening statement.

But as you suggest, yes, a transition aide told me that Barack Obama does not plan to address questions related to -- sorry, does not plan to talk about the Blagojevich story unless asked. I can assure you, Tony, he'll be asked.

HARRIS: OK. Boy, a lot of questions to come. All right. Jessica, good to see you. We know you have to get seated for the start of that news conference set to begin any moment now.

Cabinet choices, rising unemployment, falling auto companies -- and failing auto companies, the Illinois governor scandal. Boy, the list of issues facing President-elect Barack Obama just goes on and on.

Let's bring in some folks to help us dig a little deeper here, CNN Special Correspondent Frank Sesno and political reporter Carrie Brown.

Good to see you both.

Carrie, let me start with you. Maybe I'll start the same way I started with Jessica a moment ago. Poor Tom Daschle set to take on this really important job. He wants to help reshape health care policy in the United States, in the Obama administration. And yet, we can't wait for this Q&A portion of the program to begin.

Carrie, what question would you like to ask on the Blagojevich scandal?

And then Frank, to you as well.

CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, POLITICO.COM REPORTER: I think the big question is, what kind of communications did folks around Obama possibly have with the governor? When did Barack Obama learn of the investigation? Were any people close to him contacted by federal authorities? There's lots of questions that remain out there that today we'll see how he deals with it.

HARRIS: And Frank, what are your thoughts on this? I'm just wondering, you know, there are a lot of questions out there. I wonder how many of them that will be asked of the president-elect today you would consider legitimate questions?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends what the questions are.

HARRIS: Yes, absolutely.

SESNO: But I think the point that was just made is absolutely right. The legitimate questions are, who from your campaign was talking to Blagojevich? What was Blagojevich saying or asking? If there was a problem there or any indication that Blagojevich was taking your seat and trying to sell it, or leaning on somebody inappropriately, did anybody say anything to anybody else, anybody talk to the authorities? People knew he was under investigation.

Everybody here in Washington -- you talk to any politician -- and I have done that -- who have known him, sort of shake their heads in disgust and say this is a pretty questionable character. So this was not a big secret that something amiss was going on in Illinois there. So I think those are big questions.

The other question is, to what extent is Barack Obama going to engage?

HARRIS: I think that's a great question.

SESNO: Because at some level he's got to answer them, but if he goes too far, it swallows up everything else.

HARRIS: Well, I'm just wondering, Carrie, you know, it is very easy, it seems to me, for Barack Obama, who at this point, there is not even a suggestion that he was involved in anything connected to this scandal. It seems to me that if that's the way you feel, if that's the facts of the case as you know them to be, it would be pretty easy to be annoyed by these questions. But he can't appear to be annoyed.

BROWN: Well, that's a good point. I mean, the media right now is driving this story...


BROWN: ... are driving the story, and there's been this buildup. And there really needs to be one opportunity for Obama right now today to put some of these questions to rest so the frenzy sort of calms down and he can return to what he wants to talk about, which obviously today is about Daschle, about health care reform. But he almost needs to submit himself today to a few questions, at least to dissipate all this discussion that we're having right now.


And Frank -- well, here we go, the president-elect. Let's go to Chicago right now.

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Before we get into the subject of today's press conference, there are a couple of issues I'd like to address.

Today we received more unsettling news about our economy. Jobless claims are now the highest they've been in 26 years, with more than 570,000 people filing for unemployment benefits for the -- for the very first time.

And this news comes at a moment when our auto industry is struggling, threatening the jobs, health care, and pensions of not just thousands of American autoworkers, but dealers, suppliers, and others all across America.

Now, I understand people's anger and frustration at the situation our auto companies find themselves in today. I raised concerns about the health of our auto industry a year-and-a-half ago when I spoke to industry leaders in Detroit. I urged them to act quickly to adopt new technologies and a new business approach that would help them stay competitive in these changing times.

And while they've failed to move quickly enough towards these goals, at this moment of great challenge for our economy, we cannot simply stand by and watch this industry collapse. Doing so would lead to a devastating ripple effect throughout our economy. As I have said repeatedly, I believe our government should provide short-term assistance to the auto industry to avoid a collapse, while holding the companies accountable and protecting taxpayer interests.

The legislation in Congress right now is an important step in that direction, and I'm hopeful that a final agreement can be reached this week. Now, I'm also aware of your interest in the matter of the Illinois Senate appointment. Let me say that I was as appalled and disappointed as anybody by the revelations earlier this week.

I have never spoken to the governor on this subject. I'm confident that no representatives of mine would have any part of any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. attorney reflect that fact.

I've asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor's office about this vacancy so that we can share them with you over the next few days.

Finally, on this matter, let me say that this Senate seat does not belong to any politician to trade. It belongs to the people of Illinois, and they deserve the best possible representation.

They also deserve to know that any vacancy will be filled in an appropriate way so that whoever is sent to Washington is going to be fighting for the people of Illinois. I hope and expect that the leaders of the legislature will take these steps to ensure that this is so.

I'd now like to turn to the topic of today's press conference. Over the past few weeks, Vice President Biden and I have announced key members of our economic team who are working as we speak to craft a recovery program that will save and create millions of jobs and grow our struggling economy.

Today I'm pleased to announce two leading members of my health care team whose work will be critical to those efforts. Senator Tom Daschle and Dr. Jeanne Lambrew.

I've asked Tom to serve not just as my secretary of health and human services but also as my director of White House -- of my White House office of health reform. As such, he will be responsible not just for implementing our health care plan, he will also be the lead architect of that plan.

Jeanne will serve as deputy director of this office working closing with Tom on these efforts.

It's hard to overstate the urgency of this work. Over the past eight years, premiums have nearly doubled and more families are facing more medical debt than ever before. Forty-five million fellow citizens have no health insurance at all. And day after day, we witness the disgrace of parents unable to take a sick child to the doctor, seniors unable to afford their medicines, people who wind up in emergency rooms because they have nowhere else to turn.

Year after year, our leaders offer up detailed health care plans with great fanfare and promise only to see them fail, derailed by Washington politics and influence peddling.

This simply cannot continue. The runaway cost of health care is punishing families and businesses across our country. We're on an unsustainable course and it has to change.

The time has come this year in this new administration to modernize our health care system for the 21st century, to reduce costs for families and businesses, and to finally provide affordable, accessible health care for every single American.

Now, some may ask how at this moment of economic challenge we can afford to invest in reforming our health care system. And I ask a different question. I ask how can we afford not to. Right now, small businesses across America are laying off or shutting their doors for good because of rising health care costs. Some of the largest corporations in America, including major American car makers are struggling to compete with foreign companies unburdened by these costs.

Instead of investing in research and development, instead of expanding and creating new jobs, our companies are pouring more and more money into a health care system that is failing too many families. So let's be clear. If we want to overcome our economic challenges, we must also finally address your health care challenge. I can think of no one better suited to lead this effort than the man standing beside me today.

Tom Daschle is one of America's foremost health care experts. He and Jeanne have written a groundbreaking book on the subject filled with fresh ideas and creative solutions. And Tom's thinking on this is informed not just by statistics he's studied or policy papers he's read but by his years representing the people of South Dakota witnesses firsthand there struggles as hospitals closed, doctors were few and far between, and care was often out of reach.

But Tom brings more than just great expertise to this task. He brings the respect that he earned during his years of leadership in Congress. He knows how to reach across the aisle and bridge bipartisan divides. And he has the trust of folks from every angle of this issue -- doctors, nurses, and patients, unions and businesses, hospitals and advocacy groups, all of who will have a seat at the table as we craft our plan.

And once we pass this legislation, I know I can rely on Tom to implement it effectively. A gifted manager, Tom is the original no- drama guy known for speaking softly but leading boldly, always treating his staff with respect while demanding excellence and empowering them to deliver. And I know Tom will bring that same decency, graciousness, and pragmatism to this new role.

Tom could not have a better partner in this work than Jeanne Lambrew. Jeanne bring a depth and range of experience on health care that few can match. She's a leading thinker on this issue, nationally recognized for her research on Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care, and the uninsured.

She's a policy and budget expert having served at a senior level at both the Office of Management and Budget and the National Economic Council. She held lead the effort in the White House to create the Children's Health Insurance Program and she helped craft the president's Medicare reform plan and long-term care initiative.

And like Tom, Jeanne has a personality perfectly suited to reaching out and building consensus. She listens. She treats people well. She, like Tom, believes, as Tom put it in his farewell address to the Senate, that the politics of common ground will not be found on the far right or the far left. That's not where most Americans live. We will only find it in the firm middle ground of common sense and shared values.

I could not agree more. And I look forward to working with Tom and Jeanne in the months and years ahead.

With that, let me ask Tom to step forward and say a few words.

TOM DASCHLE, HHS SECRETARY NOMINEE: Thank you, very much, Mr. President-elect. It is a great honor to be nominated to work on an issue that is so close to my heart, leading an organization that touches so many lives at a time that there is so much at stake.

There is no question that fixing health care is and has been for many years our largest domestic policy challenge. We have the most expensive health care system in the world, but are not the healthiest nation in the world.

Our growing costs are unsustainable, and the plight of the uninsured is unconscionable.

Addressing our health care challenges will not only mean healthier and longer lives for millions; it will also make American companies more competitive, address the cause of half of all of our personal bankruptcies and foreclosures, and help pull our economy out of its current tailspin.

That is why it is so exciting for me to take this dual role that you have outlined today, not just implementing reform, but helping to generate it.

Whether it's administering Medicare and Medicaid, keeping our food and pharmaceuticals safe, researching the cures of tomorrow, or investing in prevention and wellness, a well-functioning Department of Health and Human Services can play a strong role in tackling the many health care challenges our country faces.

And as director of the White House Office of Health Reform, I'm eager to work closely with the people from across the country to find a path forward that makes health care in this country as affordable and available as it is innovative.

As you did so effectively in your campaign, Mr. President-elect, we're also going to bring the American people into this conversation and make health care reform an open and inclusive process that goes from the grassroots up.

Over the next few weeks, we will be coordinating thousands of health care discussions in homes all across the country through our Web site,, where ordinary Americans can share their ideas about what's broken and how to fix it.

I'll be attending some of these discussions, seeing the ideas generated by others, and looking forward to reporting back to you on what we find.

One of the first conversations I had with then-Senate candidate Obama was about the need for meaningful national health care reform. Today I'm grateful to President-elect Obama for giving me the chance to make that a reality.

I'm honored by your trust, and I look forward to the opportunity to serve our nation once again.

Thank you. OBAMA: Thanks.

OK, with that, let me open it up to some questions. Let me start with Jackie, Jackie Calmes (ph).

QUESTION: Senator -- President-elect...


QUESTION: ... given the -- in your statement, when you addressed the controversy over Governor Blagojevich, you did not repeat what your spokesman said yesterday about having him -- that he should resign. Why did you not? And could you tell us what contact, if any, you know that your staff or any emissaries from you have had with prosecutors or the FBI?

OBAMA: Well, let me repeat a couple of things.

Number one, I think, like most of the people of Illinois, I was appalled and disappointed by what we heard in those transcripts. And, you know, here in Illinois -- as is true, I think, across the country -- there is a tradition of public service, where people are getting in it for the right reasons and to serve, but there's also a tradition where people view politics as a business.

And part of the reason that I got into politics, ran for the State Senate, ran for the United States Senate, and ultimately ran for the presidency is because we have to reclaim a tradition of public service that is about people and their lives, and their hopes, and their dreams. And it isn't about what's in it for me. And I think the public trust has been violated.

So let me be absolutely clear: I do not think that the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois. I -- the legislature is going down to Springfield to make a determination as to how to resolve this issue. I think they're going to come to the same conclusion. I hope that the governor himself comes to the conclusion that he can no longer effectively serve and that he does resign.

In terms of our involvement, I'll repeat what I said earlier, which is I had no contact with the governor's office. I did not speak to the governor about these issues. That I know for certain.

What I want to do is to gather all the facts about any staff contacts that I might -- may have -- that may have taken place between the transition office and the governor's office. And we'll have those in the next few days, and we'll present them.

But what I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That I'm absolutely certain of.

And the -- that is -- that would be a violation of everything that this campaign has been about. And that's not how we do business.

So, you know, I think that, like the rest of the people of Illinois, what I want to see is a quick resolution of this issue. I want to make sure that the next senator from the state of Illinois is carrying a forward tradition of service, that the next senator from Illinois is not tainted by what has taken place so far.

I want to make sure that the next senator of Illinois is focused on health care, jobs, and all the struggles that the families of this state are going through.

Phil Elliott, A.P.?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. Thank you. Have you or anyone in your transition or campaign been interviewed as it relates to the criminal complaint? And who is the transition adviser referenced in the complaint?

OBAMA: I have not been contacted by any federal officials. And we have not been interviewed by them. As is reflected in the U.S. attorney's report, we were not, I think, perceived by the governor's office as amenable to any deal-making. And, you know, I won't quote back some of the things that were said about me. So -- this is a family program, I know.

So, you know -- so, beyond that, I'm not really certain where the investigation is going forward. I'll leave Mr. Fitzgerald to address those issues.

OK, Mike Flannery, CBS.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, can you shed any light on how it was that the governor got the impression that neither you nor Ms. Jarrett nor any of the people from your office were willing to play ball and why he said those unrepeatable things about you and your -- and your staff?

And a two-partner. We have the former -- the immediate former governor still moldering in the federal prison here in Terra Haute. What's wrong with politics in Illinois?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I can't presume to know what was in the mind of the governor during this process, so I won't even speculate on that. All I can do is read what was in the transcripts, like the rest of you have read it, and shake my head.

Now, with respect to Illinois, look, as I said, I think in Illinois, as is true in American politics generally, there are two views of politics. There's a view of politics that says you go in this for sacrifice and public service, and then there's a view of politics that says that this is a business, and you're wheeling and dealing, and what's in it for me?

And there are -- one thing I want to make sure everybody is mindful of -- there are extraordinary traditions of public service coming out of Illinois, even after Abraham Lincoln.

You know, you've got people like Paul Simon, and Paul Douglas, our current senator, Dick Durbin, our senior senator, and many others on both sides of the aisle who have upheld the highest standards of ethics and have made enormous sacrifices to make sure that they're getting something done for the people of Illinois.

But what you also have, I think, are habits and a culture that thinks of politics as a -- as a means of self-aggrandizement. That's exactly what has to change. I mean, this is -- if, in fact, the various allegations end up proving to be true -- and I don't want to, obviously, prejudge all these issues -- this is sort of the far end of the spectrum of that business mentality of politics. But there are more subtle examples of it, right, that are within the lines of legality but still don't fulfill the spirit of service.

You know, we know in Washington that lobbyists that disproportionate influence. We know that in state houses and city councils all across America there are times where people are not thinking about what's best for the public good but rather making narrow political calculations. And our whole campaign was about changing that view of politics and restoring a sense that when people of good will come together and are serious about confronting the challenges that we face, that not only can that be good policy but, you know what, it can be good politics as well.

It turns out that the American people are hungry for that. And you can get elected by playing it straight. You can get elected by doing the right thing. That's what I hope we have modeled in this campaign. And that's what I intend to model in my administration.

Last question. Let's see. Debbie Charles of Reuter?

QUESTION: I want to ask you how are you actually planning to fund your health care program. I know that it has been estimated that it could cost (INAUDIBLE) billion dollars. And you had planned, originally, to fund it through getting rid of the tax cuts for the wealthy, but that, apparently, in the current economic situation maybe that's not so reasonable.

Are you still planning to do that? Or how will you fund it?

OBAMA: Well, let me start by talking about the issue of costs because central to my health care plan during the campaign, the starting point was how to we reduce costs. How do we gain savings that we can then put into prevention and health IT and making sure that people who don't current have coverage get coverage and families who are seeing their premiums double get relief.

And so what we wanted to make sure of was that any plan that we have starts with the premise that rising costs are unsustainable. We can't simply insure everybody under the current program without bankrupting the government or bankrupting businesses or states.

So we're going to spend a lot of time on how do you streamline and rationalize the system. And I think you can fairly expect that we're going to have some very aggressive initiatives around things like health IT, around things like prevention that reduce costs.

We're also going to examine programs that I'm not sure are giving us a good bang for the buck. The Medicare Advantage program is one that I've already cited where we're spending billions of dollars subsidizing insurance companies for a program that doesn't appreciably improve the health of seniors under Medicare.

So our starting point is savings. Now, we are probably going to have to, then, find additional dollars to pay for some investments in the short term, although, my charge to my team is figuring out how do we make sure that it pays for itself over, say, a ten-year period so that we're actually saving money over the long term.

And I have not made yet a determination in terms of how we're going deal with the rollback of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. That's part of the charge that I've given to my economic advisers working in concert with our health care team.

Today, we're going to be sitting down and starting to chart out how does this process move forward. And my goal is to make sure that we have everybody involved, doctors, nurses, patient advocates, that we have businesses, labor, everybody sitting around the table, Republicans and Democrats, this is going to be an open and transparent process. You remember I made this promise during the course of the campaign.

We're still going to have a bunch of this stuff on CSPAN. We are -- Tom has already initiated a process where we're going to have groups around the country who are convening to talk about what they think needs to be placed in a health care plan. My hope is to convene all the interested parties in Washington sometime early in my administration and make sure that we are moving forward, open-minded to all kinds of good ideas, but insistent that the time is now to solve this problem.

I've met too many families during the course of the campaign before the economic downturn that are desperate. Close to 50 percent of family bankruptcies are caused because of a health care crisis. We know the strains that are being placed on businesses as a consequence of rising health care costs.

So, this has to be intimately woven into our overall health care -- our economic recovery plan. It's not something that we can sort of put off because we're in an emergency. This is part of the emergency. And what we want to do is make sure that our strategy reflects that truth.

OK. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.

HARRIS: OK. You have been watching and listening to President- elect Barack Obama. Let's bring in our roundtable for a real good discussion on this. Politico's Carrie Brown is with us. Also here to share their thoughts, medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, Christine Romans from the CNN money team and Capitol Hill correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

But first, let's take you back to Chicago. I believe Jessica Yellin is there and -- it takes her just a moment to sort of reposition herself after everyone leaves the room. OK, Jessica is with us now.

And Jessica, the Tom Daschle appointment was significant. But the president-elect certainly has set down a marker, it appears to me, on the Blagojevich scandal by saying that he never had a conversation with the governor about who should be considered for his Senate seat.

YELLIN: That's right. He said, not only did he never have a conversation, but he went further than what he said previously in making it clear that while he's leaving open the possibility and clearly suggests that someone in his circle did have contact with Blagojevich, that no one did anything wrong.

What he's said today -- and I should also highlight, Tony, that he's also set down a marker for transparency. He promised a transparent government --

HARRIS: Yes he did.

YELLIN: -- and he has revealed now much more than we usually hear in these kind of investigations scandals from a politician.

So, what we've learned from him just now, as I made notes of my highlights, that not only did he never make contact with Blagojevich and no one did anything wrong, that he's gathering information. He will reveal that with us, and that he did leave open the possibility that the federal authorities were in touch with someone in his organization, or someone close to him.

What he wouldn't say is if he knows right now who was in touch with Blagojevich. Clearly the indication is someone was, he just wouldn't say quite yet if he knows who that person or persons are.

HARRIS: But clearly the other side of this is the longer it takes for him to come back to us with the information on who may have had contacts with the governor's office, the longer this remains a story that we're talking about and we're not giving the kind of attention I'm sure he would like to these appointments.

YELLIN: Absolutely. Look, he started off talking about the jobs numbers. Certainly he would have preferred for us to talk on the day of this auto bailout drama going on on Capitol Hill in light of the urgency, in his view, of reforming the health care system. Instead, we're focused almost entirely on the Blagojevich scandal.

But I have to say, it is a strategic move and a very smart one to address these questions head on here, as he did today. And also very, very wise to say, look, we're investigating and we'll get it out to you overtime which gives him a little wiggle room to not answer whatever questions he doesn't want to answer yet.

HARRIS: OK, Jessica Yellin for us from Chicago.

Jessica, appreciate it. Thank you.

Let's bring in our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, who is with us here in Atlanta. And Elizabeth, we were kind of nudging one another during the announcement of Tom Daschle because there was a lot there to talk about. This is an important job. And Tom Daschle and the president- elect making it very clear that Tom Daschle is going to have a couple of responsibilities here.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, he's got a dual appointment as head of HHS and head of this new White House office of health care reform. That's important there.

What's really important to know about Tom Daschle is that he feels very passionately about health care reform, so passionately that he wrote a whole book about it. And he has -- there it is -- "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis" -- and he has a particular point of view. He feels strongly that the government needs to be more involved with health care. And he proposes creating sort of a federal reserve board. We have that for the financial world. He proposes creating one for the health care world.

And he's very out there. He says it's going to influence what happens in both public and private insurance.

HARRIS: What do you see as his top priority taking on this role, these dual responsibilities here? The top challenges for Tom Daschle?

COHEN: Well I'm going to quote from him. I'm going to quote from him -- I'm going to quote from his book. In his book he says, "... millions of Americans go without medical care because they can't afford it."

So his priority is to try to get health care to those millions of Americans. But along the way to doing that, he is sure to get some people angry. When you start talking about having more government oversight of health care, insurance companies go, oh, hey, wait a second, what's going on here? Doctors say, wait a minute, oversight over what I do in my office with my patients?

Maybe it won't be as bad as when Hillary Clinton tried to do it 15 years ago. But he's still sure to --

HARRIS: But this new office in the White House suggests that this team is in concert -- will be in concert with the president- elect. And the president-elect -- and that Tom Daschle has the ear, the direct ear, of President Obama when he takes over in January.

COHEN: Absolutely. It certainly suggests that. And it suggests that this really is a priority because he hired someone who is a mover and a shaker and who feels passionately on this.

HARRIS: It feels like cabinet level-plus.

COHEN: There you go. That is a good way to put it. That's a very good way to put it.

HARRIS: All right, Elizabeth, appreciate it. Thank you.

Let's get to Christine Romans from our CNN money team.

Christine, if you would, tell me what you heard from the president-elect about the back and forth that is going on right now over the loan package that now has to be considered by the Senate.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What I heard from the president-elect is someone who wants to tie all of this together. He wants to tie health care reform together with the numbers we got on jobless benefits earlier today together with what's happening back and forth between the House and Senate on some kind of fix or bridge loan for the auto industry. He's trying to tie all of these things together and say you can't look at anything individually.

He's saying that -- and specifically, in terms of health care -- he's saying, look, this is not a time to say our economy is in crisis, let's put health care off. He's saying, our economy is in crisis, this is exactly the right time to be fixing health care.

HARRIS: Why wouldn't we spend?

ROMANS: Right. And another point on that is that when you look at all those people -- they mentioned a couple of times -- Tom Daschle did and the president-elect -- mentioned the number of people in bankruptcy because of medical costs. Many -- in fact I think most of those people in bankruptcy who file bankruptcy because of medical costs had health insurance. So this isn't about extending health insurance to more people, to the 45 to 47 million uninsured in this country, this is about fixing the whole system.

It is a big, big problem. There's an agreement that there's a big problem with health care and unsustainable rising costs and too many people without health insurance. But how to fix it -- there are some very powerful, vocal and moneyed interests who will be around that table trying to figure out how to do it.

HARRIS: Very good.

Good to see you. Thank you, Christine.

And very quickly let's get to our Capitol Hill correspondent, Brianna Keilar, and then we'll circle back to Carrie Brown from Politico.

And if you would, Brianna, can you give us the very latest on where we stand in the negotiations to get this deal now through the Senate?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well yes, and you heard President-elect Obama saying that he's hoping this can be moved through this week. But there are really some obstacles in that.

Obviously, this bill went through the House yesterday. But that's really a tiny hurdle when you consider what this legislation is going to be facing in the Senate and is facing right now. In fact, the top Republican in the Senate, just minutes ago on the Senate floor, Mitch McConnell, saying this bill does not meet his standards. And that could really be devastating to the chances of this legislation getting through the Senate.

Democrats in the White House, obviously, they've come to terms -- come to an agreement on $14 billion in short-term loans for automakers and creating this position of a car czar, which the president would appoint and would sort of oversee the restructuring of these car companies. But at this point, Senate Republicans not on board.

In fact, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker really summing it up here on the Senate floor when he said, you know, it will be impossible for that car czar to really help these auto companies reach profitability. Here he is.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I've looked at this legislation that's come over, and it's like so many things we do around here. It's like a three-humped camel. You couldn't make it almost more ineffective and more complicated.

Mr. President, we put in place a czar -- it seems like that everything we do around here, we try to find a person who can save us, if you will, from the crisis that's happening.


KEILAR: According to a Democratic aide in the Senate, the plan for the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, was to try to win over some Republican votes at least by having them be able to suggest some changes they want to make. The hope being they could come to some agreement this afternoon on that.

But even if Republicans and Democrats in the Senate can't see eye to eye on that, Tony, the plan, according to this aide, is for this -- for a preliminary vote on this bill to go through tomorrow, even if it doesn't have the Republican support it needs.

HARRIS: Yes, OK. Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Brianna, thank you.

Let's circle back now to Carrie Brown from Politico.

And, Carrie, if you would, remind everyone what your question would have been for the president-elect if you had been in the room. And did he answer it?

BUDOFF BROWN: My question would have been what kind of contacts did his staff have with Blagojevich, or with federal investigators? And he did two things in this press conference.

One was he tried to distinguish his upbringing through Chicago politics with the one that people are seeing on television. He's trying to say, look, they're not like me.

The second was, he's trying to convey the message that he's working on it. He's going to try to get information to people. And what I -- by him saying he's going to put the information together, I took that as an attempt by them not only to get a little bit more time, but also to release it on their own timetable and on their own terms. And I wouldn't be surprised if we saw it tomorrow in a mass e-mail to reporters.

HARRIS: How effectively did he put some distance between himself and the scandal?

BUDOFF BROWN: He definitely took a couple steps in that direction. I think that he had a pretty emphatic -- more emphatic than he had the other day when he spoke with reporters, which I think will probably help him.

He, once again, of course, said I had no contact. But he did say that the other day. I think what we're going to really have to look for now is that information, clearly people close to him or people on his staff had contact and that outlining of those contacts is what he's going to have to answer to now.

HARRIS: Carrie, there's a bit of a clock running here as well. He promised us that he would provide the information. And until he does, the story stays alive. And it stays alive for the period of time necessary to sort through and vet the material that is brought forward, correct?

BUDOFF BROWN: Yes. That is the catch 22 here.

It means it's going to dominate for at least the next few days. You would think their hope would be to get this information out in the next few days and start new on Monday. He has a series of cabinet announcements he has next week. A big issue for him, energy and the environment. He's going to want the attention back on that next week.

HARRIS: It's beginning to feel like a tomorrow -- Friday document dump. Does it feel that way to you?

BUDOFF BROWN: Feeling that way to me.

HARRIS: OK, Carrie, good to see you. Thanks for your time.

BUDOFF BROWN: Thank you, Tony.

HARRIS: Next hour in the NEWSROOM, I will ask Louisiana senator, David Vitter, about loans for Detroit automakers and why he and other Republicans are adamantly opposed. Noon Eastern only in the CNN NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: And breaking news out of Florida. The skeletal remains of a small child found near the home of a missing 3-year-old girl. Investigators are on the scene right now in Orlando and speaking to reporters. Let's take you there.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... important information that we are providing. And we have not done any additional work on the scene as we continue to prepare to do so in the coming hours.


QUESTION: ... The residents that are out here already saying that this is Caylee. Can we -- I know you can't confirm at this time. But considering the situation, where we are, just from the Anthonys' house, what is your hunch at this time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be inappropriate for us to speculate. And that is for a situation for a courthouse and the proper venues when we are prepared and ready to do so and provide a proper factual statement.


QUESTION: Are the Anthonys aware --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is all we have. Thank you.

QUESTION: Are the Anthonys aware --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we have additional information we will provide you -- yes, they are aware of it. Corrections has been notified. The Anthony family has been notified regarding the developments this morning. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you heard that live now, you heard that live --

HARRIS: OK. Again, that was a spokesman from the sheriff's office just recapping the story as we know it at this point. The skeletal remains of a small child found near the home of a missing 3- year-old girl. The question right now, are those Caylee's remains?

John Couwels is on the line with us right now. He is one of our -- with CNN.

And John, if you would, give us the information -- if you have additional information on this story, share that with us and take us back through this discovery, if you can.

VOICE OF JOHN COUWELS, CNN ALL-PLATFORM JOURNALIST: It started out initially this morning that there was a utility worker in the area had seen a plastic bag on the ground. This was coming from reports initially through our affiliate, WFTV, and also -- this bag was found on the ground. As he picked it up, a skull of some sort or bones fell out of the bag.

Immediately, he set the bag down and he contacted the authorities. And he was able to -- at that point they cordoned off the area around it. And we understand that this is within about a half mile of the Anthony home. This was found about the same time that there was a pre-trial hearing today at the Orange County Courthouse where the trial date for Casey Anthony, the mother of the missing girl, who is currently standing -- who was indicted on murder charges against her daughter, Casey Anthony (sic), who has been missing since mid-June.

The authorities here have completely blocked off the street, a suburban street. We're kept back quite a distance from the area as Orange County sheriffs have been coming in and out of the area. Currently that's all we know at this point. As you heard a few seconds ago, the spokesperson with Orange County sheriff did say that the Anthony family has been advised that there was some type of discovery found here this morning.

HARRIS: All right, John. And my assumption is, is that the police have certainly had an opportunity to ask as many questions as they would like to ask of the meter reader. That would make sense.

And you would assume that has happened, correct?

COUWELS: As far as we know, but being it's so initially early, we have not had much -- those are the first few words that we have heard from the Orange County sheriff, other than just the initial confirmation that a bag of bones -- I, independently, have known that there was just -- just that a bag was found in the area, that it contained some type of remains.

HARRIS: And John, one more quick question. How close are you -- or are you at the location now? And were you able to hear any more of the quick briefing than we were able to get on the air?

COUWELS: No, because it had pretty much begun just moments prior to that.

HARRIS: OK, all right. Well, John, if you get some additional information, just flag us and we'll get you back up on the air, all right?

COUWELS: OK, great. Thank you.

HARRIS: John Couwels is one of CNN's all-platform journalists.

And we're going to try to get that news conference in and turn that around for you so that you can hear everything, particularly the top of that news conference. As soon we can do that, we'll bring it to you.

We do have it? OK. Can we roll it now?

All right. Let's roll it now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... our forensics unit that (INAUDIBLE) has responded, make a determination how to best proceed this morning. Obviously we have a lot of rain, storms coming in. So we're going to go ahead and make a determination as to how to proceed. The FBI is also on scene as we continue to process the scene. The FBI as well as their lab will provide assistance in the coming days.

QUESTION: Is it just a skull? Is it a body? Is it a skull only?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point it's very early in this discovery to provide any additional information that can compromise our case. We want to proceed carefully, methodically and allow our investigators and our forensics teams to provide the information to investigators as is necessary to proceed with this investigation.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea how long the DNA tests --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point I cannot provide any additional information regarding the discovery. Again, as I stated, it's very early. We have not even bothered the scene in order that we can do it properly.

QUESTION: Do you know how long the DNA testing will take so that you can actually confirm -- excuse me, whether you can confirm whether it's Caylee?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- At this point that is all for our forensics units, for the FBI lab to continue to do their follow-up work.

QUESTION: Do you know how long that will take?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, we're going to deal with the situation right here. We have the discovery. I do not have any additional information, due to the earliness and the quick information that we're providing. And we have not done any additional work on the scene as we continue to prepare to do so in the coming hours.

HARRIS: OK. Officials from the sheriffs' office. It's the DNA now. And it really comes down to the DNA. It's going to take some time for the results of DNA testing to come back. We are going to continue to follow developments on this story.

Again, the skeletal remains of a small child found near the home of a missing 3-year-old girl. Of course, we're talking about Caylee Anthony. Investigators, as you can see, certainly on the scene right now. And we just heard that a utility worker found the body about two hours ago. The sheriffs' office saying nothing immediately indicating that the bones belong to little Caylee. Her mother Casey Anthony, has been charged with murder.

We will continue to follow developments in this case obviously, and bring you the latest. And from time to time will pop in with the latest pictures from our affiliates, in particular, WFTV in Orlando.

And this just in to CNN. A jury in Atlanta says it cannot reach a unanimous decision on a sentence for Brian Nichols. Nichols was convicted of killing four people in a 26-hour rampage that began at an Atlanta courthouse. Let's get to our Tristan Smith. He is one of our CNN producers. He is in a courtroom.

And Tristan, what more can you add to this story for us?

VOICE OF TRISTAN SMITH, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Tony, about 25 minutes ago the judge received a note from the jury stating that they were essentially hung on the sentence. They did state that they had found statutory aggravating circumstances. And what that means is that the death penalty was in play in the possible sentence that they could have rendered.

The judge called them in. The jury told them that basically they were split in some kind of fashion here, 9 to 3. But no details were given on which sentences those two numbers represented. And the judge told them that essentially he's going to send them back in to have some lunch and to try to continue their deliberations and he would check with them in an hour, hour and a half or so, and see where they were at.

And it could be that the judge will have to make that sentencing decision, if they can't come to a decision, in the coming afternoon.

HARRIS: And Tristan, and quickly here. The decision for this jury is -- it's pretty straightforward. It's life in prison for Brian Nichols or death.

SMITH: Well, there's three choices, actually. There's the death sentence. There is life in prison without parole and also life in prison with parole.

HARRIS: Really? With a possibility of parole?

SMITH: Correct. Yes.

HARRIS: OK. All right. Tristan Smith, our CNN producer in the courtroom here in Atlanta.

And still to come in the NEWSROOM, Democrats agreeing with the Bush administration and Republicans admonishing it. What is going on with the auto loan bill?