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Obama Announcing Jack Lew as Next Treasury Secretary; Jeff Sessions Critical Of Jack Lew.

Aired January 10, 2013 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But this is an announcement where we're expecting President Obama to tout his experience, having Jack Lew by his side for the last couple of years for key negotiations on deficit reduction. Obviously, very challenging ones that ultimately didn't succeed, the fiscal cliff -- pardon me -- I should say the debt ceiling negotiation of 2011 and most recently the fiscal cliff negotiation, the grand bargain that ultimately didn't work. We saw a more short-term, smaller measure pass recently in Congress. But we expect for President Obama to emphasize Jack Lew's time not only as being the chief of staff most recently but also being his budget director throughout this process.

We've also been talking, Wolf, as you know, about some of the criticism coming from across the aisle from some Republicans. It's been recorded in Bob Woodward's book about the Obama administration, "The Price of Politics." Just criticism from the speaker, Speaker Boehner, about Jack Lew as being uncompromising and being someone that he didn't find he could negotiate with and come to a deal with in these past discussions. So there's that.

But I'll also tell you, it reminds me talking about that that when Jack Lew was announced as chief of staff to replace Bill Daly that one of the things we heard was it was welcome news to Democrats on the Hill. They had felt that Daly had not been terribly responsive even to them. And Jack Lew is someone that Democrats were very happy to have here standing next to President Obama as the chief of staff. So we're definitely hearing some folks who are very much in favor of Jack Lew taking this position as treasury secretary. And ultimately, I think is expected to be a confirmation process that is expected to go smoothly.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brianna, let us know when we get that very famous two-minute warning before the president and Jack Lew and Tim Geithner and company walk out.

Brianna Keilar is in the East Room at the White House.

Gloria Borger is here with me, Kate Bolduan is here, Ali Velshi is here. We're all watching what's going on, counting down the president's announcement.

Gloria, the last time I remember a White House chief of staff who became the treasury secretary --

(LAUGHTER) -- that would be going back to the Reagan administration when James Baker was White House chief of staff and named treasury secretary. He probably did a good job as treasury secretary.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: For a lot of the same reasons. I think there's a real question of comfort level here. The president knows, as we've been talking about, that he's got to go into a lot of long-term budget negotiations here that are really important to him on the debt ceiling, on the question of entitlement cuts, et cetera, et cetera, even perhaps reforming the tax code. We don't know if they're going to get to that. He had to have somebody he trusted there, just the way that Ronald Reagan felt he had to have somebody he trusted at the treasury. And I think it's the -- the same situation.

Also what's interesting here about Jack Lew, not only is he well known among congressional Democrats, particularly senior congressional Democrats, because he was on the Hill himself, he also had a role in Hillary world, don't forget, at the State Department. He was a deputy secretary of state in charge of the huge, huge State Department budget. So he knows people over there very well, and he also obviously knows people in this administration very well, not only as chief of staff but as former budget director.

And again, I can't emphasize enough the number of people inside the administration who said to me, the president feels comfortable with Jack Lew, and he trust Jack Lew. If you look at all of these cabinet appointments that we've seen and some to come, it is about the president's comfort level in the second term.

BLITZER: He was just re-elected. He's the president of the United States. He deserves to be comfortable.

If you can, hold on for a moment. We still haven't received that famous two-minute warning. So you know what we'll do? We'll take a quick two-minute break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're waiting for the president of the United States to walk into the East Room of the White House. We'll show you a picture now. He's going to nominate Jack Lew, his White House chief of staff, to be the next treasury secretary to succeed Timothy Geithner. That sets the stage for confirmation hearings before the Senate.

As we await, Gloria Borger, here, Kate Bolduan, Ali Velshi.

Kate, there's been some criticism of this president. He feels comfortable with all these men in recent days that he's nominated for these senior positions. We don't see a lot of women nominated, at least not yet.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And some retiring -- resigning. We heard that labor secretary, Hilda Solis, she will be stepping down, you know, whenever that moment will be. And of course, that does leave a lot of holes.

Gloria, we were talking about in the make-up room of all places how there --

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: That's where we talk about everything.

BOLDUAN: Where we talk about everything. But it's been very poor choreography on the part of the administration in rolling these out. And you think it's kind of been put upon them --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I think, for example, the Lew nomination has been put off because they were in the middle of the fiscal cliff fight, which Jack Lew was in the middle of. They didn't want another fight in the middle of that.

BOLDUAN: That doesn't deny the fact that they have a female problem --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: The president did not get what he wanted in Susan Rice. That was the problem. I think it is choreography. I think it is timing. And I'm told, by the way, that they are looking, for example, for a woman at a key post, if not the top four. But they are looking for a woman to head the Commerce Department.

But the pictures we're seeing, Wolf, of all of these men in "The New York Times" yesterday -- if we have it -- all of these men standing around in the Oval Office with the president of the United States. And --

BLITZER: That was an official White House photo.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- too, that --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And as you pointed out, there is -- two women, not just the first lady -- but one other woman that is close with him in a big way. She might not be a cabinet post but Valerie Jarrett, we cannot underestimate how important her role is.

BLITZER: She's critically important. She's staying, she's not going anywhere. What I pointed out, half jokingly, there's the famous picture.

BORGER: You see Valerie's legs. And Valerie Jarrett's leg is --

BLITZER: It's hidden there.

BORGER: It's behind Dan Piper (ph), who is the communications direction.

But they understand that they -- the optics of this is not very good. And so they put out all these statistics yesterday.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Got a handful of statistics about the White House staff now being 50/50. But I think we should expect to see some more women appointments in the near future. And that's probably why Jack Lew is being nominated -- Jack Lew is being nominated alone.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: You don't want a large photograph largely dominated by men.

BLITZER: You see the picture of Valerie Jarrett, the other picture she's in the center. I half jokingly pointed out yesterday that when it comes to influence on the president of the United States, Valerie Jarrett probably equals four or five of those guys who are --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Which four?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: -- in the picture. That's another story, as we know.

Momentarily, the president will be speaking. You're going to hear it unfold.

Right now, Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian, is joining us, as well.

I'm going to cut you off very quickly. But in terms of historic moments, Doug, that started the second term, we often see a president wanting to surround himself with people he feels very comfortable with.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Absolutely. Jack Lew is very close to the president, a long-time veteran of all the budget wars in Washington. If Obama really ran on Bill Clinton's budget, Jack -- part of that credit, has to go his way. So you're seeing the president getting people he's comfortable with.

There is no time for a learning curve here. We have, on March 1, a debt ceiling debate looming. Getting somebody that's already in the game I think was something the president thought about in picking him.

BLITZER: Yes, the president wanted Jack Lew. He's going to get Jack Lew, presumably. There will be a little bit of a fight. There will be a few Republican Senators who will ask him very tough questions and probably, in the end vote, against his confirmation. But I suspect, barring some major expose or something that we don't know, he's been confirmed several times in the past.

Here he comes, the president will be introduced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- Timothy Geithner and Mr. Jacob Lew. (BEGIN LIVE FEED)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat.

A little more than four years ago, I stood with Mr. Tim Geithner and announced him as my first nominee to my cabinet. We were barely two months into the financial crisis. The stock market had cratered. The housing market had cratered, as well. Bank after bank was on the verge of collapse. And worst of all, more than 800,000 Americans would lose their jobs in just that month. And the bottom was not yet in sight. So I couldn't blame Tim when he tried to tell me he wasn't the right guy for the job. (LAUGHTER) But I knew that Tim's extensive experience with economic policy made him eminently qualified. And I also knew that he could hit the ground running. As chairman of the New York Federal Reserve, he had just spent several sleepless and chaotic weeks immersed in the complexities of the crisis and had been working closely with his Republican predecessor at Treasury to save the financial system. Then, with the wreckage of our economy still smoldering and unstable, I asked Tim to help put it back together. And thanks in large part to his steady hand, our economy has been growing again for the past three years, our businesses have created nearly 6 million new jobs, the money that we spent to save the financial system has largely been paid back, we put in place rules to prevent that kind of financial meltdown from ever happening again, an auto industry was saved, we made sure taxpayers are not on the hook if the biggest firms fail again.

OBAMA: We've taken steps to help underwater homeowners come up for air and open new markets to sell American goods overseas. And we've begun to reduce our deficit through a balanced mix of spending cuts and reforms to a tax code that at the time that we both came in was too skewed in favor of the wealthy at the expense of middle-class Americans. So when the history books are written, Tim Geithner's going to go down as one of our finest secretaries of the treasury. (APPLAUSE) All right, don't embarrass him. (LAUGHTER) On a personal note, Tim has been a wonderful friend and a dependable adviser throughout these last four years. You know, there's an unofficial saying over at Treasury: no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners. That'd be a good saying for all of Washington: no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners. (LAUGHTER) Few embody that ideal better than Tim Geithner. That's why when Tim was thinking about leaving a couple of years ago... (LAUGHTER) ... I had to personally get on my knees, with Carole, to help convince him to stay on a little bit longer. And I could not be more grateful to Carole and the entire Geithner family for allowing him to make the sacrifices that so many of our cabinet members ask of their families in serving the country. Now, the fact is, while a lot of work remains-especially to rebuild a strong middle class and offer working folks new pathways to rise into the middle class-our economy is better positioned for tomorrow than most of those other countries hit by the financial crisis. The tough decisions Tim made and carried out deserve a lot of credit for that. So I understand that Tim is ready for a break. Obviously, we're sad to see him go. But I cannot think of a better person to continue Tim's work at Treasury than Jack Lew. Now, this is bittersweet not only because Tim's leaving, but also because Jack's been my chief of staff for the last year. He was my budget director before that. I trust his judgment; I value his friendship; I know very few people with greater integrity than the man to my left. And so I don't want to see him go, because it's working out really well for me to have him here in the White House. But my loss will be the nation's gain. Jack has the distinction of having worked and succeeded in some of the toughest jobs in Washington and the private sector. As a congressional staffer in the 1980s, he helped negotiate the deal between President Reagan and Tip O'Neill to save Social Security. Under President Clinton, he presided over three budget surpluses in a row. So for all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our books are balanced, this is the guy who did it, three times. He helped to oversee one of our nation's finest universities and one of our largest investment banks. In my administration, he's managed operations for the State Department and the budget for the entire executive branch. And over past year, I've sought Jack's advice on virtually every decision that I've made, from economic policy to foreign policy. Now, one reason Jack has been so effective in this town is because he is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras. And over the years, he's built a reputation as a master of policy who can work with members of both parties and forge principled compromises. And maybe most importantly, as the son of a Polish immigrant, a man of deep and devout faith, Jack knows that every number on a page, every dollar we budget, every decision we make has to be an expression of who we wish to be as a nation, our values, the values that say, everybody gets a fair shot at opportunity and says that we expect all of us to fulfill our individual obligations as citizens in return. So Jack has my complete trust. I know I'm not alone in that. In the words of one former senator, having Lew on your team is the equivalent as a coach of having the luxury of putting somebody at almost any position and knowing he will do well. And I could not agree more. So I hope the Senate will confirm him as quickly as possible. I want to personally thank both of these men and their families, especially Carole and Ruth-for their extraordinary service to our country. And with that, I'd like to invite them to say a few words, starting with Tim. TIMOTHY GEITHNER, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: Mr. President, it's been a privilege to serve you. I'm honored and grateful that you asked me to do this, really. I am. And I'm very proud of what my colleagues at Treasury and your economic team was able to help you accomplish these first four years. When you stepped into this building as president, you were confronted with a world in crisis, the worst crisis in generations. And you made the necessary, the hard, the politically perilous choices that saved the American people, saved American industry, saved the global economy from a failing financial system. And your successful response to the crisis, of course, did not solve all the nation's challenges. It could not have done so. But the actions you took, along with those of a forceful and creative Federal Reserve, have made the country stronger and have put us in a much better position to face the many challenges still ahead of us. And they are many. I have the greatest respect for Jack Lew. I know him as a man of exceptional judgment, calm under pressure, with an extraordinary record of accomplishment and experience over a decade spent at the center of American economic policy. He's committed to defending the safety net for the elderly and the poor. He understands who it takes to create the conditions for stronger economic growth and broader economic opportunity. And he understands that to govern responsibly is to govern with a recognition that we have limited fiscal resources. Now, like Jack, I've spent my professional life in this world of public policy and public service. And as all of you know, our families carry a large share of the burdens we assume in public life. And I feel incredibly fortunate that my wife, Carole, and my family have been willing to allow me to do this. And I thank them for their support and their patience, and I understand their occasional impatience. (LAUGHTER) I want to express my admiration and my appreciation for the women and the men of the Treasury Department, those who came to serve you these years of crisis and the civil servants of the Treasury, with whom I first started working in 1988. They are exceptionally talented and honorable public servants. I'm proud of what you-they have helped you accomplish. And I am confident that my successor will find them the extraordinary asset they are to the nation. And I also hope that Americans will look at the challenges we face today and decide, as many of you in this room have, that in spite of the divisive state of our political system today, that serving your country is compelling and rewarding work. That was my experience. And I am grateful and will always be grateful to you for having given me the opportunity to serve you as the 75th secretary of the treasury. (APPLAUSE) LEW: Mr. President, it has been my honor to serve as your chief of staff, and before that at OMB and the State Department. It's really been a privilege to come to work every day as part of a team that's dedicated to building a sound economy and a safer world. Tim, you've been a friend and a colleague for many years- actually, decades. And the American people are better off for your outstanding service. And, you know, I thought I knew you pretty well, but it was only yesterday that I discovered that we both share a common challenge with penmanship. (LAUGHTER) Tim, I join the president and everyone here in wishing you and Carole and your whole family well. As a kid growing up in Queens, I had dreams of making a difference in the world. These dreams were nurtured in a home where the gifts of American freedom and opportunity were cherished and never taken for granted and the responsibility to engage in issues of public concern were part of daily life. I will always be grateful to my parents for grounding me in the values that have remained central to my personal and professional life. I grew up professionally in the office of Speaker O'Neill, whose compass was always clear and who demanded unvarnished advice on how best to reach the desired destination. Mr. O'Neill cared little about your age or rank and only about whether or not you did the hard work to inform the decisions of the day. And he took a big chance, giving a lot of responsibility to a very young man, and for that, I'll always be thankful. Serving at OMB first under President Clinton, and more recently in this administration, I worked with one of the finest teams in the government to execute a responsible fiscal policy while advancing policies to promote economic growth. I'm delighted to see so many of my friends from OMB here today. At the State Department, I worked closely with our great secretary of state, and my friend, Hillary Clinton to advance our nation's national security agenda, including our international economic policies. And as chief of staff, I've had the pleasure of working with a tremendously talented White House team which manages policy, politics, communications, and conflicts operations every day with grace, skill, and loyalty. If confirmed, I look forward to joining the Treasury Department, whose people are legendary for their skill and knowledge. It's a team that I've collaborated with closely over many years and have come to respect greatly. Finally, thank you to Ruth, Shoshi, Danny, Zahava (ph), and the kids for your endless tolerance with the demands of the schedule that tests all family patience. And thank you, Mr. President, for your trust, your confidence and friendship. Serving in your administration has allowed me to live out those values my parents instilled in me, and I look forward to continuing with the challenges ahead. (APPLAUSE) OBAMA: Well, these are two outstanding public servants. I think the only point that I want to make-leave you with is the fact that I had never noticed Jack's signature. (LAUGHTER) And-and when this was highlighted yesterday in the press, I considered rescinding my offer to appoint him. (LAUGHTER) Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency, should he be confirmed as secretary of the treasury. (LAUGHTER) So thank you very much, everybody (APPLAUSE)

(END LIVE FEED)

BLITZER: Next step for Jack Lew, confirmation before the United States Senate.

One critic, Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, is joining us on the phone right now.

You have been very blunt, Senator Sessions. I assume you are going to vote against this confirmation. Tell the viewers why.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, (R), ALABAMA: On CNN, really less than two years ago, when the 2011 budget was sent forward by President Obama that Jack Lew wrote, he said this, Lew did, "Our budget will get us over the next several years to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we are not adding to the debt any more. We are spending money that we have each year, and then we can work on bringing down our national debt."

That was a totally incorrect and false statement. I couldn't believe it. I examined him extensively at committee about it, and he refused to acknowledge one -- to do anything but defend. Whereas, Secretary Geithner, when he came before the committee, he told us honestly that the president's budget did not put us on a sustainable financial path. So he's been a part -- and this budget by the way, got zero votes in the House, zero votes in the Senate. And the reason it was not brought up on the floor of the Senate for real processing is because it would have been exposed as doing nothing to change the debt course of America really. Raising taxes, raising spending and not really doing the kind of things we need to change our debt course.

So it's not a little thing that I'm dealing with. I believe this man has been the architect of the Obama budget policy. I believe it's very fundamentally wrong and I do not believe he has been honest with the American people about it.

BLITZER: Will you put a hold on his nomination? Will you try to filibuster his nomination? That would require 60 votes to break that kind filibuster.

SESSIONS: We need to get started right away in analyzing his background and record. He will have a chance to defend himself. But I think that, based on my examination of him, his consistent statements over the years, throughout this period, that he should not be confirmed. The budget that he wrote was condemned by "The Washington Post," virtually every major newspaper in the country. Erskine Bowles said it goes nowhere near where we need to be to get our country on a sound path. I'm just very troubled about it.

Also, this is another person just very personally close to the president who -- and we really need, in the premier financial position in the world, the secretary of treasury for the United States, at a time of economic danger, we need a person of great seriousness who can reach across the aisle and be respected by the financial community in the country and outside the country. I just don't believe that is what we have in Mr. Lew.

BLITZER: Well, let me just repeat the question then, will you filibuster?

SESSIONS: We'll intend to be aggressive in challenging his nomination and we will see how that goes in the weeks ahead.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your Republican colleagues? I assume every Democrat will vote to confirm. And if they do, that's 55, if you add the two Independent who is caucus with the Democrats. 55 is more than enough.

SESSIONS: The -- a number of our members have dealt with Mr. Lew in some of the negotiations. It has not been pleasant. There are -- there is a feeling he has not been a positive force. I noticed Bob Woodward, in his book, when they reached the Budget Control Act agreement, he was reported to have been obnoxious, disrespectful and dismissive, lecturing. And it took, if you recall, Vice President Biden to finally move this debt and the fiscal cliff issue forward.

So I don't think he does have the kind of respectful valuation from Republicans that you would like to see in the secretary of treasury.

BLITZER: Senator Sessions, thanks very much for sharing your views. This will be a lively process, to be sure. I think Chuck Hegel's will be the next to be the defense secretary. We will see what happens with John Brennan to be the next CIA director, John Kerry to be the next secretary of state.

We will be having much more extensive coverage of this later today at 4:00 p.m. in "The Situation Room." Thanks very much for watching.

Brooke Baldwin continues our CNN NEWSROOM coverage right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.

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