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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Open To A Deal On Immigration?; One-on-One Interview with President Obama; Women Emerge As NFL Game Changers

Aired January 31, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Let's talk about other parts of the interview. I'm joined by our panel, some smarty pants, White House correspondent for the "Wall Street Journal," Carol Lee and national political columnist for Yahoo News, Matt Bai.

I've been trying to get you both on this show for more than a year and you both came today and I'm happy and honoured. Let's start with immigration reform. I thought that he basically signalled, even though he didn't say it outright, a willingness to consider a bill that doesn't have a path to citizenship. Matt?

MATT BAI, NATIONAL POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "YAHOO NEWS": You know, Jake, I mean, he's doing what he ought to do in this situation, which is giving himself as much situation as possible. Why boxing himself in one way or the other. He wants to see what they come up with and he'll make a decision. I think he's got to do certainly more than most people, I think he has a decent shot at getting immigration.

TAPPER: I mean, I agree with the politics of it, but there are a lot of people on the left that are not happy that he's staking a flag and saying we need to have a path to citizenship.

CAROL E. LEE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": This is what they've seen him do on number of issues in the past. You know, I've covered the president for many years and know that this is something that he just wants to get done and instead he would do it in 2009 and there were all of these big things that they were going to do and then finish it and in he hasn't gotten it done.

When you talk to him he'll say, we're not that far apart. Meaning him and the Republicans, you know, if you look at the Senate bill, the path to citizenship take as long time, you have to meet a bunch of different benchmarks. So for him he's playing this game where he wants to see what the Republicans are able to come up with.

Because they are signalling that they may be able to do something in the realm of citizenship or at least legal status and if he can get something like that, you know, it's more than he's certainly gotten so far.

TAPPER: In terms of his mood, because I think that's important in terms of what he wants to do going forward, he didn't seem to me as beaten down as I thought he would be based on that David Remnick "New Yorker" story. A guy who is an author, has written two books and is already preparing for a third was talking about his paragraph in American history. He seemed confident, but at the same time, this is new, this approach of like, OK, I'm going to call these CEO's and try to get them to agree to this. It is a hemmed in Obama in terms of his ambition. Matt?

BAI: I thought, you know, going back to the state of the union and it's the same mood you encountered. I thought he was right to strike such an upbeat tone and it's the right tone politically, but the sum of the policies he's talking about is relatively small. And to me the startling thing and I can understand why they are pivoting this way, but the startling thing is here you are five years into a presidency and you're saying effectively we still don't know how to work the levers of power. That's a remarkable admission for a president who has already been re-elected.

TAPPER: Carol, our friend, Peter Baker from "The New York Times" describes the president's new strategy. "Obama disdained Clinton's small steps and now takes his own. Now Baker notes that many of Obama's advisers are former Clintonistas and he's approaching things more pragmatically. But a former Clinton adviser says, "It's not clear that any of his proposals or all of them taken together would do much to change the basic equation for working families." So I guess the question is, can this pen and phone approach actually accomplish much?

LEE: It can accomplish a little. I think that if you look at some of the things that he laid out in the state of the union, the retirement savings program is probably one big thing that may have a long-term legacy but it's not huge. It's not the kind of changes in the economy that he could get, if he could get Congress to work with him on things.

And to Peter Baker's point, you know this, when the Obama folks first came into the White House, they disdained, we're not school uniforms, we're doing big things behind the scenes. They were constantly saying that. They come out and make a big show about how they were scanning across the administration to find different policies that they could do on their own and they didn't come up with that much.

If you look at the actual speech, he said I'm going to do a number of things, but he really gave a nod to the rule that Congress has and kind of concede that he can't do these massive things without Congress having his back on that.

TAPPER: Now, Matt, "Politico" has a completely different take. Their headline is Obama's power play and Stephanie Simon reports, "As he tees up for his final three years, Obama's pushing to take his executive power further still with the most ambitions regulatory agenda in decades whether American guns can be sold abroad, how smokeless tobacco can be marketed, which non-profits, what constitutes as a single serving of potato chips and perhaps just how salty those chips should be. I'm not sure. Is he hemmed in or is this a huge power grab?

BAI: You cannot allow him to regulate potato chips in this way.

TAPPER: You don't like you eat potato chips anymore anyway. BAI: I don't. OK, you can look at it that way, right. You heard Democrats say this about George W. Bush at the end of his administration. He was governing by fiat, all these executive orders, going around Congress. So I get that the politics on this have shifted. My point is, I wrote this in the Yahoo! column yesterday, if you're going to use executive orders and you can get some stuff done, don't use it just to add on to government or expand the reach of government as you've wanted to, but also think about reform.

Because I think if you look at the poll numbers, the lack of confidence people now have in this president, not just to get things through Congress, to actually have solutions to fix the problem. That's because they have spent so much time talking about expanding government and very little time talking about making it more efficient.

And there are things that you can do with executive power that would begin to reaffirm, even in symbolic school uniform kinds of ways that the bureaucracy has to keep pace in its change and in the changing of the culture with the growth in government.

TAPPER: It was a very smart point you also made because I'm not sure if you saw matt's column I'm sure you did but for our viewers, the reason you thought New York City voters were willing to go more liberal was because Bloomberg made New York function. Therefore there was a trust in government and voters had voted for Republicans for the past 20 years, but there was a trust in government that Bloomberg had instilled that we don't necessarily have on a federal level right now.

BAI: If you're going to ask people to expand government, it helps to have proven that it works and part of De Blasio's great advantage in New York right now is that you have 12 years of effectively ruthlessly efficient government and when people believe it can work, they are much more open I think to doing more.

LEE: And the president hasn't really followed through on that. You remember he had this government review, you know, he was going to revamp government and that went absolutely nowhere.

TAPPER: Before you go, Carol, you've been reporting on the new State Department environmental review on the Keystone Excel pipeline came out moments ago. What did they conclude?

LEE: Well, essentially the big take away is that it concluded that there wasn't a decision either way, which no one expected, but it seems to lean more favourably towards people who support the construction of the pipeline, that there's no significant impact from one particular project, is basically what it says.

TAPPER: And now we expect the decision on from the president?

LEE: There's a 90-day period where they solicit public comment. And then it will go to the president. The president and the White House wouldn't say specifically that he's going to make a decision, but he's conveyed privately to his aides that this is his call and he is ultimately going to make that decision. So the decision is going to come right in the middle of the midterm elections and the politics of this has shifted so much that it's going to really heat things up.

TAPPER: All right, that's going to be exciting to watch. Carol Lee from "Wall Street Journal" and Matt Bai from Yahoo, thank you so much for being here.

When we come back, the rest of my exclusive interview with President Obama, things get a little less serious. I asked the president about his favourite topic, his daughters, and what he thought about the epic Richard Sherman rant just a few days before the Super Bowl. Thanks for coming in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back. Now back to our national lead, a little bit more of our exclusive interview with President Obama now. I got a chance to ask the president some questions about serious issues, his policies, the feasibility of the goals he wants to accomplish, things he didn't want to talk about.

We did, of course, also get to talk a little more informally in a walk and talk, and this is when we talk about his home life, his thoughts on the new pope and of course, the Super Bowl. I still had gotcha question left to my pocket. Keep an eye after that one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: So the first lady just gave an interview. She said that your daughters were not concerned about whether you had a bad 2013. OK, dad, that's great, where's my allowance?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You know, they -- when we sit down at the dinner table have some awareness of what's going on and we have great conversations although mostly it's more about history than it is about what's going on right now. It's true. Look, they are teenagers. They are fully absorbed with their lives, what's going on at school.

TAPPER: They are not into your approval ratings?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: They really are not.

TAPPER: Are you going to bring them to the Vatican when you meet the pope?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, they met the previous pope the last time we went to Rome. I'm not sure they are going to have a chance to go this time. It was wonderful. The great story was, Sasha was still pretty young at the time. This was in my first year in the office. And they see the Sistine Chapel and they are going through these various chambers and each time, you know, she'd see somebody dressed up in the cloth and she would say, is that the pope? Is that the pope? How about that guy over there? No, no, you'll know when it's finally the pope.

TAPPER: So I was thinking about this pope and there's so much excitement, people think that he's going to change everything. You're going to meet him. Are you going to talk to him about the importance of managing expectations at all? Is that something that he needs to think about?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I have been really impressed so far with the way he's communicated what I think is the essence of the Christian faith and that is a true sense of brotherhood and sisterhood and regard for those who are less fortunate. My suspicion is, based on what I've seen of him so far. He's a pretty steady guy. I don't think he needs any advice from me about staying humble.

TAPPER: He's not looking at his approval rating.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't think he is. I think is he somebody who is very much reflecting on his faith and what he needs to do to make sure that folks not just of the Catholic faith, but people all around the world are living out a message that they think is consistent with the lessons of Jesus Christ. So I've really been impressed with him. That's a meeting I'm looking forward to.

TAPPER: So a big game this Sunday, the Super Bowl. I wonder what you've made of the Richard Sherman side line rants, the push back to the push back, his argument that people are calling him a thug is a more polite way of calling him the "n" word. What do you think of the whole thing?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think he's a great cornerback with a great play. He's obviously a very smart guy. A wonderful story, in fact, that he came up from Compton and went to Stanford, has helped other people graduate and go to college from his old school. And my sense is he's taken a page out of Mohamed Ali's play book. Ali said he got his stick from the wrestlers he used to watch.

TAPPER: So it's part of tradition?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it's a tradition of let me get some attention and obviously it's worked. I suspect that he's going to have a lot more endorsement contracts and I think he's more jersey sales after that. But it's going to be a great game. You've got Peyton manning who maybe has had the greatest season that any quarterback has had and to watch him go against a team that is known for their defence and particularly their passing defence I think means there's going to be some excitement there.

TAPPER: I'm going to give you a choice. You just have to pick one, Hillary versus Biden or Broncos versus Seahawks. You have to tell me you have to pick one and give me the winner.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think that Broncos/Seahawks.

TAPPER: You're going to go with that one?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Surprisingly enough. I think it's going to be a lot like the Seahawks/49ers' game. I think it's going to come down to the last play and in the end of the day, I'm not going to pick it because I don't want to offend any of the great cities who are participating.

TAPPER: So you'll go with the Hillary/Biden one, then?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm too smart for that, Jake. Come on, man. I love the state of Washington and I love the state of Colorado.

TAPPER: You aren't running for anything anymore. You won them both.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, if you've watched an NFL game recently, you might have noticed the huge number of female fans in the crowds. Does that mean Super Bowl ads this weekend will be different from the past? I'm talking to you Go Daddy.

Plus, convicted again of murder, she says she will never return to Italy willingly, but will Amanda Knox be forced to go back and face her sentence?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the Sports Lead. Now, whether you'll be watching for the game or the commercials or for the halftime show, there's a good chance that you'll be one of the millions of people tuning in to the Super Bowl this Sunday. In decades ago catered to a certain demographic namely, beer-chugging men.

But these days, women are making their presence felt as diehard fans and their impact is being felt from the stadiums, all the way to Madison Avenue. Nischelle Turner has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember back in the days when the word pro football fan conjured up images of guys like this? And women who didn't hate the sport were thought to be simply tolerating it because, well, how else would you get to spend time with your guy on Sundays in the fall?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want you to give up the Super Bowl. How selfish do you think I am? You love the Super Bowl.

TURNER: Fast forward a few years and the so-called football widow may notice her huddle is shrinking. According to the NFL, women now make up nearly half of the league's fan base, 375,000 women attend NFL games each weekend. In fact, more women now watch the Super Bowl than they do the Oscars. And these ladies are no longer content to just sit on the side lines while the fellas have all of the fun.

The NFL director of Apparel says over the past ten years the league has gone out of its way to cater to the growing women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're always getting smarter about what women want and what we're realizing is that there is always more. There's always something out there that we can be doing.

TURNER: Before even the league got hip to the fact that women should include more than pink jerseys, actress Alyssa Milano was proving that when it comes to giving the ladies what they really want, she's the boss. Milano is an avid sports fan who got fed up with the lack of team apparel options for women so back in 2008 she started her own line of figure flattering fashions called "Touch."

ALYSSA MILANO, ACTRESS/CREATED "TOUCH" APPAREL LINE: I knew that women made up 50 percent of the attendance in sports and I figured if even 7 percent of those women wanted something, an alternative to either the big jersey or the pink, and then we'd be in good shape.

TURNER: And it's clear, female fans are not only on the fashion industry's radar, they are influencing major marketing decisions too. Yet they are still Super Bowl commercials where women are put on display in ways that might make even Hugh Hefner blush, but you'll notice a growing number of ads where female fans are the featured players.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm missing kick-off for this?

TURNER: The dynamic is shifting from the bleachers to the board rooms. According to the Institute for Diversity in Ethics and Sports, the percentage of management positions held by women in the NFL increased to 29 percent in 2013. The highest it's been in more than a decade. But that jump was only enough to earn the league a C for overall gender hiring in the institute's annual report card. So, not exactly a touchdown but a sign that the NFL is steadily moving the ball forward in the quest to shed its boy's club image. Nischelle Turner, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Thanks, Nischelle. When we come back, the NFL commissioner throwing a curveball at a press conference. Ahead here, how he responded to this question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you feel comfortable calling an American Indian a redskin to his or her face?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Another interesting sports moment on a story that we've been covering for quite some time, if the Washington Redskins change their names, it likely won't be because of pressure from the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell held his news conference and defended the right to retain the nickname that some find racist and offensive. The National Congress of American Indians released an ad protesting the name, but Goodell says most Native Americans are fine with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: If you look at the numbers including Native American communities, in a poll, nine out of ten supported the name. Eight of ten Americans in the general population would not like us to change the name.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Goodell was also asked if he would call a Native American a redskin to his or her face. He didn't really answer. The World Lead now with all of the horrific crimes Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad is accused of, the allegation that he's dragging his feet may seem pretty tame, but that's the latest charge from the Obama administration that says despite his promises, Assad has only removed 4 percent of his deadly chemical stockpile.

You remember these as the same deadly weapons that were supposed to be destroyed by the end of 2013. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that all options remain available to force Assad's hands. The news comes at the same time that the Syrian government is refusing to commit to a second round of peace talks. More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed so far in this civil war. That's turned more than 2 million people into refugees.

Also in World News, Amanda Knox is speaking out after yet another decision on her fate. The recently reconvicted Seattle woman says she will fight the guilty verdict handed down yesterday in an Italian courtroom and that she will never go willingly to Italy to serve her 28-year sentence.

An appeals court found her and her ex-boyfriend guilty of the 2007 murder of a British exchange student, Meredith Kercher. Knox's attorney tells CNN, the appeals process could take about a year so it's too early to talk about possible extradition.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.