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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
President Obama Holds a News Conference; Obama: Protesters Should Accept Donald Trump as the Next President; Obama: Important for Trump to Make His Decisions. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired November 14, 2016 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it is something that I continue to think about every day. And we continue to try to find some formula that would allow us to see that suffering end.
But I think it's not surprising to you, because you study this deeply, that, if you have a Syrian military that is committed to killing its people indiscriminately as necessary, and it is supported by Russia, that now has substantial military assets on the ground and are actively supporting that regime, and Iran actively supporting that regime, and we are supporting what has to be our number one national security priority, which is going after ISIL, both in Mosul and ultimately in Raqqa, that the situation is not the same as it was in Libya.
And, obviously, there are some who question the steps we took in Libya. I continue to believe that was the right thing to do, although, as I indicated before, in the aftermath of that campaign, I think the world community did not sufficiently support the need for some sort of security structures there. And it now is a situation that we have to get back into a better place.
I have given you -- OK.
The last question is Justin Sink at Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
I wanted to ask about two things that might be on your desk over the next couple of months as you prepare for a Trump administration.
One is, at least three-quarters-of-a-million undocumented immigrants provided the federal information about (OFF-MIKE) families as part of your (OFF-MIKE) program. I'm wondering if there anything you can do to either reassure them or shield that information from the incoming Trump administration, considering his stance on immigration.
And the second is, the administration and you have long maintained that the legal restraints put on you by Congress governing movement of detainees from Gitmo are an unconstitutional infringement on your rights as commander in chief. Considering the gradual transfers that you have pursued are unlikely
to continue under a Trump administration, is this now the time to sort of test that theory by moving the detainees and seeing where the chips (OFF-MIKE)
OBAMA: Those are both excellent questions.
On the deferred action program that we have, known as DACA, that relates to dreamers who are currently benefiting from these provisions, I will urge the president-elect and the incoming administration to think long and hard before they are endangering the status of what, for all practical purposes, are American kids.
These are kids who were brought here by their parents. They did nothing wrong. They have gone to school. They have pledged allegiance to the flag. Some of them have joined the military. They enrolled in school.
By definition, if they are part of this program, they are solid, wonderful young people of good character. And it is my strong belief that the majority of the American people would not want to see suddenly those kids have to start hiding again. And that's something that I will encourage the president-elect to look at.
With respect to Guantanamo, it is true that I haven't been able to close the darn thing because of the congressional restrictions that have been placed on us.
What is also true is, we have greatly reduced the population. We now have significantly less than 100 people there. There are some additional transfers that may be taking place over the next two months.
There is a group of very dangerous people that we have strong evidence of having been guilty of committing terrorist acts against the United States, but because of the nature of the evidence, in some cases, that evidence being compromised, it's very difficult to put them before a typical Article III court.
And that group has always been the biggest challenge for us. My strong belief and preference is that we would be much better off closing Gitmo, moving them to a different facility that was clearly governed by U.S. jurisdiction. We would do it a lot cheaper and just as safely.
Congress disagrees with me. And I gather the president-elect does as well.
We will continue to explore options for doing that. But keep in mind that it's not just a matter of what I'm willing to do. One of the things you discover by being president is that there are all these rules and norms and laws. And you got to pay attention to them.
And the people who work for you are also subject to those rules and norms. And that's the piece of advice that I gave to the incoming president.
I am very proud of the fact that we will -- knock on wood -- leave this administration without significant scandal. We have made mistakes. There have been screw-ups, but I will put the ethics of this administration and our track record in terms of just abiding by the rules and norms and keeping trust with the American people, I will put this administration against any administration in history.
And the reason is because, frankly, we listened to the lawyers. and we had a strong White House Counsel's Office. We had a strong ethics office. We had people in every agency whose job it was to remind people, this is how you're supposed to do things.
It doesn't mean everybody always did everything exactly the way they were supposed to, because we got two million people working in the federal government, if you're including the military.
So, we had to just try to institutionalize this as much as we could. And that takes a lot of work.
And one of my suggestions to the incoming president is, is that he take that part of the job seriously as well.
Again, you wouldn't know this, if you were listening to some news outlets or some members of oversight committees in Congress. But if you actually look at the facts, it works.
And this is just one example of the numerous ways in which the federal government is much better today than it was without people really knowing.
You look at VA, people remember the legitimate problems that were publicized in Phoenix. It was scandalous, what happened.
What people don't remember is, is that we have brought in well over a million people who are getting benefits that were not getting it before, driven the backlog for disability benefits way down, cut homelessness in half, just made the agency work better, not work perfect, but work better.
And one of the mottoes I have always with my staff was, better is good. Perfect is unattainable. Better is possible.
And so we will try to share the lessons that we have learned over these last eight years with the incoming president. And my hope is, he makes things better. And, if he does, we will all benefit from it.
All right? Thank you, everybody.
You guys, some of you who are traveling, you will get a chance to ask more questions. All right? Thank you.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama leaving the Brady Press Conference Room in the White House, saying he's leaving the car in pretty good shape as he turns over the keys to president-elect Donald Trump. It seemed to be something of a keep calm and carry on press
conference, where he was attempting to reassure jittery Democrats and others about the man who will soon succeed him.
He did acknowledge that he thought there were -- quote -- "certain elements" of president-elect Trump's temperament that are not going to serve him well, unless he recognizes and fixes them.
But, for the most part, he was attempting to be reassuring about president-elect Trump, saying that, regardless what experiences and assumptions he has as he comes to office, this office has a way of waking people up. Certain things make for good sound bites, but don't always translate into good policy. That's something he will wrestle with, but generally saying that he was going to reassure allies when he goes on his foreign trip abroad, as he's leaving imminently, that he -- that president-elect Trump wants to keep alliances and keep the major alliances that the United States has strong, including NATO.
He told president-elect Trump that he recommended he surround himself with a strong team, and also that gestures matters. He said that presidents-elect have an opportunity to reset after the campaign.
He would not bite when asked about Steve Bannon of Breitbart, the Web site that is a haven to individuals who traffic in white supremacy and racism, coming on board with the Trump administration. He would not bite as to that appointment, see saying that he didn't think it was appropriate.
He also would not repeat his words made during the campaign, President Obama's own words, that didn't Donald Trump was qualified.
Let's bring back our panel to talk about this and much more.
First of all, Gloria, just a touch of the shade was brought in for Hillary Clinton when asked about the future of the Democratic Party. We will turn to Trump in a second, but I just want to acknowledge that he did talk about how, when he campaigned in Iowa, he went to all these small towns and talked to people, and even if he didn't win the county, he would reduce the margins.
That seems quite pointedly aimed at the Clinton campaign.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
And so there was a little bit of shade thrown there. But he obviously refused to criticize Hillary Clinton outright. He refused to participate in what comes next for the Democratic Party. He didn't want to sort of get involved in that discussion at this point.
TAPPER: Didn't want to bigfoot anyone, he said.
BORGER: No. That's what he said.
And I think, overall, though, you would have to say this president -- I was just writing down some words that came to mind -- prudent, I would say, deferential, even, to the president-elect, diplomatic, and also proud of his accomplishments.
It was very clear that he was going through them one by one and saying, this is what they did.
One nation that I -- I think he was trying to defend Donald Trump a little bit when he was asked about Donald Trump's changing his position, changing his mind. And he said that he thought the president-elect was trying to balance what he had said in the campaign and reading out where the Congress is, and he said, "Just let him make his decisions."
In other words...
TAPPER: Yes, it was very interesting. He said that president-elect Trump -- and this is perhaps the most important thing he said in his press conference. He said he didn't think that he was particularly ideological. He thought he was pragmatic, and that might serve him well.
And so what he was saying was, you don't have an ideologue here. Give him some time. Give him a little bit of space to digest where he is, how he manages that. And he did talk about how difficult it is to get your arms around managing the White House, much less the country.
The give him some time to figure out how he can manage the Congress and work with the Congress. So, I thought this president was just saying, OK, give this guy some space. I know what you think about him, a lot of you, but give him some time here.
TAPPER: And, Congressman, I just want to say, when he said that he would be reassuring our allies that president-elect Trump was going to continue the alliances, especially in NATO, you know a little bit something about that on an unofficial mid-level level. You went to Brussels a few...
JACK KINGSTON (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Yes. I think that's well-described.
A constituent and good friend of mine is former Senator Mack Mattingly, who also served in NATO. I was there about three weeks ago. We talked about their mission being extremely important, which is containment of Russia. That's their original mission.
At the same time, they are helping train some troops in the Middle East that could be used to fight ISIS. That's not quite their mission, but they're very aware of what's going on.
Also reassuring the Baltics. And those are things that we all agree on. And I say we, Democrats and Republicans alike, also just making sure that, even though some nations are falling behind on their dues, and we believe everybody should be paying their dues, that's not something that stops the game.
So, I think the idea of NATO's mission being important to the Trump administration and all administrations, I think it's as timely today as it's ever been.
TAPPER: S.E., what did you make of -- what did you make of the president's tone?
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Two -- two takeaways for me.
[14:30:00] One was this idea that President Obama was very clearly setting up the case that things are better now and we're handing over a country that's in great shape. He - I think went through three different times some of the accomplishments, and used that word, we're handing it over to you.
I think Trump won because a majority of the country does not feel that way. And so, this sort of bragging about everything that's gone right over the past eight years, I think, was an interesting decision. On the flip side of that, I found his restraint in answering our Athena Jones' question about the Steve Bannon appointment to be remarkable.
Remember, the rise of the Alt-Right over the past eight years is very singularly personally tied to the election of President Obama. The birthism, the Alt-Right stuff, I mean, all of that fermented largely because we had a black president.
So, for him to remove himself from that disappointment and say, "I'm not really going to comment on this." I just thought that was remarkably generous.
TAPPER: Let's go to Dana Bash. Dana, what would you make of it?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think restraint is the perfect word. Somebody put on Twitter, I couldn't remember who it was, that this is the press conference where you want to see the angry Obama. Remember his alter ego from the White House - press White House dinner a few years ago? Because you know that what is going on in his head is so different from what he has to say out of respect for the office that he holds and respect for the democracy that elected Donald Trump.
He has to be on the straight and narrow. And that is precisely what you saw and heard him say time and time again. When journalist like our Athena Jones and others were asking him really legitimate questions considering how far out there he was in campaigning not just for Hillary Clinton, but in a very raw, very harsh way against Donald Trump.
But that was yesterday and this is today. And, you know, he is just trying to keep an upper lip, not just - not just for the institution as I said, but it's also for people out there who are feeling fear, who are feeling fear, who are feeling despair, the people who wanted Hillary Clinton in the White House and wanted another effective term of the - of the Obama
presidency. TAPPER: Well -- and David Gergen, I think one of the things that had to have been motivating President Obama had to have been what will my words mean and how will they affect the country especially when millions of Americans are scared of what a Trump administration might mean for them. What would you have advised President Obama to do I assume what he did?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought he handled it very well overall at the press conference. He was retrained, he was also very respectful of president-elect and made it clear on the surface that he wishes him well and he hopes that he'll grow into the job. But I did not think he was differential. I thought rather it was a velvet glove with a steel fist inside. This is a man who is extremely proud of his own administration, does feel he have accomplished a lot, and he wants to make it very clear that he has a strong, sharp differences so that when President-elect Trump actually starts moving down the path toward pulling back from the (INAUDIBLE) and trying to again change and to repeal Obamacare and trying to tear off the Iranian agreement of that (INAUDIBLE) disagreement and he's going to - I think President Obama served notice today he's not going to walk off the world stage and just let all these things be ripped apart.
He will willingly engage in conversation and argument to convince the American people it is not wise to do these things. You're going to destabilize the world. He's going to be going and facing a group of Europeans when he gets to Europe in the next 24 or 36 hours that's very, very skeptical. I was surprised, frankly, that he said he was going to bring a commitment to NATO from President-elect Trump. We haven't heard that from Mr. Trump. He threatened NATO, as you know, but I thought that was reassuring. But I know this was a as restraining and as nude as he was. Underneath all of that was a deep concern, if not a contempt, for a lot of the things he thinks President Trump would do.
TAPPER: He did say, Gloria, that he had recommended to President- elect Trump that he extend an olive branch and reach out to minorities and to women, and he did start the remarks by talking about how his White House was rooted in respect for diversity, in respect for tolerance and facts and reason, and sober analysis, which did seem rather pointed.
BORGER: Yeah, it did. And when I say differential, David, what I mean is it was differential to the office, and the fact that this is the next president-elect.
GERGEN: And that I do.
BORGER: But when I - when I heard those words at the beginning of the presser, I thought it was maybe about Steve Bannon. I though he didn't have to say it. But he just restated what his presidency has been about. And you know, there is not a diverse group -- if you look at the potential list of nominees for positions, high positions in this - in this incoming government or in this White House, it's not very diverse at all. And I think it was his way of saying, you know, maybe that's what we will be remembered for in many ways is the way we approached the office of the presidency.
And I -- you know, I don't know whether he was referring to Steve Bannon or not, but I do think it was - Jake, it was pointed.
BASH: The other thing, as I'm - as I'm listening to our colleagues and I'm thinking again about the way that President Obama was comporting himself, it's almost as if he was trying to send a signal to Donald Trump that he's trying to set an example. This is how you do it. This is how you do it. This is how when you don't agree with somebody, you act when you are President of the United States in governing mode and not in campaign mode.
TAPPER: What do you think, congressman? It's interesting.
KINGSTON: You know, I think that he was a little bit of all of the above. For example, he kind of gave a sales pitch for trade, that's something that both candidates from both parties abandoning him on. But when he talked about Guantanamo Bay, and his promise to shut it down, he acknowledged he couldn't do it, but we all know what he did was reduce the number of prisoners there.
So, to some degree, the system worked. The republicans in congress checked him on it, but he also had a different way to go about it. So, I think his signal to Donald Trump but also to protesters was to say, you know, this is how the system works. There was a little bit, as always, of essential studies lesson.
CUPP: Well, I think his point in talking about some of the things that he wished he could have done was to say to Donald Trump, "President-elect, that reality sets in once you get into the White House, and it's not always as easy to do the things you talk about," he said, "in this town." And also to Donald Trump specifically, whether that's Iran or Gitmo. And I think that's a -- that's a message he would send to anyone coming into the new office that the presidency is hard.
On the protests, I thought it was really interesting, he wasn't asked about it, but he also didn't bring it up or use this as an opportunity to say, "I just want to tell people out there that are hurting or angry or afraid. Let's all come down. Let's be peaceful." He didn't do any of that. Again, wasn't asked but that might have been a nice opportunity.
TAPPER: David, was it a missed opportunity, do you think, for the president to say something about the need for the nation to accept the results of the election?
GERGEN: Well, I think he did say several times that people have spoken, we sort of need to go on with it. He didn't address the protests, as S.E. is right - absolutely right on that. What he did do was say that, you know, it's traditional for presidents, new presidents to send out signals of unity. I thought he was making that point somewhat subtly, but nonetheless unmistakeably that he thought the president ought to speak out to those who are now fearful or angry.
BASH: I totally agree with that. There's no question. And the other thing That I'm thinking about is the way the president sort of is reminding people that Donald Trump is not a hard and fast ideologue, and that maybe in the world of governing and legislating and dealmaking, that's not such a bad thing.
However, right now as we speak as Donald Trump is trying to form his government and his administration and get the people around him who will help him make decisions and will be guiding lights on very, very important issue; from national security to domestic policy, not having those hard and fast ideas, aside from the ones that he campaigned very strong on, on trade and so forth, might make it a little bit difficult to try to figure out where he's going to go, not just for people looking in, but for him looking out.
BORGER: You know, that in their conversation of the conversation between Donald Trump and the president, the president called it cordial, but in terms of talking about saying he's not ideological, he's a pragmatist, the president said, he's coming with fewer hard and set policy prescriptions. Well, what does that mean? What that means is we don't really know what he wants to do. That's what - that's what that means. And I'm wondering if President Obama was kind of scratching his head because you remember President Obama's first election 2008, you knew what he wanted to do, you knew that he wanted healthcare of some sort.
And what we're seeing with Donald Trump is this kind of softening, if you will, or changing, and that's -- you know, that's more difficult, I think, than for a president who comes in and says, "OK. This is what I want to do. Here are the people I'm going to hire who believes the same thing."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
KINGSTON: But I think if you take his agenda, nevertheless with Paul Ryan's the better way agenda that they've been talking about, the commonalities of immigration security of repealing and replacing Obamacare, renegotiating trade agreements, conservative judges, energy reform, energy -- unleashing American energy, building infrastructure, tax reduction and simplification and ethics reform, I think you the basics of what he wants to do. But when it comes down to the individual issue, I think what I'm hearing and I do believe that there will be compromise because you just have to have it.
CUPP: Well, I think there's -- I agree, but there's also some pretty glaring, you know, differences between Paul Ryan and Mr. Trump, President-elect Trump, over entitlement reform, for example, and certainly -
CUPP: Trade support quality issue.
TAPPER: The wall, the Muslim band
CUPP: Right, right. Certainly tone. But the Trump administration -
KINGSTON: But none that are -
CUPP: -- administration would be wise to sort of adopt the better way platform, and then make some of his own concessions toward his own causes where he can. But the good news, I think, if you are a Never Trump conservative or a Never Trump liberal, is that Donald Trump was once a democrat. Donald Trump still has friends on the other side of the aisle. Chuck Schumer who I think will probably be an empowered friend of Donald Trump.
I think he is going to be able to work with both sides in pretty unexpected ways that might have some positive results.
TAPPER: I want to bring in Jonathan Greenblatt right now. He is the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League which has been rather outspoken in the appointment of Steven Bannon to the White House.
Jonathan, thanks for being here. President Obama delicately avoided answering the question regarding the decision naming Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist. Why do you oppose Steve Bannon?
JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO OF ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Well, look, the ADL has been tracking extremist of hate for over a hundred years. We were troubled by some of the rhetoric on the campaign when stereotypes were invoked. But in particular, we're very disturbed by the emergence of Breitbart, as really a haven for the Alt-Right. This kind of loose knit band of white supremacist, racists and anti- Semites.
And so, we were - we were enthusiastic about the president-elect's comments on Tuesday night after the election, about bringing the country together. We believe that he's a president for all the people, so it's troubling to see him appoint as one of his senior advisers, someone who doesn't support all of the people.
TAPPER: Now, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager was asked about Bannon's hiring earlier this afternoon and his connection to the Alt-Right, this group of conservatives, populist, white nationalist, white supremacist, et cetera. Take a listen to Kellyanne.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I'm personally offended that you think I would manage a campaign where that would be one of his own philosophies, it is not. And I think 56 million-plus Americans or so throw something out -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, she said she's offended by the idea that anyone would think she would manage a campaign based on the Alt-Right philosophy and 56 - although, I think she's undercounting. I think it's more like 59 million Americans didn't see it that way. What's your response?
GREENBLATT: Well, look, it's certain we have a lot of respect for Kellyanne Conway. There are a lot of great professionals who worked in the Trump organization. But the fact of the matter was we saw anti-Semitic means coming out of the campaign, we saw the utilization of stereotypes against Mexicans, against Muslims, we saw misogyny, so there were great deal of reason to be concerned.
TAPPER: President-elect Trump was asked about some of the vitriol of some of his supporters on "60 Minutes" last night. He called on them to stop. Did you think that was at least a promising step?
GREENBLATT: Look, we thought that was a good start, but let me just be clear, we have 26 field offices, the ADL, across the United States, and we have seen the surge and hate crimes and biases said all over the country. Swastikas defacing a store front in Philadelphia, an assault of a Muslim wearing a hijab in San Diego, Swastikas painted on a school right near here in here in Bethesda, Maryland. So, the statements are great. We'd like to see actions to follow the words.
TAPPER: All right. Jonathan Greenblatt, thank you so much. I do want to give Congressman Kingston an opportunity to respond.
KINGSTON: Ivanka Trump is Jewish. Donald Trump has had a long history of New York City with a very diverse population, ethnically. I believe that Donald Trump will do everything he can to rule out anti-Semitic behavior among anything, but remember, he has Jewish members in his own family. If he was anti-Semitic, I think we would know about it.
CUPP: He was sued for discriminatory policies, though, in real estate in New York City.
KINGSTON: He was - his father was, and 25 years ago, and they were part of a class action that was dismissed.
TAPPER: All right. We'll be talking more about this in the coming days, weeks, months. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you so much for watching. I will see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, the people have spoken in his first news conference since the election, President Obama talks candidly about Donald Trump.