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THE SITUATION ROOM

Obama Calls Trump More Pragmatic Than Ideological; Trump Appointments Meet Mixed Reactions; Interview with Rep. Chris Collins; Ultimate Insider: Trump's Influential Son-in-Law; Trump Tells Supporters to Stop Racial Attacks; Trump's Approach to ISIS and National Security. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 14, 2016 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the people have spoken. In his first news conference since the election, President Obama talks candidly about Donald Trump, saying becoming president was a way of -- gives a way of waking you up. The president also reveals he advised the president-elect that campaigning is different than governing and that soundbites do not make for good policy.

Loose Bannon. Steve Bannon's appointment as Trump's chief White House strategist is raising questions about how much his alt-right views will affect the new administration. His appointment is sparking outrage among Democrats, moderate Republicans and hate crime watchdog groups. At the same time, the appointment of RNC chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff is winning praise.

Changing stance. In two weekend interviews, Trump opens the possibility he will be satisfied with a fence along at least some parts of the border, instead of a wall. And Trump may be having second thoughts about trying to lock up Hillary Clinton. Where else might he be willing to compromise?

And power broker. Jared Kushner was among the most influential voices in the Trump campaign. He not only had his father-in-law's ear; he won his trust. Will Ivanka Trump's husband go from key campaign advisor to ultimate White House insider?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Obama opens up, revealing the advice he gave President-elect Donald Trump. The president says their Oval Office meeting convinced him that Trump is more pragmatic. The president also said it wasn't appropriate for him to comment on Trump's appointing former Breitbart news chief, Steve Bannon, as chief strategist and senior counsel. But Trump's choice is provoking a political firestorm from other Democrats and even some Republicans.

We're taking a closer look at the member of the Trump family who wasn't on camera during the "60 Minutes" interview, Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kushner, was at the White House with his father-in-law last week. Kushner was a very influential adviser during the campaign, so what role will he have now? We'll ask Republican Congressman and Trump advisor Chris Collins. And our correspondent, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the president's just completed news conference. CNN's Athena Jones is over at the White House.

Athena, unlike during the campaign, the president spoke highly of Donald Trump.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did, that's right, Wolf. And you know, the president also spent a lot of time talking about his own achievements, his own legacy, something we've also heard from him on the campaign trail. He seemed to be spending as much time talking about his accomplishments as he did trying to tamp down some of the concerns of a lot of folks who did not vote for Donald Trump about what a Donald Trump White House could look like.

And as you mentioned, he said that he learned in that Oval Office meeting that Donald Trump is ideological and that he said he is pragmatic in a way that could serve him well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): President Obama responding to questions about Tuesday's stunning election results for the first time, said the American people have chosen what direction the country should go.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th president of the United States.

JONES: Telling downtrodden Democrats to accept the election results and move on in a positive way.

OBAMA: Those who didn't vote for him have to recognize that that's how democracy works.

JONES: The president offered some advice to Trump, telling him to try and reach out to those who didn't support him and who may be fearful of what's to come.

OBAMA: Because of the nature of the campaigns and the bitterness and ferocity of the campaigns, it is really important to try to send some signals of unity. And to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned.

JONES: And he praised Trump for a resounding victory, tapping into the wave of anger and frustration no one saw coming.

OBAMA: That he was able to tap into, yes, the anxieties but also the enthusiasm of his voters in a way that -- that was impressive. And I said so to him. JONES: After repeatedly denouncing Trump as unqualified, today

President Obama would not say whether he now believes Trump is fit to lead. But he cautioned Trump on his temper.

OBAMA: I think what will happen with the president-elect is there are going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well unless he recognizes them and corrects them.

JONES: But ultimately, the president sounded a hopeful note for the days ahead.

[17:05:00] OBAMA: Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up. And those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don't match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick, because reality has a way of asserting itself.

JONES: Saying Trump's transition to the White House will be aided by the condition in which is leaving the country.

OBAMA: I also think that he is coming to this office with fewer set hard and fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with.

I don't think he is ideological. I think ultimately, he's pragmatic in that way, and that can serve him well as long as he's got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction.

Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Of course, I've got concerns. He and I differ on a whole bunch of issues. But the federal government and our democracy's not a speedboat, it's an ocean liner.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: And so it may not be surprising to hear the president try to sound a note of hope, a note of calm, a note of optimism. The president has never been a "the sky is falling" kind of person. Even before the election, on the day of the election, he said, "Look, the sun will rise tomorrow regardless of the results," and that seemed to be the message he wanted to send to the nation today, Wolf.

He's also going to be joining a call with Democratic supporters a short time from now. He'll probably have to do some of the same calming down of many of those upset and surprised supporters.

BLITZER: I suspect he will. I'll be doing exactly that. Athena, thanks very much. Athena Jones reporting from the White House.

While the president said it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on Donald Trump's appointment, the incoming president already faces a firestorm of criticism for picking Steve Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counsel.

Our political reporter, Sara Murray, is keeping track of the reaction. The criticism, Sara, coming in from Democrats and even some Republicans. What's the latest? SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Even

though Donald Trump's choice of Reince Priebus as his chief of staff has left some establishment Republicans feeling pretty pleased, there's plenty of concern about the fact that Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon were billed as equal partners in their high-profile roles in an upcoming Trump White House and has some worried that some of the dog whistles we've seen from the Trump campaign could turn into the kind of policies that negatively impact minorities in the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Donald Trump is already sparking outrage as he builds a White House team with an alt-right edge.

TRUMP: Our work on this movement is now really just beginning.

MURRAY: The president-elect naming Steven Bannon, campaign CEO and executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his chief strategist and senior counselor. And tapping Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff. As Priebus argues Trump wants to be a president for all...

REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's very important that all Americans understand that he is a president for everyone. He wants to make everyone proud, whether it be race, ethnic background, gender, anything.

MURRAY: The Bannon hire instantly drew criticism from hate watch groups who noted Bannon's embrace of the alt-right movement, made up of conservatives, populists, white supremacists and anti-Semites.

The Southern Poverty Law Center saying Trump should rescind this hire. The Anti-Defamation League voicing its opposition to Bannon "because he and his alt-right are so hostile to core American values."

And House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi saying, "There must be no sugarcoating the reality, that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump administration."

In a move that could clearly fuel concern, Alex Jones, operator of the InfoWars website, says Trump called to offer his gratitude.

ALEX JONES, INFOWARS WEBSITE: He said, "Listen, Alex, I just talked to the kings and queens of the world, world leaders, you name it." He said, "It doesn't matter. I wanted to talk to you, thank your audience, and I'll be on the next few weeks to thank them."

MURRAY: Jones' site is known for pushing many conspiracy theories, including the notion that Sandy Hook, the shooting that left 20 children dead, was a hoax and that 9/11 was an inside job.

The moves could further embolden people who have been harassing Jews, Latinos and Muslims in Trump's name, actions of bigotry that the president-elect condemned in an interview with "60 Minutes."

[17:10:02] TRUMP: I am so saddened to hear that, and I say stop it. If it -- if it helps, I will say this, and I'll say it right to the camera, stop it.

MURRAY: All of this as Trump begins to flush out his presidential priorities, saying he'll focus on deporting 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants who he says have criminal records, but offering little clarity for the millions of other immigrants here illegally.

TRUMP: After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we're going to make a determination on the people that you're talking about, who are terrific people.

MURRAY: Trump also giving little inclination he plans to take up a fight against gay marriage in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling.

TRUMP: It's irrelevant, because it was already settled. It's law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. It's done.

MURRAY: But suggesting he could still try to curtail abortion rights by appointing justices to overturn Roe v. Wade and leaving further decisions to the states.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, some of Donald Trump's top aides, as well as his family members, have spent much of the day here in Trump Tower. The next big thing for Donald Trump will, of course, be narrowing down who he wants to appoint to top cabinet positions. That's still an open question, and many people in the transition admit they are still playing a little bit of catch-up, because Donald Trump didn't want to engage in this as he was still finishing up his presidential campaign.

And of course, last week going into -- going into Monday, going into Tuesday, they still very much felt like Donald Trump would not end up being the president-elect. So while we could have clarity in the coming days, there are still a lot of open questions about what exactly a Donald Trump cabinet and a Donald Trump White House are going to look like -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect we'll know sooner rather than later. Sara, thanks very much. Sara Murray in New York for us.

Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, New York Republican Congressman Chris Collins. He was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president. He's now on the Trump transition team. You're an advisor.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Congressman, let's talk about the new tone that's emerging from Donald Trump. The president said the notion of becoming president of the United States has a tendency to wake you up. He seems to be becoming more moderate, more flexible in his positions, moving away from some of his longstanding views on the wall. He said part of it could actually be a fence. On Obamacare, he could amend some parts of it, keep some parts of it. Is he changing? COLLINS: Well, one thing he's not changing is his focus on making

America great again for all Americans. And that's his vision. And so he's going to have a chief strategist in Steve Bannon, whose job will simply be to implement Donald Trump's vision, not Steve Bannon's vision.

He's going to have someone like Reince Priebus, who's going to be a great go-between, the cabinet officials, et cetera, and everything else that goes on as chief of staff.

But Donald Trump has a top-level vision, we all know, make America great again, secure our borders, put jobs at the top of the things we have to accomplish. And in doing that, he's now getting a lot of advice. He was pretty singular in his campaign. I think you're going to see him on those never modify on those top lines. But as he gets advice from Congress and others, people may try to nit-pick something here and there.

BLITZER: You just heard the president say, based on his 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office with Donald Trump the other say. He said, "Donald Trump is pragmatic, not ideological. So you agree?

COLLINS: Well, absolutely. As I am a CEO, so is Mr. Trump. You have an operation that's focused on continuous improvement, gathering data. When the data changes, you shift. No one should be just like kind of stuck in the mud on one set of issues. And so no, any CEO that's ever run a complex organization knows the next day is the next day. Things change. In the case of the business world, interest rates change. The value of the dollar changes, your competition, et cetera. So he will be an extraordinarily pragmatic...

BLITZER: Not ideological?

COLLINS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And you were a CEO before you became a member of Congress. So you're a member of this transition team. You're with some very high-profile individuals giving Donald Trump advice right now.

When will do you expect some of these key cabinet posts -- secretary of state, secretary of defense, treasury secretary, attorney general -- when will we know?

COLLINS: Well, let's just use the word "soon" because you've got 15 cabinet-level posts, and right now, you've got teams -- call them silos -- deep diving each one of those. But at the end of the day, you've got to have that cabinet official that's going to say, "Yes, this is who I want for undersecretary of this department or an administrator."

So it's key -- the next key is obviously filling these slots as there are teams looking at all these silos, bringing forward names.

BLITZER: Take us a little bit more, Congressman, behind the scenes right now. You're there. You're a player; you're inside those deliberations. There have been some reports there's some fighting going on, which probably is expected given the nature of these high- profile positions. But give us a little sense of what you're seeing.

COLLINS: Well, actually, I'm not in those negotiations. I was running my own campaign until last Tuesday. My ledge director, Jeff Freedland (ph), is the right-hand man to Rick Dearborn. So I'm very well aware of the types of things that may be going on.

[17:15:12] BLITZER: Your legislative director when you say ledge director?

COLLINS: He was my legislative director. I'm sure I'm probably going to lose hl to the administration, but that's where I -- you know, I'm comfortable in talking about the silos, the way they're deep-diving all of these positions. But as far as being in the room, we have not -- the executive committee was just formed last Friday, like three days ago.

BLITZER: Some are saying there's a knife fight -- you know, not literally -- but a knife fight going on for some key cabinet slots.

COLLINS: Well, I think any time you've got key slots, I don't know if I'd ever call anything quite a knife fight. But I'm sure you've got jockeying for position. Of course you do. For someone who wants, you know, to be a high-profile secretary of state, secretary of defense, I -- certainly, we will find out more this week, those of us on the executive committee, the role that we're going to play. But again, right now, we're just getting back to D.C., and...

BLITZER: What about the role that Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, Donald Trump's son-in-law, Ivanka Trump's husband? We're hearing it's very, very influential. What can you tell us?

COLLINS: I think that's absolutely the correct assessment. From day one, Donald Trump has leaned on his family for advice. And that makes a lot of sense. Who is going to give you more honest advice than your family? And his kids are so accomplished in their own right that. They don't pull any punches if they disagree with something. And I know they've weighed in on different issues.

And Jared Kushner is somebody Donald Trump is very impressed with. His own success as CEO of an entirely separate real-estate company in New York City. So he's accomplished in his own right. He's thoughtful; he's focused. Trust, you earn trust, and Jared Kushner has earned the trust of Donald Trump over the years.

BLITZER: Someone are suggesting there's a built-in conflict of interest, given Jared Kushner's business interests, and now he's this adviser to the president-elect.

COLLINS: I wouldn't -- I wouldn't say that. If you're building real estate and have real estate in New York City, I don't see where there's a conflict. All I'd say is the better the economy does, the better you're going to do with your buildings and hotels.

I think people are trying to nitpick something. I mean, what we have is a complication of sorts in that you've got extraordinarily successful people. I mean, I was criticized for some of these things on my own. If you have had a background in business, people are going to point to something and say, "Isn't that a conflict?" And I don't see that at all. It's just -- we want successful people. And with that, they have, in this case, real-estate interests.

But I don't see that there is a nuance there, other than the better the economy does, the better they do, and I think that's a win-win for America, as well.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, I need you to stand by. There's a lot more to discuss. New information we're getting. We'll assess that. We'll take a quick break. Much more with Congressman Chris Collins right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:22:16] BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York as we cover this hour's breaking news story. The president revealing the advice he gave to Donald Trump during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House last week, and warning that certain elements of Trump's temperament will not serve him well as president of the United States.

The appointment of Steve Bannon to be senior counselor, chief strategist for the -- for the White House. Some -- this is very disturbing, because some white supremacist groups, as you know, Congressman, have praised this. They've called this appointment excellent. Does that concern you?

COLLINS: Well, here's what doesn't concern me. It will be Donald Trump's vision, and he has stated unequivocally it's a better America for all Americans and that he's going to bring this country together that's divided today, whether it's whites, blacks or Hispanics. So as a chief strategist, it's Steve Bannon's job to implement a strategy that makes that happen.

BLITZER: But are you concerned that there some white supremacist groups are out there cheering this appointment? Personally.

COLLINS: I guess -- I would hope all Americans cheer the election of Donald Trump who is going to finally unite this country, that's more divided than it's ever been.

When you have fringe groups supporting someone, I don't think you can tie their support into saying the person they're supporting believes in that. And we saw other support groups that came in and said, "We're supporting Donald Trump."

BLITZER: But they apparently see an advocate in the West Wing.

COLLINS: Well, then they're mistaken, because again, Steve Bannon's job is to develop a strategy to implement the vision of Donald Trump to make America great again for all Americans and unite the country that we have to admit is more divided today than ever, whether it's blacks, whites or Hispanics, cities versus rural. Donald Trump's going to be president for everyone, and it's not Steve Bannon's vision; it's the vision of the president-elect of the United States. BLITZER: Do you agree with Donald Trump that same-sex marriage now,

gay marriage is settled law, there's no need to reconsider it? It already exists, and it's going to stay like that?

COLLINS: Yes, I do agree with that.

BLITZER: So you're on the same page as him?

COLLINS: Yes, I am.

BLITZER: What about on abortion rights for women? He says that is not settled law. He'd like to appoint what he calls pro-life justices and let Roe v. Wade go back to the states, let each state decide whether there should be abortion rights for women.

COLLINS: There are a lot of people -- and I'm a big defender of the 10th amendment, and again, these are things sometimes we can agree to disagree.

I would say, certainly, what we've got to deal with first is ending the late-term, late trimester partial birth abortion. We've got to get rid of that once and for all. I mean, we are human beings to begin with.

I just am someone who believes Roe v. Wade has been settled in this country so very long, I would not right now look to overturn it. But we've got to make sure we -- we say there are rights that a fetus has, and certainly as we enter the third trimester, abortion should be absolutely outlawed unless it is the life of the mother.

[17:25:17] BLITZER: Roe v. Wade, since 1973, it's been the law of the land since then.

"The Wall Street Journal," I don't know if you saw the article, a very intriguing article, say Donald Trump's aides seem to have been unaware that there are, what, three or four thousand jobs that need to be filled between now and January 20, especially the West Wing and the White House staff, that this was a wake-up call for them. They really did not know. Have you heard that?

COLLINS: No, I have not heard that, but when you're focused on the election like we are, and you've got such a small circle of advisers that Donald Trump had, I wouldn't be surprised -- I don't know the exact number. I think even I was surprised when I heard 4,000. I knew -- that is a lot of jobs.

BLITZER: Political appointees. That's a lot of jobs, a lot of individuals. They have to be vetted. They have to -- their backgrounds have to be secured, all that. That's a lot of work.

COLLINS: Well, but now the teams are in place to do it. As I said, the silos, the 15 silos, deep diving, you know, they're adding a lot of people to do that vetting, and I'm sure they're going to be looking at those of us on the executive committee, once that's done, to look at the individuals and make our own recommendations. But let's be clear: these will be decisions made by President-elect

Donald Trump with advice from all of us. But clearly now, Reince Priebus and Steve Vance both will be playing a key role.

BLITZER: And I know you worked hard to get him elected. You're obviously a very, very happy man right now.

COLLINS: America should be very happy. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks, Congressman, for joining us.

COLLINS: Yes. Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Obama's surprising new tone about the incoming president, Donald Trump. And later, a Trump insider who doesn't have an official job in the new administration yet. But his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, already has Donald Trump's ear.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The breaking news we're following. President Obama has just wrapped up his first news conference since the election. The president spent more than an hour answering reporters' questions as he prepares to turn over the keys, he said, to the president-elect of the United States, Donald Trump.

[17:31:38] Let's get some analysis from our political expert. David Chalian, you heard the president say the presidency, in his words, has a way of waking you up. And that some of Trump's predispositions may not necessarily be with him much longer, now that he has the responsibility of not only campaigning but governing. Talk a little bit about that.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And the president said that perhaps one benefit for Donald Trump is that the president assessed him to be not an ideological guy but a pragmatic guy who wants to get stuff done, and that actually may be beneficial for him if he's not locked into an ideological box while serving as president.

I thought the other thing the president said, Wolf, was also along those lines there, shaking you up. Reality has a way of asserting itself. And that is true. I think the real test of any president -- and this will be the test for Donald Trump, as it was for Barack Obama -- so much of the job is about responding to the events that are outside of your control not in your control and how you respond in those moments. You've heard George W. Bush talk about that. You've heard Barack Obama talk about that. And that's what I think the president meant today when he said reality has a way of asserting himself, is that there are moments that come, and that is when a president is tested, which is why it's so important to have the staff set up, to have the process of information flow set up that the president was talking about today.

BLITZER: The president said he's not ideological, talking about Donald Trump, Mark. He's pragmatic. He sees it the way -- and he's willing to moderate his views as a result of that pragmatism. MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: You know, I was -- I was with a K-Street lobbyist this past week and we were talking about how Donald Trump is going to govern. And this lobbyist happens to be Republican and not a Trump supporter. And that's exactly what he said to me. He said, "Listen." He goes, "What's going to be interesting is when Trump comes to town, Trump is going to alienate the social conservatives, the wackos," as this lobbyist described. The real hard social conservatives, maybe the Freedom Caucus guys. He goes, "Don't be surprised if Trump tries to cut deals with Nancy Pelosi," he says. "Listen, Paul Ryan, I can get you 40 votes over here. What do you have over here to get something done?" And I think that's where we're talking about pragmatism and Trump willing to cut deals to get things done.

I think a lot of people in Washington hope that, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, whether they're Speaker Ryan or -- or Chuck Schumer. You know, the Democrat over in the Senate. Or, quite frankly, the American people. Because if he's not pragmatic, this is going to be a very, very ugly presidency.

BLITZER: Nia, he's already alienated some social conservatives by saying, "You know what? Gay marriage, that's the law of the land. It's settled law. It's over. Don't even think about rethinking that moving forward with the Supreme Court."

NIA MALIKA-HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And he, of course, said, in terms of abortion, he feels like he would want to appoint justices that would overturn -- overturn Roe v. Wade.

I mean, one of the things you see already is, in his picks of Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, is him trying to build a bridge, I think, not only to the establishment with Reince Priebus, but with Steve Bannon to the alt-right, which of course, is outraging a lot of people, not only liberals but some "never Trumpers," some Republicans are saying, "Wait a minute. What are you doing here in bringing Steve Bannon into the White House?"

He's got a big job to do in terms of uniting the party, a lot of people feeling like these first two picks out of the gate kind of don't send the right message.

BLITZER: A lot of people are very happy Reince Priebus, Rebecca, would become the White House chief of staff. But sort of disappointed -- pretty disappointed about Steve Bannon.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, certainly. There are people right now who are very worried about the message that that is sending. Is it, you know, this full-throated support of the alt- right? Or is it, you know, just Trump being loyal to someone who was loyal to him, someone he gets along with?

[17:35:10] And Trump certainly, in both his business and his campaign, had gravitated toward hiring people who just personally he has this rapport with. And so I think Trump, through his own actions, is going to have to reassure people that this pick is not necessarily a full- throated endorsement of the alt-right. And Steve Bannon is certainly going to have his own challenges in terms of building bridges with Republicans, many of whom view him with great skepticism, in addition to the broader public.

CHALIAN: I thought it was so interesting that President Obama did not want to comment on Steve Bannon, that he said, "I can't be in a position of commenting on every single one of Trump's appointments."

BERG: And so many Republicans, as well.

CHALIAN: So it was interesting that he didn't do that. And yet, at the same time, continued to offer repeated advice to Barack Obama [SIC] about how important, after this very contentious or hotly- contested, I believe, was the word the president used, campaign season that he sends signals of outreach. And he cited especially the women and minorities, groups that felt so offended by the Trump candidacy. You could hear Obama -- it was as if the Oval Office conversation was still continuing today, that he was trying to guide Trump through this without commenting directly on Bannon, but saying how important it was that the president-elect continue to send signals of outreach.

HENDERSON: And himself as an example, I think. President Obama as the ultimate example of someone who's reaching out to Donald Trump, wanting to continue the transitioning process, saying he's going to help him. I mean, you imagine at some point, does Donald Trump kind of have to give a race speech, right? I mean, famously, Obama gave a race speech in -- when he was in the throes of a 2008 campaign, when his campaign was in such peril. And you feel like these same problems around race and division are dogging Donald Trump's campaign and his appointments at this point.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stay with us. Stand by. We have much more coming up. As reports of hate crimes spread fear across the country, President-elect Trump has a message for the perpetrators. His message is simple: stop it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:39] BLITZER: President-elect Donald Trump says he's willing to compromise on one of his most controversial campaign promises. During a pair of weekend interviews, he softened his position on the wall he wants to build along the Mexican border but maintained that strict immigration enforcement remains one of his top priorities. He said some of that border could be covered with some fencing.

We're back with our political experts. He also, David Chalian, looked in the camera when he was speaking -- when he was told about some of these hate speeches and efforts and hate crimes out there, the protests that have been going on by some white supremacist groups, people who claim they support Donald Trump, work for his campaign. He looked in the camera and he said, "Stop it." That was a dramatic moment.

CHALIAN: I thought it was a pretty powerful moment. And it was something that he didn't really do that much of during the campaign. I thought that was a different moment for Donald Trump. He had disavow David Duke, as we know. He clearly -- I'm not embrace

this hate that was claiming to support him. But he clearly felt a different moment in this interview on "60 Minutes," and of course, it's always dramatic when you look straight into the camera and address the audience in that way. And he did so, and he made clear.

Now, I -- to Nia's point earlier about might he have to give a speech about this. I don't know that that's going to be the end of this conversation for Donald Trump, but it was certainly the beginning of a new phase of him talking directly to try to put a stop -- I also think, Wolf, as we're seeing the anti-Trump protests, it was a moment for him to say, "I'm going to speak to the people who claim to be supporting me in the way that I'm going to need help from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and others to speak to the people who support them." And so that...

BLITZER: Rebecca, is this enough, though?

BERG: Well, I think there's going to need to be more. Certainly, Donald Trump can use the transition process to start to send some messages about what his priorities are going to be.

It's worth noting that, for George W. Bush, his first cabinet pick was Colin Powell, because he wanted to stress the diversity that he was going to be promoting as president.

And so certainly, Donald Trump has an opportunity to do something like that. We hear that he's considering Ben Carson for a couple of cabinet positions. There are some women in the mix, as well. Perhaps he n,*ds to use this opportunity to send a message that he is going to have an inclusive presidency.

CHALIAN: Just think how powerful it would be, though, right, for Donald Trump to say, "I want to give a national address." The networks would -- we certainly would cover it, the networks would cover it. And he came out there and gave a 20-minute address and said, "It's time for the country to come together. It's time for us to be unified. It is time for us to love our neighbor" and what have you.

Can you imagine what people would then think of Donald Trump then? I guarantee you, minds would start to turn a little bit. People are so hardened on their positions about this, but if he were to do that, just imagine how the nation would look at him. They would look at him through a different set of glasses.

HENDERSON: And I guess the question is, is State Bannon helping him write that address? Right? I mean, can he credibly go out there and call for unity, call -- sort of be a bridge builder with somebody like Steve Bannon in his -- you know, in his ear?

I mean, this is -- this is incredible. We're talking about white supremacists and white nationalism in the same conversation as the next president. I mean, this is something that is unprecedented...

PRESTON: Since the 1920s. HENDERSON: ... in the last -- in the last 20 or 30 or 40 years, certainly.

So you know, he's got a lot of work to do, because he's built up so much bad blood between so many different groups of peopled. And Bannon, I think, only increases that.

BLITZER: It would be a very powerful moment if Mark's recommendation were accepted by Donald Trump.

[17:45:00] He did that address to the nation, and he specifically repudiated those White supremacists who have come out in his favor.

CHALIAN: Listen, the presidency is a platform that is nothing but a huge opportunity for Donald Trump to make good on the notion of what Reince Priebus said this morning, that he is going to be the President for all Americans.

PRESTON: Right.

CHALIAN: He now has the real platform and opportunity to prove that with his words and then his actions, and I think it would be pretty powerful.

PRESTON: And it's not hard.

BLITZER: All right. David --

PRESTON: It's not that hard to give a speech. I'm sorry, a 20- minute, it's not that difficult.

BLITZER: You look into that camera --

PRESTON: Right.

BLITZER: -- and read that teleprompter.

HENDERSON: Yes.

BLITZER: And deliver it from your heart.

CHALIAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We have more coming up. And now that this unprecedented election has been decided, you can see how we got to this truly historic moment in the first ever book from CNN Politics, "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything." It's filled with behind the scenes secrets, beautiful photography, and firsthand from the campaign trail. The book will be in stores December 6th, but you can preorder your copy today. Go to CNN.com/book.

Coming up, we're going to have the latest on Donald Trump's transition to the White House, including a controversial pick for a Chief Strategist who Senator Harry Reid calls one of the foremost peddlers of White supremacist themes and rhetoric. Plus, we'll have details on Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

He was a key player during the campaign, so what role will he have in the White House?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:55] BLITZER: Breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Donald Trump is seeking security clearances for his children, his adult children, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. We're going to have much more on this development coming up.

Brian Todd has more on Jared Kushner right now, a man who may become one of the most influential figures in the White House. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Significant, Wolf, that he is requesting a security clearance for Jared Kushner. You know, Jared Kushner did not appear in the "60 Minutes" interview with the Trump family last night. He is said avoid the spotlight whenever possible. But tonight, Kushner is believed to be a key player in the selection of Cabinet members, and he will likely have his father-in-law's ear in the Oval Office.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you very much, President Obama.

TODD (voice-over): As Donald Trump sat in the Oval Office with President Obama, one man in the room seemed like an obscure junior staffer, unobtrusively snapping pictures in the back with his smartphone. He was later seen walking on the White House grounds with Mr. Obama's Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough. Tonight, the same man appears on track to become one of the most influential people in the Trump White House, maybe without a title. The incoming Chief of Staff spoke about him on NBC's "Today Show."

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I think Jared Kushner, obviously, his son-in-law is going to be very involved in decision making.

TODD (voice-over): Jared Kushner, Trump's 35-year-old son-in-law, married for seven years to Trump's daughter, Ivanka, is considered shy and avoids the spotlight.

TRUMP: And he's very good at politics.

TODD (voice-over): But in the Trump White House, his power will likely be considerable.

LIZZIE WIDDICOMBE, EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER: I think it will be similar to the role he played in the campaign, which is informal and behind the scenes and yet massively influential. I think he's seen as kind of a conduit to Donald Trump and a major decision-making player.

TODD (voice-over): Kushner is a billionaire real estate developer and publisher.

GABRIEL SHERMAN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS EDITOR, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Jared Kushner has ties to Wall Street investors, the Jewish community in New York City, and also the media community.

TODD (voice-over): He bought "The New York Observer" newspaper when he was 25, and once tried to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. He didn't have a formal title in the Trump campaign, but campaign sources say he was among the candidate's most trusted advisers. One source telling CNN Kushner was intimately involved in the decision to fire campaign manager Corey Lewandowski last summer.

Said to be intensely loyal, Jared Kushner once pushed back against his own newspaper, which accused Trump of being anti-Semitic. Kushner, an orthodox Jew, wrote that Trump, quote, "embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife."

TRUMP: I have a son-in-law who is Jewish. Jared is a great guy. My daughter is Jewish. I have grandchildren that our Jewish, OK? And I love them. I love them.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say Jared Kushner could avoid breaking a law against the President hiring a relative if he doesn't take a salary or a formal title, but he could have another conflict.

KENNETH GROSS, FORMER ELECTION COMMISSION ATTORNEY: They have to be careful that he doesn't become a conduit of information because he's going to have information about what the administration is doing. And if he talks to his wife about what the business is doing, there is a conflating of the business and official interest. And that's something, I think, they're trying to keep separate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And, once again tonight, our colleague Jim Acosta reporting that Donald Trump has requested security clearances for Jared Kushner and his other children. Now, to the question posed by that ethics expert, Kenneth Gross, will Jared Kushner actually be able to avoid talking to his wife about the administration's dealings, which might affect the family business?

We have not gotten an answer to that from the transition team. Jared Kushner did not comment for our story. A transition spokeswoman told us there have been no decisions regarding Jared Kushner's future in the administration, but they're hoping he'll continue to offer counsel, oversee operations, and ensure their success as he did in the campaign. Wolf.

BLITZER: He really had a hand in many of the major decisions, we're told, throughout that year and a half in the campaign.

TODD: He really did, Wolf. He's believed to have had a significant influence in the selection of Mike Pence as Trump's running mate and that was over Chris Christie, who as a U.S. attorney from New Jersey, he once put Kushner's father in prison for tax evasion and witness tampering, among other charges. [17:55:08] BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you.

Coming up, President Obama's change in tone about Donald Trump, calling him more pragmatic and less ideological. Will his comments help heal a deeply divided country?

Also, Trump repeats his assertion he knows more than the generals do when it comes to fighting ISIS. What will the Trump presidency mean for U.S. national security?

[17:59:57] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Wake up call. In his first news conference since the election, President Obama offers a candid assessment of Donald Trump and urges Americans to give him a chance in the Oval Office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: People have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next President, the 45th President of the United States.