Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

President Barack Obama Holds Press Conference at APEC; President Obama Answers Questions in Last International Press Conference; Thanksgiving Week Could Bring New Dow Milestone. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired November 20, 2016 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that TPP is a plus for America's economy, America's workers, American jobs. I think not moving forward would undermine our position across the region, our abilities to shake the rules of global trade in a way that reflects our interests and our values.

Finally, our cooperation with APEC has been critical to our historic progress in fighting climate change. Bringing the Paris agreement into force, agreeing to limit aviation emissions, phasing out dangerous HFCs. Here in Lima, we continue our work to phase out fossil fuels subsidies in countries made new commitments toward our goal of doubling our renewable energy over the next two decades.

So as I wrap up my last summit and likely my last foreign trip as president, I could not be more proud of the progress we have made together. Obviously, the work is never done. And given the prosperity and security we seek for not only the United States but our allies and our partners, I continue to believe that America will have a vital role to play in creating and sustaining a strong enduring leadership role in the Asia Pacific.

So with that, let me take some questions and will start with Darlene Superville of AP.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Thank you, Mr. President.

You have been telling world leaders this week that president-elect Trump is unlikely to govern in the divisive way that he campaigned. But I'm wondering how can you be so certain of that give that the first group of people he has chosen for top national security and law enforcement positions hold the same views that he espoused as a candidate?

And second, to follow up on your meeting earlier today with president Putin, did you discuss with him Russia's alleged meddling in the U.S. election? And are you concerned that the kind of involvement that we saw in this year's campaign will be the new normal going forward in future U.S. elections?

OBAMA: Well, what I have said to world leaders is the same thing that I have said in a number of press conferences, which is the president- elect now has to put together a team and put forward specifics about how he intended to govern. And he hasn't had the full opportunity to do that yet. And so, people should take a wait and see approach in how much his policy proposals, once in the White House, once he has sworn in, matches up with some of the rhetoric of his campaign.

My simple point is that you can't assume that the language of campaigning matches up with the specifics of governing legislation, regulations and foreign policy. I can't be sure of anything. I think, like everyone else, we will have to wait and see.

But I have said before, once you are in the oval office, once you begin interacting with world leaders, once you see the complexities of the issues, that has a way of shaping your thinking and in some cases modifying your thinking because you recognize this solemn responsibility not only to the American people but the solemn responsibility that America has as the largest, most powerful country in the world.

And I can't guarantee that the president-elect won't pursue some of the positions that he has taken. But what I can guarantee is that reality will force him to adjust how he approaches many of these issues. That's just the way this office works. And I have said before if these issues were easy, if ensuring prosperity, jobs, security, good foreign relations with other countries, if all that was simple then it would have been done by every previous president. And I'm a pretty good presidential historian. I have looked at my 43 predecessors and seems like for all of them, even the best ones, that you end up confronting realities that you didn't anticipate. I think the same will happen here and that's a good thing. That's an important thing.

With respect to president Putin, I didn't have a meeting. We talked briefly while we were in between sessions. And the conversation that I had with him was consistent with the conversations I have had over the previous several months, indicating to him that we are still deeply concerned about the bloodshed and chaos that's being sewn by constant bombing attacks by Assad and the Russian military against populations in Aleppo. And the need for us to arrive first at some humanitarian cease-fire and begin moving towards a political transition of some sort. And I talked to him about Ukraine and the need for us to get things done. I urged him to instruct his negotiators to work with ourselves, with France, with Germany, with Ukraine to see if we can get that done before my term is up. As usual it was a candid and courteous meeting but very clear about the strong differences that we have on policy.

The issue of the elections did not come up because that's behind us. And I was focused in this brief discussion on moving forward. I had already made very clear to him our concerns around cyber-attacks generally, as well as specific concerns we had surrounding the DNC hack.

I don't think this will be the norm. but as I have said before, the concern I have has less to do with any particular misinformation or propaganda that's being put out by any particular party and a greater concern about the general misinformation from all kinds of sources domestic, foreign, on social media that make it very difficult to voters - for voters to figure out what's true and what's not. And let me put it this way. I think if we have a strong, accurate and

responsible press and we have a strong civic culture and an engaged citizenry then various attempts to meddle in our elections won't mean much. If generally we have got elections that aren't focus on issues and are full of fake news and false information and distractions then the issue is not going to be what's happening from the outside, the issue is going to be what we are doing to ourselves from the inside. The good news is that is something we have control over.

Gardener Harris.

[18:08:49] GARDENER HARRIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Mr. President, thanks so much for holding this press conference. If you had hotels, real estate and other businesses distributed around the world prior to becoming president, would you have thought it appropriate to sell them off and put the cash proceeds in a blind trust or is it OK for the president of the United States to be personally vulnerable to the policy decisions of the foreign leaders he meets and in the foreign policy decisions he makes as president?

And also, just briefly, what's your complaint about how the NSA and cyber command have done their job and are you considering firing admiral Mike Rogers?

OBAMA: That was a rhetorical question, that first one. Rather than comment on hypotheticals, let me say specifically what I did. Obviously, my assets were significantly smaller than some other presidents or president-elects. But we made a decision to liquidate assets that might raise questions about how it would influence policy. I, basically, had our accountant put all our money in treasury bills. The yields by the way have not been massive over the course of the last eight years. Just because it simplified my life. I did not have to worry about the complexities of whether the decision that I have made might even inadvertently benefit me. And that's consistent with the broader approach that we have taken throughout my administration, which is to not just meet the letter of the law but to go well beyond the letter to the spirit of the law. Not just for me but for the people in the White House in our leadership positions.

You know, we have established a whole set of rules, norms, playbooks that just keep us far away from the line. Early on the administration there would be questions about could a staff person go to this conference or what should they do about this gift that was provided. And I think it was maybe our first general counsel who was responsible for setting up our guidelines and rules inside the White House that said if it sounds like it would be fun, then you can't do it. That's a general test. If it sounds like something you would enjoy or appreciate, no go.

And as a consequence, and I will knock on some wood here because we got two months left, I'm extremely proud of the fact that over eight years we have not had the kinds of scandals that have plagued other administrations. And when I met with the president-elect, I suggested to him that having a strong White House counsel that could provide clear guide posts and rules would benefit him and benefit his team because it would eliminate a lot of ambiguity. And I think it will be up to him to make determinations about how he wants to approach it.

I know what worked for us. And I think it served the American people well. And because I made a promise to the American people that I would not fall into some of the familiar habits of Washington, that I wanted a new kind of politics, this was one indicator and at the end of the eight years I think I can say the American people I delivered on that commitment.

With respect to cyber, the NSA, admiral Rogers is a terrific patriot and has served this country well in a number of positions. I generally don't comment on personnel matters here. I can say, generally, that we spent a lot of time over the last several years looking at how we can organize our cyber efforts to keep pace with how rapidly the environment is changing.

You know, increasingly, our critical infrastructure, government data, financial systems are vulnerable to attack. And both and non-state actors are getting better and better at it. And it is becoming more and more rapid. And it is inevitable that we are going to have to modernize and update, not just the tools we use to defend those assets and the American people, but also how we organize it. And it is true that we are exploring a range of options in terms of how we organize the mission that currently exists.

Rich Edson.

RICH EDSON, FOX NEWS: Good evening. And thank you, Mr. President.

Earlier this year George W. Bush reportedly said that he warned he would be the last Republican president. Now Republicans have won the White House, controlled the house and Senate, two-thirds of state legislatures, 34 governorships and there are charges of a shallow Democratic bench behind you. Are you worried you could be the last Democratic president for a while?

And secondly, sir. Speaking of your predecessor, he made sure to offer essentially no public criticism of you during your time of office. Will you equally withhold public criticism for president Trump even if he attempts to dismantle much of what you have accomplished? Thank you.

[18:15:36] OBAMA: No, I'm not worried about being the last Democratic president, I think. Not even for a while. And I say that not being cute. The Democratic nominee won the popular vote. And obviously, this is an extremely competitive race and I would expect that future races will be competitive as well.

I certainly think it's true that politics in America right now are a little up for grabs. That some of the old alignments within both parties, Democrat and Republican, are being reshaped. And although the results of this election involve some of the specifics of the candidates and aren't going to be duplicated in every subsequent election, Democrats do have to do some thinking about how do we make sure that the message we have is received effectively and results in winning elections. This is something that I have been wrestling with throughout my

presidency. When you look at the proposals I put forward, they garner majority support. The majority believe in raising the minimum wage. The majority believes in common sense gun safety rules. The majority believes in investing to rebuilt our infrastructure and create jobs. The majority believes in making sure that people aren't going bankrupt when they get sick. The majority agrees with all the individual components of Obamacare.

I think there was a Gallup poll this week subsequent to the election that showed the general public has a more favorable view of Democrats than Republicans. And as I noted my approval ratings are quite high. And yet, what's been true during the course of my eight years is that does not always translate. In fact, too often it hasn't translated into working majorities either at the state level or the federal level.

Now, some of that is just the nature of our system and geography. But as long as Wyoming gets the same number of senators as California, there is going to be some tilt towards Republicans when it comes to congressional races.

The fact that a lot of Democratic voters are bunched up in big cities and a lot of Republican voters are spread out across geography gives them an advantage when it comes to congressional races. Some of it is just political bad luck. For example, I came in as an economy was in free fall. And although we took the right steps to save the economy, in my Midterm election in 2010, people couldn't see the recovery and not surprisingly the president's party got punished. We lost control of a lot of not just congressional seats but also gubernatorial seats and state legislative seats. And that happened to be the year that the census is done and you start doing redistricting and those Republicans took advantage of political gerrymandering than lock in majorities. Even in numerous subsequent elections, Democrats have actually cast more votes or more votes have been cast for Democratic congressional candidates than Republican. And yet, you end up hang large Republican majority. So there are just some structural problems that we have to deal with.

But look. You can't make excuses about the rules. That's the deal. And we got to do better. And I think doing better as I have said involves us working at the grassroots, not ceding territories. Going out in areas where right now we may not stand a chance of actually winning but we are building up talent, we are making arguments, we are persuading. We are talking about the things that matter to ordinary people day-to-day and trying to avoid some of the constant distractions that fill up people's twitter accounts. And if we do that, then I'm confident that we'll be back on track.

I don't ink that there has to be a complete overhaul here. I think that there does have to be better organization, a smarter message. And one message I do have for Democrats is that a strategy that's just micro targeting particular discreet groups in a Democratic coalition sometimes win the elections but it's not going to win you the broad mandate you need. And ultimately, the more we can talk about what we have in common as a nation and speak to a broad set of values, a vision that speaks to everybody and not just one group at a time, the better off we are going to be. I think that's part of the reason why I was able to get elected twice is that I always tried to make sure that not only this proposals but also in message that I was speaking to everybody.

You had a second part to your question?

EDSON: (INAUDIBLE).

OBAMA: Look. I have said before, President Bush could not have been more gracious to me when I came in. And my intention is to certainly, for the next two months, to finish my job, and then after that, to take Michelle on vacation and get some rest. Spend time with my girls and do some writings, do some thinking. So I want to be respectful of the office and give the president-elect an opportunity to put forward his platform and his arguments without somebody popping off in every instance.

As an American citizen who cares deeply about our country, if there are issues that have less to do with the specifics of some legislative proposal or battle but go to core questions about our values and our ideals, and if I think that it's necessary or helpful for me to defend those ideals then I will examine it when it comes. But what I do know is that I have to take Michelle on vacation.

Juliet Harper (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, Mr. President. Given what you just said about the strong differences that you and president Putin have on the future of Syria and the conflict there, can you talk about how you see that unfolding at the end of your tenure and the beginning of Donald Trump's. And whether you have concerns that even if we eliminate the Islamic state in eastern Syria and western Iraq, we may be allowing a permanent safe haven or out of Aleppo (INAUDIBLE).

And on Aleppo, can you say to what extent you think the United States has fulfilled its responsibility to protect in that instance?

And then in terms of finishing your job, which you just mentioned, in the last week you have exercised your executive authority on multiple fronts, finalizing oil and gas, leasing rules on public lands as well as issuing a five-year leasing plan banning drilling and the architect in the Atlantic, many Republicans say you should hold off finalizing anymore rules as you are headed out the door because they pose many of them and will seek to overturn them when they control the legislative and executive branch next year. What do you say to that suggestion?

[18:25:00] OBAMA: Well, on the second question, you know, these are the same Republicans who suggested that they didn't need to confirm a Supreme Court justice when I was nine months out until the next election. I think the general approach seems to be that probably two days after my reelection I should stop until the next election. I don't think that that's what the constitution calls for.

The regulations that we have issued are ones we have been working on for a very long time. They have been subject to extensive public notice and comment and everybody's known they have been out there. These aren't things that we have been surprising people with. They are well considered. They are the right thing to do. They are part of my task of finishing my work. And I recognize that when the new administration comes in and a new Congress comes in that they will have the option of trying to undo some of those rules and regulations that we put into place. And that's their prerogative. That's part of how democracy works. But I feel very strongly these are the right things to do and I'm going to make sure I do.

With respect to Syria, as I said, I think even on this trip in a previous press conference, I am not optimistic about the short term prospects in Syria. Once Russia and Iran made a decision to back Assad in a brutal air campaign and essentially a pacification of Aleppo regardless of the potential for civilian casualties, children being killed were wounded, schools or hospitals being destroyed then it was very hard to see a way in which even a trained an committed moderate opposition could hold its ground for long periods of time.

And the issue that obviously I have wrestled with for the last five years how involved should the United States be, what are legal constraints in such involvement, what are our moral obligation, what are our strategic interests? Those haven't changed. I continue to believe that we did not have a legal basis for military intervention there. That it would have been a strategic mistake given the work we still had to do in Iraq, the counter ISIL campaign, ongoing operations in Afghanistan that we have worked tirelessly to arrive at political transition of some sort that could alleviate the suffering and provide humanitarian access. And we will continue to do that work all the way until the last day that me and John Kerry and others have the authority to speak for the United States government.

But ultimately, it takes two or in this case four or six or eight to tango. And we are just not getting help or interest from those parties that are supporting Assad. And Assad as a consequence has been emboldened. But this is man who has decided that destroying country, turning it to rubble and seeing its population scattered or killed was worth it for him to cling to power when he had the option to peacefully engage in a transition that could have kept the country intact. That's his mentality. It's not a mentality we support. That's the mentality that the Russians and the Iranians have been willing to support. But at this stage, we are going to need to have a change in how all parties think about this in order for us to end the situation there.

[18:30:07]

Now, our ability to go after ISIL, I think, can be sustained. There's no doubt that will continue to be extremist forces in and around Syria because it's still going to be in chaos for quite some time. There will be elements in Iraq just as there had been elements in Afghanistan even after the Taliban were swept out, even after we killed Bin Laden. But I think we can effectively reduce the risk and take their key external operators off the field.

The thing I'm probably most concerned about is making sure that even as we do that, U.S. policy, U.S. statements, U.S. positions don't further radicalize Muslims around the world or alienate and potentially radicalize law-abiding Muslims who are living in Europe or the United States. And that's why I think it's important for us to understand those are our key allies in this fight, not enemies.

Mike Memoli.

MIKE MEMOLI, WRITER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Thank you, Mr. President. This final foreign trip of you presidency is obviously playing it in very different circumstances than you might have expected. A very different transition is under way than the one you might have envisioned. Given that, though, I wonder if you intentionally sought to approach this trip reflecting more on the powers of and the influence of the presidency on the world stage so that you might be able to offer the kind of counsel to your successor that he has said he hopes to draw upon.

And, also, on a political note, you talked often during your re- election campaign about this fever that had consumed the Republican Party, an effective political strategy that they employed to block you even on issues where there might have been some common ground.

BARACK: Right.

MEMOLI: What would be your advice to Democrats who might see that kind of strategy as the same kind of path to taking back power that the Republicans employed? And related to that, what would your advice be to House Democrats about whether or not to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as the Party leader in the House?

BARACK: Well, I'll work in reverse. I think Nancy Pelosi is an outstanding and historic political leader. So much of what we accomplished was accomplished because of her smarts, her tenacity, her legislative skill, and I don't normally meddle with, you know, Party votes. And certainly on my way out the door, probably, I shouldn't meddle here. But I cannot speak highly enough of Nancy Pelosi. She combines strong progressive values with just extraordinary political skill.

And she does stuff that's tough, not just stuff that's easy. She's done stuff that's unpopular in her own base because it's the right thing to do for the American people. And I think she's a remarkable leader.

With respect to Democrats and Republicans and how Democrats should deal with a new administration, I think you give them a hearing. I certainly don't want them to do what Mitch McConnell did when I was elected, meet the day of and say our sole objective is to not cooperate with him on anything, even if the country is about to go into a depression, so that we can gain seats in the midterms and ultimately defeat him.

That's not why the American people send us to Washington, to play those games, so that's not my advice to Democrats. My advice to Democrats is know what you care about and what you stand for, and fight for your principles even if it's a hard fight. If there are areas where the new administration is doing something that's going to be good for the American people, find a way to work with them. If you think it's going to be a problem, then say so and make the argument.

[18:35:07] The touch stone is what's good for the American people. And that's worked for me. It means that, at the end of the day and at the end of eight years, I can look back and I can say that I consistently did what I thought was best. It doesn't mean you don't make mistakes, but it means that you're being true to your oath and the commitments you made to the people who elected you.

And in terms of reflecting on the U.S. presidency as I've been traveling, I think the main reflection I have and the main advice that I give to the incoming President is the United States really is an indispensable nation in our world order. And I say that as somebody who has gone out of his way to express respect for every country and its people, and to consistently acknowledge that many of the challenges that we face are not challenges that America can solve on its own.

But what I also know is that the basic frame work of the world order, coming out of World War II and then on through the end of the Cold War, was shaped by a set of ideals and principles that have worked for the vast majority of people, not just in America but around the world. The notion of democracy and rule of law and a free press and independent judiciary and open markets and a social welfare state to moderate some of the sharp edges of capitalism. And, you know, lifting up issues of human rights and investing in public health and development, not just within our own borders but elsewhere in the world. And working with multi-lateral institutions like the United Nations, making sure that we're upholding international norms and rules. That's what's made the modern world.

And there had been times where we are ourselves have not observed some of these norms as well as we should and have been accused of hypocrisy. Here in Latin America, there had been times where countries felt disrespected and, on occasion, had cause for that. There were times where we haven't observed these values in our own country and have fallen short of our ideals.

But that basic structure is the reason why the world is much wealthier, much more secure, and, yes, less violent, healthier, better educated, more tolerant than it was 50 years ago. And that requires constant work. It doesn't just happen on its own. I've said this in Europe. I've said this in places where there's this push back against this modern order. But you take an example like Europe before that order was imposed.

We had two World Wars in the span of 30 years. In the second one, 60 million people were killed. Not half a million, not a million, but 60 million. Entire continents in rubble. In places like the Asia Pacific, before that order existed, you routinely saw famines of millions of people. Not just concerns about low wages, but people dying because they didn't have any food or drinking water or died of cholera or simple diseases, if somebody had some penicillin.

[18:40:07] And so what I would say would be that we all share responsibilities for improving that order and maintaining it and making sure it's more inclusive and delivers greater hope and prosperity for more corners of the world. We all have responsibilities, every nation, in respecting the dignity and worth of their citizens. And America can't do it all for everybody else. You know, there are limits to our reach into other countries if they're determined to oppress their people or not provide girls education or siphon off development funds into Swiss bank accounts because they're corrupt.

You know, we're not going to be able to handle every problem. But the American President and the United States of America, if we're not on the side of what's right, if we're not making the argument and fighting for it, even if sometimes we're not able to deliver it 100 percent everywhere, then it collapses. And there's nobody to fill the void. There really isn't.

There are other very important countries, like a China, where we can't -- if it weren't for China's cooperation, we couldn't have gotten the Paris Agreement done. But China's not the one who was going around organizing 200 nations to sign on to a Paris Agreement, or putting together the paper and the policy outlines and the conceptual frame work. Russia is a very significant military power, but they're not worrying right now about how to rebuild after a hurricane in Haiti. We are.

And I've said before, that's a burden that we should carry proudly. And I would hope that not just the 45th President of the United States but every President of the United States understands that that's not only a burden, but it's also an extraordinary privilege. And many of you, if you have chance to do that right, then you should seize it. All right? Thank you, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

HARLOW: There you have it. History being made. President Obama giving his last international press conference as a sitting president. A lot of ground was covered. We're going to get through all of it. He spent more than 50 minutes speaking with reporters there after making a statement about what they discussed. Starting, importantly, I think, with trade. We'll get to that in a moment.

Let's bring in my panel. Jamie Metzl is with us, senior fellow of the Atlantic Council and formerly, a member of the U.S. National Security Council and Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Ron Brownstein is with us, senior editor for "The Atlantic." Anita McBride is here with the American University Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. She's also the former chief of staff to first lady, Laura Bush. Julian Zelizer joins us, a Princeton University historian and profession. And our own Athena Jones who is traveling with the President in Lima, Peru.

Let me begin with Athena. Because he began his remarks talking about trade, Athena, and he jumped right in. And he said that globalization has not benefitted enough people. It has not benefitted many workers. But he was very -- I mean, it was clear that he was addressing the President-elect and saying, you know, you can't just throw out the trade agreements we have. You have to make them better, so that the income gap gets smaller and you help more people. Interestingly, he pushed the case still for TPP, the Trans-Pacific

Partnership, even though he pretty much knows it is dead in the water once Donald Trump becomes President.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. This is something that the White House has spent years working on. This entire rebalance of U.S. foreign policy toward the Asia Pacific region is something that the Obama administration has invested heavily in. More than two -- I think it was about two dozen trips to Asia during his eight years as President.

They believe that it's important to engage in this region because it has so much of the world's middle class. It's responsible for so much of the exports, U.S. exports too, and imports from the U.S. And that it's going to be important to engage there.

[18:45:09] And the failure of TPP, the fact that we know President- elect Trump has been hostile not to that trade deal but others, we know it's not going to get a vote in the lame-duck Congress, these are a big blow to this whole rebalance policy. And so that's why it's not surprising to see the President continuing to try to push and try to, I guess in some way, influence his successor to maybe give these deals a chance.

I also thought it was interesting, Poppy, that the president was asked about a lot of the things that we've been talking about on our air for the last several days. For instance, the potential conflicts of interest --

HARLOW: Right.

JONES: -- among the business holdings of President-elect Trump. I don't know if we have time to play what we said there.

HARLOW: Yes, we do. We do because --

JONES: But if we do, let's play what he said in response to that question.

HARLOW: We do. And I'll just give my team a minute to cue that up because, you know, he also spoke in the same breath about the importance of the White House Counsel and what an important choice that is to oversee anything that would even be perceived as a conflict of interest. The way he put it is, that his team told him when he came in, if it's anything fun, you can't do it. That was the line that helped him make decisions. But let's listen to his actual answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I can't be sure of anything. I think, like everyone else, we'll have to wait and see. But as I've said before, once you're in the Oval Office, once you begin interacting with world leaders, once you see the complexities of the issues, that has a way of shaping your thinking. I can't guarantee that, you know, the President-elect won't pursue some of the positions that he's taken, but what I can guarantee is that reality will force him to adjust how he approaches many of these issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: But, Athena -- sorry, guys, we played the wrong thought. Athena, you were saying to play this sound bite. Let's play for our viewers what he said about, you know, whether he would have put all of his assets into a blind trust, how he would deal with the conflicts of interest. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Basically, had our accountant put all our money in treasury bills -- the yields, by the way, have not been massive over the course of the last eight years -- just because it simplified my life, I did not have to worry about the complexities of whether a decision that I made might even inadvertently benefit me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So there it is, Athena.

JONES: That's right. And, of course, as you stated, he talked about the importance of having a strong White House Counsel's office. It's interesting because he said he was not going to directly respond to the question about President-elect Trump, but instead, he talked about the approach he took. And what he said also was that he wanted to not just follow the letter of the law but the spirit of the law.

And he reiterated something that he said in a press conference earlier this week, saying that he was extremely proud that his administration had not had to deal with some of the big scandals and ethics issues that have, sometimes, plagued past administrations, and he held up his own White House Counsel's office and his approach to, as I said, not just following the letter of the law but basically staying very far from the line, not toeing the line, staying far from that legal murky line. Poppy.

HARLOW: Athena Jones, stay with us, live from Lima tonight where the President just made these remarks.

Anita, let me go to you. As a conservative, as the former chief of staff for first lady Laura Bush, what was your reaction to what we heard from the President? Specifically, on Athena's point about, you know, making clear that there would be no conflicts of interest, not even the perception of them, and also saying that whoever -- really saying that the White House Chief Counsel is a critical role to fill.

ANITA MCBRIDE, EXECUTIVE-IN-RESIDENCE, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY'S CENTER FOR CONGRESSIONAL AND PRESIDENTIAL STUDIES: It absolutely is a critical role to fill. I've worked in three White Houses and the decisions that come out of the White House Counsel's office is just a line you don't cross. I mean, it's all there to protect the President and his interests, and you don't need the distraction of having any ethical concerns. And that extends not only to the President's dealings but also to the entire White House staff. So, you know, there are reasons for that. There's so much that comes

on a President's plate. They don't need to be dealing with ethical issues related to their, you know, personal life or their business.

HARLOW: Ron Brownstein, the first question that the President was asked was, you know, how can you guarantee that President-elect Trump will not govern in the divisive way he campaigned?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Right.

[18:50:05] HARLOW: I mean, this election was divisive on both sides. He said that you can't be sure of anything. We have to wait and see. But then he said, this office shapes you. And he went on to say, reality will force him to adjust to the office.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, I think the President, as we've watched this arc, what he has been saying and doing since the election, he's a very methodical, lawyerly person. He proceeds in a very logical manner.

And I think he is setting up two alternate paths. So one in which Donald Trump surprises him and everyone else and governs in a more kind of temperate manner than he ran on, and the early appointments don't lead you toward that class, toward that conclusion. But the other path, I think, is he is -- I think he is systematically setting up conditions under which he could be more active and critical of Trump than we have seen.

HARLOW: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: I think, to cover respects, first, he is setting down a whole series of trip wires that he says are reasons for concern on ethics, on the U.S. role in the world, the U.S. being the indispensable nation, as he said, echoing the Madeleine Albright phrase, and you know, kind of the importance of divorcing yourself from your business interests as President. He is setting out trip wires that, if Donald Trump crosses them, I think he will feel more empowered to kind of speak out.

HARLOW: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: And then, today, you know, and what was probably the most important thing that he said, he said, look, I'm not going to get involved. I'm going to take Michelle Obama on a vacation. I'm not going to be involved in any legislative fight. But he clearly did not rule out speaking out when he said more fundamental issues were at play.

HARLOW: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: And he rejected, he passed, the opportunity to say he would take the George W. Bush approach of being essentially silent during the President-elect's term.

HARLOW: Right. He said he can't pop off on everything.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. HARLOW: But if there is the point where I think our values are coming

into question, I will jump in. Jamie, what was your read -- and, by the way, he also made a little bit of news there, saying he actually told Donald Trump how important his pick is for White House Counsel, which I thought was interesting. What was your read on him referring to Mitch McConnell and McConnell saying, we are going to make you a one-term President. He said, in terms of the President-elect, give him a hearing. Give him time.

JAMIE METZL, SENIOR FELLOW FOR TECHNOLOGY AND NATIONAL SECURITY, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: He did. And I think that was very, very important. And he is -- there are many people in the Democratic Party and in this country who are upset about how the election played out. And President Obama has been clear, we need to give President-elect Trump the opportunity to do what he will. As Ron has just said, the early indications are that he is going to govern, based on these early picks, exactly as he ran his presidency.

But President Obama did an excellent job of placing the decisions that are going to be made in a historical precedent, going back to FDR, President Truman, all of the presidents since, really, the Second World War who have built this international order, and the United States not only exists in and benefits from that order but has been the protector of it.

And now, he is saying, President Trump, you have the keys to the nuclear codes, to the country, but also to the world. And we all, you know, Americans and others, need to be very careful and very cautious. If President-elect Trump steps up and realizes this incredibly important responsibility, we should support him. But if not, we need to be very careful and cautious.

HARLOW: Julian Zelizer, one of the reporters also asked him, are you concerned about being the last Democratic president for a while? And he sort of laughed and he said, I'm not concerned about that. And, by the way, he said that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. But what did you make of his response overall to the question of -- because it plays right into his legacy, right, I mean, what happens post this administration?

JULIAN ZELIZER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Sure. I think, in that respect, he's a little bit defensive. He knows he is leaving with Republicans not only having control of the White House, but they have control of Congress and they have for a while. And they're doing well in state legislative bodies. Their numbers increased. So a lot of the math is red, even with Hillary Clinton's totals. And he's under criticism from many Democrats who fear that the result of this is no one is going to be there to actually defend his legacy. And I think he was trying to offer explanations of why he was in a tough spot.

HARLOW: Athena Jones, he also, very quickly here, called Nancy Pelosi outstanding, a historic leader. He said he cannot speak more highly of her. This is someone whose position as the leader of the Democratic Party in the House is under a lot of threat right now. JONES: That's right. He was asked to weigh in on that whole

discussion about just who should be leading not only the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, but the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill. He said he didn't want to weigh in, but he had high praise for Leader Pelosi as a historic leader and remarkable leader. He said she had tenacity and was good at very politics, basically.

And so he used this opportunity to sing the praises of Leader Pelosi, along this whole theme of him saying, look, it's not that we have to change our ideas and our ideals as a Democratic Party, we just have to do a better job, he says, of communicating those ideals to more people. And interestingly, he noted that when he was making his two runs for the White House, he made sure that he spoke to everyone. And that is one reason he, believes, for his success having been elected twice. Poppy.

[18:55:07] HARLOW: Right. Those comments about Pelosi matter right now because her position is being certainly being challenged by Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio right now. Jamie, Ron, Anita, Julian, and Athena, stay with us. Much more to discuss and dissect from that tonight. We will do that in the hour ahead.

But first, Wall Street's post-election rally slowed a bit on Friday but this Thanksgiving holiday could bring a milestone for the Dow. Our Cristina Alesci on top of that story tonight.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY TELEVISION AND DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Poppy. The Dow could reach 19,000 this holiday week, but Thanksgiving week is actually pretty quiet for the stock market. The last three years, the Dow has posted tiny increases. Retailers, of course, looking ahead to Black Friday, when the holiday shopping season officially kicks off.

Overall, holiday sales the past few years have been quite sluggish. But Black Friday and Cyber Monday have been the highlights, the bright spots. Amazon could hit sales records on those days. It started early this year, offering one day prime discounts on Friday. Amazon stock is up 11 percent this year, but it struggled over the past month. Look, the big question at this point is, with the election over, rising wages and stocks near record highs, are consumers in the mood to spend this holiday season? Poppy.

HARLOW: We will soon see. Cristina, thank you so much for that. We're going to take a quick break. Much more on that historic press conference straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)