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President Barack Obama held his last press conference; George H.W. Bush and wife, Barbara Bush rushed to the hospital; Democratic Majority leader Chuck Schumer had press conference on the current Trump's cabinet appointees; Aired 2:00-2:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


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[14:00:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to our special coverage of President Obama's last news conference as president.

I'm Jake Tapper live in Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We are breaking away from our coverage of Donald Trump's nominees up on Capitol Hill because in just a few minutes we will see President Barack Obama emerge to take questions from reporters for his final time as president of the United States before this transition of power to president-elect Donald Trump at noon on Friday.

The president will be leaving the White House with an approval rating only a few select presidents have enjoyed on their way out of office. A new CNN/ORC poll showing 60 percent of Americans approve of President Obama right now. But his last few days as president are not coming without some serious controversy sparked by a wave of commutations and pardons including one for Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of stealing and leaking 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks.

TAPPER: And the president is certainly going to be ask about the Chelsea Manning commutation. I was in the White House press core at the time, 2010, when that leak happened, when Chelsea Manning was tried, court marshalled. And the language from the White House, from national security officials at the time was very strong about the risk that Chelsea Manning had put American Soldiers, diplomats, allies, the national security threat. The Chelsea Manning posed the need for a very, very strong sentence against Chelsea Manning. And now of course a commutation of Chelsea Manning's set 35 years sentence to seven years-time served. I think Chelsea Manning with be released from prison in May.

With a lot of language that is start coming to us to what we heard from the White House back then, as well as, by the way, the language we heard from the White House and the actions we saw taken by the White House when it came toward their very aggressive use of the espionage act, to go after any leakers in the administration. This of course very different from that.

CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is standing by for the president's arrival.

Michelle, looks like a pact room in there. And I'm sure a lot of question will be about the commutation.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, it is a zoo in here. This is the chance for reports to get in all the questions they have been dying to ask the president for some time. This is going to be the President Obama's chance to get his last statements as president that he wants to get out there.

But, yes. I think much of it, at least a very top is going to focus on that Manning commutation. We, in fact-- we expect that to be the first question out of the gate. So he is going to face that tough kind of discerning. How does he strike a difference between Chelsea Manning and say Edward Snowden who of course didn't apply for clemency. But, you know, they also made those strong statements about what Edward Snowden did. And in the last day, we have seen the White House say, you know, Wolf, the crimes were serious that Chelsea Manning committed. This chunk commutation doesn't diminish that. But they laid out their points as to why they think this was appropriate. And that the time she served was appropriate.

So we expect the president to hammer those three points again, probably get into a little more of the thinking. And I think he is going to do his President Obama look. You know, the way he explains his thought process, you know, what he sees as the difficulties. He is going to want to acknowledge those. But he is also going to want to be strong to state that stance that we have already heard from his administration.

He is probably want to get into legacy as well. I mean, those are going to be the questions there. I think he is going to want to go out on a positive note. This gives him the chance at the top of the press conference to lay out those accomplishment that we have heard from him again and again, really every time he has been speaking for the last few months and throughout the campaign trail.

I think he is going to have to be defensive at times given how difficult some of these questions are going to be about his policy and where that leaves America now. And I think he is going to try to avoid being too critical of the incoming administration although some of the questions may necessitate some criticism. But I think what the tone that we have been hearing from him lately is less directly critical and more of a warning tone, not only into the new administration but to Americans out there who will probably say again, have to guard their democracy - Wolf and Jake.

BLITZER: You know, it - we are going to get back to you. We are going to get back to the news conference, this important final news conference by the President of the United States momentarily. It could last an hour. It could last longer than an hour.

But there is other breaking news right now we are following hour quickly. We go to our Jamie Gangel and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

You're getting new information, Jamie, on the health right now of former president George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, his wife?

[14:05:11] JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. So what happened is both former President Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush have been admitted to Houston Methodist hospital. We knew about President Bush earlier. He was admitted over the weekend suffering from shortness of breath and a bad cough. They thought it was early pneumonia. But apparently, his condition has really changed today in the last couple hours.

We just got the statement that shortly after there, earlier report where they thought he was doing better and responding to anti- antibiotics, President Bush was admitted to the ICU. So he is now in intensive care to address an acute respiratory problems stemming from pneumonia. So we know have the diagnosis of pneumonia. Doctors performed a procedure to protect and clear his airway that required sedation. He is now stable and resting comfortably. But his condition did get worse. He is in intensive care.

And if that wasn't enough, Mrs. Bush was admitted to the hospital this morning. They said she was admitted as a precaution. She was just feeling terrible. She had a bad cough and suffering from fatigue. I'm sure what was happening with her husband didn't help, but it sounds like maybe flu symptoms, maybe something else.

TAPPER: And Sanjay, obviously, former president George H.W. Bush is in his 90s. And any time anybody that age gets sick it is cause for alarm. Give us a reality check here. Going into the ICU, the treatments that you have heard that he is undergoing, how serious is this? How, to put it, how worried should we be?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's definitely concerning. Very concerning. He has had this diagnosis of pneumonia before. The procedure that Jamie is talking about when we spoke to the folks with President Bush, they said it was - that he was intubated, which basically mean that a tube was place in his (INAUDIBLE) and he is placed on breathing machine.

What we understand, even the slightest previous hospitalizations, he hadn't been intubated before. So this is definitely a more aggressive sort of care that he is receiving this time. They said to basically protect his airway. When you develop pneumonia that's significant enough it becomes just challenging to breathe. And that is why you go ahead and put someone on the ventilator.

TAPPER: Intubating, they are putting a tube down somewhere?

GUPTA: Tube down the mouth into the trachea to essentially give them assistance if not completely take over their breathing. We don't know which. We do know, again, as Jamie mentioned, that he was sedated. Sounds like he is sedated. So certainly when someone is sedated, they may have difficulty breathing on their own anymore.

TAPPER: And Jamie, we already knew that George H.W. Bush, even before he got sick, was not planning on coming to the inauguration. But his doctors didn't think somebody that age and that condition, sitting out in the freezing cold for hours on him was a good idea. He said - made some joke about it in a letter. He wrote to-elect Trump.

What about George W. Bush's son, the 43rd president?

GANGEL: As far as we know, he is still planning to come to the inauguration. Neil Bush, their son, lives in Houston and has nee to visit his parents. But right now we are told that the other children are on hold that they're going to proceed as plans.

But you have to remember he is 92 years old. In 2012 he was in the hospital for two months with this kind of thing. And he suffers from a form of Parkinson's which I think further complicates it. So I think it's -- everyone is worried but they're hoping that this procedure will stabilize him and get him through it.

TAPPER: Old age is not for sissies. It used to hang on my grandmother

Thank you so much, Jamie. Dr. Gupta.

BLITZER: We wish them only the best, former president Bush and Barbara Bush, the former first lady. Let's hope for the best. And you know, keep us updated on their medical conditions.

We are only get right back to the breaking news we are following. We are about to hear from the president of the United States, his final news conference as president of the United States. You see reporters standing in the briefing room over in the west wing of the White House.

Dana, the stakes for the president, with this news conference, you know, he is very concerned about his legacy, I'm sure he's going to be asked about his very controversial decision on Chelsea Manning. But set the scene for us because this is a news conference that the president wants to leave the American public with a very upbeat assessment.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

Facing the press is usually not the most favorite events of any politician, much less any president. But this is as you say his final chance to say what he wants to say, say his peace, hopefully thank the fourth estate for, you know, doing their due diligence. But also, given the fact that he made such a controversial decision yesterday in commuting Chelsea Manning's sentence. Clearly, he wants the ability to come out and explain why. He might even do it without even getting a question, explain himself for given the current controversy but also for the history books. Because, you know, my understanding, and David Axelrod can certainly talk about this than I, is that he looked at the history. Mark Rich (ph) was a completely different thing. It was a pardon and it was controversial. It wasn't the same. But that is the kind of thing that made him crazy and he didn't want to do anything like that. But this is something that's not going well -- forget about Republicans, not partisan, with a lot of Democrats. [14:10:45] BLITZER: John King, the approval number there, CNN/ORC

poll for the president on these final days, 60 percent. That is very, very high. And the poll was taken before the Chelsea Manning decision.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And just think about what that says, what a remarkable example of the confusing and conflicted political times we live in. The president of the United States is leaving with a 60 percent approval rating. He is clearly highly popular. The American people have rallied to his side, if you will. And yet, ten weeks ago these same American people elected the anti-Obama president of the United States. If the president is so popular, if he is so well-liked, why did the American people choose, and Democrats would argue, popular vote, but Donald Trump is the president, is about to be president. (INAUDIBLE). Why did they choose somebody so different?

President Obama is going to stand at the podium in a few minutes. He may explain this controversy, but he is probably going to say I brought the economy out of the ditch. And I pass what I think is a very important significant landmark healthcare law. We spent the morning, listening to Donald Trump's chose to repeal, rebut that healthcare law and find a replacement for it.

So yes, he goes out popular personally. What he was never able to do as president except when he was on the ballot is to extend that popularity to his party which frankly took a beating during the Obama year. And the final exclamation point of that will be the inauguration of Donald Trump in two days.

TAPPER: Couldn't do it in 2010. Couldn't do it in 2014 in the midterms.

We are going to take a very quick break. Much more to talk about with our panel as we await President Obama. He will be walking out to that podium any minute for the final press conference of his presidency. Stay with us.

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[14:16:33] BLITZER: Welcome back. We are awaiting President Barack Obama's final news conference as president of the United States while we watch for the president to enter the White House briefing room. We are back with our panel.

And David Axelrod, you worked for this president for a long time. Take us behind the scenes as he goes in to make a statement presumably, answer reporters' questions for at least an hour, maybe longer, what's going through his mind?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look. I think everything is a last now, right. Everything he does is the last time he will do this as president. And so, there will be some emotion associated with that. He will approach this press conference as he has every other with a mix of enthusiasm and irritation which I think most presidents do. But I also think he is going to use this opportunity to make a

statement about the importance of that interaction between the press core and the president. This has been something that we have been debating hotly the last few weeks because of the interaction between the incoming president and reporters. And I think he is going to use this opportunity to stress the fact that even as presidents do get irritated that news media plays an important role in our democracy and we ought to honor that.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I remember when Barack Obama was appointing his cabinet officials. He would come out and I don't know if you approved of this or disapprove to his, David, but he would come out with his cabinet appointee and talk to members of the press about why he wanted this person. The issues they agreed upon, why he felt that this person would be the best to carry out his policies. What we have been hearing in these confirmation hearings is just the opposite that these appointees they have not discussed with the president of the United States, the most important issues over which they will have jurisdiction. And neither has Donald Trump come out and explained in any detail why he would choose somebody for a certain position. It's completely opposite although Trump was available very much during the beginning of the campaign that has receded completely.

TAPPER: And Van, let me say, that this is an odd moment for President Obama, both, because if you look at all the public statements he has given since president-elect Trump was elected. They basically been in two camps. One is pushing for what he believes in, what he thinks he stands for, tweaking or even openly criticizing president-elect Trump and then also trying to -- I'm told we are going to go to the Senate right for the Senate Democratic --

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: You had to come all the way over here to talk to us. And I'm joined by two of my great colleagues on the health committee, ranking member senator Murray and outstanding member senator Baldwin.

Now, these past two weeks we have seen repeated efforts from the Trump transition aided and abetted by Senate Republicans to jam through nominees in a way that hides their views from the American people. My friend, and he is a dear friend of mine, and I'm really surprised at his behavior, but my friend senator Alexander limited senators to just one round of questions for Miss DeVos and Mr. Price with just five minutes for DeVos and seven minutes for Price.

Miss DeVos' hearing was at 5:00 in the afternoon in a blatant attempt to prevent more Americans from watching the hearing and the news coverage of it. A U.S. senator and two members of the House were forced to wait until the end of the second day of senator Session's hearing before they could be heard. Senator Barrasso was keeping the public out of Mr. Pruitt's hearing making seven seats available in the whole hearing room.

Senate Democrats request for outside witnesses for Puzder, Price and Mnuchin and DeVos hearings were denied. Mr. Ross is OG paperwork was submitted just over a day before his hearing. And he is a billionaire with very complicated paperwork to file.

Most gulling of all, Ms. DeVos' hearing occurred without her OG paperwork being completed. Her ethic paperwork being complete. That's a direct contradiction of the same standards senate Republicans ask for in 2009. It is in front to open this and transparency that the American people are entitled to. This is a swamp cabinet full of bankers and billionaires, a swamp cabinet full of bankers and billionaires. Many of them have hard right views. Some of which directly contradict, promises that the president-elect campaigned on. Mr. Price has made it his career to privatize, destroy Medicare as we know it. President-elect Trump said he won't touch Medicare. The views contradict each other and many of them are far, far over away from the American mainstream.

Now, it's no surprise Republicans are trying to rush through these hearings. They don't want people to know the true views of their nominees. The potential conflicts of interest and just how many of them come from the top one percent and are even billionaires.

Just look at what Congress Price's hearing this morning revealed. Senator Murray asked if he had purchased stock in immuno-therapeutics (ph). Price admitted he made that decision. Just a few minutes later, he claimed I have no idea what stocks I held in the '90s or the 2000 or even now. Direct contradiction.

All of this decisions for all of us I suspect are from mutual funds through pension plans, he continued to say. Well, both of those statements can't be true. Which is it?

The American people deserve to know the truth and to sort through these discrepancies which can't be rushed in hearings. The American people and the U.S. Senate are entitled to a full, fair and transparent review of these nominees. A few days of hearings where they will have power for up to four years? Enormous power over the lives of people? That is wrong. Blatantly wrong.

The last two weeks have not been good for open and transparent government. If senate Republicans aren't willing to give the American people a chance to examine and consider these nominees in full and fair hearings, then they should be prepared for that debate on the floor, extensive debate on the floor.

Senate Democrats won't be dilatory for its own sake. And a number of national security nominees have never been on the list of nominees that concerns us most. But Senate Republicans have not operated in good faith in the last several weeks.

And now we have a new problem. It has come out this morning that Nick Mulvaney, nominee for OMB didn't pay taxes for a household employee for four years. Then when he was nominated and looked at his papers he paid them late. Senator Tom Daschle did the same thing and Republicans insisted that that disqualified him from becoming HHS secretary.

[14:23:55] TAPPER: All right. We are now going to break away and go back to the White House. We are expecting President Obama to come into the Brady briefing room any second and deliver his very last press conference as president of the United States of America. He has got a lot to talk about. He is going to want to defend his legacy. He is going to want to talk about what he stood for and the last one questions to answer as well. Let's listen in.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everybody.

Let me start off by saying that I was sorely attempted to wear a tan suit today for my last press conference but Michelle whose fashion sense is a little better than mine tells me that's not appropriate in January.

I covered a lot of ground that I wanted to cover in my farewell address last week so I'm going to say a couple things before I start taking questions.

First, we have been in touch with the Bush family after hearing about President George W.H. Bush and Barbara Bush being admitted to the hospital this morning. They have not only dedicated their lives to the country, but they have been a constant source of friendship and support and good counsel for Michelle and me over the years. They are as fine a couple as we know. And so we want to send our prayers and our love to them. Really good people.

Second thing I want to do is to thank all of you. Some of you have been covering me for a long time. Folks like Christie, and Lynn. Some of you I have just gotten to know. We have travelled the world together. We did a few singles, a few doubles together. I offered advice that I thought was pretty sound like don't do stupid stuff. And even when you complained about my long answers I just want you to know that the only reason they were long is because you asked six-part questions.

But I have enjoyed working with all of you. That does not of course mean that I have enjoyed every story that you have filed, but that's the point of this relationship. You are not supposed to be (INAUDIBLE). You are supposed to be skeptics. You are supposed to ask me tough questions. You are not supposed to be complementary, but you are supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here and you have done that. And you have done it for the most part in ways that I could appreciate for fairness even if I didn't always agree with your conclusions.

And having you in this building has made this work place better. It keeps us honest. It makes us work harder. You have made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we are able to deliver on what's been requested by our constituents. And for example, every time you asked why haven't you cured e-bola yet or why is there still that hole in the gulf, it has given me the ability to go back to my team and say will you get this solved before the next press conference.

I spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy. It goes without saying that essential to that is a free press. That is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment of self-government has to work. It doesn't work if we don't have a well-informed citizenry and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what is taking place in the halls of power. So America need you and our democracy needs you.

We need you to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reason and inform debates that ultimately lead to progress. And so, my hope is that you will continue with the same tenacity that you showed us to do the hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves. And to push this country to be the best version of itself.

I have no doubt that you will do so. I'm looking forward to being an active consumer of your work rather than always the subject of it. I want to thank you all for your extraordinary service to our democracy. And with that I will take some questions. And I will start with Jeff Mason whose term is apparently is not up. I thought, you know, we would be going out together brother, but you got to hang around for a while.

Jeff Mason, first.

JEFF MASON, REPORTER: Thank you, sir. Are you concern Mr. President that commuting Chelsea Manning set on the message that we can classified material will not generate (INAUDIBLE) to groups like WikiLeaks? How do you reconcile that in why the WikiLeaks connected to Russia's hacking compare that to last year's election?

And related to that Julian Assange just now offered to come to United States. (INAUDIBLE) and would he be charged or arrested if he came here?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, let's be clear. Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence. So the notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think that it goes unpunished --.

END