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Trump Meets with Auto Industry Execs; Three Cabinet Picks to Face Confirmation Hearings; Israel Approves New Housing in West Bank. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Such a weak segue, but I enjoyed it now. Hey, new glasses. I like them too. You guys have a great day.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You look great.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You too.

COSTELLO: Thanks, man. NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me.

Right now, President Trump is kicking off another busy day at the White House sitting down with auto executives, and American jobs are again the focus. In a tweet this morning, Trump demanding new plants to be built here for cars sold here.

Next hour, three more of Trump's Cabinet picks go under the microscope. Hearings begin for nominees Tom Price, Linda McMahon, and Mick Mulvaney. Expect fireworks for Price, Trump's pick for Health and Human Services Director and the man who would oversee the replacement for Obamacare.

Also at the top of the hour, a Senate Committee could vote on Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions. Democrats are likely to delay that, but votes are still expected on nominees Chao, Ross, and Haley.

We have a lot to cover this morning, so let's begin with CNN's Athena Jones. She's at the White House.

Good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. As you mentioned, the President kicking off another busy day here today with another breakfast meeting and listening session. This time, it's with top auto industry executives.

Yesterday, he met with top business leaders. So he's continuing more of that, talking about manufacturing and jobs. Remember, he's promised to create 25 million jobs during his time in office, so we expect to hear him echo some of the message he delivered to business leaders yesterday about keeping production in America and keeping Americans with jobs.

He's also going to be signing more executive orders later on today. One thing that's not on his public schedule today is the presidential daily briefing. That's the intelligence briefing that's gotten a lot of attention over the last several months -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Athena Jones reporting live from the White House this morning. Thank you.

So let's head back to Capitol Hill now and a full day of confirmation hearings. Three of Trump's picks in the hot seat, but the big focus is on the man Trump tapped to help repeal Obamacare, Congressman Tom Price. The growing ethics concerns could dog him at today's big hearing.

So let's talk about that with CNN's Senior Political Reporter Manu Raju and CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Manu, let's start with you and the ethics concerns over Tom Price.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. These are concerns that have actually hounded his nomination for the last month or so after reports that he had traded stock in health care firms at the same time as pursuing legislation that could affect those firms, including our report from a couple of weeks ago showing his efforts to try to advance a bill helping a hip and kidney medical device manufacturer at the same time as pushing a bill that would also help that company.

Now, you know, recent red flags have been raised by the Senate Finance Committee which is actually hearing the nomination today and actually will vote on this nomination. They were conducting their vetting process and actually released a memo last night raising additional red flags about some ethical concerns, specifically this memo from both Republicans and Democrats on that committee.

It says that Dr. Price failed to disclose late tax payments on his rental properties, undervalued stocks he owns in a pharmaceutical company, and also did not disclose the fact that, at one point, he was under investigation by a house ethics panel over fund-raising activities but he was later cleared from that investigation.

Now, Republicans are saying that these are just minor omissions. He did submit these materials in good faith, this questionnaire where he failed to disclose this information and later corrected it for the record. But expect, Carol, this to be a focus for Democrats as they try to make the case that Dr. Price is not fit for this job and that he has major ethical issues that should be considered.

This, all coming at the same time as Democrats are planning to push Dr. Price pretty aggressively today about his positions on to repeal and replace Obamacare. Of course, that may be the big issue given the fact that Donald Trump has tapped him to lead the effort to replace the health care law.

But these ethical issues continue to cloud the nominations, something that Democrats hope will convince Republicans to vote against his nomination. But right now, we're not getting any impression that any Republicans will defect at this point, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. So, Sanjay, Manu mentioned Obamacare. I'm sure doctors across the country will be listening closely to that part of the testimony. What are they telling you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think it's interesting. It's tough to paint with one brush how doctors feel about this.

But as we've been reporting on this for some time, I think the best way to characterize it is they feel a little stuck in that, you know, most doctors, only 3 and 3.5 percent or so give Obamacare in "A" grade.

So, you know, not impressive numbers. But more than two-thirds say it should not be repealed without a replacement. So that's why it's sort of they're a little stuck.

I think with regard to Congressman Price, you know, the sentiment, a little bit, is that, look, he seems to have had a plan. He has talked about this plan, released his own version of a plan for some time. But is it going to jive with what the President Trump has said in terms of the executive orders that he's already made, you know, in terms of starting to gut Obamacare?

[09:05:14] Are you going to be able to do that and replace it simultaneously? If you're not, most doctors aren't on board with that.

COSTELLO: And I understand you went to the same university as Tom Price?

GUPTA: Right.

COSTELLO: Can you give us a little insight into the man?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's interesting. Yes, there's a lot of parallels. He lives in a community not that far from me. We went to the same medical school, the same small program within that medical school at the University of Michigan, worked at the same hospitals in Atlanta, you know, at Emory and Grady.

He's about 15, 20 years older than I am. You know, I don't know him well but, you know, the same sort of background, you know, working at a place like Grady Memorial Hospital, for example, is a hospital that's a county hospital, primarily for people who are indigent who hadn't had insurance before the ACA.

And it's tough to know the impact that has on somebody. But clearly, he's somebody who has worked in a hospital where people, you know, who did not have insurance really suffered and probably has seen the ramifications of providing health care insurance to those folks, not just access to insurance. So, you know, again, how someone is affected by that in terms of their

own psyche, in terms of their own approach to the world, hard to say. But that is some of his background, at least.

COSTELLO: All right. Manu Raju, Sanjay Gupta, thanks to both you.

With me now to talk about this some more, North Carolina Republican Congressman Mark Meadows. He's also chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, as well as the chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations.

Welcome, sir.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: It's good to be with you. Good morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: Good morning. Nice to have you here. Congressman Tom Price is up for Health and Human Services Director. And as you heard Manu say, there are serious concerns about him.

The Senate Finance Committee says he failed to disclose late tax payments on rental properties. He undervalued stocks he owns in a pharmaceutical company, both to the Committee and in his financial disclosure forms, and he failed to disclose when he previously investigated by an ethics panel for fund-raising activities.

You know, Donald Trump says he wants to drain the swamp. In light of this, is Price the man for the job?

MEADOWS: Well, I think it is. It was interesting, just in the lead- in, Carol, of this particular show. What we've got is a doctor who not only mentioned Grady Hospital there in Atlanta, Georgia.

What I've come to know about Dr. Tom Price is a compassionate man that, not only as a physician and as a member of congress but as a human being, cares about those that are perhaps in harm's way, not as fortunate as some in terms of getting health care.

Even before I was sworn in to Congress, Dr. Price told me the main focus needs to be on the patient, that doctor/patient relationship. And so, as we look at that, I think what the Committee will find is someone who not only puts the patient first, but also one that does it in a compassionate way.

COSTELLO: But, you know, Dr. Price will be very much in charge of policy and ethics within a government office. So should all of that trump all of what I just read off to you about the concerns about Dr. Tom Price?

MEADOWS: Well, I mean, when you look at the plethora of the information that's requested on anybody and, you know, if they were to ask you or I to go back and try to recall from 10, 15 years ago everything that transpired, you do it in the best way that you know and most transparent way.

I know him to be an ethical individual but also one that is transparent. So, as we look at this, these may be some I's that were perhaps not dotted or T's not crossed but that's not indicative of who he is.

COSTELLO: Isn't it stocks he bought in these pharmaceutical companies? Because there's more than one.

MEADOWS: Well, I mean, when you look at a portfolio, Carol, I mean, anything that you have, the stocks that go up and down on a daily basis, you know, it would be different if he was a financial adviser, but he's a member of Congress and a doctor. And so, as we look at this --

COSTELLO: But isn't that exactly the point? He's a member of Congress and a lawmaker.

MEADOWS: Well, we --

COSTELLO: And he should know better than to invest in pharmaceuticals when he knows he's going to be involved in legislation concerning those companies.

MEADOWS: Well, I mean, let's look at it for what it is. You know, he's one member of 535 members of Congress. There's one piece of legislation that might have a conflict with a particular stock that he has.

If you invest based on a piece of legislation that you introduce, no matter how senior you are, you make a mistake there because so few bills ever get signed into law. And so when you look at a divided government, you know, I don't see anything that was unethical there.

The disclosure that he has put forth has been real transparent. You know, when you're looking at all of these, I mean, we all have disclosures that we have to provide ethically each year for any stock transactions.

[09:10:04] And so as you look at that, everybody that has a microscope on it, I think if they put a microscope on the work that Dr. Price has done, not only will he get confirmed but he will be overwhelmingly supported in a bipartisan way.

COSTELLO: OK. So I've tried to do exactly that.

MEADOWS: Right.

COSTELLO: I put the microscope on Dr. Tom Price, and here's another thing that came up that I want to ask you about.

MEADOWS: Sure.

COSTELLO: He wants to privatize Medicare. Many older Americans are kind of freaked out by that idea because they paid into that fund. It is their money. Are you concerned about that?

MEADOWS: Well, it is their money. And what we need to understand is just that when we look at Medicare, we have about a seven to nine-year window, Carol, before that goes bankrupt. So we have to do something that saves it. Now, for me, I'm not --

COSTELLO: Privatize it?

MEADOWS: -- I'm not one that says that we should privatize it. I actually look at other reforms that we can have.

But, you know, here's the interesting thing. Everybody says they want a plan, Carol, and the minute you put out a plan, it becomes criticized by one side or the other.

And yet, I want to applaud those who are willing to step forward so there's a debate there, Carol.

COSTELLO: Here's why there's a concern.

MEADOWS: Sure.

COSTELLO: So Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced.

MEADOWS: That's correct.

COSTELLO: They're talking about block grants to fund Medicaid. And now, some Republicans are talking about privatizing Medicare.

MEADOWS: Yes. I can tell you --

COSTELLO: You're changing the rules on so many things concerning people's health and their well-being, especially when they get past the age of 55, that people are very concerned and kind of freaked out right now.

MEADOWS: So, Carol, any time you deal with anybody's health, they should be. But let me just tell you to focus on Medicare privatization right now. I can tell you there is zero discussion on Capitol Hill as it relates to that.

It's all about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a replacement to make sure that Americans don't have to be concerned about their health care coverage. And so, you know, any comments that deal with Medicare are not based on reality on what's happening here on Capitol Hill.

COSTELLO: All right. Congressman Mark Meadows, thank you so much for being with me this morning.

MEADOWS: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, a bit of breaking news to share with you. This just coming in to us, CNN.

Israel has approved the construction of approximately 2,500 new housing units in West Bank settlements. In a tweet, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, quote, "We are building and we will continue to build."

Joining us live from Jerusalem, our own correspondent Oren Liebermann. He has more.

Hi, Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. You can't overlook the timing of this announcement coming from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister.

Approximately 2,500 housing units announced, mostly are in West Bank settlements, most of those in the settlement blocks but some, about 100 units, are in the settlement of Beit El.

Why is that significant? Because that is a settlement that President Donald Trump donated to back in 2003. Netanyahu has said he is looking forward to a new era, making it clear he was referencing President Donald Trump, and this is that era.

Just a few days into Trump's presidency, Netanyahu making this big announcement about West Bank housing, this new construction. We were trying to figure out when we've seen an announcement of this size, thousands of housing units, not in east Jerusalem but in the West Bank.

It's been years. We're trying to get an exact date on that, but it certainly had been some time since the government announced this many housing units in the West Bank, very much in response to President Trump in office. Netanyahu has been under pressure from his right- wing government to make bigger moves now that Trump is in office. He rebuffed an effort to annex parts of the West Bank but he is doing this.

Again, Carol, 2,500 housing units in the West Bank. A big announcement. A big move here from Netanyahu.

COSTELLO: All right. Oren Liebermann reporting live from Jerusalem this morning.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM as we wait for that big hearing for Congressman Tom Price. The big three are in D.C. The CEOs of major auto companies now meeting with President Trump.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:18:26] COSTELLO: This hour, President Trump sits down with executives from the big three Detroit automakers. The focus: jobs in America. On the invite list, the CEOs from Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler. Not invited or in attendance, executives from foreign carmakers like Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai.

Earlier this morning, Trump tweeted out this, quote, "I want new plants to be built here for cars sold here."

All of this as we're minutes from the opening bell. So, let's bring in CNN's chief business correspondent Christine Romans to see how the markets are doing so far this morning and then get into the nitty- gritty about what Trump is doing with these CEOs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: So, they've eaten up the Donald Trump's tweets, the president's tweets for many, many months. Now, they're going to eat breakfast with the president and figure out what the rules of the road will be, another terrible auto pun, for this industry.

Look, the president has been very clear. The idea of companies taking U.S. jobs, moving them to Mexico and building things more cheaply there and selling them back to the United States is not something that he is going to abide. And he is going to put a 35 percent border tax or tariff on any company that does that. That is going to very greatly complicate things for these American automakers. So, they want to know what the president's plan is, what the rules of the road will be and that they want some clarity here.

I'm sure as well they're going to be trying to tell the president that this is a very globalized supply chain. In many cases, you have a car assembled in the United States but parts have come from a couple of different places. What does it mean for those car parts?

Also, Carol, these global automakers in the U.S., if you look -- there's some 98,000 American workers who are employed by the foreign automakers not invited to this meeting this morning.

[09:20:04] They pay $7.6 billion in paychecks every year, and 40 percent of the cars assembled here are assembled by companies that are not an American -- not an American label, you know? So, it's a very complicated global supply chain.

And we heard from the Fiat Chrysler chairman at the Detroit Auto Show, he just wants to know what the rules are going to be. They are willing to abide by this new global era of trade that Donald Trump is singlehandedly redrawing the lines. They just want to know what those rules are going to be.

COSTELLO: OK. So, like you just mentioned, foreign automakers like the ones not invited to today's meeting, employ close to 100,000 Americans. President Trump wants automakers to create American jobs in American factories, something actually they've been doing since the recession.

I want to throw more numbers at you. Each company, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler say they have added 25,000 jobs a piece since 2009, increasing their employment here in the USA by 50 percent.

OK. So let's talk more about that. With me political analyst Jackie Kucinich. She's also the Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast". Errol Lewis is here, CNN political commentator and political anchor of Spectrum News. And Christine remains with us.

So, Christine, I will ask you. So, the big three, they've added these 25,000 jobs apiece. How many more jobs, realistically, can they create over a year or two years or three years?

ROMANS: It's also at the same time, Carol, automation is changing things very, very quickly as well. When you talk about globalization, you talk about creating jobs in the United States and automation of factories. I mean, the biggest factor in globalization right now, quite frankly, is automation. So, I'm sure they're going to talk about that here today.

Actually, a lot of the Wall Street analysts think that the revenue growth, the sales growth for American automakers is starting to slow a little bit. We've had two really good years for car sales. So, the very moment the president is saying, we want you to make more jobs, make more cars in America, it's exactly the moment when revenue is sort of starting to stall here a little bit.

I will also say something else. Small cars, the low margin small cars, the kinds of cars many of these companies have moved to Mexico or make in Mexico very cheaply, demand for those is waning. People want the big expensive SUVs and big trucks. So, there are also market forces at play here that may be causing some of these companies to make their --

COSTELLO: The other interesting thing is Trump is going to sit down with the big three automakers. But Nissan is not there. Honda is not there. Toyota -- everybody drives a Toyota, come one. So, you wonder why they're not at the table today?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, symbolically, because this is about politics more so than economics. Symbolically, it needed to be the big three. It needs to be about American jobs, American labels. What voters and consumers would associate with, sort of all American.

Now, I think he'll get some different feedback from different members even of the Republican Party when you start looking at some of these districts, in places like South Carolina where, you know, Honda and other foreign automakers have created a lot of jobs.

COSTELLO: Columbus, Ohio, right?.

LOUIS: Yes. I mean, another factor, I mean, as Christine points out, one factor is, you buy gas guzzlers as long as oil is as cheap as it is. Let that change and you have a whole different ball game with how many people are going to be flocking to those foreign autos.

COSTELLO: Interesting.

So, Jackie, is -- Errol says this is a message. Does that mean that President Trump will urge Americans to buy only American manufactured cars from American companies that were born here, for lack of a better way to put it?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It seems like an unwise move given how many jobs. I mean, I'm from Columbus, Ohio. My neighbors, their parents had jobs at the Honda plant. So, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense to alienate other countries that are bringing jobs into the country at the cost of U.S. auto workers.

The other thing that isn't clear, he adds a lot of uncertainty into this. Even the cars manufactured here, all the parts aren't manufactured here. So, if he does impose these tariffs, will that be affected? There are still a lot of questions there, because American auto companies aren't going to eat those costs if he starts taxing those things. The price of a car you buy is going to go up.

So, again, I'm sure these American automakers really do want to have a whole lot of questions to ask of the president but a lot of this is, I mean, you guys are absolutely right. A lot of this is for show. Having the big three there.

And Errol is right. The -- you have to imagine Republicans might object to how Trump is doing this.

COSTELLO: And I fond it interesting yesterday, Sean Spicer gave that presser and talked about the unemployment rate and when asked what the unemployment rate is right now and what it may be, this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: What is the average national unemployment rate?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What's the average?

REPORTER: What's the overall --

SPICER: Are you talking about whether or not we include the full --

REPORTER: I'm just asking you.

SPICER: I mean, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts it at -- no, it's not a question of what I accept.

[09:25:03] I mean, there are ways that you can put out full employment.

REPORTER: I know the difference --

SPICER: Right, but I'm saying that there's a reason that we put out several versions of that. One is that the illustrative nature of how you count the unemployed, whether or not they are long-term unemployed or whether or no they're still seeking a job. It's not just a number to him.

He's not focused on statistics as much as he is on whether or not the American people are doing better as a whole.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: So, Christine, the unemployment rate is 4.7 percent? Okay. So, remember during the election, Donald Trump would say things like --

ROMANS: Forty-five percent.

COSTELLO: No, we have it. I want our viewers to hear it for themselves. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I read every time it comes out, I hear, 5.3 percent unemployment. That is the biggest joke there is. Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 percent and 5 percent unemployment.

The number is probably 28 percent, 29 percent, as high as 35 percent. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.

The unemployment number is totally fiction. If you look for a job for six months and then you give up, they consider you statistically employed. It's not that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: OK.

ROMANS: Statistically employed. It's just not true. The unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, 4.8 percent. If you count in people who are working part time but want to be working full time, it's more like 9.6 percent and has been coming down, down, down.

COSTELLO: So maybe he'll mention that. I'm getting a warning that we're soon to hear Mr. Trump talking to the CEOs of these three big auto companies. Let's listen in.

TRUMP: I want to just thank you all for being here. We have a very big push on to have plants and many other plants. You're not being singled out. (INAUDIBLE) problems.

(LAUGHTER)

We have a lot of plants from a lot of different items built in the United States. And it's happening. It's happening bigly.

We have Whirlpool up yesterday talking about big construction facilities. And it's not the construction I want, although that brings jobs. It's the long-term jobs that we're looking for.

We're bringing manufacturing back to the United States bigly. We're reducing taxes very substantially and we're reducing unnecessary regulations. We want regulations, but we want real regulations. That means something.

Mark and I were together yesterday, and I think we understand that. And we're going to make the process much more simple for the auto companies. Everybody else that wants to do business in the United States, I think you'll find this to be from very inhospitable to extremely hospitable. I think we'll go down as one of the most friendly countries.

And right now, it's not. I mean, I have our friends that want to build in the United States, they go many, many years and then can't get the environmental permit over something that nobody ever heard of before. And it's absolutely crazy.

I am to a large extent an environmentalist. I believe in it. But it's out of control. And we're going to make a very short process.

And we're going to either give you your permits or we're not going to give you your permits. But you're going to know very quickly. And generally speaking, we're going to be giving you your permits. So, we're going to be very friendly.

And it's an honor to be with you today. Maybe we'll start with Mark because we got to know each other pretty well yesterday.

(INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Excuse me?

Would you like to stay a little longer? You're not supposed to ask questions. You're not supposed to ask questions.

(LAUGHTER)

(INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: There's always one. There's always one, Jonathan. Got to be one.

COSTELLO: Lighthearted. But we did learn something, Errol, right? Mr. Trump is an environmentalist.

LOUIS: Yes, this is the first time I think I've heard him refer to himself that way. And that's good news for the environmentalists, I imagine. They may not be all that relieved just yet.

COSTELLO: When Trump talks about regulations, what exactly is he talking about that would make it easier for American businesses to do business within our borders?

ROMANS: The last couple of days we've heard about these regulations no one has ever heard of that are slowing companies from being able to build plants and part of the factor that's driving them overseas. When I talk to business owners, their biggest concerns about regulations are actually state and local regulations. Like barber license kind of stuff where you're, you know, just all of a sudden, there's this morass of red tape on the state and local level, not necessarily on the federal level.

He's specifically there talking about environmental regulations. I've not heard CEOs of car companies complain about not being able to expand in the U.S. because of clean water or clean air laws.

COSTELLO: The carbon emissions thing, right? That was big during the Obama administration.

ROMANS: Yes, and getting cars -- exactly. And I will say the industry went along with a lot of these initiatives over the past couple of administrations to try to make car cleaners and to try to make factories cleaners.