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Soon: Trump Announces Alexander Acosta as Labor Secretary Pick; Trump Announcing Labor Secy Pick. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in CNN Senior Economics Analyst Stephen Moore now. He was the former senior economic adviser for the Trump campaign. He joins us now from Columbia, South Carolina. Also with us, CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta who is live in the East Room.

And Stephen Moore, let me talk to you first. What do you think about the Alexander Acosta pick? Have you worked with him in the past? What do you know about him?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: I don't know a whole lot about him, Jake. I just went through the release that the press -- that the press release that the White House just put out about him. You know, he has a pretty amazing resume, he certainly knows labor law. He -- by the way, one interesting thing about his resume is that he was one of the prosecutors against Jack Abramoff which I found interesting.

One of the things that I do -- I don't know the man but it's a very different pick, Jake from, from the previous pick who just resigned yesterday, Andy Puzder. Because Andy Puzder was a businessman and had been in one of the lines that a lot of us have used to promote him was he knows how to hire workers, he knows how to increase wages and salaries. This is a more traditional pick. Someone who is a lawyer. That's been the tradition of this Labor Department.

TAPPER: It's interesting. And Jim Acosta live for us in the East Room. That's a fair observation by Stephen there. I would say Andy Puzder is more of the disrupter model of Trump nominee, somebody brought in to change the way conventional wisdom is about the Labor Department. This is somebody who had very nontraditional views and a nontraditional background for the position whereas Mr. Acosta, not you, obviously, but Alexander Acosta, is more in the mode of what you might see in a George W. Bush administration. In fact, he actually served in the Bush administration himself.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And we are told, my colleague Sara Murray is reporting that President Trump met with some of the candidates for this pick today yesterday afternoon. So this just occurred in the last 24 hours. Obviously as things were unraveling for Andy Puzder, this White House had to get cracking in terms of finding somebody else and we're told that this just happened yesterday afternoon that he was talking to some of these candidates including Alexander Acosta.

And you're right Jake, this is much more of an establishment pick. He served in the Bush administration, he is going to be the first Latino in the cabinet if he is confirmed. That was a story obviously that we followed during the transition process as whether or not President Trump would actually place a Latino in his cabinet.

And I think another interesting question to watch Jake as this unfolds, if Alexander Acosta becomes the labor secretary is what happens, and we had this conversation when the last batch of jobless numbers came out. What will the Labor Department do under an Alexander Acosta when it comes to the unemployment figures? Because as we heard during the campaign, then candidate Trump was very critical of the unemployment figures. He often thought and said publicly at his rallies that he thought that the unemployment rate was much, much higher than where it is basically standing right now which is just below five percent.

And so, being this a -- in a establishment pick by President Trump, putting Alexander Acosta over the Labor Department, my sense of it is, Jake is that they will continue sort of business as usual over at that department when it comes to trusting those figures coming from the federal government. So I do think that that is an interesting thing to watch, Jake.

TAPPER: Stephen, obviously there's been a lot said and written about working class voters supporting President Trump, that is why he is in the White House. Support from those groups in overwhelming numbers, white working class voters especially in states like opinion Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. What are the big issues that a labor secretary Acosta, should that happen, will face having to do with those working class voters improving their lives?

MOORE: Well, there's going to be a lot of labor issues that are going to come up right away, Jake. One of the reasons that the labor unions really wanted to take down my friend Andy Puzder was that he was opposed in many cases to raising the minimum wage. And as you know with the unions, that's a big issue. Now, I happen to agree with Andy Puzder on that one but that certainly will be a big issue in the months ahead.

Another one that is a big interest to the financial community is something called the so-called fiduciary duty rule of investment advisers who give advice to their clients about whether they have conflicts of interest and that's bubbled up into a huge issue. Donald Trump has been very critical of that rule. It's been in the media a lot lately.

[12:35:02] And on this issue of unemployment that you guys were just talking about, I don't think Donald Trump wants to change the way the numbers are put together. I think his point which is something I agree with, Jake, is that we always talk in the media about the headline unemployment rate, which I think right now is 4.7 percent. But there's something -- there's another unemployment rate that includes people who dropped out of the workforce includes people who don't have a full-time job and that unemployment rate number is about double that. It's closer to 10 percent. And you might see more emphasis in this Labor Department saying, look, this real unemployment number is a lot higher than the headline number.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Stephen, a quick question. I've been getting some e-mails from folks who know him well, know his background as a former U.S. Attorney, Alexander Acosta. He's the dean of the Florida International University College of Law.

At that university, there are a lot of DACA students, children of undocumented immigrants who were raised here in the United States, they're students there. He knows these students well. The notion that he's now going to be secretary of labor and the fact that he has all this experience with all these DACA students, how do you think that will play out?

MOORE: That's a great question. I don't know, but obviously, you know, immigration is the key issue for Donald Trump and restraining illegal immigration is one of his key promises. So we'll see how that all plays out.

I want to go back though, Wolf, if I can to my original point. I think this is such a departure from Andy Puzder. What a lot of conservatives like myself really liked about Andy was that he was a businessman. He was a kind of a new approach to the Labor Department. Somebody who actually knows something about how to hire workers, how to make it easier for employers to hire workers.

As was said earlier, but it's worth emphasizing. Acosta is much more of a traditional pick for this -- so he's not the disruptor that Andy Puzder would have been.

TAPPER: All right, Stephen Moore, Jim Acosta, thanks so much. We're going to squeeze in another quick break, but we'll be right back. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Once again, any minute now the President of the United States will walk up to that lectern and make the official announcement that Alexander Acosta, former U.S. attorney, the dean of the Florida International University College of Law will be nominated to be the next secretary of labor. You know, John, a lot of people are suggesting already, maybe the president should have picked him first.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, when you're elected president, you pick your fights. And to Jake's point earlier and Stephen Moore just throw the line about a disruptor, the president has done this across the government with some exceptions. A more -- even though some people were worried about Rex Tillerson in the State Department, more of an establishment type guy, General Mattis at the Defense Department. Here he was looking -- in his economic team, he's looking for people who disrupt the way Washington does things. So he will push aggressively to change the policy.

This is a shift back clearly for White House that's had a lot of turmoil. A safe pick, someone they think who has experience in this town, who can get through confirmation, has many things on his resume the Democrats will like. The Justice Department including intervening in a case for the Bush Justice Department where a young Muslim student was told she couldn't wear a hijab headdress in school and they intervened on her behalf. So there will be some things in the record of the Democrats (INAUDIBLE). I think overall, it's a sign that the President -- the treasury secretary, the commerce secretary, the trade representative will now have even more prominent roles in the Trump economic policy.

[12:40:09] The labor secretary is not always a player in that regard. When Andy Puzder came in with the CEO, you might have had another big player in that arena. This will be more of a traditional regulatory agency now I think as you go forward. And a safe pick for the administration which at this point does not need another big controversy.

TAPPER: We should point out also, this is the Puzder pulling out. That's embarrassing, that's a defeat. But at this being a point -- I mean, I think President Obama at this point had already lost three cabinet battles with three individuals withdrawing their names, for -- two for commerce and one for HHS. So it's not really unheard of and actually by comparison, President Trump is doing OK.

KING: These things happen. I think more than anything, this is a reflection of two things. Number one, the president has a 52/48 majority in the United States Senate. He has no room for error. If the Democrats stay united which they have so far largely on the big controversies, so the president has almost no room for error. He can only afford to lose two Republicans as we saw with Betsy DeVos.

So once Andy Puzder started to lose more Republicans it was over. It tells you the president even for his big plans of change, even for his big message of disruption has to be careful. He has to do the Senate math first.

Number two, this is also a reflection, it's the same part of it. The Democrats have been able to stay together because the president did lose the popular vote, and they believe back where they're from, they're safe. The point that Manu was making earlier, the difference between the House and the Senate Republicans when it comes to the investigations, it's a good lesson, it's a little inside baseball, but for how Washington is right now.

These house members come from the reddest of red America. They go home to relatively safe districts. But Donald Trump won and then most cases won big. So they're going to side more of Trump.

The Senators, they live in purple America. They have to go home to a different audience, many of them. So they're more likely to look for reasons to stick their independence from the president.

TAPPER: But even there -- I mean, I've spoke with somebody who is very familiar with a red state Republican Senator who wanted to vote against Betsy DeVos for education secretary. And the pressure on him not to defect from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican majority leader was so strong that ultimately he just gave in. Mitch McConnell is running a very tight ship over there. Betsy DeVos was very controversial. She got confirmed in a historic way with Vice President Pence breaking a 50/50 tie. So, you really have to give credit or blame depending on your political point of view to Mitch McConnell for really hurting those casts effectively.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And with Betsy DeVos, even though she was getting bombarded with calls from all across the country, this really coordinated effort mainly from progressives and to really try to tank her nominee. He wasn't able I think with Puzder to hold that off mainly because Puzder was out of step with a lot of things that conservatives believe in. And he talked about immigration being a good thing. He also was for automation which isn't a good thing if you live in these states where manufacturing is really important. So I think that was one of the big things that he wasn't able to stave off because -- and also, we've got a point where this president is much weaker than he was during the DeVos time because of what's happened with all of these allegations and with the Flynn pullout.

BLITZER: You see reporters out there in the East Room of the White House. Some of them standing, ready to do live reports for their respective networks. The first couple of rows though, are still empty. I assume that guests will be coming in, family members, White House staff. They'll be walking in filling up those first few rows.

David Chalian is with us, our political director. David, it has been pointed out, Jim Acosta pointed out, this is the first Hispanic- American, first Latino, who if confirmed will become a member of the cabinet. And that in and of itself is significant.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is. I mean it's an important symbol to have literally a seat at that very big table in the cabinet room, to have that kind of representation. And so -- but that's what it is. It's an important symbol I think if you talk to Hispanic congressional leaders or Hispanic organizations. They're still looking to see what policies will come from this White House. But the symbolic representation is significant, Wolf.

I also wonder in listening to you guys talking about how Trump has gotten much of his cabinet in place. One defection here, one withdrawal is not historically terrible when you compare to previous presidents. And I wonder if this roll out which seemly -- seemed to be sort of teed up and ready to go. Coupled with a few other things now coming up on the president's calendar or campaign style rally on Saturday in Florida. He has that big joint session speech coming up. If today we're seeing sort of the beginning of a real attempt a sort of a Trump reset because of sort of the under siege mentality that has existed in the White House these last several weeks.

TAPPER: Well, let's go to Jim Acosta who's in the East Room and can set the scene for us a little bit more. We're expecting this announcement any minute. President Trump and Former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta to come out in the East Room there and the announcement to be made. Jim? [12:45:12] ACOSTA: That's right, Jake. I sure hope this is not fake news because secretary Acosta has a great ring to it. We do expect to have Alexander Acosta here with the president. We don't expect Mr. Acosta to make any comments during this but we are waiting to see whether or not the president takes questions.

I will point out though, one criticism that you heard from this White House press shop -- the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said this time and again during the briefings is that they feel that the Democrats up on Capitol Hill and the Senate have really slow walk their cabinet nominees, but, you know, let's face it. As you were just talking about a few moments ago, there have been Republican defections, not only in the case of Andy Puzder but also in the case of Betsy DeVos. And just yesterday, it was announced that Susan Collins, senator from Maine was having problems with Scott Pruitt, the pick for the EPA.

And so -- but I think David Chalian is exactly right. To have one cabinet nominee go down during this process is fairly low historically. And I think that is a sign that the Republicans are very much in control here in Washington. When they have the numbers in the Senate, they can basically do what they want with this cabinet. And I think that is part of the reason why you've seen President Trump select what has been a fairly in your face cabinet when you look at some of these nominees across the board.

But at the same time, I think as David Chalian was noting just a few moments ago, the selection of Alexander Acosta being more of a establishment Republican pick, being the first Latino in the cabinet, I think is a -- that is a very good call here. This may be the president to some extent trying to reset things here in Washington after a few tumultuous weeks.

BLITZER: Alexander Acosta, no relation to Jim Acosta. And once again, pointing out, all right those first couple of rows still empty. We'll take another quick break. We'll wait for the president and we'll have our coverage resume right after this.


BLITZER: We're waiting, we're watching for the president of the United States, Donald Trump. We're told momentarily, he will walk into the East Room and formally make the announcement that Alexander Acosta will be his pick to become the next secretary of labor. A law school dean, a former U.S. Attorney in Florida, highly respected. Well, of course, have live coverage of the President's remarks. Presumably we'll hear from Alexander Acosta as well, then we'll see if the president takes questions from reporters.

And that's always been at least in the last few news conferences a little bit of sensitivity there of the president taking questions at news conferences from reporters.

[12:50:13] TAPPER: They've been going, I think it's fair to say around the so-called MSM. The mainstream media going to New York Post, Fox News, Town Hall, Christian Broadcasting Network, The Daily Caller and somebody from Sinclair Broadcasting, and a lot of the mainstream reporters in the room have been frustrated with it not only because they're not getting picked, but because quite often those reporters and they might be very fine reporters are not asking questions about the big new story of the day. And at the last three press conferences, the big news story of the day has been about whether it's General Flynn lying about the content of his phone call with the Russian Ambassador or other stories having to do with the Trump team and Russia.

So there's been a lot of frustration and a lot of reporters think that President Trump is purposely doing this. And these reporters for whatever reason, maybe their viewers and readers are not as interested in the main story of the day reporting to the mainstream media. But those reporters are not asking the questions.

BLITZER: Yes. And he's been really -- in his Twitter feed over the past couple of days really going after -- the president of the United States going after that mainstream media recall state moves.

KING: And he's the president of the United States and he and his press secretary have every right to run the room as they see fit. And they have every right to acknowledge the big changes in the media in the past two, four, six, eight, 10 years. That's their right.

But one of the things they're -- in some ways, the president's own staff or the president's own instincts are doing the president a disservice in the sense that, you know, maybe he doesn't like the mainstream media. He likes to label us as fake news or dishonest. However, there are legitimate questions to ask about the Russian connections, alleged Russian connections about. Why he fired his National Security Advisor so early in the administration and then try to suggest that it deal -- it was the media's fault or the leaker's fault.

Well, he -- we are told by his own -- if his press secretary is to be believed, Donald Trump, the president of United States told General Flynn, I'm sorry, you're a good man but I've lost confidence in you. You need to leave. The president didn't say that yesterday when this came up backward.

So the questions will continue. The stories will continue until the president can help put them to rest. So it's in his interest actually to address these questions and try to put them to rest.

TAPPER: And look, there are obvious answers. On Friday, I think the president was asked about the report about Michael Flynn having not told the truth to the vice president and to the American people about the contents of that call. President Trump was asked about it and he pretended he had no idea what the reporter was talking about.

Now, there was an answer about why the president was misleading. I was still investigating. I didn't want to get ahead of the story. You know, he doesn't have to apologize but, you know, I wasn't about to get involved in that, yet we were still looking into it. But the fact remains, he was misleading if not lying, and the American people deserve an explanation. KING: And if part of this might just be him getting used to the job which is fine too. He can say that. But the answer to that is, gentlemen, I can't talk to you about that right now or I won't talk to you about that right now or ask me next week about that. I'm not going to talk about it right now. The president has every right to say that.

But when he says I don't know about it and then we are -- again, we are told later by his people who work for him. That these are -- we're not making this up, these are people on the president's payroll who some on the record and some on background just tell us, give us a tick tock that it's a 180 degrees contrary to what the president of United State says. It leaves you wondering who's telling the truth and who essentially is sending the message over there.

BLITZER: All right. People are beginning to come into the East Room of the White House. Now, they're beginning to sit down so presumably we're getting closer to the president's formal announcement of Alexander Acosta who will be nominated to become the next secretary of labor.

I want to bring back our Senior Economics Analyst Stephen Moore who was a former senior economic adviser for the Trump campaign and our CNN global economic analyst, assistant managing editor of "Time" magazine, Rana Foroohar. Rana, tell us more about this labor secretary nominee we're about to learn a lot more about him.

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST. Well, you know, particularly, in the context of the Trump administration, this is a really balanced nomination. You know, Alexander Acosta is somebody that certainly some progressives will find fault with but he's done a lot of things that I think folks on the left would actually respect and like. He's somebody that has stood up for the rights of Muslims for example when he was in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. He did that, he's given some very eloquent testimony around civil rights issues for Muslims.

He is somebody that's taken on big banks and fraud cases. So I really see him as a pretty balanced pick, particularly in the context of this administration and what we've seen so far.

BLITZER: And Steven, you agree?

MOORE: Well, unfortunately, I do agree that I think this was a retreat by the Trump administration. I read the editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today. I used to work on editorial board of the journal. And I like what they said as like, you know, the -- look, the unions and there's a conservative effort by the left to take down Andy Puzder. I think it was unfair, I think a lot of charges were not true that were made against him. And, you know, what "The Journal" said is, you know, come forward with somebody else like him, don't retreat. And this is a little bit of a retreat.

But one other thing I'd like to say because you had this discussion earlier about cabinet picks and someone was saying, well, this isn't really that unusual. But look, I've been in politics Wolf, for 30 years. You've been even longer than I have. I can't remember a time when virtually every cabinet secretary nominee was so challenged by the other party.

[12:55:08] The question really becomes, should the president have the ability to have the people who are his advisers around him. And I think that's really been thrown into question now because the Democrats have almost in most of these cases, they have voted lack step against these people and they've also held up a lot of them. And I think that's had a negative effect on Mr. Trump's ability to get out of the gate charging with his legislative agenda.

TAPPER: There are a few exceptions to that of course, Steven. Mattis at Pentagon, Elaine Chao for transportation, Kelly at Homeland Security, all with overwhelming support. We're watching the room right now as we just saw Vice President Pence, the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and others from the president's senior staff come in.

So we're going to interrupt you in a second. But before -- well, never mind. Here we go. Thank you so much Steven. Here is President Trump and his nominee for secretary of labor. Let's listen in.


I just wanted to begin by mentioning that the nominee for secretary of the Department of Labor will be Mr. Alex Acosta. He has a law degree from Harvard Law School, was a great student; former clerk for Justice Samuel Alito. And he has had a tremendous career. He's a member and has been a member of the National Labor Relations Board, and has been through Senate confirmation three times, confirmed; did very, very well.

And so Alex, I've wished him the best. We just spoke. And he's going to be -- I think he'll be a tremendous secretary of labor.

And also as you probably heard just a little while ago, Mick Mulvaney, former congressman, has just been approved weeks late, I have to say that, weeks, weeks late, Office of Management and Budget. And he will be I think a fantastic addition.

Paul Singer just left. As you know, Paul was very much involved with the anti-Trump or as they say, "never Trump." And Paul just left and he's given us his total support. And it's all about unification. We're unifying the party and hopefully we're going to be able to unify the country. It's very important to me. I've been talking about that for a long time. It's very, very important to me.

So I want to thank Paul Singer for being here and for coming up to the office. He was a very strong opponent, and now he's a very strong ally. And I appreciate that.

I think I'll say a few words, and then we'll take some questions. And I had this time. We've been negotiating a lot of different transactions to save money on contracts that were terrible, including airplane contracts that were out of control and late and terrible; just absolutely catastrophic in terms of what was happening. And we've done some really good work. We're very proud of that. And then right after that, you prepare yourselves, we'll do some questions, unless you have enough questions. That's always a possibility.

I'm here today to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration. We have made incredible progress. I don't think there's ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we've done.

A new Rasmussen poll, in fact -- because the people get it -- much of the media doesn't get it. They actually get it, but they don't write it. Let's put it that way. But a new Rasmussen poll just came out just a very short while ago, and it has our approval rating at 55 percent and going up. The stock market has hit record numbers, as you know. And there has been a tremendous surge of optimism in the business world, which is -- to me means something much different than it used to. It used to mean, "Oh, that's good." Now it means, "That's good for jobs." Very different.

Plants and factories are already starting to move back into the United States, and big league -- Ford, General Motors, so many of them. I'm making this presentation directly to the American people, with the media present, which is an honor to have you. This morning, because many of our nation's reporters and folks will not tell you the truth, and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve. And I hope going forward we can be a little bit -- a little bit different, and maybe get along a little bit better, if that's possible. Maybe it's not, and that's OK, too.

Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system.

[13:00:03] The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice.