Today on CNN’s State of the Union, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, joined anchor, Jake Tapper to discuss El Chapo, gun control, and the State of the Union address.
For more information, see http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/. Also, text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.
MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”
Denis McDonough on State of the Union: Full Interview
McDonough responds to actor Sean Penn’s interview with El Chapo: “I have not read the interview, but I have read a lot of the coverage of the interview. And one thing I will tell you is that this braggadocios action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including to the United States, is maddening… Well, it poses a lot of very interesting questions, both for him [Penn] and for others involved in this - this so-called interview. So, we will see what happens on that. I'm not going to get ahead of it.”
McDonough on the upcoming State of the Union speech: “I think, what you'll hear from the president is what he came and said to us late last year he sat down with us and said, look, it's time for us not to focus on the State of the Union as an issue and - for the upcoming election or anything. He wants to talk about the future of this country. He's a very optimistic about the future of the country. You'll hear him talk about every American having a shot in this changing economy. You’ll hear him talk about using all the elements of our national power to protect and grow the influence of this country. And importantly, Jake, you'll hear the president talk about making sure that every American has a chance to influence this democracy. Not the select few, not the millionaires and the billionaires, but every American. And when we draw on the strength of every American the sky is the limit for this country and we’re seeing that just now with the kind of jobs growth that we see.”
McDonough on Sanders’ gun control position: “As it relates to Senator Sanders. We've seen movement on this since the op-ed appeared on Thursday. We think that's good. If that continues that's the goal of this is making sure that we have gun laws that are responsive to the wishes of the American people. Not responsive to the wishes of the big NRA bosses here in Washington… The goal here is getting common sense gun laws that will reduce that violence. That will reduce the 30,000 deaths every year in this country.”
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Believe it or not, President Obama is going to give his final State of the Union address on Tuesday.
The president says, rather than giving a usual laundry list of policy proposals, this speech will focus on how the president hopes the country will look after he has moved out of the White House next year.
Let's look forward to the speech and the president's final year in office with his longest-serving chief of staff, and, by all accounts, his favorite one, Denis McDonough.
Thanks for being here, Denis.
I want to talk about the State of the Union in a second, but first a couple big news items that I want to get your perspective on.
DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, sure.
TAPPER: Breaking overnight, actor Sean Penn met with El Chapo in October, the big drug trafficker, after the Mexican drug kingpin had escaped from prison.
According to "The New York Times," the Mexican government is now investigating Penn and others who participated in this interview. What is the Obama administration's position on this? Has the president or have you read this interview with this horrific drug dealer?
MCDONOUGH: Well, thanks for the opportunity to be on the show, Jake.
And also what broke on Friday night is that Chapo has been rearrested, which is good. He should stay behind bars.
I have not read the interview, but I have read a lot of the coverage of the interview. And one thing I will tell you is that this braggadocios action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including to the United States, is maddening.
We see a heroin epidemic, opioid addiction epidemic in this country. So, we're going to stay on top of this, with our Mexican counterparts, until we get that back in the box.
But El Chapo is behind bars. That's where he should stay.
TAPPER: Any concern about Sean Penn at all? If the Mexicans want him, will the U.S. make sure that they're able to talk to him?
MCDONOUGH: Well, it poses a lot of very interesting questions, both for him and for others involved in this - this so-called interview. So, we will see what happens on that. I'm not going to get ahead of it.
TAPPER: Much bigger issue, obviously, is North Korea and their nuclear test. They claimed it was an H-bomb.
The U.S. just flew a B-52 bomber over the Korean Peninsula, nuclear-capable of carrying - it's capable of carrying nuclear weapons - to warn North Korea. Next week, the House is going to vote on new sanctions.
What new steps does the administration want to see against North Korea? With all due respect, what is being done now doesn't seem to be working.
MCDONOUGH: Well, look, we obviously did, as you just pointed out, underscore to our South Korean allies last night the deep and enduring alliance that we have with them. Last night was a step towards reassurance in that regard and that was important.
As it relates to what steps we'll continue to take. Well what we’ll continue to do is work not just with South Korea and Japan but also with China and Russia to deeply isolate the North Koreans. I'm not telling you that I think that this is ultimately going to get - that this is going to resolve this issue overnight. We're going have to continue to squeeze the North Koreans until they live up to their prior commitments including going back to 2005, when they committed to be rid of their nuclear weapons. That's the baseline requirement they have to rejoin the international community. Until they do it, they'll remain where they are which is an outcast - unable to provide for their own people.
TAPPER: China has been reluctant to squeeze North Korea. And they’re really the only ones with the real leverage to do this, because they apparently had made the calculation that they would rather have what passes for stable - a stable North Korea on their border than they would have - that there are issues about a nuclear North Korea. Have they changed their mind at all?
MCDONOUGH: Well, you saw the President Xi stand on the south lawn of the White House in September and reemphasize China's support for the denuclearization of that peninsula. We take them at their work and we’ll continue to work with them and make sure that they understand that a nuclear North Korea is not a stable scenario. And so they have to understand that.
TAPPER: Let's talk about the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. I’m going to show you some recent nationwide polling data from CNN.
When Americans are asked if they're satisfied with the way the U.S. is being governed, 75 percent, no. When American are asked if they’re satisfied with how things are going with the war on terrorism, 74 percent, no; 52 percent said they disapproved of President Obama's job performance.
Going into the final State of the Union these are not the kinds of numbers that a president would want.
MCDONOUGH: We don't spend a lot of time looking at the numbers, Jake. I spend a lot of time looking at what we need to do to continue to keep this country safe and how we continue to grow the economy here.
Last week, on Friday morning, we learned that 292,000 new jobs last month. That's the 70th month in a row of job growth in this country. The (ph) most - the quickest reduction of unemployment in decades. The fastest rate of job growth since the 1990s when there was another Democrat in the White House, by the way. So we're going to continue to focus on those things.
Well, the numbers will sort themselves out. And that's what we're focused on.
TAPPER: And what’s the president going to say Tuesday night to reassure these Americans who are worried, and skeptical, and anxious about the future?
MCDONOUGH: Well, I think, what you'll hear from the president is what he came and said to us late last year he sat down with us and said, look, it's time for us not to focus on the State of the Union as an issue and - for the upcoming election or anything. He wants to talk about the future of this country. He's a very optimistic about the future of the country.
You'll hear him talk about every American having a shot in this changing economy. You’ll hear him talk about using all the elements of our national power to protect and grow the influence of this country. And importantly, Jake, you'll hear the president talk about making sure that every American has a chance to influence this democracy. Not the select few, not the millionaires and the billionaires, but every American. And when we draw (ph) on (ph) the strength of every American the sky is the limit for this country and we’re seeing that just now with the kind of jobs growth that we see.
TAPPER: When you talk about jobs growth and you also talked about the changing economy. This was the worst opening week for U.S. stocks ever in January. And while the economy did add the 292,000 jobs, you mentioned, in December Bill Clinton's former labor secretary, Robert Reich, he calls them lousy jobs. He said - he wrote it on Facebook.
"The U.S. continues to add lousy jobs at a fast clip. We’ve got in the habit of looking only at the number of jobs created rather than what they pay or how secure they are."
Is he right?
MCDONOUGH: What we see is, as I just said, the most drastic reduction in unemployment in more than three decades. And what we are seeing is a dramatically changing economy. So, that's why the president is going to about this on Tuesday night. He's going to talk about how it is that everybody can succeed in that economy.
We see opportunities for Congress to help us along the way. They ought to go ahead and pass the TPP deal which we got in the last year, and which is the largest free trade agreement in history opening numerous markets to us or (ph) leading (ph) them to China to dominate. So, Congress should help along the way. But we feel really good about the future of this economy and the future of this country.
TAPPER: President Obama also making a big issue out of gun control talking about increasing background checks. He also said in a "New York Times" op-ed - he wrote in a "New York Times" op-ed that he's going to become basically a single issue voter in some ways. He's not going to support Democrats or anyone who doesn't support, in his term, common sense gun legislation.
Now, I don't know exactly what that means in terms of how he’s going to make that decision. Bernie Sanders, for example, voted against the Brady Bill when he was in Congress - in the House. He voted to protect gun manufacturers from being sued to give them immunity. Does Senator Sanders meet the president's standard?
MCDONOUGH: Well, I’m going to say two things about this. First of all, the president is not making a big issue of gun control. What is happening in the country with over 30,000 deaths last year from gun violence that this is a big issue in this country. 20,000 people - kids under 18 in gun safety, gun accidents, or gun violence killed over the last decade. More than 500 police officers.
This isn’t an issue that we’re making. This is an issue that we are - need to confront as a country, point one. Point two, what the president had said is not just for the Democratic primary but for elections for the full house, a third of the Senate, state houses and governorships across the country. People ought to treat this issue the way these numbers demand to be treated. And that's what he's going to - that’s what he’s demanding of party candidates, Republican and Democrat across the country.
Last thing as it relates to Senator Sanders. We've seen movement on this since the op-ed appeared on Thursday. We think that's good. If that continues that's the goal of this is making sure that we have gun laws that are responsive to the wishes of the American people. Not responsive to the wishes of the big NRA bosses here in Washington.
MCDONOUGH: So that's what we're - that’s what we’re seeing. We’ll continue to see that when we have a nominee. Then we'll roll up our sleeves and make some decisions.
TAPPER: So, Sanders saying that he's willing to rethink his vote on immunization - immunity. rather, for gun manufacturers might make the president support him, ultimately if he gets the nomination.
MCDONOUGH: The goal here is getting common sense gun laws that will reduce that violence. That will reduce the 30,000 deaths every year in this country. And we think that that’s having an impact. As we see it, we'll make some final decisions about what the president will do and who he’ll support.
TAPPER: One of the president's strongest allies on this issue is former New York City mayor, Mike Bloomberg, who not only has made a big political issue out of it in New York City when he was mayor, but also he’s putting quite a bit of his fortune to push for gun legislation, restricting gun ownership and the like. He's now polling - sources tell us, to see how a third party candidacy by him might fare if it came down to it.
Is it possible that since he's so strong in the president's view on this issue the president might even support an independent presidential candidacy by Mike Bloomberg?
MCDONOUGH: It sounds to me like a hypothetical - built on a hypothetical, Jake. So, I'll just wait and see what happens on this. What we're focused on is common sense steps to reduce gun violence. That's what the president rolled out last week. That’s what we’re focused on and that’s what we'll continue to do.
TAPPER: Last question for you.
President Obama when he ran for president obviously promised to unite the country. The tone in this country, the divisions in this country in many ways seen worse. I'm not blaming that on President Obama but looking back on it, is there anything that he could have done differently to actually fulfill this pledge to have a united and more cohesive America?
MCDONOUGH: Well, I think one of the things you'll hear him talk about as I said a minute ago in the speech on Tuesday night is how we make sure that our politics is as good as the American people. And so he'll have some things to say about that on Tuesday night, Jake. So, I'm not going to get too far ahead of him. But (ph) I’d (ph) say (ph) (INAUDIBLE).
TAPPER: White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough. It’s always a pleasure to have you. Don’t be a stranger. Thank you so much. Good luck Tuesday night.
MCDONOUGH: Thanks, man. Happy New Year. Thanks for the opportunity to be with you.
TAPPER: Thanks for being here.