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INSIDE POLITICS

Oprah's Golden Globes Speech Sparks 2020 Buzz; Trump-Bannon Rift Widens Over "Fire and Fury" Quotes; Corker Repairing Soured Relationship With Trump. Aired 12:30-1pm ET

Aired January 8, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:31:13] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Let's talk Oprah. Seriously.

Sources this morning telling CNN's Brian Stelter that Oprah's speech at the Golden Globes last night was more than just a speech. Friends of the media mogul telling Brian confidants have privately been urging Winfrey to run for president in 2020. Those conversations according to sources have been happening for months now, and they tell Brian these sources that Oprah is, quote, actively thinking about it.

Now, after the speech last night, it didn't end with any announcement, but you don't have to look too hard to see the ground work for a possible, possible campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, CECIL B. DEMILLE AWARD WINNER: So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say "Me Too" again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What do we make of this? I have learned in the last 10 years, Barack Obama can never beat Hillary Clinton. America is not ready for an African-American president.

Donald Trump won't run. If he runs, he can't win the Republican primaries. There's now way in hell he can be president of the United States.

I have learned to never say never. But if we learned anything in the last 10 years of volatile changing quick sand American politics, never say never. Oprah Winfrey?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: I guess anything is possible. I mean, I -- KING: You're skeptic.

RAJU: I'm very skeptical. I mean, I can't tell the people who say that she's actively considering it are the people who want her to run or if it's for herself who wants to run. You know, she is someone who's got a universal name recognition, people love her, she'd got a lot of money. But the moment she steps into the ring, half of the country will probably, automatically hate you.

She's going to have to draw a lot of mud. It's going to be a nasty, nasty affair. But I do think it also speaks to this 2020 campaign for Democrats is going to be a free-for-all.

I mean, there are so many people who want to run, and the Democrats still -- you know, there really aren't that many who people could see is winning and beating Donald Trump. They have a pretty thin bank at the end of the day. And presumably she could come in and galvanize the field. But I think there is still a lot of time.

KING: There is no reason to display every reason to believe the climate that brought us President Trump still exists. That Americans on a bipartisan basis don't trust politicians. Americans on a bipartisan basis are looking for something different.

Oprah would be different just if you want to check here. Stedman Graham, her long time companion said, "It's up to the people. She would absolutely do it."

He should know (INAUDIBLE), here we go there, but Meryl Streep saying, "She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president. I don't think she had an intention of declaring. But now she doesn't have a choice."

So we're going to talk about this now for months if not three years, but another skeptic there.

OLIVIER KNOX, YAHOO! NEWS: No, I would just say, actually you know who's not rejecting this at hand. There's a lot of Obama White House alums. You could go -- if you go in Twitter now, you can find the former communications director, Dan Pfeiffer who turned senior adviser. You can find the former deputy chief of staff talking positively about this. You can find, I believe the person who ran (INAUDIBLE) in 2012, these -- they're not -- they couldn't just stand aside and say nothing. But they're coming out but they're coming out it's getting a fairly warm reception.

So I am much more in (INAUDIBLE) than I am in Oprah 2020. But it bears noting that some seasoned political professionals aren't ruling this out.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG: Well, you remember of course -- it's ancient history I know but you remember when Oprah was kind of the spark that helped light Obama's sort of mainstream right from primary to general.

[12:35:00] And I remember being in that football stadium in Columbia, South Carolina full of white voters as well as black voters where Oprah was there to whip up the crowd support for him. Here's the reasons not to do it.

Number one, you're a billionaire and I think your life, no matter how hard you work, it's much easier now that if you're running for president. Number two, all those years on T.V., you know, there are interviews where people felt wrong, there are giveaways or car contests where someone felt jilted. There are interviews that came back to haunt you in a different context, all of history.

That's right. But look, Hillary Clinton, many people thought would be the first American female president and she wasn't. And so that prize is still there for the taking. And if there's probably a limited amount of time where you can still be the first.

Next time around might be one of those times. She is also a larger than life figure. She can match personality and reach and wits with Donald Trump. She's much younger to boot. And it is an enormous challenge and appeal and there's nobody in the Democratic Party right now there to fill it.

KING: And let me just say, as you come in, it started a very interesting and sometimes fun but also -- but serious conversation. Bill Kristol, the conservative activist, Weekly Standard publisher writing this as a tweet.

"Oprah: Sounder on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren, less touchy-feely than Joe Biden, more pleasant than Andrew Cuomo, more charismatic than John Hickenlooper. I'm with her."

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Look, as the charter member of the unofficial Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for president (INAUDIBLE) committee, I'm noting the competition. Look, I think all the downsides are there and like this is a bit fanciful. But look, she is charming, she has access to money and she is universal name recognition.

It was a very good speech and the thing that I noted what it didn't do. Which was, it did not take shots at parts of America that might disagree for the future candidate Oprah. And I think that is actually sort of rare in Hollywood. She didn't go after anyone. She gave specifically or politically she gave sort of an uplifting everyone together speech and it was fairly moving.

KING: Trump is a Republican, Oprah is a Democrat, The Rock can be an independent. It'd be a great campaign. Why not, why not?

Up next, the president called him Sloppy Steve, but now, it sounds a little bit more like backpedaling Bannon. Any chance the president might forgive and forget?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:41:46] KING: A quick look now at other stories on our political radar today. There's been speculations that billionaire activist Tom Steyer might run for office in 2018 but he's just announced will use his resources in other ways instead for now. The former hedge fund manager said a short time ago here in Washington, his first priority, helping Democrats re-take the house. He pledged up to $30 million to a group targeting young voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM STEYER, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Last year the people did speak. In Virginia, in New Jersey, in Alabama, in races from Oklahoma to Florida. But as encouraging as that was, we have no room to go backwards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: An estimated 200,000 or more people emigrants from El Salvador who've been in the United States for as much as 15 years could soon be at the risk of deportation. The Trump administration is winding down a policy that gave temporary protection for Salvadorians without legal status.

Those affected will have 18 months now to find other ways to stay in the United States legally or to make preparations to leave. In a statement, the House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called that decision, quote, premature and dangerous since it will tear apart families and shatter communities.

Two U.S. senators starting their first full week, one of them, still answering questions about the person she replaced. Minnesota Democrat Tina Smith appeared this morning on CNN's New Day had this to say when asked whether her predecessor Al Franken was too quick to resign over allegations of misconduct as Democrats, excuse me, have suggested.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TINA SMITH (D), MINNESOTA: There are a lot of -- there's a lot of feelings about this. There are no doubt. And what I have notice is that are a lot of feelings on both sides and I really respect that.

But I think that the question now is how do we move forward. And I am 100 percent sure that Al made the decision that he thought was best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back now with another big Washington drama involving the White House. Steve Bannon is nothing if not stubborn. So even a partial apology tells you he's feeling the heat for angering the president.

And just about everyone, let's be honest on team Trump. At issue for the one time presidential sidekick, quote, critical of the first family in that new book, "Fire and Fury. Bannon is now backing away from one passage in the book where he says the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian contacts was treasonous.

Bannon said he was pointing the finger not at Paul Manafort, then the campaign chairman not at Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son. Bannon went on to say in a statement, quote, I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting railroad Don Jr. has diverted attention from the president's historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency. Now Bannon stopped short of saying he's sorry.

And CNN has learned the president is making clear he views this debate as a test of loyalty and expects his allies to condemn the former chief White House strategist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Let's not mince words. There is no rivalry between a hammer and a nail. There's no rivalry between the president and Steve Bannon.

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: It's tragic and unfortunate that Steve would make the grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive. His role has been greatly exaggerated where as the president hasn't gotten the due that he deserves. The reality is the president is a political genius.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's get the easy one out of the way quickly. The chance of forgiveness on a scale from one to 10 is what, negative five?

RAJU: That's being generous.

[12:45:06] TALEV: Right now, htat certain lecture there is the ever present caveat that President Trump often invites back into the poll of the very people that he exorcized. Everyone that we talked to inside the White House and inside the sort of (INAUDIBLE) of Trump loyalists say this may have crossed a rubicon, it's beyond repair at least at this point.

But I think if it were President Obama, you could say yes, they will never speak again. I think in this case, you never say never, but it is a long graveling path back. And one of the strange challenges is that President Trump really doesn't respect apologies.

So if Steve Bannon had offered a full throated apology, that would probably be even worse. But to say nothing made it untenable. Part of this messaging was not to Trump but to the sort of people in the middle. Funders who would back his projects, folks that (INAUDIBLE) under pressure about whether he could stay in that role.

Some of the Republicans in Congress or around Congress who support some of his projects and initiatives and are trying to find out how close they can hold on to him. There's a lot of unspoken calibration in that statement.

RAJU: It will be fascinating to see how these Republican primary challengers, what they decide to do about Steve Bannon. What Steve Bannon decides to do on the 2018 mid-terms? He wanted to support all these insurgent candidates, go against the establishment, back candidates. What are they going to do themselves? Will they embrace Steve Bannon, will they reject Steve Bannon? How will they deal with that own issue given the president's stuff now as he's making these guys to make a decision, Trump or Bannon?

Some are going to choose Trump and then that could also make it harder for them if they don't have that support coming from the outside.

KING: If you choose Bannon, you're inviting the president's eye. I don't see that happening. A lot of fingers left.

KNOX: Well, this was tested by the Alabama special election for starters. But I'm with Margaret and I think that the president is currently palling around with a sitting Republican senator who went on television loudly and plainly and bluntly declared him unfit to hold the office of the presidency. So I don't think that we can say he's never going to forgive Bannon.

KING: That's a good point. I just want to quote a little bit from Margaret's piece on this. Matt Schlapp, the chairman of American Conservative Union who's become close to the White House, I don't know if it's ever repairable. These wounds are pretty deep.

Fred Brown, the former Republican Party spokesman (INAUDIBLE). "The fact that Bannon was dumb enough to make people choose between him and the president shows he has a more delusional opinion of himself than even Trump does." No argument with that.

HAM: I think if he calculated that he was the pied piper of populism not Trump, then he's wrong. They worked closely together, he's certainly part of that messaging. Also, I don't think this is about Don Jr. at all. It is about the Russia narrative and reinforcing that finally without information.

This is his opinion (INAUDIBLE) took him upstairs. You know, he does not actually know that he's not bringing that to the table. He may get asked about it under oath which would be interesting. But that's the unforgivable part for Trump if there is one. It's the reinforcing of that narrative.

RAJU: Yes. And one thing in that statement -- I mean, he doesn't really say that all these quotes are inaccurate. There is no such thing. He just said it was misconstrued the way that he meant to go after Manafort instead of Don Jr. But he did say Don Jr. was going to crack like an egg on national T.V. So he didn't say he did say that.

KING: OK, well, this one is not going anywhere. We'll have that (INAUDIBLE).

Coming up, the president holds a grudge against Steve Bannon, but he made amends with a senator he nicknamed "Liddle Bob."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:52:37] KING: Welcome back. There is forgiveness in Washington. President Trump appears now to be making up with one of his biggest Republican critics. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman who once said the president needs, quote, an adult daycare at the White House and might accidentally spark World War III.

Next hour, the two will be flying together to an event in Nashville, Tennessee, Corker's home state. Sources telling our Manu Raju who's right here at the table, Corker has been working to repair their relationship over the past several months and the two have spoken several times just in recent weeks. So there is (INAUDIBLE) there's peace.

RAJU: Yes, there's certainly peace. They have spoken and at length during the whole tax debate. As you recall, Corker voted against the initial Senate bill initially and then afterwards in the final legislation that came out of the conference that became law, he voted for it. He got a lot of heat for that including over a report that perhaps may have enriched himself through a provision that was in there. He rejected the report and said it was totally false.

And then spoke to the president about that and he called it fake news, the president did and Corker agreed with that. Since then, you know, Corker maintained this good relationship and it really speaks to the transactional nature of this president who one time he doesn't like you, another moment he does like you when he gets what he wants.

And one thing that Corker wants, they got to get this Iran issue situated fix through Congress. He's going to need the president's support to get this legislation.

KING: Let's get that (INAUDIBLE). But Steve Bannon doesn't like Bob Corker because Bob Corker is establishment but Steve Bannon wants forgiveness, he's proof that's possible. This is the president of the United States tweeting on October 24th, that's not all that long ago, "Senator Corker is the incompetent head of the Foreign Relations Committee and look how poorly the U.S. has done. He doesn't have a clue as the entire world was laughing and taking advantage of us. People like Liddle Bob Corker have set the U.S. way back."

Now we move forward. That same day, Senator Corker decided President Trump likes to say he's a counter puncher. Here's the senator with Manu.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Is the president of the United States a liar.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), Tennessee: The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues.

RAJU: Do you regret supporting him in the election?

CORKER: Let's just put it this way. I would not do that again.

RAJU: Do you think he's a role model to children in the United States?

CORKER: No, absolutely not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Some good question of forgiveness.

HAM: I think it was probably in normal politics unwise for both of them to take it as far as they took it and probably wise for them to come back together.

[12:55:01] It is remarkable that that can happen, but they probably need each other in various situations and here we are certainly.

KING: The Iran deal is important. Take us inside why a functional Corker-Trump relationship could affect that in a big way.

KNOX: Last year when the president refused to certify that the Iran nuclear deal was not in America's national interest, he did not at the same time impose -- re-impose sanctions. But he initially kicked it to Congress and said, OK, fix this or the next time this comes up which is basically this week, next time this time comes up, I might re-impose these sanctions.

With Bob Corker as he's working on is a legislative package that would address some of the concerns about for example, Iran's ballistic missile programs and things like that.

Corker and his top Democrat on the committee, Ben Cardin of Maryland were at the White House on Thursday. They have been working pretty closely with the Trump White House on this package or fixes. And the reason that they need the president isn't just to sign it, it's also because they need to get America's allies on board. They need to get Russia on board, they need to get China on board, France, Britain, Germany. And that's why this relationship is important.

KING: A great day. Great important day on Air Force One. Today, we'll continue the conversation throughout the week. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Nice to be back.

Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington, 6 p.m. in London --