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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

GOP Donors Flocking to Jeb?; April Jobs Report Crushes Expectations; "Nerd Prom" This Weekend In D.C.

Aired May 2, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Turning now to the "Politics Lead," donors way jilting Christie for Jeb Bush. That's an actual "New York Times" headline, jilted. Almost like we're talking about the latest breakup ballad by Taylor Swift. But this is high stakes presidential politics, not a Taylor Swift song.

Jeb Bush is potentially getting serious about a presidential bid and for some donors, Jeb Bush run combining with the run by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could give Republicans an unenviable choice between two high powered party leaders with electability.

Another former New Jersey governor and EPA head, Christine Todd Whitman who has ties to both camps. She put it this way, "It would be awkward. It would be very awkward." Let's bring in CNN national political reporter, Peter Hamby and national political reporter for "The Atlantic," Molly Ball.

Peter, I want to start with you. Before we get to this, I want to play something that Jeb's brother, former President George W. Bush told me yesterday in Crawford.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I hope Jeb runs and I think he would be a great president. I have no clue what's on his mind and we'll talk when he's ready. So, Jeb, if you need some advice, give me a call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Fairly a polite nudge from a big brother to try to get his little brother to run. What do you think, though? Does this signal that the family's coalescing around the idea?

PETER HAMBY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think the family would like him to run. I think they simultaneously understand how hard it is looking at the Republican field, Jeb Bush, is the only person in the field who really understands what a chore, how difficult it is and how wearing it can be. But what also interesting about that too is the former President George W. Bush is going to continue to be an issue for Jeb Bush if he runs both in a Republican primary and in a general election, not just because of his favorable ratings. I mean, the Democrats love to answer for President Obama's sort of, you know, slipping political ratings, too, but in every issue of the George W. Bush administration, Jeb is going to get asked about Medicare Part D., no child left behind, the Iraq war. Those things are going to come up over and over again.

TAPPER: Katrina.

HAMBY: Katrina. Right. There, George W. Bush saying well, we haven't really talked, I think we're going to be seeing that sort of interesting dance happen over and over again over the next year.

TAPPER: Although, Molly, perhaps even the more interesting thing from what President Bush told me yesterday was he basically made a case for his brother. One that had to do with electability. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I hope he runs. He's been an effective chief executive, have a big state, he's confident he can reach out to people that may at this point feel that the Republican Party doesn't listen to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's an interesting thing for him to say, that Jeb can reach out to people who may think that the Republican Party doesn't listen to them. Presumably he's talking about younger voters, Latinos, women. It's pure electability.

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Absolutely. And that's why the establishment likes Jeb Bush so much is even as they fear that some of the baggage from the Bush name would be a problem for him, even as they fear that he might have a hard time getting through a Republican primary, he does look like someone who knows how to win an election. As his brother said there, was the governor of the -- the popular governor of a purple state and what donors want more than anything is a candidate who can win. They are desperate to put some points on the board in a presidential election.

TAPPER: Peter, you talk to grassroots activists all the time. They don't talk about an electability argument.

HAMBY: Electability is never something that comes up when you talk about activists at all. This is very much a donor topic and that's one reason they love Chris Christie before bridgegate and still continue to like him. But again if you talk to just activists out there in the states and these are not the only people that are going to be determining the Republican nominee.

There are plenty of, I call them, the silent plurality. You know, plenty of sort of rank and file Republicans who quietly vote. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie can appeal to them, too. But, again, if you talk to the base, winning isn't the thing. It's about principle.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Chris Christie because there was an interesting story in "The New York Times" today about donors who like both guys but seem to be -- perhaps they were in Christie's camp. We recall in 2008, there was that big -- 2012, there was that big movement from donors tried to get him to even run late in the game. They are looking at Jeb Bush and what is going on.

In fact, a former chair of the South Carolina Republican Party, Barry Wint said, he put the choice between Christie and Bush they feel good about Jeb. They don't have any questions about his integrity. That's a pretty pointed quote in a story about Jeb versus Christie.

HAMBY: The Republican Party, you talk about the establishment, is the Bush people. George H.W. Bush became chairman of the RNC in the '70s. They've been around for a long time. Another thing that's going on here is chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and the south is going to be difficult for Chris Christie. I mean, that's going to be tough.

TAPPER: Quickly, Molly, do you think Chris Christie is going to be looking at Jeb warily for the next few months?

BALL: Well, surely. The shoe is sort of on the other foot for Christie, right. As Mitt Romney was becoming the nominee, he was getting drafted. Now the draft effort is for somebody else and he's not the popular girl at the dance anymore.

TAPPER: It's a fickle sport, this politics. Thank you so much, Molly, Peter. We'll see you over the weekend.

Coming up, unemployment has not been this low since President Obama was Senator Obama, but when you look closely at the math, there's a drawback.

And later, he's the star of two television shows, but there's nothing like cracking jokes about the president to the president's face. Coming up, Joel McHale sits down with me to talk about the weirdest gig that comedians can ever have.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Now it's time for the Money Lead, 6.3 percent. That's the big top line number from the April jobs report released this morning. As 288,000 more Americans found work in April, 288,000. That is the most jobs added during a single month in two years. The last time the unemployment rate was this low in September 2008, a certain Russian president was in the middle of invading a country. The economy is finally making a recovery, right?

Well, maybe not. The workforce shrank by more than 800,000 workers. So is the jobs market finally rebounding after a rough winter or are the larger trends still going the wrong way? Joining me to talk about this all, Annalyn Kurtz, senior writer for CNNMoney.com. Annalyn, thanks for joining us. What do you make of these numbers?

ANNALYN KURTZ, SENIOR WRITER, CNNMONEY: We are seeing a bounce back after a very weak winter. We had a very strong job growth number with 288,000 jobs added in April. That says underlying trend remains the same. We've had a long term unemployment problem. Unemployment even at 6.3 percent is still too high and we still have a lot of people who are part time for economic reasons. They would prefer to be working full time.

TAPPER: Is this report a sign that the economy is turning the corner despite the bad GDP numbers from earlier this week or is it definitely still stagnating as those numbers suggested?

KURTZ: Well, on Wednesday, you're right, we had a very weak GDP report, only 0.1 percent growth in the first quarter. However, that was mainly due to weather. Economists are really shrugging off that number saying it was due to cold and blizzards, slowing the housing market, manufacturing, the job market, all of those things. Now that we're in April, we are starting to see stronger growth and other economic indicators and this jobs report backs it up. We are seeing a turnaround in job growth and economists are expecting stronger numbers ahead.

TAPPER: Annalyn Kurtz, thank you so much.

When we come back, what's more mockable than reality TV, how about Washington, D.C.? "The Soup"'s Joel McHale talks to me before he emcees the nerd prom, the White House Correspondents' Dinner, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for the "Pop Culture Lead." Tomorrow is the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner mockingly referred to as nerd prom. Basically it's where White House reporters, politicians, celebrities and the president and first lady gather in front of cameras for an awkward meal and then we let the president and the celebrity host roast us, like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Of course, the White House Correspondents' Dinner is known as a prom of Washington, D.C., a term coined by political reporters who clearly never had a chance to go to an actual prom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's not fair, Mr. President. I had totally planned to go to my prom, but Donky Kong 3 had just come out for Nintendo and I had a tough choice to make. This year's headliner is actor and "Soup" host, Joel McHale and I sat down with him to prepare for his most difficult and most challenging role yet, making politicians laugh at themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): The night's guest include the powerful, political, the posh, and the president who often tells jokes over dinner.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell, they asked? Really? Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?

TAPPER: Sounds swell, but for comedians, the invitation to play at D.C.s annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner comes not without trepidation.

CONAN O'BRIEN, COMEDIAN: Now, I've made some jokes about the president this evening and now I'm looking forward to my audit.

JOEL MCHALE, HOST, "THE SOUP": I called Conan, Seth, Jimmy, and Craig Ferguson to gather information. It's all pretty much the same advice, which was, this is the weirdest thing you will ever do and the most exhilarating thing you'll ever do.

TAPPER: This year, the honor goes to Joel McHale, long-time host of "The Soup" on E! Where his snarky celebrity commentary has earned him a devoted fan base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Joel McHale.

MCHALE: No, I'm Joel McHale.

TAPPER: McHale has also burst into fame for his role on the critically acclaimed sitcom "Community," a show that has yet to renew for next season, angering its millions of fans.

(on camera): So "The Soup," "Community," White House Correspondents' Dinner, was this always the plan?

MCHALE: This is exactly how I wanted my career to go.

TAPPER: Do you think this gives you the respectability that you didn't have before?

MCHALE: Absolutely not.

TAPPER: Against the backdrop of Washington Monuments from D.C.'s W Hotel, Joel sat down to tell me how he has prepared for what might be his toughest crowd ever.

MCHALE: What I've learned is there are so many powerful people, rich people that long ago they made enough money and have enough power to never laugh again. So they want to hear jokes about them. Even though they might not want to be roasted, they are the most important person in any other room so they want that feeling.

TAPPER: I think you got it down.

MCHALE: See, I'm going to say it to them.

TAPPER: The White House Correspondents' Dinner has been criticized a lot for reporters being too chummy with people in power, for all of the celebrities that now come. Tom Brokaw started boycotting it after Lindsay Lohan was invited.

MCHALE: Who cares? It's just an excuse to go have a good night. We have way bigger problems. TAPPER: Are you worried at all about hurting feelings on Saturday night or is that kind of -- are you excited?

MCHALE: No. You can't -- if I am so effective that -- you, I can't believe you said that and they storm the stage, then it might just be the best joke of all time. But, no, I can't imagine. But you never know.

TAPPER: I'm sure you're holding back. You're not going to be tough on President Obama, for instance, right?

MCHALE: No, not at all. I'm not going to tell any jokes about him.

TAPPER: But you wouldn't --

MCHALE: If you become too strident in these things, if it's not funny, then it's not funny and you just look like a guy yelling at someone. It has to be funny before anything else. You have to be an equal opportunity make funner of, make funner of which is a catch phrase that I -- and also proper English, by the way, funner. If you don't make fun of everybody, everybody is going to go, hey, what about that guy? It just has to be equal opportunity.

TAPPER (voice-over): And in the spirit of keeping things even, once we wrapped our interview at the W, I joined Joel as a guest on the set of "The Soup" where CNN has been before.

MCHALE: Wolf Blitzer took on the Weiner gate story with his usual beardy tenacity.

TAPPER: After a bit of rehearsal with fellow guest Chuck Todd at NBC and "Scandal," it was go time. From "The Soup's" green screen to the golden curtain of the correspondents' dinner, Joel McHale seems ready to go up against anything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Let's talk more about "nerd prom" and this whole weird weekend we have in Washington. I want to bring chief national correspondent for the "New York Times" magazine and author of "This Town" now available in paperback, Mark Leibovich.

Mark, you wrote an entire book about Washington mingling amongst itself and we have Hollywood into the mix. What is the weirdest thing you've ever seen at one of these things?

MARK LEIBOVICH, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES" MAGAZINE: Just the fact that it continues to exist I would say. I mean, the fact that Washington can be so self-aware, that it doesn't realize that first of all, there is not a lot to celebrate. I mean, the rest of the country does not look with great esteem upon our city and yet, over a five-day period. It's not just a dinner. It's -- I did a back of the envelope calculation the other day and $50 million or so was spent on entertainment, transportation, hospitality and food over a five-day period. So what, to quote Joel McHale, but maybe it sends the wrong message. TAPPER: We should point out that the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, the point of it is to have these scholarships. They raise a lot of money for these kids. There's not a lot of focus on the kids or scholarships.

LEIBOVICH: Do you know how many scholarships they could provide with all these money being spent on food and entertainment and shrimp? I'm sorry, I don't want to ruin everyone's good time here. "The New York Times" being above it all does not go to the dinner anymore. Maybe I'm just jealous and upset.

TAPPER: I always found that a little weird because "The New York Times," like every reporter, like every media organization, already has issues of sources being too close to reporters.

LEIBOVICH: Sure.

TAPPER: And corporations having too much influence over what gets published. How does boycotting this dinner have any effect?

LEIBOVICH: I think boycott is probably a little too strong of a word. This was the decision of the Washington bureau chief in 2007, I think, just sort of live beyond its usefulness that there was a level of coziness and unseriousness that he didn't want to be associated with and really there's been no outcry that I've been aware of in the newsroom. I think it a problem of self awareness in the city and something that the city --

TAPPER: It looks bad. It looks bad because people look at Washington, they look at us in the media, politicians and they say this country is -- most Americans think we're going in the wrong direction and yet you're celebrating. What are you celebrating?

LEIBOVICH: That's right. And my book, "This Town," the story is about disconnect and it is a disconnect between what has become the wealthiest metropolitan area in the United States against the rest of the country, which has been struggling economically for the last, you know, seven years. Not to mention, again, the low opinion so many people have for our institutions here whether it's Congress or the two major parties or the media versus --

TAPPER: So you're not going to go to any event?

LEIBOVICH: I will go to one event. I will give myself one -- I will be doing media trashing the rest of the events. If I go to more than one, I will cross hypocrisy.

TAPPER: I'll say hello to your colleagues. One thing about comedy. It's a weird gig. What advice would you give to Joel McHale? The one thing I say is, don't assume that the room is incredibly politically aware about everything because the truth is this room is full of people who just got good tickets.

LEIBOVICH: I think like any political or even show business thing, they are playing on television but there's a huge TV audience and I'm going to be counterintuitive. I would hope that they would be controversial. The most memorable White House correspondents routines like Stephen Colbert --

TAPPER: That's the most.

LEIBOVICH: That's the most. When you have presidents that take the chances, they are at the TV dinner. President Bush is talking about weapons of mass destruction.

TAPPER: That is awful.

LEIBOVICH: It was awful. I was in the room and yet everyone was laughing.

TAPPER: Not me and Rob Cordry. I can tell you, we were sitting there. That was awful.

LEIBOVICH: I'm not a radio and TV guy. You have that. Bill Clinton, I guess, that was a radio thing, too. I like things interesting and different.

TAPPER: So you want edgy?

LEIBOVICH: I want edgy. And I would argue that Stephen Colbert benefited from that and maybe benefitted in a partisan way that offended a lot of potential conservative fans of his. We knew where he was.

TAPPER: I think it's tough because people are sitting there saying, 15 jokes about CNN and 30 about Fox. Zero about MSNBC.

LEIBOVICH: The whole nerd prompt thing, it's such a ridiculous misnomer. Are nerds this vain?

TAPPER: I like it. Our 50 minutes are up.

LEIBOVICH: Our 50 minutes are up. Have fun, everyone.

TAPPER: You can, of course, read Mark's book. Watch Joel McHale's big speech and the president's right here on CNN live coverage of the White House Correspondents Association Dinner that starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and we're going to have a red carpet preview event. Don't worry. I won't be judging who wore it best.

Follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn. Check out our show page at cnn.com/thelead for video, blogs, extras and you could also subscribe to our magazine on Flipboard. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Have a wonderful weekend. I turn you now over to Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."