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Trump Visits Carrier Plant.Trump Threatens Consequences for Companies Leaving U.S.; Romney Still in the Running for Secretary of State; Putin Signals He Wants to Cooperate with Trump. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 1, 2016 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Trumpeting the deal. President-elect Donald Trump displaying his classic off-the-cuff style as he visits a Carrier manufacturing plant in Indianapolis. Trump explains how he personally intervened to get the company to keep 1,000 jobs in the United States, but what did he promise Carrier in return?

The road show. Trump and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, they're kicking off what they call a thank-you tour of rallies celebrating their electoral victory. We're standing by for the first rally. Will Trump announce any new initiatives tonight?

Pentagon pick. CNN has learned that Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Corps General James Mattis as his nominee for defense secretary. He's highly decorated, well-known through the U.S. military. Why will Congress have to pass special legislation in order to get him confirmed?

And state of the Putin. Russian President Vladimir Putin gives his state of the nation speech to lawmakers and signals he's ready to cooperate with Donald Trump on what Putin calls "an equal and mutually beneficial basis." Is Putin being sincere, or is he trying to manipulate the president-elect?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President-elect Donald Trump is on the road tonight, about to hold his first large-scale event since winning the White House. Trump will be speaking soon to supporters at a rally in Cincinnati, the first of what he's dubbed a thank-you tour. And it looks like he may be seeing the classic -- all of us may be seeing the classic unscripted Trump whose raucous rallies upended the presidential campaign.

Just a short while ago, the president-elect was speaking off-the-cuff at a Carrier plant in Indianapolis. Trump was touting his successful effort to convince the company to keep about 1,000 jobs there instead of moving them to Mexico, in exchange for tax incentives. Trump warned there will be consequences for companies that move jobs outside the United States.

Also breaking this hour, CNN has learned that Donald Trump is picking retired Marine Corps General James Mattis as his nominee for defense secretary, that according to a source with knowledge of the transaction. And an official announcement is expected early next week.

We're also following Vladimir Putin's state of the nation speech to Russian lawmakers. Without naming Donald Trump, Putin says he's prepared to cooperate with the new U.S. administration and to normalize relations.

But Putin added it must be on what he calls an equal and mutually beneficial basis.

We're covering all that and much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Ted Yoho. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He's in Cincinnati. Jim, Trump's thank-you rally, where you are, getting ready to kick off fairly soon. Update our viewers.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Donald Trump will be here in Cincinnati within a couple of hours to kick off what the transition is calling a thank-you tour, his first rally-style speech since winning the White House. And he hasn't even been sworn into office, but the president-elect is already cutting deals aimed at saving voters [SIC]. And his aides say that is just the beginning.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After an election that divided the nation and weeks into a sometimes messy transition, Donald Trump ran the feel- good victory lap he's been seeking.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: These companies aren't going to be leaving anymore. They're not going to be taking people's hearts out.

ACOSTA: Trump toured the Carrier furnace factory in Indiana that he had railed against during the campaign, when the plant announced it was shipping its jobs to Mexico, a move he vowed to block.

TRUMP: And do you know what's going to happen? They're not going to move. They're not going to move.

ACOSTA: Now, under a deal brokered by Trump and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, who pulled some strings as Indiana's governor, Carrier is instead receiving $7 million in state tax breaks over ten years, saving 1,000 jobs at the factory, but still allowing 600 positions to head south of the border.

TRUMP: The good will that you have engendered by doing this all over the world, frankly, but within our country, you watch how fast you're going to make it up. Because so many people are going to be buying Carrier air conditioners. ACOSTA: While his aides are touting the Carrier agreement as a big

win, it's the kind of deal Trump once blasted.

TRUMP: We're going to give them a little here. We're going to give them low interest loans. We're going to -- you don't have to do any of that. Too complicated, too much corruption involved or could be involved.

ACOSTA: Bernie Sanders warned of unintended consequences, writing in an op-ed, "Trump has endangered the jobs of workers who were previously safe in the United States. Why? Because he has signaled to every cooperation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives."

House Speaker Paul Ryan asked why the fuss?

[17:05:02] REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE): I'm pretty happy that we're keeping jobs in America. Aren't you?

ACOSTA: Trump is busy making other moves, scheduling a meeting with North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. A transition source says Heitkamp is under consideration for energy secretary, which would throw her Senate seat into a special election, a potential pick-up for Republicans. All of it a mystery, the senator says.

SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA: I have no idea. Honestly. You know as much as I know.

ACOSTA: One key Democrat, Senator Elizabeth Warren, cautions she's not ready to work with Trump, given what she's seen so far.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If Donald Trump wants to run an administration based on bigotry and he wants to follow through on trickle-down economics, run an economy that only works for those at the top and doesn't work for anyone else, then I can't help on that.

ACOSTA: But Trump is celebrating on this day, holding a rally in Ohio to thank voters for his victory, the sort of venue, aides say, the president-elect relishes.

TRUMP: By the way, anyplace more fun to be than a Trump rally?

ACOSTA: Newt Gingrich's advice? Don't utter the words "Mitt Romney," who he accused of sucking up to Trump for the job of secretary of state.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If he tests out the phrase "Mitt Romney for secretary of state," it will be very interesting to watch a Trump crowd respond, because it would not be pretty.


ACOSTA: And CNN has learned that President-elect Trump has tapped retired Marine General James Mattis to be his next defense secretary. Mattis, who was the chief of CentCom, would need a waiver for Congress, because he has been on active duty within the last seven years, something that the law says he cannot be on in order to be in line for secretary of defense.

But we should point out, Wolf, that the Trump transition team, a spokesman, Jason Miller, just tweeted in the last several minutes that no final decision has been made on the position of secretary of defense, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's not final until Donald Trump actually utters those words, or at least tweets those words. We'll see what happens. But it looks like he's got that job all lined up. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that report.

Let's get some more on Donald Trump's tour of that Carrier plant in Indianapolis. Our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is on the screen for us.

Suzanne, this was a classic unscripted Trump moment as he explained the deal to keep at least some jobs here in the United States.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really was unscripted. He was subdued at times, very relaxed, conversational, and a little self-deprecating at times.

He did not use a teleprompter before this group. He did actually tour the plant on the floor, getting wild applause from that group. And then during his speech, he actually told a very funny story about the fact that he didn't even remember making a pledge to keep these jobs here at home for Carrier, but he saw a news report and a worker saying that that was a promise, a pledge that he made.

So Trump picked up the phone of the parent company, CEO of United Technologies, and started making a deal, started talking to him so that they would save about 1,100 jobs. And Donald Trump explained it as a different kind of leadership.


TRUMP: Doing speeches, I'd say they say it's not presidential to call up these massive leaders of business. I think it's very presidential. And if it's not presidential, that's OK. That's OK. Because I actually like doing it. But we're going to have a lot of great people that can also do it and do it as well as I do it.

But we're going to have a lot of phone calls made to companies when they say they're thinking about leaving this country, because they're not leaving this country. They're not going to leave this country, and the workers are going to keep their jobs. And they can leave from state to state; and they can negotiate good deals with the different states and all of that, but leaving the country is going to be very, very difficult.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, he talked really about carrots and sticks. One of them, of course, heavy taxes if they were to leave the country. But if they were to stay, to look the at an easing of regulations as well as lower taxing -- taxes for these businesses.

And Wolf, I have to tell you, I talked to a lot of people after this speech, people in tears, very emotional. A 42-year-old woman with two teenagers, been at the plant for 21 years. Her father for 44 years. Saying that this has really saved and changed her life. An African- American gentleman, who is no big fan of Trump's, says he's not a Trump supporter or even a supporter of politicians, started at this plant 11 years ago. It put him through college. He said for months if has been like a walking funeral. And today, finally, the sun came out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: For them, for those 1,000 people, it certainly did. They'll continue to work, continue to pay taxes. At the same time, if they had lost their jobs, the government would have had to start providing unemployment insurance for them. So it's a win, certainly, a win in this particular case. Thanks very much for that. Suzanne Malveaux reporting from Indianapolis.

Let's get some more on the breaking news. Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida is joining us. He's a key member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Thanks for having me on, and a happy post-Thanksgiving.

BLITZER: Thank you. You, as well.

I want to talk about the Carrier deal in a moment, but let me get your reaction to the news CNN has now confirmed that General Mattis will be nominated as the next defense secretary of the United States. Your reaction?

[17:10:07] YOHO: My reaction is I think this is a great appointment or nomination. This sends a signal that somebody strong is going to be representing this country in that position.

The thing I've noticed over the four years I've been here, Wolf, is this: that our -- we've lost our credibility. And this comes from ambassadors coming in talking to me. And they said, "You guys have lost your goodwill in so many places around the world. And what we have seen is that you draw red lines, you step away from them. And we don't know -- our allies don't know if they can trust us or depend on us; and our enemies don't fear or respect us."

And I don't want anybody to fear us, but they ought to respect what we say, and I think General Mattis is a great example of somebody that's very firm and says what he means and I think will back it up.

BLITZER: He's a former head of the U.S. military Central Command, spent a lot of time in the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa, so he knows that region, obviously, very well.

So a general, assuming he's confirmed, and you're going to have to pass special legislation to even get him to that confirmation process, since he hasn't been off active duty for seven years. You'll have a general as the defense secretary. You'll have a general as the president's national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn. Does this mean that retired General David Petraeus has now been effectively removed as a possible secretary of state? How many generals does he want to have in those key slots?

YOHO: I don't know. We're going to see how this jockeys out. I'm sure there will be a position for him, because he's served this nation very honorably. And I think you'll maybe see him in an advisory role. I can't answer that, because I don't know.

BLITZER: Are you worried about too many generals in those key national security positions? Because a lot of people say you've got to have some civilian leadership.

YOHO: We're going to have that. We've got that at the top. You've got Congress here, too. And I don't think I'm too worried about too many generals there, because at the state of the -- where we are now with our foreign policy, it's like a broken compass. We need some people with good guidance, with strong military background that can kind of ease our foreign policy back to where it needs to be to where we gain that credibility, where we start solving some of these conflicts around the world that has gone -- run amok here in the last 11 to 15 years.

BLITZER: Does General Petraeus's criminal record -- he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, mishandling classified information. For all practical purposes, the president would have to pardon him in order for him to become secretary of state, because right now he has to report to a probation officer. Does any of that worry you?

YOHO: It doesn't worry me, but you're absolutely right. He would have to go through the pardon mechanism, and then he will have to be vetted -- you know, if he gets an upper-level position. And, you know, let the process work out.

If not, he can be an advisory. And I look forward to building on his information and his background.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Carrier decision. As you saw, the president-elect, he visited the Carrier plant today in Indianapolis doing a victory lap of sorts, keeping more than 1,000 jobs in Indiana, in the United States. Do you think we should expect more of this from Donald Trump, making these time -- types of deals, visiting factors, squeezing -- squeezing these American companies to keep jobs here in the United States?

YOHO: I think you're going to see a lot of this. And I don't know if I'd say it's squeezing them. I think it's enticing them.

And you look at all these companies that have left American shores. It's because of our tax policies, the rules, the regulations and mandates. The biggest thing we want is we want to invite all companies here, but especially American companies. Bring them back and have them stay here and create American jobs with American companies.

I think this is great win for America. And this is before Donald Trump's been sworn in. And he's already creating jobs, and I think this is a very strong sign of things to come.

And I heard somebody say this is not presidential for him to call people. I think this is exactly what we need to do. To send that strong signal that "We're here. We want you here. We like your company. We want you in this company -- or in this country to create American jobs." And I think it's a great signal.

BLITZER: As you know, the president-elect, he addressed some of the criticism of the deal in the speech in Indianapolis just a little while ago.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who campaigned very much on the same issues, opposing a lot of these free-trade agreements, he said this, and I'll put it up on the screen. Quote, "Trump has endangered the jobs of workers who were previously safe in the United States. Why? Because he has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives. Even corporations that weren't thinking of offshoring jobs will most probably be reevaluating their stance this morning. And who would pay for the high cost for tax cuts that go to the richest businessmen in America?" question mark. "The working class of America."

Do you believe Senator Sanders has a fair point?

YOHO: No, I don't. Not at all. I think he's got sour grapes.

This company was going to leave. We've seen -- how many more companies do you want to see leave before somebody intervenes? I want to entice those companies to stay here.

[17:15:08] Think of the money to the economy with a company that stays here. And its 1,100 jobs close (ph) that Carrier will maintain in this country. Those people are going to spend money in their local communities. Carrier is going to donate to different causes around our country, different charities, different -- you know, they're going to support baseball teams and basketball teams, on the Little League.

This is a win for America, and it starts today. And I'm excited because like I said, he hasn't been sworn in yet. This is just the beginning. Can you imagine when he has the $ office of the president and he's sworn in and he's doing this daily? This is going to make America great again, but it's going to make it strong not just economically, but it's going to rebuild our infrastructure. This is a great thing, and I'm excited about it. It's a new day in Congress.

BLITZER: And I know those 1,000 workers in Indianapolis and their families are very pleased, as well. Congressman, we have a lot more to discuss. I want you to stick around. We'll continue the conversation in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, at a speech today, Carrier in Indianapolis, he once again brought up the issue of the border wall with Mexico that he says he will build. Listen to what he said today.


TRUMP: We're going to build the wall. People are saying, "Do you think Trump's going to build a wall?" Trust me, we're going to build a wall. And by the way, people are going to come through that wall. We're going to have doors in that wall. But they're going to come through legally.

BLITZER: Are you with him on that right now, bringing up the issue of the wall so quickly after he won the election? You know how divisive it is.

YOHO: It is. But you know what? What I can assure you is, we will have a secure border. And there's going to be a wall in some places. Other places, you know, I don't think we need a wall, but this is going to be for Congress to decide. One person can't decide this all by themselves.

But I know there will be border security. There will be enforcement of laws already on the book. We will get immigration under control. And what we want responsible immigration reform. I don't know anybody in America that doesn't want that, and that's our goal, is to work with them, to make sure that happens.

BLITZER: Yesterday, the president-elect had a phone conversation with Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. And according to the Pakistanis, Sharif's prime ministerial office, Trump called Sharif, and I'm quoting him now, "A terrific guy," said he's ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to work together.

Is that the right tone to strike right now with Pakistan?

YOHO: I think it is. I think we need to have a reset in all of our foreign policy.

Wolf, I've been here no four years, and I'm telling you, it's like Johnny Depp's compass in "Pirates of the Caribbean." It is a broken foreign policy. You know, people don't know where we stand. And I think you need to start building these relationships.

And I know what President Putin said. You know, he looks forward to working and, you know, making strong allies. We need to do that around the world, because the more people we have on the same side or that were strong allies, the more trade we have. And if we have trade, we're going to have less conflict. This is something that will stabilize the refugee situation and have people stay in their countries. This is a good thing.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida, thanks for joining us.

YOHO: You bet you. You have a great day.

BLITZER: You, too.

Another important business story broke just a little while ago. In a surprise, Howard Schultz announced he will step down as the CEO of Starbucks. Schultz tells CNN's Poppy Harlow the move is a good thing and that he will stay with the company to focus in on innovation. Schulz returned to Starbucks in 2008 to help guide the coffee giant through the recession.

Coming up, Donald Trump takes us inside the deal to keep about 1,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States. What did we -- what did he see on television, actually, that prompted him to act?


[17:27:33] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Just a little while ago, in his first large public event since the election, President-elect Donald Trump visited the Carrier plant he had pressured executives to keep open, praising its owners for their flexibility and promising consequences for companies that try to leave the United States. Here are some highlights of the president-elect's speech.


TRUMP: We had a tremendous love affair with the state of Indiana, because if you remember during the primaries, this was going to be the firewall. This was where they were going to stop Trump, right? And that didn't work out too well. And we won by 16 points. And the election we just won by 20 points. Almost 20 points. And that was some -- that was some victory. That is pretty great.

I'll never forget about a week ago, I was watching the nightly news. I won't say which one. Because I don't want to give them credit, because I don't like them much, I'll be honest. But they were doing a story on Carrier. And I say, "Wow, that's something. I want to see that."

And they had a gentleman, worker, great guy, handsome guy. He was on. And it was like he didn't even know they were leaving. He said something to the effect, "No, we're not leaving, because Donald Trump promised us that we're not leaving."

And I never thought I made that promise. Not with Carrier. I made it for everybody else. I didn't make it really for Carrier. And I said, "What's he saying?"

And he was such a believer. He was such a great guy. He said, "I've been with Donald Trump from the beginning." And he made the statement that Carrier is not going anywhere; they're not leaving.

And I'm saying to myself, man, and then they played my statement. And I said, "Carrier will never leave." But that was a euphemism. And then I said -- it was 6:30 in the evening. And I said, "Boy, the first thing I'm going to do is go there." And I say, do I call head of Carrier, who's a great guy, but I've always learned I've got to call the top.

So I called Greg Hayes. I heard of him, but I never have met him. And he picked up the phone. "Mr. President-elect, sir, how are you?" It's wonderful to win, you know that. I think if I lost he wouldn't have returned my call.

So I said, "Greg, you've got to help us out here. We've got to sit down. We've got to do something." I said, "Because we just can't let it happen."

So many people are going to be buying Carrier air conditioners.


[17:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: Wonderful to win, you know that. Think if I lost he wouldn't have returned my call. So I said Greg, you got to help us out here. We got to sit down. We got to do something. I said, because we just can't let it happen. So many people are going to be buying Carrier air conditioners. You know, we've had such help here. Bobby Knight, nobody at Indiana ever heard of Bobby Knight. How great is Bobby Knight?

I'll tell you, I got Coach Knight -- how good is Bobby Knight as far as we're concerned in Indiana, is that right? I just have to thank the people that I met back stage. Incredible people. The spirit, the love. People are crying. I mean, they're all crying. People are saying, do you think Trump is going to build a wall? Trust me, we're going to build a wall.

And by the way, people are going to come through that wall, we're going to have doors in that wall. But they're going to come through legally. And people are going to come through on worker permits to work the field.

We're going to have a lot of phone calls made to companies when they say they're thinking about leaving this country because they're not leaving this country.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's bring in our political experts.

Dana Bash, let me start with you. This is clearly a big win for Donald Trump. He toured the factory, announced the jobs were staying put. More than 1,000 jobs. Does this signal to his supporters and to the country for that matter that he is going to do what he said he would do during the campaign?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a signal that he's going to try and you know, that is -- that is a huge thing for any politician to actually try to signal early on even before in this case the president-elect is inaugurated that he is going to keep a promise. One of the many, many fascinating parts of his event at Carrier today

was him talking about the behind-the-scenes story that he watched himself on the "Nightly News" this week making this promise that he forgot that he made and trying to then pick up the phone and act on it.

Is this orthodox? No, for somebody of his stature, to be pick up the phone and calling a CEO, but there is nothing orthodox about Donald Trump. There wasn't during the campaign. We shouldn't expect there to be when he's in the White House. And let's just be clear. That is a major reason why Americans voted for Donald Trump to be the 45th president.

BLITZER: Certainly is. David Axelrod, how much credit does he deserve for this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously he and Mike Pence intervened, my guess is that Pence probably had something to do with this as well since the state of which he is the governor turned over $7 million in commitments for tax credits to make this thing happen. So -- but look, this is a low-hanging fruit that he grabbed. And it's -the optics are good. It was a visible promise that he made.

He was able to make good on that promise or at least partially. There's a big debate as to how he made good on it. Can he manage the entire economy like that? No. This is a vast country, a vast economy. You can intervene. You actually need macroeconomic policy. Everything isn't picking up the phone and calling a head of a company. So he will -- he has a short-term win here. And the challenges will be greater down the line.

BLITZER: Some were surprised, David, that he spent the top of his speech talking more about himself, the presidential campaign, reminding everybody about Indiana instead of making it all about the workers, the jobs. Those kinds of speeches as you well know, all of us know, they clearly worked well for him during the Republican primaries. They certainly worked well in the general election.

Do you think he's going to continue this kind of strategy? Will it continue to work for him as he transitions to becoming president of the United States?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me say anybody who was surprised by that must have been encamped on Mars for the last year and half because this is how every Donald Trump speech begins. And it begins with an oratory about Donald Trump. The question is, down the line will people tire of that especially if he's not able to deliver on his promises?

But look, he's on his victory tour here and, you know, I will cut him slack on that. He is -- he is still looking back. But pretty soon he's going to have to look forward.

BLITZER: As you know, Kevin Madden, Senator Bernie Sanders, he bashed the deal in an article he wrote in the "Washington Post," saying, quote, "Trump has endangered the jobs of workers who were previously safe in the United States. Why? Because he has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business friendly tax benefits and incentives." Is that fair criticism?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would describe it as virtual criticism. You know, Bernie Sanders has railed against outsourcing and off-shoring pretty regularly. He's sponsored legislation that would tax American companies that engage in the practice. And he's also -- was a supporter of Solyndra when Solyndra was using tax credits to establish its business. And so, you know, there is a case to be made against Donald Trump.

[17:35:04] I don't think Bernie Sanders is really the -- is really the person to be making it.

BLITZER: Mark Preston, the president-elect now begins his formal thank you tour, as they're calling it, fairly soon in Cincinnati. A huge rally there. They've got a big auditorium, a big stadium, about 20,000 people might be able to fit in. We'll see how many actually show up. This could be seen as unconventional, but it is a -- but is it a new way for Donald Trump to deliver his message directly to the people to continue all these huge rallies?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, this is where, Wolf, Donald Trump found success during the campaign. In many ways he tried to bypass the media in the last few months of the campaign and go out and hold these really large rallies in important states that quite frankly did help him win the election in November. Not only are we going to see this from Donald Trump I think moving forward, you know, not every week, but I suspect he will go out and hold these really big rallies to try to connect with voters and to try to bypass the mainstream media, but he's also going to use social media.

We've seen that time and time again. He did it all through the campaign. He's already done it in the first few week of his tenure as the president-elect. And quite frankly he sees this as a success. Now if things start to turn south when it comes to his legislative goals, he will probably have to recalibrate what his thinking is. But I would think that we should expect to see more of this.

BLITZER: And Kevin Madden, I think you agree it's probably smart strategy. He got energized during the campaign, a year and a half, by all of those rallies. Presumably these rallies as president-elect or as president will energize him, as well.

MADDEN: He did. And also, you know, he's -- he has an ability now to really drive the news cycle because he is the one that's basically feeding the event-driven nature of a lot of the coverage. I think the main risk here, and there are risks to this, is that at a point -- at a time where he wants to bring the country together, do these rallies then become flash points where it's Trump supporters versus Trump critics? And if that's constantly on display, it could -- it can become a problem.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. We have a lot more to assess, there's more political news coming in, as well. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:41:47] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts as we await Donald Trump's first rally since winning the presidency. He's standing by to speak right there in Cincinnati.

Dana Bash, let's talk about this transition to the White House. There are, we're told, final four candidates for secretary of State including Mitt Romney. If Trump decides to choose Mitt Romney, what do you think that says about the president-elect?

BASH: Well, it says that he can be -- put bygones -- let bygones be bygones more than anybody would have thought that he could. Look, I think that he is somebody who really prides his loyalty, but he is somebody who can forgive. We have examples of that that we can look at throughout his life and business.

Having said that, at this point because he's not just a businessman, it's not about his personal life, not like it's a friend, it's about a movement that feels that he would betraying them, then that puts a whole another pressure point on Donald Trump which we obviously saw play out in public last week. They clearly had a good dinner. That came to us from sources on both sides -- on both camps I should say.

But people on Capitol Hill, the people who will be confirming this pick, more and more are saying the obvious easy way out for Donald Trump would be the guy who is the head of the Foreign Relations Committee right now and that is Senator Bob Corker. He's the one out of the four who would be the easiest to confirm and the maybe the compromise pick of all the more controversial figures.

BLITZER: Yes. You're absolutely right. As far as sailing through the Senate, Senator Corker of Tennessee would presumably sail right through. He's the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Kevin Madden, I want you to listen to what the former House speaker Newt Gingrich had to say about Mitt Romney.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: You have never ever in your career seen a serious adult who's wealthy, independent, has been a presidential nominee, suck up at the rate that Mitt Romney is sucking up. I mean, I am confident that he thinks now that Donald Trump is one of his closest friends, that they have so many things in common, that they're both such wise, brilliant people.



BLITZER: You know, Kevin, you worked with Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. You know him obviously very well. When you hear that kind of talk from Newt Gingrich, what's your reaction? MADDEN: Well, my first reaction is that Governor Romney was invited.

This wasn't something that Governor Romney sought out to dinner with Donald Trump. The other things is, look, Donald -- I'm sorry, Governor Romney and Newt Gingrich went through a pretty tough primary in 2012 and when Newt Gingrich lost and dropped out and Romney eventually became the nominee, Newt Gingrich said very nice things about Governor Romney. He was very helpful to the campaign. He offered a lot of really good insight. Insight that was very valuable to the campaign and I think that insight that Governor Romney was very grateful for.

So, you know, I think there are -- there's going to be criticism throughout this entire process, transitions tend to get like that. But I don't think Governor Romney worries about it and I don't think the transition folks are worried about it either.

BLITZER: In David Axelrod, at this point in 2008, you know, when the president-elect was Barack Obama, how far along was the Obama transition?

[17:45:10] Because a lot of people are saying this current transition, Donald Trump's transition, is moving at a much more quick -- at a quicker pace.

AXELROD: Yes, I think that that is true. And I was one who said early on when people said it wasn't moving fast enough that that was very unfair. The fact is that he's moving at a pretty -- at a pretty rapid pace here.

The question isn't about speed, it's about coherence and about optics. Coherence in that you look at someone like Governor Romney who was very critical of Vladimir Putin and Russia during his campaign, and Donald Trump who has urged a rapprochement with Putin and Russia. And on issues like that, where do these -- where do these things -- where do these people cohere?

Governor Romney is an institutionalist, he believes in global institutions. There's been some question on the part of Donald Trump as to NATO and some of the other global institutions. So how all these pieces fit together I think is one issue. The other is that at least in this case the secretary of State's deal has been treated much like a reality show where all the contestants get to parade before the cameras and it's a little bit odd. This piece of it has been strange relative to past -- to past transition processes.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around, don't go too far away. We have more to assess. Also coming up, Vladimir Putin once again signals he wants to work with Donald Trump, but is there an ulterior motive to the Russian leader's offer?


[17:51:11] BLITZER: Vladimir Putin has plenty to say about Donald Trump. Leading observers of Russian policy wondering if he's sincere or is he trying to manipulate the president-elect of the United States? Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what exactly is Putin saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Vladimir Putin is saying tonight he wants to normalize relations with the United States when Donald Trump takes office. But observers say Putin may be trying to leverage a new and inexperienced American president and they advise Mr. Trump to move carefully.


TODD (voice-over): Trumpeting and fan fare today for Vladimir Putin, as the Russian strongman and president delivered his equivalent of the State of the Union. Tonight, American diplomats and analysts are combing through Putin's words for hints about Russia's relationship may change under the incoming Trump administration.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (Through Translator): We count on uniting our efforts with the United States to fight a real, not a made-up threat, which is international terrorism.

TODD: The example he cited? Russia's intervention in Syria, but there is a big difference there in how Russia and the Americans want to fight terrorism.

Putin's speech comes at a time when Russia's relationship with America is at its lowest point since the Cold War. But today Putin said it's important for Russia's dealing with the U.S. to be on a, quote, "equal and mutually beneficial basis." Experts say this is pure swagger from the Russian president.

JULIA IOFFE, POLITICO MAGAZINE: He was trying to say we are coming now from a different position, from a position of strength, and let's work together, but you have to respect us, and you can't talk down to us and you can't lecture us.

TODD: Putin feels emboldened, turning the tide for Bashar al-Assad in Syria. He brushed off as a myth U.S. accusations that Russian intelligence meddled in America's election process. Putin's tenuous olive branch comes after a phone call he had with Trump where he says they agreed the relationship has to be straightened out. One of Putin's ulterior motives could be to get the new American president to lift or loosen sanctions on Russia leveled after Putin's invasion of Crimea. Trump said he'd considered doing that.

TRUMP: We'll be looking at that.

TODD: Putin is a master at exploiting those openings.

MATTHEW ROGANSKY, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: He chooses very carefully the setting, the environment, that he wants in place when he has a meeting with a foreign leader. Whether that's bringing a dog to a meeting to scare Angela Merkel, or whether that's invading Syria so that he can have a different conversation about Ukraine and sanctions with the new American administration.

TODD: But some experts worry if Trump acts impulsively or doesn't rely on solid advice, he could be an easy target for Putin's manipulations.

DEAN JAMES GOLDGEIER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE: The former KGB agent watching Trump's behavior, he's just salivating, just thinking oh my gosh, like this guy throwing a temper tantrum, totally undisciplined, can't stay focused. I think Putin is thinking to himself, this is going to be an incredible godsend for me.


TODD: Now we asked President-elect Trump's transition team for a response to that. We did not hear back. Analysts say Putin has got a short window to win concessions from the new American president. They point to President Obama's attempt to reset with Russia early in his administration. And George W. Bush saying he'd looked Putin in the eye and got a sense of his soul. It wasn't long before Putin and both of those American presidents just couldn't stand each other -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting, Brian. Putin also is likely, we're told, likely trying to play to a domestic audience in Russia, as well. Right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. The Russian economy is decimated by sanctions. Many Russians are hurting. And analysts say Putin wants to signal to his people that he is still their best bet as president, the man who can protect them from their enemies but most people agree Vladimir Putin's not in any danger of losing his next election in two years.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thanks very much. The breaking news next. We're standing by for Donald Trump's first post-election rally.

[17:55:03] Stick around. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Cash and Carrier. The president-elect touts his role in saving hundreds of U.S. workers' jobs, visiting their plant in Indiana, as new details emerged about the financial incentives that sealed the deal.

Is the president-elect making the most of his political victory?

Thank you tour. We're standing by for some of the first extended public remarks by Donald Trump since he won the election. He's about to hold a campaign style rally in Ohio. CNN will carry it live.

General decision? We're told that the next commander-in-chief has settled on his choice for Defense secretary. How would retired Marine Corps General James Mattis influence America's security? I'll get reaction from a war veteran --