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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Cutting Through the Noise On Biden's Age And The Report; Vice President Harris Slams Special Counsel's Report About Biden; White House In Damage Control After Report Questioning Biden Memory; Donald Trump Endorses Businessman Tim Sheehy In Montana; CNN's Gayle King Talks About Super Bowl 58. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 22:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to say in the south (ph), he's got some explaining to do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seemed to be all love, and a lot was offered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was portrayed as unable without the help of the Tuohy family to have made his way in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The movie is great. It allows us to go around and talk about the Michael Ohers lords of the world that need a forever family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what a conservatorship is now thanks to Brittney Spears to hear that you know something like that had gone on. It struck some nerd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They blindsided him from the start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blindsided, tomorrow at 8:00 on CNN.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you so much for joining us tonight. CNN NEWSNIGHT with Abby Phillips starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Both parties play both sides of a damning special counsel report. That's tonight on NEWSNIGHT.

Good evening. I'm Abby Phillip in New York.

And America's left and right are both melting down over a report that raises some questions about President Biden's mental acuity, and it concludes that he will not be charged for his handling of classified documents.

Senator John Fetterman is here and will join me in moments.

But, first, I want to cut through the noise here and give you some context. Nearly 30 years ago, another presidential candidate faced concerns about his age.

That issue landed him on the cover of Time Magazine. But here's the thing. Then, in 1996, Bob Dole was younger than both Joe Biden and Donald Trump are today. As they say, history rhymes.

Now, President Biden, his number two and Democrats alike are all blasting Special Counsel Robert Hur for the remarks in that report about Biden's age and his struggles to remember things in his interview.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: How in the hell dare he raise that? They don't know. It has no place in this report.

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The comments that were made by that process inaccurate and inappropriate.


PHILLIP: The pundits are also having a 2016 flashback calling this a sequel to the attack of the 6'8 monster.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James Comey trashed Hillary Clinton in a very similar way. What Hur did is exactly the same thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a Comey-esque feeling to this whole thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hur went so far beyond the lines and so deliberately, it was Comey Redux.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it sure sounds like James Comey in 2016.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is out-Comeying Comey. It's Comey 2.0 and it doesn't look really good.


PHILLIP: There are some similarities, but this isn't quite like what Comey did. According to CNN's legal team, for starters, James Comey was the head of the FBI at the time. He held a news conference about a traditional standard issue FBI.

That was a breach of norms for prosecutors. But here's the difference here. Hur is actually a special counsel. He was appointed by Biden -- by Biden's own pick to run the Department of Justice. He's actually legally required to write a report detailing his findings.

A more apt comparison, perhaps, might be Robert Mueller. He compiled a 500-page report highly critical of Trump, even though he wasn't charging Trump either.

Now, while it's fair to question how Hur came to his conclusions, it's questionable to suggest that he shouldn't have included them at all. Now, as for Republicans, it's interesting how their view of special counsels completely depends on the letter next to your name. For instance, when Mueller was investigating Donald Trump, you heard this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: A big complaint people have, Mueller was not Senate-confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You tweeted this week about, quote, Bob Mueller and his gang.

TRUMP: Right.

Bob Mueller worked for Obama for eight years.

Robert Mueller terminated their text messages together. He would -- he terminated them. They're gone. And that's illegal. He -- that's a crime.


PHILLIP: Most of us remember Trump ripping the credibility of that report, basically every chance he got. But, of course, this was Trump after Robert Mueller released that report.


TRUMP: The collusion delusion is over. The special counsel completed its report and found no collusion and no obstruction.


PHILLIP: Trump's disdain, disrespect and, frankly, disregard for the rule of law is well-documented, and, yes, a threat to democracy.


But what doesn't hold water here is talk of a double standard between these two cases. There is evidence, not just of how Trump dealt with classified documents, but that he obstructed the investigation and he refused to cooperate by returning those documents.

But here's a political context for President Biden. On the issue of age and competency, the president no doubt has a public relations problem, whether he or his party want to admit it or not.


BIDEN: I know what the hell I'm doing.

My memory is fine.


PHILLIP: Look, recent polls show that nearly half of Democratic voters, Democrats, are concerned about Biden's age. More Americans believe Trump to be more competent than Biden.

And while it's justified to be skeptical of polls, they are polls and not actual ballots, Biden's allies point to good news in polls all the time. So, you really can't have it both ways on this. CNN reports that his team is now divided on how to handle this issue.

But one thing is for sure, they are apprehensive at best of putting him in the spotlight. And here's the proof. The difference is stark in the visibility here. When it comes to interviews, at this point in their presidencies, Obama did 422 interviews. Trump did 300. Biden so far, 86.

It's worth noting also quality over quantity. That's fair. But when most of Trump's interviews were conducted by sycophants, that allowed him to platform lies. And, of course, there were these moments.


TRUMP: Person, woman, man, camera, T.V. So, they say, could you repeat that? So, I said, yes. So, it's person, woman, man, camera, T.V. Okay, that's very good


PHILLIP: But visible moments like that one shine a light on the viability and state of mind of a candidate for president, for better or for worse.

Now with Biden, the sample size right now is very small. So, when the White House and the campaign decline, for example, a major platform like this Sunday's somewhat traditional Super Bowl interview, it is perplexing.


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was bewildered by it, honestly. It plays into Trump's hands because his case is that somehow Biden is, you know, overmatched.


PHILLIP: Maybe they're afraid of the tendency of Biden's to make gaffes, for which frankly he's always been known to do, even when he was a younger man. One author reported that Jill Biden was furious a couple of years ago when one of his news conferences went on too long.

Now in the end, both campaigns will argue over whose gaffes are worse. Just as an example today, Trump made more than his share of gaffes on a stage.

Now, ultimately, though, it should be about the policies and the promises that drive both of these campaigns. The truth is, though, something Democrats can't seem to grapple with, you have to get elected first.

Joining me now, the Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, John Fetterman. He's a vocal supporter of President Biden's. Senator Fetterman, thanks for joining us.

Last night, as you know, President Biden addressed the special counsel's report that alleged that he had memory problems. Do you think that that press conference will ultimately assure voters, many of them Democratic voters, who worry about the same thing?

SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): No, I really don't think that the Democrats really aren't worried about it. And if they do have any concerns, they're still going to vote for the president. And that's really what we have right now and how we've always had it that way. You know, it's like we have a very stark choice here, and that's what '24 is all about. And now that's what people are going to have to decide, you know, what they're going to choose for their nation as well too.

And I don't think we have to, okay, you know, they have their older guy, we have our older guy, and we have, you know, gaffes and they have their gaffes and they have their files and we have, you know, our files on that side. But at the end of the day, it just is going to come down to a very stark, stark choice here.

PHILLIP: To that very point, I want you to listen to what Congressman Dean Phillips, who is challenging Biden, what he told me last night.

FETTERMAN: The letter (ph) guy, oh.


REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): It's sad to watch our president at an age in life and stage in life when people decline. My party should have anticipated what is happening right now. I was trying to say the quiet part out loud for many, many months. I encouraged the president one year ago to pass the torch.


This was so clear what was going to happen.


PHILLIP: Senator, I know that you already had quite a reaction when I just said his name, but just on the substance of what he's saying there, he says that the Democratic Party should have encouraged a passing of the torch here. Isn't he right about that to a certain degree?

FETTERMAN: No. Actually, what's sad is to have some guy with way too much money and he wants to piss it away and somehow help Trump at this point. So, he has the right to do that, but he's just been humiliated again and again and again.

And if you really like that, I mean, I guess there's different kinds of options available that might be cheaper and more private. But, you know, but he's irrelevant, as are any of the other third rate kinds of campaigns now. It's going to come down to that same choice between Trump and Biden. PHILLIP: So, speaking of Trump, Trump is over at the NRA. He addressed them tonight. He promised that Democrats would not lay one finger on their guns if he's elected. What is your message to gun owners who are in fact worried that a Democrat, another four years of Joe Biden would result in their guns being taken away?

FETTERMAN: Well, again, that's they're going to keep saying that. Of course, they're not here to steal any of their guns if they have a rifle for deer hunting or if they have a reasonable weapon at home for protection. That's fine, you know.

But, again, another part of that stark choice. You know, if you believe that that citizen should have military grade kind of weapons, then that's when you're side. And if you think that really doesn't belong in the hands of civilians as well too given the kind of horrific events here at schools and businesses all across, you know, almost every other week now, or, excuse me, every hour day, excuse me. So, that's really that that choice that we have here in America.

PHILLIP: Trump also said this evening that the only way that Biden wins in November is if he cheats. Does that kind of language dramatically raise the odds that there's another January 6th-like type event that occurs in this country?

FETTERMAN: I don't think so. I think we're now really vigilant enough about that too. And he lost, he knows it, everyone knows it. And it was just wonderful to just watch all of his conspiracy partners now like, oh no, please, I'm so sorry, in court, after they've been pleading guilty.

Nobody really believes that Trump actually won in 2020. He lost, he knows that, and he's going to lose again in '24.

PHILLIP: So, you have over the last several months now been such a staunch supporter of Israel. You've backed how the state of Israel and the IDF has conducted this war inside of Gaza. President Biden also said last night during that press conference that the IDF operation in Gaza has been over the top. Those are his words. Is the president wrong?

FETTERMAN: No, I'm not saying it's wrong. I'm saying that's his opinion. I'm not necessarily would agree with that. I do understand that Israeli intelligence believe that Sinwar is actually hiding there because that's what these cowards do. They hide behind civilians and children and women like that as well too.

So, I do believe that it's very critical that that they destroy and eliminate Hamas for there to be real true peace there in Gaza.

PHILLIP: Do you have any concerns about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans it seems to move more than 1.3 million people out of the Rafah area? That's in Southern Gaza. That's basically where Israel told Gaza's civilians to go. Are you concerned about what an operation there would mean for the civilian population that's already displaced? FETTERMAN: Of course. Of course, I'm concerned, you know, the death of anyone innocent, Palestinian is a tragedy and that's been, but we also must remember that, you know, all of the blood in the hands are all on Hamas's hands as well too. They're responsible for all of that.

And I don't know why there's not more people talking why must Hamas surrender, why not they bring back the last hostages as well too?

PHILLIP: But is it something that you would support -- do you think that this is wise on the part of Israel to do what they sounds like our planning to do?

FETTERMAN: Well, if they believe that that Sinwar is hiding there, then it seems that it could be very reasonable in there too to eliminate the leadership because he's effectively the Bin Laden of our 9/11 on October 7th for Israel as well, too. And I know that they really and I believe they want to minimize any kinds of of death of civilians as well, too.


But right now, I'd say if they just surrendered, if Hamas just surrendered, all of this would be over.

PHILLIP: On another topic, back in Washington where you are now, your colleague, James Lankford, said something pretty remarkable on the Senate floor this week when it came to the negotiations over an immigration bill and also foreign aid for Israel and for Ukraine. Listen.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): I had a popular commentator four weeks ago that I talked to that told me flat out before they knew any of the contents of the bill, any of the contents, nothing was out at that point, that told me flat out if you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year I will do whatever I can to destroy you.


PHILLIP: You've been in the Senate for a relatively short time. Have you seen the impact of that sentiment in the halls of the Senate? And if what he is saying is true, is there any chance that any Congress, this Congress or any other, can get anything accomplished on the issue of immigration in particular?

FETTERMAN: I was in graduate school 25 years ago, actually been 25 years ago, Alan Simpson who was one of my professors. And Alan Simpson was a Republican, a pro-choice, a pro-choice Republican, senator for Wyoming. And in our class, he said that they're never going to have any kind of meaningful immigration, much too useful as a weapon. And now, 25 years later, it's just absolutely pitiful now that, and then they sold my colleague from Oklahoma, threw him into the wood chipper. And, you know, as they say, no good deed, you know, goes unpunished and that's exactly what's happened. PHILLIP: Do you expect that President Biden will ultimately run ads on this immigration issue? You know, polls after this point show that Republicans actually trust or that the voters actually trust Republicans more on this issue than they do Democrats. Is using immigration as a political issue something that actually will work for this president?

FETTERMAN: No, I don't know exactly what the president is going to run. But what I've been very consistent about this, and the president agrees, is that it's incredibly reasonable to want to secure a border. And that's exactly what this bill would have would have provided. One side walked away from that. And now they have to own that as well. We delivered exactly what they were demanding, and now, because Donald Trump has control of their party, and they now just -- they're willing to just cower to him. And now they're going to use that for 2024.

PHILLIP: And, Senator, I mean, on this issue of immigration, more broadly, a lot of cities in this country are dealing with a huge influx of migrants. If that is not dealt with at all, whether it's because Congress fails to act or for any other reason, is that something that could hurt President Biden in November?

FETTERMAN: Well, of course, there is a crisis at the border. I've been very clear about that. I've been saying that for a while now. And, really, it can never be controversial to Democrats that we acknowledge that we have to address the issues at the border.

And then we showed up, and my colleagues in the Senate were here to deliver that. Of course, there's going to be problems in all these cities because the Republicans in the Senate have refused to address the border because we had an amazing solution here.

PHILLIP: All right. Senator John Fetterman, we appreciate you joining us on NEWSNIGHT. Thank you very much.

FETTERMAN: Well, thank you.

PHILLIP: And next, a rare moment tonight, Vice President Kamala Harris passionately defending Biden after that scathing report.

Plus, I'll speak live with a congressman who just announced in a Senate run in a consequential race only to be immediately snubbed by Donald Trump.

And Gayle King is here. She joins me from Las Vegas, where she talks with superstar Usher Raymond, who will perform at this year's Super Bowl.




KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The way that the president's demeanor in that report was characterized could not be more wrong on the facts and clearly politically motivated.


PHILLIP: That was Vice President Kamala Harris defending President Biden today, slamming special counsel for describing Biden as an elderly man with poor memory in its report on his handling of classified documents.

For more, I want to bring in CNN's Political Analyst and National Political Reporter for The New York Times Astead Herndon.

Astead, she literally started that response by saying, I'm glad you asked. These things typically in the White House world and politics don't happen by accident. We don't see her that often in a setting like that taking questions. What did you take away from the forcefulness that we saw there?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think there was a clear message that the White House wanted to get off. And I think that clearly she's the messenger that they felt was best suited for that.

Remember, Kamala Harris is a former head of the DOJ in California, the second largest DOJ. And she was using that expertise to kind of point out what she calls the political motivation of the special counsel here. But I think it's also a clear kind of expression of what's going to be her political role for this campaign too.

They see her as the truth, I mean, who can say things really explicitly, who can fire up the base with that kind of -- they want to see people -- they want this report to be seen as politically motivated. And she's the messenger best suited for that.

But I think it also speaks to what they're going to do in trying to cast the light back on Trump also. They're going to minimize this as kind of politically motivated, but also say this is a stakes decision, that 2024 is -- no matter if you think Biden is old, no matter if you think you wish you had somebody else, the reality is between those two options.


And that's going to be the case that I think is coming from Biden and Harris.

PHILLIP: But she's also part of this too, because Republicans are trying to make this about her being second in line to the presidency if Biden were to be re-elected. And looking at her forcefulness there, even just, frankly, the fact that she took questions in that setting from reporters, wherever she happened to be that day, it seems to suggest to me that she was willing -- up to the plate, to bat for Biden.

HERNDON: I think she has to. I was reporting on Vice President Harris throughout last year, and the message that you hear from a lot of people is this is a real year where they see that she has to step up, right? Because so much of the implicit or even explicit argument you hear from the Nikki Haleys of the world is that Biden's age is a reason to cast a broader spotlight on the vice president.

And so when we think about this upcoming campaign year, if the president is not going to do interviews, if the president can't travel across the country, if the president isn't firing up the base, that responsibility is going to fall to Vice President Kamala Harris. And I think this is an issue or this is a moment where you're seeing her kind of lean into that.

The other issue is, of course, on abortion rights. She's tried to do that on gun rights, specifically speaking to young people. And so she's trying to round out the places where President Biden might be the weakest specifically among the Democratic base.

Remember when we look at the polling here, President Biden doesn't really have big issues when it comes to persuasion. He's doing well among independents. He's doing well among swing voters, the type of people choosing between Trump and him, the marginal Democrats. They've been following off. And that's the type of people they think Vice President Harris can reach.

PHILLIP: Yes, it's about energizing people to actually get out of their couches and out their doors to go vote.

Astead Herndon, good to see you. Thanks for staying up late for us.

HERNDON: Good to see you. Thank you.

PHILLIP: And the race for a president isn't the only one that is heating up here. Montana is facing what could be a contentious race for their Senate seat, especially when it comes to who is winning Trump's endorsement. I'll speak with candidate Congressman Matt Rosendale after this.



PHILLIP: Tonight, a fight shaping up to be bloodier than an episode of "Yellowstone". Donald Trump has picked a side in Montana, and it's not Matt Rosendale's. The Montana Congressman announced his Senate run today.


MATT ROSENDALE (R) CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE FROM MONTANA: I voted in support of President Trump's agenda every single time. On the day Alvin Bragg wrongfully indicted President Trump with bogus charges, I stood with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago.


PHILLIP: But you couldn't tell there, the covenant Trump endorsement is not going to him. The former President announced on Truth Social that he intends to support Rosendale's opponent, businessman Tim Sheehy. Joining me now is the newly announced Republican Senate candidate for

Montana, Matt Rosendale himself. Congressman, appreciate you joining us. Donald Trump says that you can't win. Do you worry that will kill your campaign before it even starts?

ROSENDALE: No, not at all. I love President Trump. He did an incredible job when he was the President and he's going to come back and do an incredible job next year when he takes the Oval Office. And I plan to be in the United States Senate next year to help him get that agenda through. I just left --

PHILLIP: So, why do you think he endorsed Sheehy over you then?

ROSENDALE: I find it fascinating, Abby. It's fascinating. I just left 30 minutes ago the Republican convention here in Montana, and listened to Tim Sheehy speak for 30 minutes, and he never once mentioned President Trump nor the endorsement.

But I guess you have to figure a guy that maxed out contributions to Nikki Haley against President Trump and maxed out contributions to Tim Scott against President Trump, I don't know.

I don't know why he would not stand up on a stage with the Republicans across the state and proclaim proudly that he just received an endorsement from him. I can tell you one thing. I certainly would have.

So, what I will do is go ahead and win this primary election. I'm endorsed by people across the state that know me the best. I've got legislators. I've got the Speaker of the Montana House, the President of the Montana Senate. I've got the conservatives in the Senate like Mark Hall and Mike Lee.

PHILLIP: You don't have your colleagues in leadership, I mean, Washington's not everything, but the Speaker of the House didn't endorse you. Donald Trump didn't endorse you. Mitch McConnell doesn't endorse you. The head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee says that you lost to John Tester by four points in 2018. That was a huge margin when it comes to Democrats.

They are arguing here that you would lose again. Why, I mean, I'll ask you again. I mean, why do you think that they are so convinced that you are not going to be able to -- to win against Tester?

ROSENDALE: I am glad that Mitch McConnell said out, came out and said that he won't endorse me. I will tell you, because guess what? Mitch McConnell is going to torpedo President Trump's agenda and the people across Montana, they're not concerned about what Mitch McConnell wants, okay? He's not going to select our next Senator.

But I will tell you, so Montana Speaker of the House, the Montana President of the Senate, 35 sitting legislators, sheriffs, county commissioners that have all endorsed me. We're going to be rolling endorsements out for the next three days.

PHILLIP: I want to -- ROSENDALE: And I will tell you again, if I had President Trump's endorsement, I would have been singing that from the highest mountain today.

PHILLIP: I'm sure you would have.

ROSENDALE: Tim Sheehy --

PHILLIP: I want to play -- I want to play a little bit from your announcement today just to give folks a sense of what you said specifically about the issue of January 6th. Listen.


ROSENDALE: On January the 6th, 2021, I stood with President Trump and voted against the electors.



PHILLIP: So, as you said there, you voted against decertifying the electors from two states, Arizona and Pennsylvania. I should note here, the courts threw out every legal challenge to the results in those states. Biden did legitimately win the election. So, what is the possible valid legal justification you could have had to block those electors on January 6th?

ROSENDALE: The Electors Act of 1887, Abby, because it says that this is absolutely not a ceremonial act but an act of Congress that we need to pursue and we had numerous, credible allegations of not only election fraud but of state officials making changes in the election process without --

PHILLIP: And, look, Congressman, I know you've heard it a million times but I'm going to say it again. There's no evidence of election fraud sufficient --

ROSENDALE: Yes, there is and that's where you're wrong. Sorry.

PHILLIP: -- to change the outcome of the election. And on top of that -- and on top of that, in both of those states that you mentioned, the courts threw out challenges to the very issue that you're bringing up. But here's the reason I want to ask you about this.


PHILLIP: Part of the thing here is that Sheehy -- Tim Sheehy, doesn't really talk about this stuff. He doesn't talk about January 6th, not nearly as much as you do. Do you think that is part of the reason why a lot of people in your party think that you would be a weaker challenger against Tester?

ROSENDALE: No, I think you're going to find that the people across the state of Montana think that I'm a much, much stronger candidate. I've won since the 2018 election that you've referenced. I've won statewide. I have won my district here, which it covers three

quarters of the state of Montana. And my last election, I won by 35 points and never ran a television ad. So, I think that the people across state of Montana are going to support me overwhelmingly.

PHILLIP: All right, we'll find out. Matt Rosendale, thank you very much.

ROSENDALE: Thank you, Abby.

PHILLIP: And what does it take to be Vice President? A strong resume, maybe a squeaky clean background check, chemistry? And if it's a Trump ticket, you might also need a screen test, apparently. It's all on tape, next.




PHILLIP: Five hundred million dollars, 200 million viewers, 70,000 plus in a stadium, a thousand private jets, two teams, and only one can win. No, those are not Taylor Swift lyrics, but the pop icon is just one of many big stories surrounding this Sunday's Super Bowl, when the Kansas City Chiefs will face the San Francisco 49ers.

And here to discuss all of this from Las Vegas, the site of the Super Bowl 58 is the host of "King Charles" on CNN, as well as CBS Mornings' Journalist, Gayle King. Gayle --


PHILLIP: -- you look like a vision in pink tonight.

KING: Yeah.

PHILLIP: I hope Vegas has been treating you well. We have a lot to get to when it comes to Taylor Swift and all that is Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. But we have to talk about --

KING: She's not here yet.

PHILLIP: Not yet, not yet. But we have to talk about Usher, Gayle.

KING: Oh my God. Yes.

PHILLIP: This clip of you getting serenaded by Usher is everything. I want to play it for folks. Take a listen.


KING: How will you or can you serenade in a big stadium? You have to take the moment. Do you want to practice on me at Serenade or just throwing it out there? I'm here to help you.

USHER (singing): I need a place, a space to get out. Something that's on my mind. What would you do? You feel me, right?

KING: I feel really good.

USHER: You got it.

KING: Keep going.


PHILLIP: Even I'm getting the butterflies. Gayle, you actually seemed a little nervous. What was that like?

KING: No, I absolutely, positively was not nervous. I am so excited and so happy for him. This is the thing that struck me about him, Abby. Here we are 48 hours away from, you know, game time. He is so calm. He is so chill. He is so confident. And I feel that. He knows that he is ready. I said, he doesn't even kind of have butterflies.

And I actually do believe that. Because if it was me, I said, I wouldn't be able to sleep. I wouldn't be able to eat because I would just want to knock it out of the park. He knows he's going to knock it out of the park. And it was just so thrilling to see him so comfortable in his own skin and so ready, let's go.

PHILLIP: What I love about Usher doing this at this moment in his career is that I know Usher as a huge, huge superstar, pretty much my entire, you know, adolescence, adulthood, what have you, but this is still such a big moment for him.

He's also talking about bringing on potentially, or I shouldn't say he's talking, people are talking about bringing on some of his friends and collaborators over the years. Did you get any hints as to where that might go and who do you want to see him take the stage with?

KING: Well, let's just say he's not giving up any information and even when I asked the question and of course I asked it, I kind of don't even want to know like what's the first song going to be, what the last song going to be. His catalog is so large it's 30 years of work that he has to do it twelve to thirteen minutes.

I want to be surprised with whatever he does and he does say there will be some surprises. The only thing you would tell me that there will be some skating but this is something that I did not know. He's an independent artist.


He has won eight Grammys. He's won eight Grammys, Abby, but he said he has never been on the Grammy stage to accept it. I said, what? What do you mean?

PHILLIP: I was shocked by that. I was shocked by that.

KING: I was, too. I was, too. So, he said, so to have this moment he said I've always wanted to be able to thank people so to have the biggest stage in the world -- in the world to be able to do that means a lot to him.

I said do you think you're going to cry when it's over? I mean, because I think he's very emotional. He said, you know, I think I might, I think I might. So, he knows what a deal this is.

PHILLIP: That's so amazing to think about. This is a huge achievement really for any artist, but someone who is as big of a deal as Usher is, it really is a capstone on an incredible career. So far, there's so much more left, including a tour that is coming up.

So, Gayle, I also want to ask you about the other big Super Bowl story. We haven't even talked about any football yet. We're talking now about Taylor Swift because Taylor Swift is the talk of the town. What is the talk of the town in Vegas right now as it relates to her? People are expecting her to be there, anticipating. What does that feel like right now?

KING: Well, I saw Mama Kelce the other night at NFL honors and said howdy doody to her. Listen, you know, Taylor Swift has really changed the game in terms of the number of young girls who are watching with their fathers. To me there is no downside to this romance. I hope these are two young people, two very attractive people, two superstars at the top of their game that seem to be having a good time.

I'm a sucker for a good love story. I am here for it. And I think most people, yeah, you have some cranky Yankees that are like -- about football. But at the end of the day, there is no downside to her coming in bringing all these people that hadn't paid any attention to football watching this game. So, I think people are excited that she's coming. They really are.

PHILLIP: yeah.

KING: Even the people that say that -- I went to a luncheon today with a lot of you know, the audience was predominantly male and even they were saying, yeah, I wonder what time she's going to get it. They're curious. They're curious.

PHILLIP: And it's fun. Everybody needs to lighten up and have fun and let -- let the love flow at the Super Bowl.

KING: Let it play out however it's going to play out.

PHILLIP: I think that's right.

KING: The other thing. We all want a good game, whether you're for the Chiefs or the 49ers, everybody just wants a good football game. And I think from the moment the first ball is kicked, I think every play is going to matter because these two teams are so hyped up and both of them wanted so badly.

There are great storylines for each team, which is how I like to watch a football game. What's the storyline behind the team? I know that's a girly thing, but I love a great story, Abby.

PHILLIP: I do, too. Gayle we love you, too. Thank you so much for doing this. I know you've been out in Vegas. Well, maybe this weekend you'll have some fun. You've been working really hard. We appreciate you joining us.

KING: No, we've been calling it our two-day residency at the Bellagio.

PHILLIP: That sounds really nice.

KING: I would only do this for you, Abby. Only do this for you.

PHILLIP: Thank you, Gayle.

KING: All right, see you.

PHILLIP: Now, Republicans, they're ready for their close-ups for Mr. Trump, their audition tapes for the "Veep" stakes, that's up next.




PHILLIP: Auditions are nothing new in American politics, and when presidential candidates are deciding on a running mate, you'll often see the applicants on the campaign trail, on the TV, building a reel of praise and promotion. But in 2024, Donald Trump is basically the casting director, and the groveling is kind of like a chorus line dancer putting on the best performance to try to get the role. The first up, Elise Stefanik.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Had you been Vice President on January 6th, 2021, what would you have done? I stood up for the Constitution. I believe it was --

COLLINS: No, what would you have done if you were Vice President?

STEFANIK: I would not have done what Mike Pence did. I don't think that was the right approach.


PHILLIP: It's 2024, and despite indictments, financial payouts, and of course, reality, the New York Congresswoman is still in stolen election mode. Not to be outdone, of course, by a fellow competitor, J.D. Vance, who enters the conversation.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, "THIS WEEK" HOST: Would you have certified the election results had you been Vice President?

J.D. VANCE (R) OHIO: If I had been Vice President, I would have told the states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and so many others that we needed to have multiple slates of electors, and I think the U.S. Congress should have fought over it from there.


PHILLIP: Now, Senator Tim Scott is another potential pick.



TIM SCOTT (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I just love you.

TRUMP: No. That's why he's a great politician.


PHILLIP: That moment is, well, noteworthy, since Trump was referring to the person who appointed Tim Scott to his Senate position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it is with great pleasure that I am announcing -- that I am appointing our next U.S. Senator to be Congressman Tim Scott.


PHILLIP: So, sometimes in the audition process, an applicant is asked to elaborate on the candidate's resume.



PHILLIP: Can you point to anything that Donald Trump has done to defend American democracy?

BEN CARSON, FORMER HUD SECRETARY: I can't point to anything that he has done that is a threat to democracy.


PHILLIP: And other times arrival is quick to become a former rival just seconds after quitting the race.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is why I am asking you to do the right thing as New Hampshire and to vote for Donald J. Trump as your next President.


PHILLIP: For some, the flattery is so endearing that they can resort to basically reverse psychology.


KARI LAKE, FORMER TV NEWS ANCHOR: I don't hear anybody asking about other people running and who their V.P. is going to be. He's so strong he doesn't really need a V.P.


PHILLIP: And for some contenders, making the judge seem magical and mythical is the key to success here.


KRISTI NOEM (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Now, some people can't figure out his popularity. Why are people so loyal to him? I'm convinced it's because we have never seen anything or anyone like him ever before.


PHILLIP: So, in these auditions, call backs from Donald Trump will certainly depend on their screen tests. Thank you for watching NEWSNIGHT. "LAURA COATES LIVE" starts next.