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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

Mubarak Pledges to Step Down in September; Tony Blair on Egypt Crisis; Mitt Romney Weighs In

Aired February 1, 2011 - 21:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, breaking point in Egypt. President Mubarak says he won't run again. But is that enough? What happens next?

TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is over in the sense that whatever we're talking about, we're talking about a period of transition until you get to elections.

MORGAN: My primetime exclusive with Tony Blair, the Middle East peace envoy.

And what would a President Mitt Romney do about Egypt? My one- on-one with a man who would be in the White House.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The real objective, I think, has been met. And that is that the people of Egypt are going to have a democracy, an opportunity to vote, to have a say in the course of their lives and in the course of their government, and hopefully economic freedom as well.

MORGAN: And direct hit. The mother of all storms lashes the U.S. How big will this be, but more importantly, how deadly?

This is a special edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MORGAN: Good evening. President Obama was on the phone for half an hour tonight with President Hosni Mubarak. He called for a moment of transformation in Egypt and said the status quo is simply not sustainable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place.

Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people. Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments. This is one of those times.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: I'm going to go straight to Anderson Cooper, my colleague who's been in Cairo since early this morning.

Anderson, President Obama talks about the will of the people. It seems to me from what I'm watching down in Cairo tonight, the will of the people is that Mubarak must go now, not when it suits him in the next election.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN'S AC 360: Well, we certainly saw a huge turnout of protesters calling for Mubarak to step down immediately today. I mean, we've seen that every day of the last eight days of this protest. We're now in the ninth day.

But Tuesday was the largest protest that we have seen to date. Liberation Square was literally just packed shoulder to shoulder with people. All of them, many from different walks of life, from different backgrounds with different agendas of what they want to see Egypt become.

But all of them united in the belief that Mubarak must step down now. And I've got to tell you, when the president finally made his speech earlier last night, on Tuesday night, the reaction from the crowd there was immediate. They were outraged, angered, crying out, and there are still people in the square tonight and protests will continue tomorrow. There's no doubt about it.

The question is, the larger -- the populous in Egypt, 80 million people in this country, we've only seen perhaps a million or so over these last eight days, we're not sure the expect number protesting in the streets. Those who haven't been protesting, how are they going to respond to what President Mubarak said?

Will they be satisfied? Is that going to be enough, the idea that there's going to be a transition eight months from now? Will that be enough to satisfy them and take some of the steam out of these protests? We're going to have to wait and see -- Piers.

MORGAN: It's obviously a very difficult position for President Obama and the White House because he has been an ally so long. He's done a lot of good for the country and particularly for America and its interests.

But here's the problem as I see it. The longer this void continues, the longer these protests continue, the longer the pressure for Mubarak to go now continues, doesn't it get more and more difficult for President Obama to simply sit back and say, you guys have to wait? You know? I hear you, but we won't do anything. It's just he has to test out his time.

COOPER: Yes, it's certainly a difficult situation for the White House. And when you talk to the protesters, they say, look, we understand that -- you know, we're the -- the U.S. is walking a fine line here. But they are fed up, they are frustrated and they want to hear more declarative statements from the Obama administration.

That is certainly something -- they are not particularly sympathetic to the geopolitical concerns of the United States at this point after 30 years of living under Hosni Mubarak. They want to see change and they want to see it now.

MORGAN: Do you see anybody emerging, Anderson, tonight as a potential candidate to take over for Mubarak?

COOPER: Well, I mean, Mubarak has appointed a vice president, Omar Suleiman, who is head of his intelligence -- who's been his intelligence chief for years. That might be acceptable to some of the protesters that we talked to today, although a lot of people say, well, look, he's been a henchman of Mubarak for Mubarak's entire reign, why would he be any different?

The thing that -- about this country that you have to realize is that, you know, Mubarak has ruled for 30 years under emergency rules. He never had a vice president before, because he didn't want to give somebody that power. He's virtually eliminated any potential power threats to him and hasn't allowed there to be real democratic institutions grow over the years.

So there really is a vacuum. There's not a lot of organized groups out there that could stand up. There's the Muslim Brotherhood, but that obviously concerns many people in the west, and probably only has, according to experts here, about 20 to 30 percent of the support of the Egyptian population at this point.

So trying to build up institutions of democracy, that's going to be a critical step in whatever transition to free and fair elections this country undertakes.

MORGAN: Anderson, thank you very much for that. I'll come back to you before the end of my show. Thank you.

"New York Times" columnist Nick Kristof is in Cairo tonight, where crowds of protesters are reacting not very favorably to President Mubarak's announcement.

Nick, you've been there all day. Describe what you've seen and what you think is going to happen next?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES: People are enormously energized by the fact that they've found their voice, for the first time in 30 years, and they're not placated. I don't think they're going to be. In fact, there seems to be a gathering snowball.

A lot of people were initially scared about what might happen, about the possibility of infiltration of violence on the square. And I think the fact that nothing has happened in a few days now means that even more are going to be coming out.

And at the end of the day, you know, the idea that the president is not going to seek re-election in September is just something that is not remotely close to what they are demanding. So I don't think it's nearly enough.

MORGAN: So would you imagine that we may see yet more dramatic twists and turns here? I mean, would you think from what you just said that Mubarak may be lucky to survive even the week?

KRISTOF: I sure wouldn't want to make a prediction about how long Mubarak is going to last, but what I do think is that right now, he has become an impediment to stability in Egypt. And that the road to restoring stability in this country involves his departure.

And economic pressure, the social pressure, the need to stop these upheavals means that I think there's going to be mounting pressure on him to move on and to step down.

MORGAN: Nick, it's been a remarkably peaceful protest after many warnings that it may be very violent. Why do you think that's been? And are you picking up any sense of anti-Americanism?

KRISTOF: Well, I mean, it's passing. First, on the violence point, for an incredibly uncoordinated protest, for one where there's really no organized single group putting it together, there is an amazing amount of security and protection.

To get into the square, you have to pass through level after level of security, you're frisked, you have to present your I.D. and in fact, somebody very close to me as I entered today was found with a gun. That person was grabbed by a whole bunch of volunteers, a protective cordon was placed around him so that he would not be beaten up, and then he was taken over to the soldiers.

And, you know, for an operation like this, a grassroots operation, it was very, very impressive.

As for anti-Americanism, people go out of their way to say that there is no -- that they're not against Americans, that they're very much with the American people, but at the same time there clearly is a real resentment at the idea that Mubarak is perceived as having done America's will rather than Egypt's will.

And one of the most common slogans here is, "Mubarak go, go, you agent of America," and I think that does reflect a deep feeling that for 30 years their president has been to some degree a pawn of America, and they would like a more assertive and more nationalistic foreign policy. And that is going to present complications for America.

MORGAN: Nick, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

KRISTOF: My pleasure.

MORGAN: A short time ago, I talked with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who just got back from the Middle East where he's a peace envoy. I asked him what happens now in the way of Mubarak's decision to step down, albeit eventually.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORGAN: Mr. Blair, how are you?

BLAIR: Very well, Piers. How are you doing?

MORGAN: It's been a while.

BLAIR: It has indeed.

MORGAN: Let me start immediately with the scenes that we're seeing in Egypt today. Obviously this extraordinary march, up to a million people marching the streets. In Jordan, you see King Abdullah making his cabinet resign.

These are pretty extraordinary times, aren't they?

BLAIR: They are extraordinary times. And I think this has been a long time coming, but at some point, it's inevitable. And the question is really where it ends up now. Because there is a process of change that, I think, will affect the whole of the region. People want a different system of government. They're going to get it.

The question is, then, what emerges from that? And in particular, I think the key challenge for us, really, is how do we help partner this process of change and help manage it in such a way that what comes out of it is open-minded, fair, democratic government?

MORGAN: Nobody seems quite sure what to say about President Mubarak. Depending on who you talk to, he's been a force for good or a force for evil. The people are clearly in Egypt making their feelings clear. Where do you stand on him?

BLAIR: Well, where you stand on him depends on whether you've worked with him from the outside or on the inside. And for those of us who worked with him over the -- particularly now I worked with him on the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, so this is somebody I'm constantly in contact with and working with.

And on that issue, I have to say, he's been immensely courageous and a force for good. Inside Egypt, and I have many Egyptian friends, it's clear that there's been a huge desire for change. So where you stand on President Mubarak very much depends on, you know, whether you've been dealing with him as an outsider on something like the peace process or whether you're somebody, I think, who's obviously an aspiring middle class there that are wanting now the same types of freedom and changes that people have elsewhere.

MORGAN: Isn't the problem, as I see it, that the reason so many are marching in protest in Egypt, and indeed in other countries in the Middle East, is because they view Mubarak now as a dictator? But the problem is that America and Britain and other countries are sort of queuing up to say, well, hang on, don't be so hasty here. He's been a good ally of ours for a long time.

But as far as the people in Egypt on the ground are concerned, he's been, you know, pretty ruthless, led a pretty unpleasant regime in the last few years through his police force. And I don't really understand why he's considered to be acceptable, where someone like Saddam Hussein had to be got rid of.

BLAIR: Well, first of all, let's just be very clear, Piers. Hosni Mubarak is not Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein took a country that -- when he came to power had a GDP they had roughly the equivalent of Portugal and Spain and devastated it.

Hosni Mubarak, to be fair, has presided over an Egyptian economy that's something like doubled in the last decade. But I don't think the west should be in the slightest bit embarrassed about the fact that it's been working very closely with President Mubarak over the peace process, and it has, by the way, but at the same time, it's been urging change within Egypt.

I mean those of us who've worked with the Egyptian government over a long period of time have always advised and articulated, as indeed I think the recent documents from America shows a process of change in Egypt. But we've always been conscious that in the Middle East, you've got three elements.

You know this is where it differs from, say, Eastern Europe. You've got, of course, a government that is not elected according to the democracy that we would -- the system of democracy that we would espouse. That's the first element. So you've got that elite at the top of the country.

You've secondly got a group of people that want democracy, that are urging for open and democratic change in a way that we would respond to and the way we would sympathize with.

The third element, I'm afraid, is Islamist groups who would actually take the situation in a completely different direction. So it's perfectly natural for those of us from the outside to want to support this movement for change at the same time as saying, let's just be careful about this and make sure that what happens in this process of change is something that ends in free and fair elections and a democratic system of government.

And it doesn't get taken over or channeled into a completely different direction that is actually at odds with what the people in Egypt want.

MORGAN: At the moment, there seems to be little presence of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, on the streets in these protests. What I've been told is that far a more worrying to the White House would be if a similar situation was to rise in somewhere like the Yemen, where that could very quickly deteriorate into another Afghanistan.

What would you say to that?

BLAIR: Well, I think it's true. I don't think there's a majority for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. On the other hand, what you've always got to watch is that they are extremely well organized. You know, well organized and well funded.

Whereas those people who are out on the street at the moment, many of them are extremely well intentioned people, but they're not organized in political parties yet. So one of the issues in the transition is to give time for those political parties to get themselves properly organized.

I think elsewhere in the region, yes, I mean there would have to be real concerned as to what would happen if a vacuum arises. And you know that's why one of the things I've been arguing for a long time is that really what the west should do, and by the west I mean America and Europe, is we should be trying to partner this process of change.

You know, we should be there saying, look, the present situation is not sustainable. You know, in the 21st century, people are going to expect their countries to evolve to more open Democratic systems of government.

We can help you manage that process and we will. Now I think, you know, for us in the west, as I say, it's time now, I think, to be moving from the position of commenting on the situation to get to the point where we've actually got a plan of action as to how we help this process of change happen in the right way.

MORGAN: Can I just ask you? I mean you've been quite careful not to criticize President Mubarak, and I understand why you've taken that position, but in particular relation to what happened last night in the preparation for the march, where he shot down the trains, he turned off the mobile phones, he turned off the Internet.

I mean, this is really totalitarian stuff. Presumably, you would be critical of that kind of behavior by any government, wouldn't you?

BLAIR: Of course I don't want to see that in any government. But I think, you know, it really -- there's nothing that is going to be done now that is going to put this particular genie back in the bottle. It's out there and there's going to be change.

MORGAN: So do you --

BLAIR: So whatever people say now, and at some point in the next, you know, reasonably short period of time, there's going to be change. The question is how -- as I keep saying, is how we get from here to there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MORGAN: When we come back, I want to ask Tony Blair, could the chaos in Egypt start a chain reaction that spreads across the whole of the Middle East.

And if anyone in Egypt right now or anyone who has pictures or information from Egypt, tweet me @Piersmorgan and we'll show as many as we can.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm proud an Egyptian now. Only now I'm very proud tat I'm an Egyptian.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You weren't proud before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And now you're proud?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Back now to my exclusive interview with Tony Blair, the envoy to the quartet to the Middle East. Asked him what it's like to be a peace envoy in a part of the world where many people simply don't like him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORGAN: Can I ask you, Mr. Blair, I mean how do you find your job? I mean many people would argue you've gone into an absolute hornet's nest here because you were a British prime minister through the war in Iraq and indeed Afghanistan.

How do you feel being a peace envoy in an area of the world where a lot of Arabs don't trust you and don't like you?

BLAIR: Well, some do, some don't. I mean not everybody was in favor of keeping Saddam Hussein in place and many people regarded the attacks on America of 9/11 of appalling -- of an appalling nature. So you know you've got different strands of opinion there.

Over, you know, the past and my role, for example, as a strong ally of America or a strong ally of Israel, I never hide that. Not that I could if I wanted to. I make it clear that I'm in favor of democratic government and I'm in favor of bringing about change within the region.

Now I think one part of that change is a viable peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But it's also precisely about making sure that dictators like Saddam can't stay in power.

MORGAN: When you see regime change happening in the way that we're seeing in Egypt, where it's driven from the bottom up, through the people, and it's based on their particular concerns about their quality of life and they resent their government and they want them out, and they're driving reform through the streets, does a part of you wish that perhaps you'd waited in somewhere like Iraq and allowed that to possibly happen there? Isn't it a better way to secure regime change than declaring war on countries?

BLAIR: It's a much better way. A much, much better way. But it wasn't on offer in Iraq. And don't let's confuse Iraq 2003 with Egypt 2011. You know, you and I have had this debate over many years now.

The fact is, there were people in Iraq who tried to rise up, if you remember. The Kurds in particular, and hundreds of thousands of them died as a result. So that was never going to happen there.

I would prefer to see change from the bottom up in Iran right now. I mean, that is a country where if you had a free and fair election, I've got no doubt at all you'd have a different government and a government that would be far better for the stability of the region.

But sometimes that's not possible to do. And what's happened with Egypt, particularly with the army playing the role it's playing, is that these protesters have been able to come on to the street and have been able to make their voice heard. Unfortunately, in other countries, it wouldn't be possible.

MORGAN: Do you think right now, the way that things are playing out in Egypt, do you think that Israel is in a more dangerous position, or are you quite optimistic that this will actually end up being a better situation for Israel? Because that seems one of the key questions to me.

BLAIR: Well, it's an uncertain position, isn't it? I mean, so Israel, having got somebody who they know is very much on the side with the peace process. Now that's going to be replaced by uncertainty. Whether it turns out to be better for Israel, better for the region, we just can't tell at the moment.

And that's why it's perfectly natural, by the way, for the American administration, the British and others and people like myself to say, yes, we have been to have change, that change should result in free and fair elections, but it's a process of transition that's got to be managed.

MORGAN: King Abdullah today obviously has moved quickly to get rid of his Cabinet and take an action almost to preempt the kind of scenes we're seeing in Egypt. Are you worried, as he clearly is, about a potential domino effect here? Because, you know, nobody expected what was going to happen in Tunisia, we've now seen it in Egypt.

There are genuine worries all over the Middle East that this could just be the start of a collective countrywide protest. How do you think this is all going to play out?

BLAIR: Well, I think it all plays out depending on whether, as I say, the modernizing forces, the people who want, you know, the types of things we take for granted in Britain and America, and whether they are the people that would succeed those governments, or whether the very strong Islamist movements wouldn't rather take control. And that's the issue.

MORGAN: Isn't part of the problem, as we've seen in Egypt, that when you educate your populous in the way that they have in Egypt, but you can't give them jobs at the end of it because you continue to run a rather repressive regime, you end up with the situation they find themselves in, where these people are smart.

They are well educated, they travel, they're aware of the Internet, they know what a better life can be like, and actually they say we're going to protest and we're going to get rid of this government. Isn't that the fear for all these -- all these governments in the Middle East now?

BLAIR: Yes, but that in a sense is a healthy thing. I mean the fact that the people, when they become better educated, they want more freedom. That's great. We should be behind that.

MORGAN: Finally, Mr. Blair, do you believe in your position as Middle East peace envoy, do you believe that peace is now more or less likely the way things stand today?

BLAIR: It's extremely difficult to tell. The one thing I do know is that peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is of huge importance to the stability of the region, but also to those modernizing and forward looking forces in the region triumphing over those who would take the region and the world backwards.

So whatever the next few months brings, we've got to carry on working flat out on this. There's actually -- I mean, I will be going back to Israel and Palestine very shortly, within the next couple of days. We've then got a meeting of the main quartet, that's the United Nations, U.S., EU, Russia, which is happening Saturday.

And whatever events in Egypt bring, we're going to have to carry on striving to make that peace, because it is so vital, not just for Israelis and Palestinians, but for people everywhere.

MORGAN: Mr. Blair, it's been good to talk to you again. Thank you for your time.

BLAIR: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MORGAN: When we come back, I'll ask a man who wants to be this country's next president, Mitt Romney, what he would do about Egypt.

And later, the monster storm barreling towards you. If you're watching this, chances are it's going to hit you very soon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): We're not doing this for us, we're doing this for the generations that come after us so that they can taste freedom and democracy.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Governor Romney, the chant from Tahrir Square in Cairo tonight was, "freedom, may god make it happen, may it be tonight." President Mubarak says he's going to stand down, but not for quite a few months.

Is that position tenable, do you think, given the reaction on the ground?

ROMNEY: Well, that's something with he and his government and the people are going to have to decide. The real objective, I think, has been met, and that is that the people of Egypt are going to have a democracy, an opportunity to vote, to have a say in the course of the lives and in the course of their government, and hopefully economic freedom as well. The process for getting there is something which is going to have to be developed.

But it's of great interest I'm sure to the Egyptian, as well as to the people of the world, that this process is one which establishes a true civil society, with political parties and institutions of democracy, so that when we have a vote, when we -- when they have a vote and elect new leadership in Egypt, it's not a leadership team that somehow kidnapped the process, or that closes off the avenue for people to seek redress and to assemble and to have the kind of freedoms they've been arguing for.

MORGAN: Nobody saw this coming in Egypt. We kind of guessed Tunisia, maybe that would unravel since the start. But Egypt came out of nowhere, really.

Were you shocked? What do you think's going to happen now? It seems to me Mubarak can say what he likes, the people are speaking and they're marching and they have decided they want him gone now.

ROMNEY: I think when Mr. Ben Ali was removed from office in Tunisia, I think there was the general alert throughout the Arab world that there was going to be the potential for reaction and for other people taking to the streets and demonstrating and saying, we want freedom too; we want our voices to be heard.

And I think we shouldn't have been too surprised that something of this nature happened in Egypt. Although the scale of it, the speed with which Mr. Mubarak is apparently now deciding not to go forward, probably surprised a lot of folks. I think the administration, in their earliest comments, were caught a bit off guard.

MORGAN: If you'd been asked, as Vice President Biden was asked, is he a dictator, what would you have said?

ROMNEY: I'm not in the vice president's shoes, so I'm not going to --

MORGAN: Let me ask you as Governor Romney, is he a dictator?

ROMNEY: He's the leader of his country. He's a monarch-type figure --

MORGAN: Lots of monarchs have been dictators.

ROMNEY: I probably would avoid the term dictator. But what I would say is that the country has not had the kind of representation from its people. They've not had the kind of economic freedom and political freedom which they aspire to. And that's something which I understand. Over many administrations in this country, we've encouraged President Mubarak to move in the direction of providing these freedoms. And finally it's going to happen.

MORGAN: President Mubarak has persistently refused to do that, of course. That's precisely why he's in the hole he's in now. And you have this mass populous in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez. And they're all saying, hang on a second, America is still supporting this guy, allowing him to have his six, seven months of handover, whatever it turns out to be.

They don't want that. They want this guy gone. They see him as a dictator and they want someone in America to actually stand up for them, don't they?

ROMNEY: Well, they want to know that the America people stand with the voices of freedom and democracy. And we do. We also want to see in our country a willingness to support a process which leads to a permanent democracy, not something that can be kidnapped by the Islamists.

What the transition process will look like I don't know. It's something which is going to have to be developed. Perhaps the military will decide to take a more active role. Perhaps President Mubarak will able to convince opposition leaders that he can move the nation to a permanent status of democracy.

But we don't want to have the country just fall into anarchy and to have a setting where it's available for the most extreme elements and the most violent elements to take control.

MORGAN: How could this affect American foreign policy going forward, in the sense that it may be now very antiquated for America to continue supporting and propping up people who run these country who are perceived by their people to be dictators? That game may be over, however helpful and supportive people like Mubarak have been to America, which he indisputably has been. hasn't that game now run its course?

ROMNEY: Well, there's always been a bit of a potential conflict and a balance between two of our interests in foreign policy; one being that we support values and principles they are consistent with our own. At the same time, we have an interest in our national security. And if a nation is headed by a monarch or headed by another leader whose form of government we don't particularly appreciate or approve of, we don't come in and say, we won't work with you; we won't negotiate with you; we won't sign a peace agreement with you.

This, after all, was an administration which has been friendly with us, has had agreements with us to protect the stability of Israel, our ally. So we can't just say we're going to rip everything apart and fashion your nation the way we would like to be.

But we're not going to go around the world and change every government to fashion it to equal our own. And on occasion, we'll be dealing with people who are less than the democratic representatives we would hope to have. But in each case, I think we have to let them know clearly we stand for democracy, freedom and the rights of people express their own views, and have a government which therefore will be stable because it does reflect the people's views.

MORGAN: You've just been in the region. What was your take on -- obviously, this is before what happened in Egypt. So it's with hindsight. But what was your take on what was going on there when you were there?

ROMNEY: Well, it was just a few weeks ago. And the sentiment there and the perception at that time was dramatically different. I, of course, spent most of my time in Afghanistan and Israel. But I did meet with King Abdullah in Jordan. And at that point, the concerns that we addressed were concerns of the economy and how to get people working again and improve the lots of the people in his nation.

But the thoughts of a potential change in his government, as he has announced today I believe, those were not something that we even considered at that point.

MORGAN: Were you surprised?

ROMNEY: Well, what happened in Tunisia is having a seismic effect on what's happening throughout the Middle East. I'm not surprised by his decision to make a change.

MORGAN: When we come back, Governor Romney, I'm going to put you on the spot and not ask you if you're going to run for the presidency, but when.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Come now, I'm going to put this to you straight. Yes or no, are you going to run for the presidency again?

ROMNEY: I don't have an answer for you yet, because there are a lot of things you have to consider before you make that final decision. Clearly, I'm doing the things, like other folks are doing, to keep the option open, and moving forward in the event that I make a positive decision. But there are matters of health, of support, of the kind of network you'd like to have of individuals behind you. Those are things you've got to assess before you make a final decision.

MORGAN: Am I right in thinking you know the answer, you just don't want to give it to me yet?

ROMNEY: No, I don't have a 100 percent answer ready to go. My wife thinks I should run. She's absolutely committed. She's saying, you've got to run, you've got to have somebody who understands the world of the economy, small business, who can create jobs. She's convinced I've got to run. But I have to look more broadly and say, all right, do I have the team necessary to do this?

MORGAN: Are your chances, do you think, advanced in a positive way by the existence of Sarah Palin? She's such a polarizing figure, the whole Tea Party machine, depending on who you talk to the in the Republican party, half the people like it, half the people think this could cost you the next election. Does you and your position now emerge as the savior, if you like, of all this polarizing?

ROMNEY: You know, I'm not somebody who can analyze for you the politics.

MORGAN: Yes, you are. You're the perfect person.

ROMNEY: I'm not a pundit, I'm not a pollster.

MORGAN: You're a politician.

ROMNEY: I spent four years in the governor's chair, and it was a terrific experience. But I spent almost 25 years of my life in the private sector. So in terms of being an analyst of the political to and fro, I'm not the right guy to go to. But I can tell you what I believe and what things I think ought to be done to fix our country.

MORGAN: What do you believe about Sarah Palin?

ROMNEY: I believe she's an extraordinarily powerful and effective voice in our party, that she has generated a great deal of support and attention, that she'd be great in a primary process. She'd bring attention to the process. And frankly, the more people we have on the stage in those debates, talking about different ideas and different approaches, the better.

MORGAN: Could you beat her?

ROMNEY: I don't know the answer to that.

MORGAN: Does your wife know the answer to that?

ROMNEY: She probably does.

MORGAN: She thinks you can beat everyone, doesn't she?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm not sure she knows whether I can win or lose. But I know that she thinks that someone of my experience is needed in the country at a time like this.

MORGAN: Why does -- never mind what you think, because she's fascinating here. Why does your wife think you lost last time?

ROMNEY: Why does she think I lost that? That's a darned good question. I cannot read her mind on al dimensions, but we talk about --

MORGAN: She must have sat you down and say, here's where you went wrong.

ROMNEY: I think she would say -- and I would say as well -- that John McCain ran a very good campaign. And at the time we were running, the most important issue that the country was concerned about was Iraq. And John McCain was an undisputed expert on matters related to Iraq. And that was something which augured in his favor.

And I think I also spent a lot of time talking about issues which were not central to the reason I was running. But you know what, even if I had been the nominee, instead of John McCain, I probably would have lost to Barack Obama too.

MORGAN: You're a bit older now. You're a bit wiser. You know, when I study you as a potential candidate, you tick all the boxes, Harvard MBA, very hard working, very rich, decent guy, religiously devout and a smart business guy. If I was a voter, you're there. There's no problem with you.

I mean, you don't drink. You don't -- never taken drugs. You don't smoke. You're a family man. I mean, you're pretty perfect, aren't you?

ROMNEY: Well, I think people would -- particularly my family, would disagree with that conclusion.

MORGAN: I want to play you a clip now. And it relates to your Mormon faith. And I want you to watch this and we'll discuss it after.

ROMNEY: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I'll be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they're right, so be it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Do you still stand by every word of that?

ROMNEY: Absolutely.

MORGAN: Do you think it's going to be a potential problem if you run, your faith?

ROMNEY: Once again, I can't judge the politics. I don't know the answer to that. My experience, so far, both in Massachusetts, running as a Mormon guy in a state that's overwhelmingly of other faiths, didn't seem to get in my way there.

But most people in this country recognize that, in fact, the nation itself was founded on the principle of religious tolerance and freedom. We respect other people's beliefs. And I think in a lot of cases respect people who honor their faith and try to be true to them.

MORGAN: Finally, you're known in some circles in Washington as Mr. Flip-Flop, which I thought was something to do with beaches, but apparently it means that you've had a little tendency to move with the sand a little on issues. How do you respond to that charge? ROMNEY: Well, a lot of things are charged in politics, some accurate, some not. And the nice thing about writing a book, like I did about a year ago, was that I lay out a pretty clear vision of what I would do on the major issues that the country faces. And if anyone wants to know where I stand on virtually any major issue of the time, they can look at that book and say, oh, that's where he is.

And you're going to see me talking day in, day out, whether I'm a candidate or not a candidate, about the things I think America has to do to remain the exceptional leader in the world, to protect freedom here, to get the economy going again, to create jobs. People in America want to know who can get 15 million people back to work.

MORGAN: If you were president right now, what's the one thing you'd change right now? Most important thing to you?

ROMNEY: I would reverse all of the policies that have made America one of the least friendly places to start new businesses and to grow business. We have made it hard to create jobs, hard for entrepreneurs, hard for small business. And this administration, while saying they hope to make things business friendly, have done just the opposite.

Make America the most attractive place for entrepreneurs, innovators, creators, people who want to work hard, who want to labor. That's what we've got to do to make America strong again.

MORGAN: Governor Romney, thank you. And can you come back maybe when you've got a bit more to say about your decision?

ROMNEY: Absolutely.

MORGAN: And more importantly, bring Mrs. Romney as well.

ROMNEY: You bet.

MORGAN: Nice to meet you.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Piers.

MORGAN: Breaking news tonight, a monster storm is dumping snow and ice on more than 30 states. If it hasn't reached you yet, it probably will. We'll tell you when, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Breaking news tonight on a massive winter storm that could affect 100 million Americans. Heavy snow, ice and bitter cold across a 1,500 mile swathe of the country, and forecasters say the storm could be deadly. CNN's Rob Marciano is at the epicenter in Chicago tonight. Rob, what's it like there?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Piers, the most intense part of the storm is happening right now. This storm has pummeled Oklahoma, Missouri, with snowfall totals up to and in some case over 20 inches in some cases. Parts of -- large parts of I-70 shut down and some National Guard troops having to go in there and help stranded travelers.

Same deal with I-44. Lakeshore Drive right here, parts of that shut down, as well. As you can see, the snow is blowing sideways. Sustained at 40. You see that? Thunder and lightning in a snowstorm. That is thunder snow.

MORGAN: I've never seen that.

MARCIANO: That, my friend, is creepy. It gives you an idea just how dynamic this system is. How much snow have we gotten here in Chicago? Tough to stay, because the wind has absolutely wiped this sidewalk clean. Drifts are going to be I don't know high. We've probably seen eight or nine inches of snow.

Look up there in the lights and you can see how the snow is swirling around, coming down at about two inches per hour. So we'll probably get another 12, 18 inches out of this before it's all done. But the wind obviously a huge problem.

Tens of thousands of people without power either from snow and wind or from ice. This storm is an absolute beast. And by Chicago standards -- you think Chicago gets a lot of snow. No, it's more of a cold city than it is a snow city. To get a snowstorm over 16 inches, they've only done that a handful of times since we've been keeping records.

This is going to be a historic system. It's just a matter of whether or not it goes down as the worst in history. I can tell you right now, Piers, the worst is coming now. And this is all moving east. What you saw in New York city you'll see even more tomorrow, especially upstate and through parts of northern New England, probably seeing two feet of snow there, not to mention the ribbon of ice that's going to create havoc across parts of the Midwest. Sounds like a hurricane, Piers.

MORGAN: I've never seen -- if you can still hear me, I've never, ever seen lightning in the middle of a snowstorm. Have you seen that before?

MARCIANO: I lost ISP, so I assume we're done.

MORGAN: We've lost Rob there. Extraordinary scenes from Chicago, where they're saying it may be the worst storm they've ever had. As I say, I've never seen that before, lightning in the middle of a snowstorm. This is pretty crazy weather. And I hope if you're out there in the middle of this, you stay safe.

When we come back, the latest on the crisis in Egypt. Nic Robertson is live for us in Alexandria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some folks came in and tried to start a protest. They shouted "fix it, fix it," and "we stand by you" and they raised knives and sticks. The protestors yelled back and said "peaceful, keep it peaceful," and they retreated. But the thugs kept cheering for Mubarak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Before we go tonight, I want to check back in with CNN's Nic Robertson in Alexandria, Egypt, where tonight there are reports of shootings and injuries. Nic, what's going on there? When did the shooting happen?

ROBERTSON: a couple of hours ago, Piers. The protestors -- the anti-Mubarak protestors were sitting in one of the main squares here, Martin Square. And then they say this group of pro-Mubarak supporters came up with sticks, with big knives and attacked them. They called on the army to come in and transport out the problem. The army came in, in their tanks, fired shots in the air.

The pro-Mubarak supporters backed off. But by the time all that had happened, according to the people right there, 12 people were injured, one man actually seriously injured, had his pelvis broken in that melee. It's an indication of sort of tensions that are right under the surface here at the moment, Piers.

MORGAN: There has to be a danger, doesn't there, Nic, that if this void continues and the crowds continue, maybe even grow in size, that Mubarak's people will come out in larger numbers, too, and we could start to see the very violence that we so far thankfully mainly avoided.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, it was interesting. Today, I heard -- a man came up to me and said I want to talk to you, right out there in the open, when there were plenty of other protestors trying to bring Mubarak down. He told me, I support President Mubarak. He should stay on as long as he wants in power.

I said, aren't you afraid of saying this in front of all this people? He said no, I'm not. So we're beginning to hear voices like that. Also the voices of concern, people who recognize this. In the demonstration today, a man said to me we want Mubarak to go, but we don't want him to go quite yet. We want him to hold on. We want this careful transition of power.

We want the elections. We want them soon. We want him to speak. That was before Mubarak did speak on TV. But there is this real concern that if he doesn't -- if this transition doesn't happen smoothly, you're going to get more outbreaks of trouble like this. That's even before you have all the divisions between all these different opposition groups bubbling up to the surface, Piers.

MORGAN: Nic, thanks for that report, and thanks for your continued outstanding journalism out there. I thought your diary for us yesterday was quite extraordinary. And please stay safe.

That's all for us tonight. Stay with CNN and CNN.com for the latest breaking weather news and major developments from Egypt. Tomorrow, a special edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT, my live sit down with one of the giants of journalism, and one of my heroines, Barbara Walters. She's interviewed everybody who is anybody. And tomorrow I am interviewing her.

Now here is my colleague Anderson Cooper with "AC 360." Anderson?