Return to Transcripts main page


Man Behind President Obama's Re-Election; Herman Cain Suspends His Campaign; Interview With Al Roker

Aired December 5, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Tonight the Gingrich surge.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I do become the nominee, we're going to compete in all 50 states.

MORGAN: Looks like Republicans have a new crush on Newt. But could they actually be playing to President Obama's hands? Who would he rather run against, Gingrich or Mitt Romney?

I'll talk to the man behind the president's reelection strategy, David Axelrod.

Also her story was the beginning of the end for the Herman Cain's campaign. And the last time she was here, she said this.

SHARON BIALEK, ACCUSED HERMAN CAIN OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT: My goal was simply to get him to admit the wrongdoing.

MORGAN: Well, he didn't. So what does Sharon Bialek think now?

BIALEK: He has no one to blame but himself.

MORGAN: She was the first to speak out against Herman Cain. Now Sharon Bialek is back live.

Plus the man who always knows which way the winds are blowing, political or otherwise. Al Roker. What you may not know about America's favorite weatherman.


Good evening. The GOP has really been the elephant in the room of American politics as the party's frontrunners play a game of political musical chairs, with Perry, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, who just had that moment in the spotlight, now it's Newt Gingrich's turn. Listen to what he said today after a meeting with Donald Trump.


GINGRICH: Of course I want his endorsement. I want -- not yet. He's got to do this debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MORGAN: And a Trump endorsement isn't the only one in play, even though the Cain train has run off the rails, the former candidate's endorsement could come any day. The only question is, how important would it be?

There's only one man who knows what the White House thinks of all this and what it means for the president's reelection campaign. The senior campaign strategist David Axelrod who joins me now.

David, welcome.


MORGAN: I would imagine you guys are feeling fairly chipper, aren't you? I mean you had an extraordinarily successful week in many ways. Unemployment dropping below 9 percent for the first time in the president's reign at the White House, and coming at the same time as the resurgent stock market saw its highest week's performance since 2009.

So you would imagine that there's been a bit of momentum here the right way for you economically.

AXELROD: Well, you know, Piers, any good news is welcome. We're not chipper by any means because there are people who are still struggling all over this country and because we have a longer range goal which is not just to put people back to work but to make sure that work pays, to see the middle class growing again.

So we have a lot of -- a lot of work to do. But any good news is welcome. And we're going to keep working. The most important thing right now for us is to continue that momentum by extending the payroll tax cut that's been bottled up by the Republicans in Congress.

That's very important. People don't want to face a thousand dollar tax increase on January 1st. There's a million jobs at stake here for the economy. So we're working hard to try and resolve that.

MORGAN: And there's a real kind of ideological split here, isn't there? Because the Democrats, the president believe fundamentally that in times of economic crisis like this, the rich should pay a little bit more and those who don't earn very much money should be protected.

The Republicans have been completely intransigent. They do not believe almost to a man and woman that any tax increases at all despite the fact that you have people like Warren Buffett, one of America's richest men, almost pleading, tax me more.

What do you think -- when it comes to the election battleground that you're a pivotal member of the -- of the Obama campaign, when you see this divide now being so clearly laid out, what do you think the average American is going to think of the debate?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me just correct one thing you said. You said the Republicans don't believe in any tax increases at all. So far what the Republicans have said is that they'd be willing to raise taxes on 160 million working Americans in order to avoid raising any kind of taxes, not one dollar on millionaires, 300,000 millionaires.

So it's not that they don't want to raise taxes. They just don't want to raise taxes on the affluent. And the truth is, that if you're trying to stimulate the economy, it's putting money in the pockets of people who don't have it and don't -- and will spend it that's going to make the difference.

Every economist agrees, giving more tax breaks to the upper income folks or taking a little more from them, that's not going to affect the economy. What's going to affect the economy is put money in the pockets of working people who are struggling in this economy.

MORGAN: I mean people say to me about President Obama that, you know, he is itching to do fundamentally bigger things, but he feels like his hands have been tied behind his back by the Republicans, by their refusal to do the proper kind of deals you would expect in Washington.

You've been around the block a long time in D.C. Do you -- is that a valid thing to say? I mean do you feel -- is it particularly bad now? Or has the president not played his hand very well?

AXELROD: Well, I think that the Republican Party has made a decision. And Senator McConnell long ago laid it out when he said that their principal mission for the next two years, he said at the beginning of this year was to defeat the president. And I think they've behaved as if that is their principal mission.

I think the American people want the principal mission of Congress and the president to be -- to work together to try and accelerate the recovery, and in the long run to build an economy in which hard work pays and responsibility is rewarded. And there are specific things that we can do to do that. And this is where we have a disagreement.

We believe, for example, that improving education in this country and really setting some big goals in that regard is absolutely essential for that, investing in innovation and research and development, absolutely innovative -- absolutely essential for that.

The Republican view is the one we've heard before, which is if we cut taxes for the wealthy, roll back the rules on Wall Street, let them write their own rules that somehow everybody will profit from that. And that's really the debate we're going to hear play out because every single Republican candidate for president embraces that way of thinking.

MORGAN: What do you think, David, has gone wrong with the American business model when you actually analyze it in a sort of overview? What went wrong?

I mean clearly successive administrations have all conspired, not deliberately but has happened to create this appalling financial situation that America has found itself in $14 trillion in debt and so on.

What went wrong with the way that America used to do business so successfully?

AXELROD: Well, let me say a few things. Let's separate out issues. In terms of the deficits, when President Clinton left office in 2001, we had a projected $2 trillion surplus for the next 10 years. The next president, President Bush, decided that he would return that money in the form of tax cuts skewed to the very wealthy.

We had two wars that they decided not to pay for. A Medicare prescription drug program that they decided not to pay for. And it turns out that if you do all those things, you're going to create large deficits. So when President Obama walked in the door there was $1 trillion deficit and an economic crisis that added to the -- added to the bill along with the steps we needed to take to try and deal with that.

So I mean, that's how it happened. It's not mysterious. The question is what are we going to do about it and are we going to proceed in a responsible way? Because eight million people lost their jobs as a result of the -- of the recession.

I didn't mention the collapse of Wall Street around these subprime mortgages and the lack of regulatory oversight there. Now we have to -- you know, how are we going to rebuild our economy, how are we going to recover, but also how are we going to deal with that long- term debt in a way that still leaves us room to grow and to make the investments we need to grow in education and innovation and infrastructure?

And that's debate we're having. That's why it comes down to, are we going to make the right choices? Are tax cuts for the very wealthy more valuable in terms of our ability to grow than investing in those things and paying down the debt?

The president feels that these other things are more important in terms of our ability to grow. So these problems, Piers, that took years to develop. They were made by -- they were, as you point out, the result of some bad decision-making. We can reverse those things, but we'd like to see some cooperation from the other side in doing that.

MORGAN: Very people spend as much time discussing this kind of thing with the president than you do. What is you and him and maybe a few others in the room and you're being critical of your own performance as an administration. Where are you most critical on yourselves?

AXELROD: Well, you know, I think part of -- if I were -- I'm not going to speak for him. I think that since September we've much more -- much more aggressively involved the American people in this -- in this discussion, and I think that's been a profitable thing. If we were guilty of anything, I think when we took office, we were -- we were really an economic triage unit. Remember when we arrived, the quarter before we arrived, the economy shrunk by almost 9 percent. The worst quarter since 1930. The month we arrived the country was losing 750,000 jobs.

The stock market would soon be at -- 6500. It would bottom out there in kind of an appalling slide, and that's the situation we faced, the threat of a second Great Depression. And we were a triage unit every single day trying to deal with that trying to save the American auto industry, trying to keep the financial system from collapsing. And I don't think we did as good a job as we could have in communicating directly with the American people, enlisting the American people in these efforts.

Talking to the American people about where we ultimately were heading. And that fundamental goal of how we rebuild the economic security, the middle class, has lost, which is going to take some time, but absolutely has to be the goal.

I don't think we did as good a job on that as we could have, and I said that in a very self-critical way because I was in the White House during those two years. But I think we've done a better job of that in the last four, five months, and we're going to continue to do that moving forward.

MORGAN: When we come back after break, I'll talk to you about your strategy to get President Obama re-elected and also the lineup of your potential rival as it heats up.

AXELROD: Happy to do it.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most amazing thing about Yo-Yo Ma is that everybody likes him. You got give me some tips. That's remarkable.


MORGAN: From the Kennedy Center honors last night. Back with me now, the man who is responsible for getting President Obama re- elected, senior campaign strategist, David Axelrod.

When you watch the president like that, I always feel he's got so many pluses, doesn't he? In a sense, he's personable, he's handsome, he can be funny. You know abroad he has this great image for America. But a lot of things are just perfect about Barack Obama.

The frustration that I think a lot of his supporters have felt is that he hasn't sort of beaten his chest metaphorically enough as leader. I mean is that part of finding his feet as president? Is it such a huge job that inevitably and slightly engulfs you until you get the pace of it? Does he feel frustrated that at the moment he isn't seen for the big idea.

AXELROD: Well, look, I think part of it is what I said to you earlier. We were faced both here at home with the economic crisis and abroad with two wars, tremendous challenges when he arrived. There wasn't a whole lot of time for breastfeeding.

And by the way, you know, no matter what he has accomplished, people around the country are going through a difficult time. There's a lot of anxiety. And so I think they're less interested in him claiming credit than they are in him doing the work. And that's what interests him as well. And that's what he's -- that's what he's going to continue to do.

I believe, Piers, that when -- you know, campaigns are a place in which you have a chance to run through those things, both what you've done and where you're going. And to compare and contrast that with the other side. And I think -- I'm very, very confident that when we make that case, the American people are going to respond to it.

MORGAN: Let's turn to the Republicans. There have been lots of frontrunners. The steady Eddie has been Mitt Romney, but he's kind of plateaued at 24, 25 percent in most of the polls you see, suggesting even the Republicans aren't that convinced with him. Newt Gingrich is on a roll at the moment as the new apparent frontrunner from all the recent polls.

What do you make of what's been going on? How credible is the swing at the moment from, say, Romney to Gingrich? Who do you, when you're planning your campaign, most fear and perhaps are most, you know, looking forward to taking on?

AXELROD: Well, it's hard to read because, as you say, it's been a really volatile situation. I think the problem for Governor Romney, he's a steady Eddie, steady in everything except his positions. And that's what's made people in that party nervous and it's what's making Americans a little bit quizzical.

Even today he now has endorsed the president's idea of extending the payroll tax cut, but he opposed it -- he's to opposed it and been for it several times back and forth. And this has been a consistent story with Governor Romney, and it's created disquiet in his own base and among other voters who wonder exactly where he's going to be from day to day.

And so I think there has been a rotating group of non-Romneys as his support has begun to sink, really. He's now in third place in Iowa, well below where he was four years ago when he ran there. As for Speaker Gingrich, you know, he -- we'll see. Now becomes the difficult test for him because he hasn't really been scrutinized since the spring when he was sort of written off in this -- in this race.

The one thing I will tell you, though, is he's running an ad in Iowa starting today that talks about how he's going to bring the country together to solve problems. I don't think there's any single person in this country that did more to create the kind of discord in Washington that we see today than Newt Gingrich. He's really the godfather of gridlock. He was the one who really created an environment in which people started treating each other as enemies and not as opponents here in Washington. He was the one who shut the government down three times when he was trying to close the Department of Education and to defund the EPA and to cut Medicare in order to give tax cuts to the wealthy.

He was the one who led to the impeachment of a president, and now he's offering himself as someone who can bring the country together. I think that's going to be a hard sell.

MORGAN: So come on then, cards on the table. If I can give you Gingrich or Romney to take on the president, who would you prefer?

AXELROD: Well, you know, I want to watch this because I'm learning things about them every day, and it's a very interesting race. I think it should go on for quite a while so we can get the measure of the both of them. And I'll come back maybe in late spring and we can talk about it again.

MORGAN: OK. And by the way, whichever one you'd said, I would have automatically assumed that that's the one you don't want to be running against you. So it's probably best you don't answer it.

AXELROD: I was -- I was on to you, Piers, so I wasn't going to play.


MORGAN: David Axelrod, as always, thank you very much.

AXELROD: Great to be with you. Thank you.

MORGAN: Coming up, the woman whose story was the beginning of the end for Herman Sharon Bialek is here live.



HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distraction, the continued hurt caused on me and my family. Not because we are not fighters. Not because I'm not a fighter.


MORGAN: That's Herman Cain this weekend making it official. The Cain train is off the rail. Just weeks ago he was riding high in the polls, then came the sexual harassment claims including the only woman who went public Sharon Bialek.

Herman Cain denied, you may remember, even knowing her. That all changed, of course.

Sharon Bialek came on the show first. And she joins me again tonight, another exclusive appearance with her attorney, Gloria Allred.

Sharon and Gloria, welcome back. Obviously a lot has changed since we last spoke.

Thank you.

MORGAN: Sharon, what was your reaction when you heard that Herman Cain was suspending his campaign?

BIALEK: Piers, you know me, you might think that I might have been elated at that. It was kind of bittersweet in the sense that, yes, I was happy that he suspended it. But it saddened me because even though he did so, he still has not spoken the truth. He's trying to blame these -- everything that's happened on everyone else except the one person that he should blame it on and that's himself.

MORGAN: Yes, but it was a fairly extraordinary exit speech and I watched it live like many people did. And it was superconfident. He was amusing. He had his wife with him. People were chanting his name. And you know the general feeling you got by the end was, well, he's only going because of the terrible media reporting all these outrageous lies, but it's not as simple as that, is it?

BIALEK: No, it's not. Not at all. I think there is a part of him that deep down inside knew it wasn't because, you know, the Libya thing. I really, really and truly believe that once Miss White came out, Ginger White came out and the alleged 13-year affair, I think that was the final straw.

And I want to say that I'm very, very pleased that she came out because part of my reason, Piers, in doing that, taking this road was to actually get more women to come out. I had no idea Ginger White existed, but I'm glad that she did.

MORGAN: Yes, obviously honestly they tried to chuck a lot of mud in your direction, you know, implying you were doing this for financial motives that even those you've said you haven't tried to sell your story. Clearly, you know, there is an option to do that, I guess going forward now people know who you are and so on.

And there is this story that apparently you've been threatened with eviction, you're in arrears on your rental, that kind of stuff. I mean what is your financial position and has any of the motivation for what you've done been driven by the need for money?

BIALEK: Yes. I want to -- I want to make it really clear, Piers, and in the words of fellow Brits, it's a bunch of bullocks. And I no way shape or form have come forward for any kind of financial gain. I came forward simply because 10 years from now had he gone further in the race and perhaps even been elected president, I would have always regretted doing and speaking my mind and telling the truth. And that's why I came forward. For nothing else.

I'm not doing a book. I have nothing in the works to do a book. And I have not profited one iota from this. MORGAN: Were you surprised to see, Gloria, Herman Cain's wife smiling and holding his hand as if nothing had happened given the volume of women who came forward with either harassment claims or in the case of Ginger White, the affair?

GLORIA ALLRED, REPRESENTS CAIN ACCUSER SHARON BIALEK: No, Piers, I was saddened for her, and I'm sure that she's very hurt in all this. And we all feel badly for her. But the person, of course, that has hurt her is Herman Cain. And we would hope that he would come forward and be honest and straightforward with the American public.

In other words, come clean about what he has done instead of calling all five women who made these allegations liar, which is absolutely outrageous. For him, for example, to say that the woman who alleges that she had a 13-year affair with him and that he paid for certain items for her, which he admits doing, but then he denies that there was an affair, it just doesn't pass the smell test.

And he needs to give the details of all of what happened in that relationship and he needs to, as far as Sharon's concerned, acknowledge what happened with them, that he did, in fact, know her. That he did in fact have a relationship with her and what exactly happened during that relationship.

Unfortunately, he has not decided to come clean. And one last thing. He's the one who has the financial motive, not Ginger White. Not Sharon Bialek. Because he's the one who is out there trying to sell books and make money from that. He's the one who's trying to rake in dollars or did try to rake them in and successfully raked in substantial amounts into his campaign fund by denying these allegations. So let's talk about his financial motive.

MORGAN: Sharon, let me turn back to you. I mean do you accept as some of Herman Cain's supporters say, indeed I interviewed his attorney Lin Wood about this, that there remains no hard evidence to substantiate what you say and in the end people have to kind of work out who they believe, you or him?

BIALEK: You know, I listened to you last week, Piers, with the Lin Wood interview. And one of the things that I found interesting or fascinating, I should say was he made reference to the fact that people shouldn't -- people like myself, I would imagine he was referring to -- shouldn't come forward unless they have substantial proof and make character assassinations.

Well, you know, if you turn the tables that's exactly what the Cain camp did to me by calling me a, quote, "troubled woman." What woman isn't troubled at times? But going back to the character assassination, that's exactly what they did, so touche.

ALLRED: But to the point that she raised, Piers, actually we did present evidence. We presented a witness and that was Dr. Victor Zuckerman, a pediatrician who was Sharon's boyfriend, now her ex- boyfriend, when she met Herman Cain years ago. And when they had dinner at the National Restaurant Association dinner. And Dr. Zuckerman was with her and had a conversation with Sharon and with Mr. Cain, and Mr. Cain invited both of them upstairs to the after-party in the suite and they had a very cordial conversation at some length. And that is why later it was Dr. Zuckerman, by the way, a registered Republican, as Sharon is, who suggested to Sharon that she contact Mr. Cain to seek his assistance in employment.

So clearly the fact that Mr. Cain denies knowing, Sharon, it was absolutely not true and we present evidence to support our claim.

MORGAN: Sharon, finally, you have a teenaged son. And you've been through the mincer, to put it mildly, in the last couple of weeks. You've had your reputation -- people have tried to trash it. And they have said very unpleasant things about you.

How has it been on a human level for you going public? Do you have any regrets. Does your son wish you hadn't done it? Do you worry about the repercussions now?

BIALEK: Sure. Piers, I'm glad you asked that, because the most important thing in my life is my son. And I don't want him harmed. He's handling it very well. I think the more people that have come forward on the street -- we were walking to the grocery store and they tap me on the shoulder -- men and women, Piers, will come up to me and congratulate me for coming out and supporting me on such a sensitive issue as sexual harassment.

He asks, mom, what did they say to you? He understands that this is a very important issue and he supports me. I hope ten years from now he'll really get it. I know he's only 13. But ten years, I hope he understands that women need to come forward. We shouldn't be scared to come forward.

Yes, it has been hard on me. But Piers, anyone who knows me knows that when I'm very adamant about something, it's hard to let it go. I didn't want to let such an important issue be cast off to the wayside and not speak up. That's why it came it. Whatever happened has happened. Yes, it's been difficult. But I believe it was worth it.

ALLRED: Piers, these are legitimate issues. The fact that the Cain campaign would say that some of these issues involve privacy is patently absurd. Honesty, integrity and character are always going to be an issue for anyone who strives to be president of the United States. All of the issues raised by these women are issues that the Cain campaign should have answered and been more forthright in their responses.

MORGAN: OK. Gloria Allred and Sharon Bialek, thank you both very much.

BIALEK: Thank you.

MORGAN: When we come back, everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does it with quite the panache of my next question, the legendary Al Roker. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


AL ROKER, "THE TODAY SHOW": Over the next 48 hours, we could be talking to a half inch to an inch. Some areas may pick up more. That's what's going on around the country. Here's what's happening in your neck of the woods.


MORGAN: That's weatherman extraordinaire Al Roker on NBC's "Today Show." One thing I have learned is Americans love to talk about weather. And it seems they particularly love to watch Al Roker talking about weather. He's the co-host of "The Today Show" and an author, whose latest book "The Talk Show Murders," a Billy Blessing novel, is out tomorrow.

I'm delighted to say that Al Roker is joining me now. Al, welcome.

ROKER: Piers, thank you so much for having me. This is great. I love the disco lights. It's great. I saw Jane Fonda dancing on the putza (ph) glass squares early. This is fantastic.

MORGAN: Well, look, let's talk weather.


MORGAN: Because as a Brit -- as a Brit who has come to live in America, I find the obsession with the weather particularly, I have to say, from the New Yorkers I know, just fundamentally weird. Why are Americans so obsessed with weather?

ROKER: Well, because unlike Britain, we actually have weather. You guys are either in tubes or in fog. And otherwise you really have nothing to talk about. Whereas here, across the great expanse that we know as the United States of America, we have all sorts of weather. We have Santa Ana winds, which you have just experienced. You got to admit that was --

MORGAN: Tell me about it.

ROKER: -- pretty amazing.

MORGAN: It's definitely true, you have these weird extremes.

ROKER: We do.

MORGAN: I've been blown out of my bed here in Los Angeles from an earthquake --

ROKER: We don't want to go into that, do we now?

(CROSS TALK) MORGAN: But I remember thinking, wow, an earthquake just blew me out of my bed. The Santa Ana winds were all over the place. I went to New York, I remember, this time last year and there were 18-inch snowdrifts overnight, tornadoes and hurricanes. So it goes and on and on. Somewhere in America at any given time there is this extremity of weather, isn't there?

ROKER: There really is and -- which is why this is a great job. Because there's always something to talk about. And you know, we're in the midst of -- you know, I think most would agree -- some sort of climate change. What's causing it? That's up to debate.

But we are seeing more extreme swings in weather. And so our job is not to scare people, but to keep them apprised of what's going on. And more and more, the weather tends to lead the newscast, whether it's on "Nightly News" or "The Today Show" or whatever. There is weather. And it's our gig to tell people about it.

MORGAN: Why do you think people love to hear bad news, which it normally is, from Al Roker?

ROKER: Well, because I think, you know, it's kind of like -- again, another one of your well -- best loved Brits, Mary Poppins, I think once said, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go down, the medicine go down."

So you know, we have a good time. Look, when the weather's severe, we're severe about it. We're serious about it. But, you know, when it's not, We try to have a good time. There you see me getting a hug from Mike Seidel (ph) from the Weather Channel. We're still seeing each other. It's nice. You make a lot of friends here.

MORGAN: The other extraordinary thing about those in America is that when it gets really bad, the weather, the first thing that people like you and your colleagues do is run out into the middle of it, so that you can be filmed getting attacked by tornadoes and hurricanes, or be wading out to sea in the middle of one of these huge storms.

I'm like why are you doing this? Why do you have to be out there when you're clearly putting your lives at risk? What's the matter with you?

ROKER: Here's the deal: believe me, if I thought I was putting my life at risk, seriously, I would not do it. I have never, doing this weather, doing stuff outside have I ever felt that my life was on the line. Because, as much as I like -- love my job at NBC, I'm not risking my life for that.

But, you know, look, anything could happen. Look, in that studio where you are there in Los Angeles, anything could happen right now. Any -- a light could fall and crush you like a bug. And what would happen?

MORGAN: I remember seeing Geraldo in the middle of a hurricane out to sea. And he was reading out Tweets somehow. One of them was, "hey, Geraldo, what's plan B?" And I wanted to Tweet into the show saying get out of the water would be plan B, wouldn't it?

ROKER: There is that. How long have you been here, Piers, in America?

MORGAN: I've spent about four months of a year here until this year. This year, I've been here pretty much the entire year. So I have begun to understand it better.

ROKER: It's hurricane.

MORGAN: Not in my country, we don't.

ROKER: Well, we're not in our country now.

MORGAN: I wasn't employed to be an American.

ROKER: But you know what? I will say this, it sounds classier when you say it.

MORGAN: We have routes where we come from. No routes.

ROKER: A route is usually what happens to the New York Giants here.

MORGAN: Yes, a rout is what we did to MSNBC's ratings every night.

ROKER: Oh, ka-jing, bazinga!

MORGAN: Let's turn, talking of routs, to politics, Al --

ROKER: That's obviously my metier.

MORGAN: Exactly. You know what? I suspect it probably is a lot more than people think. I reckon you're one of those guys that gets up in the morning -- although you have to talk about weather, what you'd really like to talk about is sort of what's happened with Herman Cain and son and so on. What do you make of what's going on politically in your country?

ROKER: Well, look, you know, it's one of these things that I think I feel bad for Mitt Romney. Here's this guy who I think has been really grooming himself for this. And he's like the guy -- the date that everybody thinks, well, he'll be my backup, because the new person comes in, oh, we love this, oh, we love that. And Mitt is standing by.

But you know what? I'll give him credit. He just hangs in there. He said, you know what, I'm going to be here. I'm going to be here. Eventually, you're going to come to me. That's how it worked with my wife. You know? Eventually, she came to me. I was the last man standing.

MORGAN: When we come back after the break, Al, I want to talk to you about your wife and the extraordinary decision she made to marry you. And also about Barack Obama, what you make of how he's getting on.




ROKER: Ready to light the tree? OK. Here we go.

CROWD: Five, four, three, two one.


MORGAN: That was from last week's Christmas at Rockefeller Center. Al Roker hosted the tree lighting live on NBC. It's about time they renamed that place the Roker-feller center, isn't it?

ROKER: I've been trying to get them to do that. They won't do it. I don't understand why. I grew up here in New York City. And I remember in 1963, my dad bringing me down -- my family down to see -- we went to the Radio City Christmas Show, and then saw the tree. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would host the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

And that's why this is the greatest country in the world. I could end up doing this, it's unbelievable.

MORGAN: More importantly, you're hosting it with that delightful woman in the red velvet there, Al.

ROKER: All right, set down, Piers. Yikes, wow. Man. You went there -- I didn't even have to wait, tick, tick, tick. And he's there. Boom.

MORGAN: Let's move to the second most successful African- American in America, Barack Obama. What did you make of the incredible moment that he became president? And on a score sheet, if you were the head teacher marking Barack Obama, how do you think he's really done? Forget all the kind of spin and hype and headlines. What do you personally feel?

ROKER: Well, look, personally, from just a standpoint -- from an American standpoint, from being an American, seeing this happen I think was just a momentous occasion in this country. And I think no matter where you fall in the spectrum, I just think that if you step back and look at this for what it stood for and stands for today, I think it's still an amazing accomplishment.

That said, look, it's a difficult time. It is -- we probably have the partisan politics in our country are probably greater than they have been at any time. I think there are members of Congress and the Senate on both sides of the aisle that would like to do the right thing, but I think they feel beholden to their party's interests.

And I think the president pays a price for that. Well, you know, I mean, but that's what he was elected for. It's the toughest job in the world. And so, you know, no crying in the White House. You're just going to have to get it done.

So I think, you know, if you look at some of the things that have happened, I think there's some positives. On the other hand, there's some negatives. He's just going to have to soldier on and hopefully things get better.

MORGAN: Talking of toughest jobs in the world and soldiering on, let's move to your marriage, Al. You're married to ABC News correspondent --

ROKER: The networks have three letters in our country, Piers, CNN, Fox, NBC.

MORGAN: Let me try again, ABC News "20/20" correspondent.

ROKER: She will appreciate that. Thank you.

MORGAN: To quote a famous chat show star in America, what was she thinking?

ROKER: You know, it was a bet. She was out with some girlfriends, got drunk, and the next thing you know, boom, here we are 16 years later. But seriously -- she is a terrific person.

She's a wonderful mom. She does amazing reporting. But I don't think what people realize is that she's got an amazing sense of humor. They see this very serious journalist who does these amazing reports. Yet she's one of the funniest people I know.

MORGAN: Are you one of these guys that takes your work home with you, Al? Do you give morning meteorological reports on the relationship? It's going to be stormy today?

ROKER: No. Debra and the kids will say, you know, I hear they say it's supposed to be sunny. I'm like, I'm they. What is this they say. A prophet knows no honor in his own home. Crazy.

MORGAN: You have two daughters and a son.

ROKER: Yes, I do.

MORGAN: When you all get together now for the family holidays and stuff, what do you like to do to get away from it? You do work incredibly hard. You're a very successful businessman. You're running your own company. You obviously have your own weather channel as well as "The Today Show." What do you do to unwind?

ROKER: We do the same things everybody does. This weekend, we went to go see the movie "Hugo," picked out our Christmas tree. You know, I drive a minivan. We have a normal -- pretty normal life. We do the same things everybody else does.

I sometimes -- for fun and profit, I sometimes come around and work on your estate. But for the most part -- the last -- the last time I saw Piers, it was at the Golden Globes at Jeffrey Katzenberg's (ph) party. He's running around going, I've got this one, he's going to be on the show. I've got this. He's going to be on the show.

It's unbelievable. Everybody says they're coming on. I thought, somebody's going to have to put a tranquilizer dart in this guy.

MORGAN: At least one of them kept their promise.

ROKER: I did. I told you I would come.

MORGAN: I think you were the only one. It was -- those kind of events were a target rich environment.

ROKER: Yes, it is.

MORGAN: A whole load of A-listers trapped in one place, where they can't get away from me for more than about an hour.

ROKER: I tell you, it's still -- I was in that room. And I'm thinking -- I'm in this room with all these people. And I lost my parents over the last few years. And this was the kind of thing that I would call my mom afterwards and say, I met this one and this one and this one. You know, it's a -- it's a great life. I think you would agree, we lead a very blessed life.

MORGAN: We certainly do. I want to come back after the break, Al, and talk about your book, this sinister tone that appears to be -- unless I'm wrong -- a kind of metaphor for you wanting to murder Matt Lauer?

ROKER: No, no. It's a talk show host that gets murdered.

MORGAN: Well, same thing.



JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Al Roker interviewed First Lady Michelle Obama the other day. She's getting a little testy.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I do everything. I mean, jumping jacks, squats, lunges. A little bit of everything. A little boxing.

ROKER: Does the president have to worry about the boxing part?

OBAMA: Sometimes when he sees me punching, he kind of --


ROKER: I love that. I don't know how they do that, it's amazing.

MORGAN: It was a clip from NBC's "Tonight Show." First Lady Michelle Obama quite rightly giving you a pretty mean left hook there, and reflecting the views of an ungrateful nation I think. ROKER: You know, she really is a commanding presence and I think doing a great job. I think some people have kind of demonized her, oh, she's the food police. I think, you know, look, she talks about balance. She eats French Fries, but you balance it out with healthy eating. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

MORGAN: Talking about eating French Fries, I can't help but notice that some of the pictures we've been showing through this interview, Al, are you in your larger days. You were gigantic, weren't you?

ROKER: I was huge. I was the Hindenberg. Look, it was -- I was a big guy, I enjoyed eating. It was -- it really wasn't until I was confronted with my dad's just passing, and he made me promise to lose weight, because I wasn't -- he wasn't going to be there to help raise his grand kids.

I got very serious about it ten years ago, I had a gastric bypass, didn't make any secret about it. It's still a struggle. It's still a constant struggle. I feel better about it that I'm not going back to that ever again.

MORGAN: Let's get back to this book because it involves the murder of a talk show host. Matt Lauer is one removed from a talk show host. It's clearly a euphemism for you wanting Matt Lauer's job, isn't it?

ROKER: No, Matt Lauer can have his job. I hope he stays in it for another dozen years because I have these kids to put through college. The fact is it's actually set in Chicago. And the talk show host is not murdered. But somebody involved with the talk show is.

I grew up reading some great murder mysteries. My mom was a fan of the murder mystery, from Rex Stout and Nero Wolf to and Ellery Queen and Perry Mason. So that's kind of what I grew up on and have always wanted to do this.

I work with this great writer, Dick Latke, who's a terrific mystery writer. We talked about the ideas. They always say write something you know, I know about morning TV. I know about cooking. I've always wanted to be a chef. And I know about morning show hosts.

So that's how Billy Blessing evolved. And in the third one, he's on a talk show. He's in Chicago for his morning show "Wake up America." And they're doing a remote from there. And he gets involved in a couple murders, which, you know, that's part of his metier. I love saying that word, metier. You know, you say mushy. I say metier.

MORGAN: Al Roker, it's been a huge pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on.

ROKER: Good to see you

MORGAN: -- what I'm sure is a cracking good read. I look forward to reading it. ROKER: Thank you, sir. Have a great Christmas.

MORGAN: And you. That's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts right now.