CNBC Digital Video: Governor Larry Hogan Sits Down With CNBC Editor At Large John Harwood
WHEN: Friday, March 1st
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Until very recently, no one thought of Larry Hogan as a candidate for president. His first two campaigns for office ended in defeat. In 2014 he won the Maryland governorship at age 58 – and within months received a diagnosis of Stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Four years later, re-elected and cancer-free, Hogan has attracted 2020 attention. Dissident members of the GOP, searching for someone to challenge President Trump‘s renomination, have turned to him for two reasons. The stout, personable Republican – who this summer will become chairman of the National Governor’s Association – wields immense popularity even in a strongly-Democratic state. And he carries a resonant family legacy of political fortitude. On the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, Rep. Lawrence Hogan Sr. became the only GOP member to vote for all three articles of impeachment against Republican President Richard Nixon. Hogan sat down with CNBC Editor-at-Large John Harwood at McGarvey’s, an Annapolis bar near his gubernatorial office, to discuss his concerns about Trump and the possibility he’ll launch a campaign against the incumbent. A partial transcript from Speakeasy with John Harwood featuring Governor Larry Hogan follows.
To listen to the extended interview, subscribe to the Speakeasy with John Harwood podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever else you listen.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.com.
John Harwood: I can't start the interview without taking note of the fight that you had with cancer beginning in your first year in office. How are you doing right now?
Larry Hogan: I'm doing great. Thank you for asking. I've been cancer free now for a couple of years, and feeling healthier than ever. I didn't quite get all my hair back ever, but other than that I'm feeling great.
John Harwood: That’s fantastic. To good health.
Larry Hogan: Thank you.
John Harwood: What do you see happening in Washington to your party and to your country?
Larry Hogan: Well, I'm concerned about the Republican Party, I'm concerned about the country, I'm concerned about both parties quite frankly and the broken politics of today. It's the thing I'm most frustrated about, and I think many Americans are concerned about. It's this anger and divisiveness on both sides, where people don't really seem to care as much about fixing problems.
John Harwood: Well, let's talk about the President for a minute. You saw the other day the President having seen a bipartisan agreement in Congress, signing it, but then going and declaring a national emergency under circumstances that you yourself have said is not an emergency.
Larry Hogan: I thought the entire thing was mishandled from the beginning, but the most recent iteration of this declaration of emergency is a mistake. It's not what the constitution had in mind. I don’t believe he should be declaring, using those emergency powers. Look at the precedent it sets. Even if you're a hardcore supporter of the president who says, "We want to build a wall," think about this. What if the next president who comes in – let's say it's a far left, a Democratic president, who says, "I think climate change is an emergency. I'm going to skip Congress, and I'm going to declare a state of emergency to enact the Green New Deal." Who's to stop him?
John Harwood: Let’s step back a little bit. Do you see a straight line between the Nixon Republican Party and the Trump Republican Party?
Larry Hogan: I don't think so. I think people are trying to draw the parallel because of the talk of impeachment, but I don't know that there's many similarities between – I mean, Nixon was really focused on opening up trade and working with foreign nations and opening up discussion with China, and it's sort of the opposite of some of the things that are going on now. There were some cultural differences at the time, but look, I’m all for finding a way to reach a broader number of people and trying to find a way to bring people together. My concern about the party now, is that we're focused on a smaller and smaller shrinking base. I’m not sure the Republican Party can continue to be winning national elections if we can't win the women vote, we can't appeal to any minorities, and if we're constantly shrinking and arguing about every single divisive issue. The reason, maybe why you are talking to me today, there are people talking to me about “how did you do so well in a blue state” and “how did you do these things in that state when we can’t do it in other places” and “we can’t get women to vote for us, we can’t get minorities to even consider us.” I think the party needs to find a better way to reach more people and more things and to find consensus without abandoning principles. Standing up for the important things that the party has stood for, on economic growth, on job creation, on tax cuts, without just getting to a smaller and smaller base where, “if you don't agree with us on 100 percent of these issues, you're an outcast, an enemy, and we don't want you,” which seems to be some of what's going on today.
John Harwood: Mike Pence went to the Munich Security Conference, praised Trump, and was met with silence from our allies. What does it tell you about where the Trump administration has taken the United States in terms of our place in the world?
Larry Hogan: Well, it's definitely concerning. America is not in the same position of leading that it once was and that some of the issues – some of the positions we're taking on trade and on our relations with other countries are not helpful. And so I think that's a healthy debate that we need to have there’s no question about it.
John Harwood: That Munich conference was paying tribute to John McCain. You had John McCain's speechwriter, Mark Salter, work on your second inaugural. You had Jeb Bush, of course, whose father served with your father at your second inaugural. What message were you trying to send to the Republican Party, to the President?
Larry Hogan: These are just guys that I admire. I grew up knowing and respecting President Bush, H.W. Bush, and he served in Congress with my dad. I went to his funeral, which is where I saw Jeb, and I thought he did a great job as Governor of Florida. He's somebody I respect. McCain I've always admired because he was a guy – he always put his country ahead of himself or his party throughout his career.
John Harwood: Does President Trump do that?
Larry Hogan: Well, I'm not sure he always does. One of the things I probably was most angry with or most frustrated with Donald Trump about before he was president were the comments about John McCain not being a war hero when the guy sacrificed his life and spent all that time in a prisoner of war camp and stayed there when he could have gotten out.
John Harwood: As you know, a lot of people took the presence of Jeb, the involvement of Salter, your invocation of your dad at the inaugural as a sign that you're considering running for president in the Republican primary against President Trump.
Larry Hogan: I've been listening to a lot of people who've been trying to encourage me. I have not been really giving it a whole lot of personal thought.
John Harwood: You haven't told those people, "No."
Larry Hogan: I didn't say, "No." I didn't say, "Under no circumstances would I never do it." There is a difference. I just got sworn in a month ago. There are more things I want to get done. Nobody's successfully challenged a sitting president in their primary since 1884, and I don't want to just run around the country and put my family and everybody through that kind of an effort for no reason. Now, if things change in the future, if the president weakened, and I really thought it was important to the country or the party, maybe later I'd be willing to consider it.
John Harwood: But you are concerned about this president, who you did not endorse.
Larry Hogan: When I disagree with the policy or when I think something is happening that is wrong, I'm not afraid to stand up and say so, and that probably puts me in a different category than many Republicans, who I think, sometimes, feel the way I do, but they won't say anything about it.
John Harwood: Well, to that point, I talked to a couple Republican members of Congress over the weekend, and one of them I was talking to about things the president had said about the border wall which weren't true. I was asking, "Do you agree with that?" And his answer was, "Well, you can say that, but I can't say that."
Larry Hogan: I hear a lot of that actually. “Hey, you say it. I can't say it.” I talk to Republican and Democratic governors on a regular basis, and I can tell you, without naming names, that there are a number of my colleagues that have shared with me, privately, that they're very concerned about a lot of things, but they won't speak up or they won’t say anything and they may be concerned about, in a red, red state, they're going to be primaried or challenged or attacked by the president on Twitter, or the base is going to get angry, and they'll quietly say, "I agreed with what you said," or, "I agreed with what you did. I just can't say it." But I'm not running for reelection. I'm term limited. I'm in a very blue state that the president lost by 29 points. I have no reason to not tell people exactly what I think.
John Harwood: Now, there's some people making the argument, Bill Kristol among them, I know he's talked to you and some others, that it's important, even if a primary challenger can't win, it's important, as a matter of principle, that the Republican party have someone run reflecting the kind of Republican party they think ought to exist.
Larry Hogan: I have to take into consideration my state and does it make sense to go running around the country to make a point or to do something for the greater good that then takes me away from my day job. But I wouldn’t just go out on some fool’s errand, chasing at windmills, on a suicide mission for no reason.
John Harwood: But if the reason was to make a point about the Republican Party, even if you didn't win, you would not be willing to do that?
Larry Hogan: It's funny. Somebody made the case the other day, and I won't tell you who, but they said, "What would your dad do?" Now, that's a low blow. You can't be pulling that one on me. What would be the right thing to do for the country and the party? And that's something that would require a lot more thought, whether that makes sense or not. I'm not ruling anything out.
John Harwood: Do you think if you had your 26 fellow Republican governors in this room, that most of them would say, "Go, Larry, go"?
Larry Hogan: No. I don't think that's the case. I think a lot of them are very strong supporters of the president and they're in very red states, and they, certainly, on your camera, none of them would say that. If we were having a beer and no one was listening, probably half of them might say, "It's worth a shot."
Hogan On A Potential 2020 Run
John Harwood: You're going to Iowa pretty soon. What are you going to do out there?
Larry Hogan: It's a National Governor's Association event, and as the co-chair, I'm required to be there. I'll be out there with Kim Reynolds, so the governor of Iowa, and Steve Bullock, who's the chairman. And it's going to be focused on jobs and we have a couple day seminar. So it's not, I won't be hitting all 99 counties and going to every diner and looking like a presidential candidate.
John Harwood: But you'll be doing a little politics out there too.
Larry Hogan: I'm going to see some folks and have a few meetings and looking forward to being in Iowa I’m sure.
John Harwood: Tell me when you envision coming to a conclusion one way or the other about this idea that we've been talking about.
Larry Hogan: Look, again, I don't have any kind of timeline because I'm not considering it, but I think the filing deadlines for, say New Hampshire, are sometime in the late fall. Today, it might not make any sense, but who knows where we're going to be in two months or six months from now. All bets are off. We don't have any idea.
John Harwood: Is part of your thinking what the Mueller Report shows and how people react to that?
Larry Hogan: I think everybody's looking to see what, if anything, comes out of that, and I don't know. I have no idea. I don't have access to the information. If something really alarming, if indictments come out of there, if it leads to impeachment, I mean, things are a lot different than they are today.
Hogan On Maryland Democrats Leading Trump Investigations
John Harwood: Your dad, as you noted, was an FBI agent. When you hear the President attacking the FBI as a corrupt institution, does that strike you as someone who has been unfairly targeted by a corrupt institution or someone who is very concerned about what a legitimate investigation is going to find?
Larry Hogan: Well look, I can’t read the President’s mind or try to opine. But I don’t know what the President was thinking or why he says or does certain things. And I don’t know all of the facts of the case. But I do believe the FBI is a proud organization. I’m very hopeful that the FBI investigation is going to be fair and take a look at the facts. But no man is above the law –
John Harwood: Do you have any reason –
Larry Hogan: Not even the President of the United States. They need to get to the facts and the truth. I don’t want an unfair investigation that is just trying to undermine the President. But I don’t want the President stopping an investigation either.
John Harwood: But you have no reason to believe or think that that is an unfair, corrupt investigation?
Larry Hogan: I certainly don’t have any reason to think it.
John Harwood: Let me ask you about a new player in the investigations of the President and that is the Democratic Congress.
Larry Hogan: Yeah.
John Harwood: A couple of the key players in that Congress are members of the Maryland Delegation, who I imagine you know well.
Larry Hogan: Sure.
John Harwood: Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Chairman, today, put out some information about an investigation of the provision of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, said he's going to look into that. Do you have confidence in the integrity and fair-mindedness of Elijah Cummings?
Larry Hogan: Well, I happen to have a lot of respect for Elijah Cummings, and I'm hoping that he will be fair. But again, as I have been saying throughout the whole discussion, I’m concerned about letting partisan politics skew the prism through which we look at these things. I want everything to be fair and above board.
John Harwood: The Democratic leadership in the House has said, "We should not impeach the President for political reasons – or we should not avoid impeachment for political reasons because we fear backlash." You ran against Steny Hoyer. He's the House Majority Leader. Do you have confidence in his integrity and fair-mindedness?
Larry Hogan: I would like to think that all of the people in Congress have integrity and are fair-minded –
John Harwood: Right, but this is somebody you know.
Larry Hogan: I know them, I find them to be decent, honest, fair-minded people. I also know that they're partisan members of their party, and I want to make sure they keep that partisanship in check, and I'm hopeful that they will.
John Harwood: What did you think of the talk that we've heard and was repeated by Andrew McCabe, the former acting FBI director, that raised the issue of the 25th amendment? Whether or not the President was acting rationally, was capable of fulfilling his duties?
Larry Hogan: Well, I know Rod Rosenstein very well, have a lot of respect for him. I don't know McCabe. I don't know what he said or didn't say or how he meant it, so it's hard for me to opine on that subject. I know that McCabe, the former deputy in the FBI's a disgruntled guy who left, and he doesn't like the president much. I think you have to take everything with a grain of salt and just step back and say, "What really happened? We don't know. Let's find out."
John Harwood: Do you have confidence in Rod Rosenstein's integrity and fair-mindedness?
Larry Hogan: I do. I know him from many years of being the US Attorney in Maryland. He was appointed by President Bush. He's the only US Attorney in the entire country that was kept by President Obama and by President Trump until he got elevated to Deputy Attorney General of the United States.
Hogan On Watergate
John Harwood: You and I are the same age.
Larry Hogan: How come you look so much better?
John Harwood: The summer of '74 when Watergate was reaching a crescendo, we had graduated from high school, I was following Watergate developments very closely. My dad was senior editor of the Washington Post involved in the story. You were involved for a different and more intimate reason. What do you remember about that time for your dad?
Larry Hogan: I remember it really well, and I talk about it really often because I have such respect for my father. He had an amazing influence on my life. But he had a really big role in that impeachment proceeding as a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He was the very first Republican to come out for the president's impeachment, and was the only Republican in the entire Congress to vote for all three articles of impeachment. I remember it well, number one, because it was a huge national and international story at that time. Number two, because I know talking with my dad, even though I was a kid, just graduated from high school as you were, I know what a difficult time it was for him to go through that decision because he had supported the president, he was a Republican. He thought the president had done a good job, particularly on foreign policy and China. He was an FBI agent and a Georgetown trained lawyer who, after seeing all the evidence, came to the conclusion that he had been involved in the cover up, and that he felt that he was guilty of impeachable offenses. It was a difficult decision for my dad, I'll tell you.
John Harwood: Were you in Washington when he gave that speech?
Larry Hogan: I wasn't, but I watched the tapes of the whole thing. And I still have watched it fairly recently. It's been on a couple of television shows actually. It's an incredible-
John Harwood: I watched it last night. It was pretty powerful.
Larry Hogan: He was nearly in tears and he was pounding his fist on that committee table, and he said, "But my President didn't do that. He's covered it up, and he was guilty." It was a very traumatic thing for him to do, to go against the president that he had supported.
John Harwood: He paid a price for it.
Larry Hogan: He paid a price. And he knew he was going to. He said this is going to cost me friends and supporters and probably my political career. And frankly the party was mad, his colleagues in Congress were mad, the White House was furious. And at the time many Republicans saw him as, "Why are you going against our president?" Now decades later, he has a special place in history, and a lot of people, even the ones at the time who might have been upset with him, think he did the right thing.