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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Spokesman: 2 Staff-Level Announcements Today; Trump Team Split Over Romney/Guiliani; "Brady Bunch" Mom Florence Henderson Dies at 82. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 25, 2016 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, thank you.

I know that once we get them, they're going have that second chance at a great home and a great life and that we're making a difference.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, for Sheri or any of your favorite top ten heroes now, at CNNheroes.com.

(MUSIC)

BERMAN: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Top of the hour now.

The breaking news: the Trump transition team says two staff-level announcements are coming today. And that the president-elect will be having a full day of meetings with potential cabinet and staff members on Monday. This comes amid the intrigue and very public sniping over who will be nominated to the secretary of state. A lot of people in Trump's inner circle saying out loud they do not want it to be Mitt Romney.

CNN's Jim Acosta now joins me with everything weighed.

Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

That's right. And we had some Trump transition officials hold a conference call earlier this morning. They did announce that there are going to be two staff announcements, staff-level announcements late other than today. So, we should get those by the end of business day, John

And, then as you heard, as well, that Mike Pence and President-elect Donald Trump will be meeting with some more candidates for these various positions they have to fill on Monday. So, that's coming up on Monday, and the transition team is saying at this point, don't expect anymore announcements after these two announcements they make later on today until after the Thanksgiving weekend.

So, they are trying to slow the pace a bit inside Trump world, but I think you're right. The big conversation that is being had right now, John, is over this issue of secretary of state. It's almost unheard of to see people inside a presidential circle speaking so loudly and openly about these misgivings that they apparently have within at least a faction inside the Trump transition team about making Mitt Romney the next secretary of state.

Obviously, Governor Romney, when he was in Salt Lake City earlier this year, had some very tough things to say about Donald Trump, and it's just going to be a very difficult bridge for him to get across in order to land this job. And, you know, I'm told by sources I've talked to close to Governor Romney that, you know, they are also, you know, seeing the governor weigh this very seriously, but the question is whether or not he can get to that point where he thinks he can work with Donald Trump.

So, they apparently still have a lot to work through. But, you know, seeing Kellyanne Conway, and those tweets that she was sending out on Thanksgiving Day, saying she's been deluged with comments and questions about Mitt Romney, I think that gives you a very good crystallization about some of the problems that this potential nomination might have.

BERMAN: You're not sending that stuff on Thanksgiving, unless you do want to send a very clear message.

Jim Acosta, thanks so much for being with us. I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.

Time now for our panel. Ron Brownstein is senior editor of "The Atlantic" and CNN senior political analyst, Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for "Politico", Eugene Scott, a reporter for CNN politics.

Anna, I want to start with you, since you e-mail me every morning, like so many Americans. First of all, thanks for coming in. This is our first time together.

ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes. Thanks.

BERMAN: There are a lot of intrigue over this Mitt Romney thing going on right now and a lot of sniping, and it's all happening in the big, wide open. You guys talked a lot about it this morning.

PALMER: Yes, absolutely. I think what is so surprising for any kind of normal transition effort is this would never be happening. I don't know it's that surprising, considering Donald Trump is tweeting at the "New York Times," Kellyanne Conway, they're sending signals.

Certainly, you know, Romney picked would be controversial. I think for establishment Republicans, it would give them great confidence where Donald Trump is going with this administration, I think more, you know, kind of the real Trump supporters, you know, Romney basically represents everything that they hate.

BERMAN: And, Ron Brownstein, there is speculation earlier that Kellyanne Conway doesn't do something like this, doesn't send those tweets on Thanksgiving Day, unless she thinks there's a real shot at president-elect might actually pick Mitt Romney.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I feel we should get a single key on all of our computers to just press one key and get in an unprecedented development, comma. Because certainly, what Kellyanne Conway did yesterday was unlike anything we have ever seen in a transition, where a senior adviser going public basically laying down a case against a nominee who is ostensibly under consideration.

This is a really consequential choice, I think, even more than on the domestic side, because as we talk about before, the breach between Donald Trump and the Republican foreign policy infrastructure was so much greater than on the domestic side. I mean, virtually everyone you would expect to see in a deputy and assistant secretary of state level at both the State Department and the Pentagon signed letters saying during the campaign that they believed he was unqualified by temperament, judgment and experience to be commander-in-chief.

And I think if you -- if you appointed someone like Romney, you have an opportunity to build bridges back to that entire -- those of generation of Republican expertise.

[12:05:04] But it requires getting over, not only the extraordinary personal comments, but the fact that Mitt Romney's principled foreign policy critique as a candidate, was that President Obama was being too soft on Russia at a time when Donald Trump is unequivocally signaled that he wants to have a closer relationship.

So, there is a lot to get over. I think the fact that Kellyanne felt comfortable going out means that it's probably a bridge too far, but there are big consequences, a big fork in the road for Donald Trump.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, Eugene, because early on, you know, two weeks ago right after Donald Trump won the election, there were talks that the transition, there were all of these bumps, that it was rocky. I mean, now, he's right on target. I mean, he has as many appointments of staff and nomination at the cabinet level and any transition has had, or in some cases, they're ahead of the game.

But as Ron is saying, in an unprecedented development, they're doing some of this in a very, very public way. And this, you know, we'd be crazy not to think that this tells us something about how the Trump administration will be after January 20th.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It's a reminder of the diversity of the Republican Party, or at least the group that elected Donald Trump. Many people want many different things. You definitely have people who supported him, hoping he'd be a disrupter and bring new ideas and new people to Washington, D.C. But also, he carried the Republican establishment, and Mitt Romney is an example of that, and there are people who are hoping that there are more Mitt Romneys than Steve Bannons in this administration. It will be interesting to see which direction Donald Trump takes.

BERMAN: Anna, you take the temperature of insiders literally every day and every morning. You know, what is your sense of how the Republican Party establishment now feels about the Trump team? And look, you have Reince Priebus as chief of staff. You have literally head of the establishment in a way sitting there inside the office, but are they getting as much as they want now?

PALMER: I think that the moves he's done so far has calmed a lot of the nerves and the fact that people feel like Trump is very unpredictable, but certainly these kinds of, you know, in-fighting in public, and the fact there's concern a Romney secretary of state would be a rogue agency, that Donald Trump couldn't keep control over, I think this kind of just brings up how untraditional and how people like things to be moving steady and calmly forward as this transition of power happens, and these kinds of bumps in the road definitely give establishment Republicans pauses and case for concern.

BERMAN: And, Ron, I have to believe that the Romney Thanksgiving is a microcosm of that pause, right? They're probably sitting around the table weighing, is this a job that I should do? Is this a job that will be difficult for me to do? Is it worth the sacrifice? I mean, these are questions for Mitt Romney now, too.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. I mean, we had the op-ed, you know, only a week earlier, from two weeks ago I guess now from Elliott Cohen, the former top for's policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration advising other Republicans not to go into this administration. Ultimately, it will impinge on your career and your kind of sense of self.

I mean, there is still a big divide in the foreign policy world. Michael Flynn is national security adviser is a very polarizing pick. If you end up with a Rudy Giuliani in the end, and you got to think that Trump has, President-elect Trump real hesitation, if he hasn't done that already, you again would have someone who many in kind of the traditional Republican Party circles would feel hesitant about working for him.

One thing though that really I think is important and kind of under- discussed, is that Donald Trump has an enormous amount of flexibility here in making these appointments, because fewer Republican leaders and elected officials supported him openly and campaigned for him actively than probably any other nominee. Once you get past Jeff Sessions and Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, the list gets pretty short.

So, he has a lot of room to maneuver as he makes these choices.

BERMAN: No, he doesn't owe the party or insiders that much, although people who are loyal to him, of those loyal to him, top of that list is Rudy Giuliani, right?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BERMAN: I mean, Mayor Giuliani was out very vocally for Donald Trump when many others weren't, Eugene Scott. And "The New York Times" this morning reporting that former New York City mayor is not that happy about sort of being left to twist in the wind right now. SCOTT: And I think much of this is about. You think of Giuliani, you

think of Huckabee, you think of other establishment Republicans took a lot of heat for backing Trump very early. So, I think they want to see some type of repayment for their favor towards him.

Mitt Romney actually took a lot of praise for not backing Donald Trump and it looks like he could end up with a valuable golden egg that someone like Giuliani and maybe even Huckabee and some others want for themselves. And so, I'm not surprised to see some sour grapes.

BERMAN: We shall see.

All right. Guys, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

SCOTT: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. If the economy was key issue for this election, you might want to know who this guy is, Wilbur Ross. He is said to be a top contender for commerce secretary. He doesn't actually need the job.

[12:10:01] He doesn't really need to work now or probably for the next, you know, 150,000 years, if he didn't want to. We'll tell you what you need to know about him and why he's called the bankruptcy king. That's coming up.

But it is a sad day for millions of us who grew up watching reruns or watching sitcoms on TV. Florence Henderson, Carol Brady, who had a storied career on stage and screen, she passed away overnight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Such sad news this morning. Florence Henderson passed away at the age of 82, known by millions as Carol Brady, the mother of six. She had four children of her own in real life. She passed away from heart failure in a hospital in Los Angeles surrounded by her family and friends.

Joining us now from L.A., CNN's Stephanie Elam.

Stephanie, as I said, you know, we woke up this morning and saw that many of us just, you know, we sighed because she was in our living rooms, in our dens, you know, every afternoon with kids.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I know. So, here in the West Coast, I was still awake when the news broke. I sat there reading tweets of people who knew and loved her and loved her in his role that she took on as Carol Brady, as America's mom.

[12:15:05] And so many Americans are thankful that is a role she loved.

Here's the story of a lovely lady

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ELAM (voice-over): Florence Henderson captured hearts across the country as one of television's most iconic mothers, Carol Brady.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You'll find it.

FLORENCE HENDERSON, AS CAROL BRADY: Good luck on your debate today, Jan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Do I look okay, mom?

HENDERSON: Oh, sweetheart, you look lovely. Now, don't be nervous about a thing.

ELAM: Starring as the matriarch of a blended family, her career would forever be defined by her character on the 1970 sitcom "The Brady Bunch."

HENDERSON: I created the kind of mother that I wished I had and I think that everyone longs for.

ELAM: Taking on the role was something Henderson embraced.

HENDERSON: I get so much fan mail from all over the world. And everybody was a hug from me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, yes.

HENDERSON: And I hug everybody.

ELAM: And in the decades following the show, Henderson never shied away from the limelight, returning to her iconic Carol Brady for multiple spinoffs of "The Brady Bunch".

ELAM: But even before she became a Brady, Henderson seemed destined for show business.

HENDERSON: I don't ever remember not singing, and I would sing and pass the hat, and I'd sing for groceries.

ELAM: Henderson's career took off at the age of 19 when she landed a starring role in Rogers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" in 1951.

ELAM: Becoming a bona fide Broadway star on stage, her TV career progressed, as she became NBC's "Today" girl in 1959, and she broke barriers as the first woman to guest host "The Tonight Show" in 1962.

Henderson earned her star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in 1996. And recently danced her way back into the spotlight on "Dancing with the Stars" in 2010.

Today, America mourns the loss of everyone's favorite mom.

HENDERSON (singing): I want to be loved by you, gist you and nobody else but you I want to be loved by you alone.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ELAM: And there are a whole new generation of people who saw her on "Dancing with the Stars" and saw this whole new side to Florence Henderson, when she competed on the show, all of this moxie that she had performing in her 70s dancing on that show. Well, she re-appeared this season because her TV daughter, Maureen McCormick, who is Marcia Brady on the show, was on the show. So, she came on and she showed herself off saying, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" again, but it was even in the audience Monday night to Maureen.

Maureen tweeting out, "Florence Henderson was a dear friend for so very many years and in my heart forever. Love and hugs to her family. I'll miss you dearly."

Also, her other child on the show, played Greg Brady, Barry Williams tweeting out that he was deeply saddened and she was one of most gracious he had ever known.

You think back to Florence Henderson all of those years, John, I don't know if you remember them, but I also remember her as the pitch woman for Wesson Oil. Do you remember those commercials in the '70s and the '80s?

BERMAN: Absolutely.

ELAM: I always think of those. I always think of those when I think of her.

BERMAN: And she said, you know, she was proud of that. She said it was hard work. It was hard acting work. She was always proud of the ad work too. She touched a lot of lives.

Stephanie Elam, thanks so much.

I want to continue our discussion now. Joining us on the phone, author Joel Brokaw. He co-wrote Florence Henderson's biography, "Life is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to Lovely Lady and Beyond."

Joel, thanks so much for being with us. We know she's a friend of yours, so we are sorry for your loss.

Can you tell us what Florence Henderson wanted people to know about her life and career?

JOEL BROKAW, CO-AUTHOR OF FLORENCE HENDERSON'S BIOGRAPHY (via telephone): Well, I think the wonderful thing about her was when she decided to write her autobiography and I helped her to get it down on paper. She really wanted people -- she wanted to help people, even through that process, and she was willing to discuss a lot of things in life that were tragic and uncomfortable, because she felt that, you know, there would be something in it that might help someone, because that was the thing with her.

I think thing that gave her the greatest amount of pleasure was meeting people in a restaurant or getting fan letters from all over the world, and hearing the stories about how her work on "The Brady Bunch" really made a difference in everyone's lives. As you were talking about before, about how she was a mother to a lot of people who didn't have that in real life.

BERMAN: You know, she was the kind of mother, she always said, everyone always wanted and maybe even the kind she wanted. She didn't have it easy growing up.

BROKAW: No. And, in fact, when we were sitting and working on her childhood, she was tearing up quite a lot during that time.

[12:20:06] And I had the impression that she really hadn't emptied out her heart about what she went through in her childhood because she had an alcoholic father who she loved but had all sorts of problems with. And her mother after having many children and Florence being the last got fed up and abandoned her at a very early age. So I think that, you know, from the very start, she had such a sense of gratitude on such a deep, spiritual level for all the good things that came her way, because she had that perspective from a life of deprivation, not only in material but also the parental deprivation.

BERMAN: So, that's interesting, and I think meaningful, too, because sometimes, performers, actors, actresses, were so closely identified with one role, end up with a love/hate relationship with that role, almost trapped by it. I never got the impression --

BROKAW: Absolutely.

BERMAN: -- that Florence Henderson was like that. Always seemed to me that she was grateful for the chance to play Carol Brady, grateful that the doors that it opened. And if she ever talked about it or made fun of it, it was it in a self-deprecating way.

BROKAW: You are absolutely correct. And the funniest thing about it all is the fact that it was a role that she really wasn't that excited about when it was offered to her. And, in fact, her agent convinced her to do it. She was living on the East Coast. She had a good life, and suddenly having demands of doing a television show.

So, she did the pilot and she didn't think it was going to sell, and it's interesting how some of the greatest blessings in her life came from something she was less than enthusiastic about from the beginning, but she -- I've had the opportunity to know lots of celebrities in my lifetime, and I cannot think of anyone who was more comfortable in her skin than Florence Henderson and especially about "The Brady Bunch", because I've been out with other people and somebody might come up to them and refer to them in their character name, and you can just feel them cringe, and she was absolutely the opposite.

She was just -- she didn't take anything for granted and she just loved the contact with people and she loved new challenges and she loved trying different things all the time. She was really an inspiration.

BERMAN: That's just so refreshing. Look, a lot of people watch "The Brady Bunch" now and they may think it's hokey. If you watch her performance over the years as she was on that show, it is pitch perfect. She was a tactician too when she was performing and she was so skillful at pulling off that role.

And as you said, she was known as someone so kind. And tell me about the last time you heard from her.

BROKAW: Well, actually, she sent me an e-mail about two weeks ago, because my father just passed away, and it was just so heartfelt and, you know, she asked about my 5-year-old son, and it was just -- as I said, it was -- you know, we spent a lot of time together writing this book, and then once the book is out and published, you don't have that much time together anymore. But you really feel like you've become friends with the people that you work with, and she became really the dearest friend of any client or any person that I ever worked with, because she was just so caring and so loving.

BERMAN: How nice that you had a chance to be touched by her, and her life.

Joel Brokaw, thanks so much for beings with us. Really appreciate it. Really, really good memories.

BROKAW: My pleasure. Thank you.

BERMAN: Again, Florence Anderson passed away at the age of 82.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:16] BERMAN: So he's known as the king of bankruptcy. Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross is expected to be named commerce secretary by President-elect Donald Trump sometime soon.

So why is he the king of bankruptcy? Ross earned his billions after buying, restructuring and selling off struggling companies. He also served as a senior policy adviser during Trump's campaign. But also adding a little controversy to the cabinet. It would be a cabinet full of millionaires and billionaires.

Joining me Rana Foroohar, CNN global economic analyst. She's also "TIME" magazine's assistant managing editor and author of "Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business."

Thanks so much for joining me. I don't know, Wilbur Ross probably both a maker and taker.

(LAUGHTER)

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: There's a debate over that.

BERMAN: Tell me about him. The king of bankruptcy. How did he make his fortune?

FOROOHAR: Well, basically distressed deals. He buys up companies that are having trouble and rehabilitate them in some cases but he does that many time by cutting jobs, cutting benefits, cutting pensions. He's big on cost cutting.

And so, there are some people, you know, in the Rust Belt, in these old-line towns where he's bought up textile factories and steel plants and coal plants and say, hey, he's saving jobs. Other people say, no, he's actually getting rich off the back of employees he's laying often.

BERMAN: And on shorthand, he sort of bought the American steel industry, like a big chunk of it.

FOROOHAR: Absolutely. And coal as well, and, you know, he's had some problems in the coal industry, which I think are very much going to be a part of confirmation hearings. There was a coal plant that he bought back in the mid-1990s. After he bought it, there was an explosion. Twelve workers were killed. They were found to be safety issues to that plant. These are the things that are going to come up, I think.

BERMAN: And he's not a shrinking violet when it comes to the issues, right, in general.

FOROOHAR: Yes.

BERMAN: But also, he's got very well-defined views in very big economic issues. Taxes, for instance.

FOROOHAR: For sure. So, he is very much a trickle down guy. He believes that if you cut corporate tax rates, give corporations incentives to bring back cash overseas at very low rate, that that's going to boost investments.