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Sen. Alexander pledges to work with Trump, even when he disapproves of his style: 'Let's give him a chance'

  • Sen. Lamar Alexander on Trump: "He's completely unconventional. He doesn't do things, as I said, the way I would do them, nor the way I would rather presidents act."
  • "He's a man that the American people entrusted with the presidency, and I'm going to try to help him succeed."

"Speakeasy with John Harwood" is now available as a podcast. Subscribe on iTunes and listen to Harwood's extended conversations with political decision-makers.

Sen. Lamar Alexander sat down with CNBC to discuss a range of topics, including his view of President Donald Trump. What follows is an edited, condensed excerpt of the conversation.

CNBC's John Harwood: Now, your colleague, Sen. Bob Corker, recently had some very strong things to say about the president. You were asked about that, and you made a joke, like, "Oh, they should go play golf together." But I think you know this is not about two guys having a personality conflict. This is about a very serious and experienced legislator, of your party, who says he is worried for the country about the stability, the competence of this president. Is he right? And are you worried also?

Alexander: Sen. Corker's a very serious person. What he says is worth listening to always. The president does things and says things that I don't do, and that I don't approve of. But he was elected by the people, and I spend my time, for example, trying to work with him, and with Democrats, with whom I don't agree, to get a result on health care so I don't have songwriters in Nashville who can't afford insurance. I think that's the best way for me to spend my time.

Harwood: But are you worried about a nuclear crisis with North Korea, and somebody who is not up to the job making the decisions in the crisis?

Alexander: Well, let's give the president a chance. His Asian trip seems to have gone pretty well, from what I've been able to tell. I think most presidents who arrive thinking they're going to deal just with domestic issues — I think of Bill Clinton, I think of Ronald Reagan — end up dealing mostly with issues they've never thought much about. And some become very good at it, as President Reagan did, having very little foreign policy experience to start with. So, let's see if the president's style of things gets a better result in North Korea.

Harwood: But you don't think he is a unique case, in terms of the potential peril to the country from his behavior and the way he makes decisions?

Alexander: Oh, he's a unique case. He's completely unconventional. He doesn't do things, as I said, the way I would do them, nor the way I would rather presidents act. But he was elected by the American people.

Harwood: Is he dangerous?

Alexander: I'm not going to sit here and say he's a dangerous man. He's a man that the American people entrusted with the presidency, and I'm going to try to help him succeed.

Harwood: I talked to a Republican member of Congress the other day, talking about the comments by Corker, Flake, McCain — colleagues of yours who are not running for re-election ...

Alexander: Yeah.

Harwood: … who said very alarming things about the president — worried out loud. I said, "When are you going to see people who are not leaving the Congress do that?" And his answer was simply, "Bob Mueller. When Bob Mueller comes back with something serious, that's when you're going to see everything change."

Is that right? And do you expect something serious from Bob Mueller?

Alexander: I don't think there needs to be one more person, and I'm not going to be one more person, spending most of my time worrying about an investigation that we have a special prosecutor undertaking, that we have the intelligence committee undertaking. Let them do their job. I'll do my job.

Harwood: You came to office as governor. You were elected and took office early because the outgoing governor was behaving corruptly. And there was an intervention by people in both parties to try to deal with that situation. Do you have any concern that Donald Trump and the situation we're in now could turn into a Ray Blanton situation?

Alexander: Oh, I certainly hope not. I mean, what was happening in Tennessee at that time was, as you know, the governor was selling pardons for cash. And he later went to jail for selling whiskey licenses for cash. And his general counsel went to jail for selling pardons for cash. I don't think we have that situation in the White House today.

Read more excerpts of Lamar Alexander's Speakeasy here.