Before Barack Obama emerged as a strong national candidate, some Democrats wanted Mark Warner to run for president in 2008. He was a successful business executive who became a successful governor of Virginia — then a state that Warner's party hadn't captured for 40 years. He instead ran for the U.S. Senate that year, and won.
After earning a moderate reputation, if not many national headlines, Warner has returned to the spotlight a decade later. With his Republican Senate colleague Richard Burr of North Carolina, he leads the Intelligence Committee's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election that, alongside special prosecutor Robert Mueller's probe, has unsettled the Trump White House. If he successfully concludes that assignment — in the eyes of Democratic voters at least — it could even revive his presidential prospects.
Warner, 63, sat down over breakfast near his home in Alexandria, Virginia, to discuss President Donald Trump, the Russia investigation, the pending GOP tax bill and Oval Office dreams. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of their conversation.
CNBC's John Harwood: You're somebody who thought about running for president, came pretty close to it. Describe what you're seeing in the Oval Office from Donald Trump right now.
Sen. Mark Warner: In Donald Trump, I see someone who I don't think was prepared for this office emotionally or obviously on an issue basis. I'm not sure he actually expected to win himself. And unfortunately, I think we're seeing in so many ways that lack of preparation, and candidly, the lack of seriousness. You get no sense from Mr. Trump that he is at all awed by the responsibilities of the office or, for that matter, respectful of the responsibilities of the office. Unfortunately, in many ways, our country's paid the price of that.
Harwood: Does it scare you?
Warner: I'm worried about someone who is commander in chief who does not seem to acknowledge or listen to advisors who, I think, bring more facts to the table. I'm concerned about a commander in chief who seems to undermine diplomacy writ large, and then his actual secretary of State when he's deployed, for example, on a mission to China vis-a-vis North Korea. I'm concerned by a president who seems to lack the empathy that's part of his job whether he likes it or not, at moments of crisis to try to bring the nation together. What I thought was one of the low days of his presidency (was) the outrageous comments he made after the tragedy in my state, in Charlottesville.