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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Women in Combat; Trump Rising in Polls. Rosie O'Donnell's Daughter Missing; Two Women Pass Army Ranger Training. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 18, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:17]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You may not support Donald Trump, but those that do really, really like him.

I'm John Berman. And this is THE LEAD.

The politics lead. Brand-new CNN poll shows Trump pulling away from the pack, with women as some of his biggest supporters even after the joke he may or may not have made about blood and a female TV anchor.

The national lead. Not your average G.I. Jane, two women making American history and outlasting nearly 300 of the guys who have washed out to graduate from the Army's elite Ranger School, a test of will, endurance and leadership that made me collapse simply by reading it. But will they ever be allowed to see full combat?

The pop culture lead. A very scary time for Rosie O'Donnell or really any parent. The talk show host making a public plea. She says that her daughter is missing and needs medical help.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman. Jake Tapper is off.

Our politics lead, the starship Trump continues to do what most pundits would have said was highly illogical and soar above a field of Republican stars. Trump has spent the summer boldly and brashly going farther than any of his rivals on immigration, on ISIS and certainly in tweets targeting media personalities.

Now, in a normal star system, actions that might hurt, but when it comes to Donald Trump, the prime directive does not apply. Our brand- new CNN/ORC poll shows the business mogul reaching escape velocity, eclipsing his nearest Republican rival in the 2016 race by double digits.

Let's get right to CNN's Athena Jones.

These numbers across the board good for Trump.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's true. He has been getting stronger. Look, this has been the summer of Trump. There's no mistake about that. But our latest poll is suggesting that the real estate mogul may have some real staying power past the summer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

A. JONES (voice-over): Drawing crowds wherever he goes, Donald Trump is dominating the Republican field nationwide.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going New Hampshire, going to Iowa, going to South Carolina, going to Tennessee. We're going all over.

A. JONES: And growing his lead. In the new CNN/ORC poll, the billionaire businessman earns the support of nearly a quarter of GOP voters, up six points since July, nearly double the support of his nearest rival, Jeb Bush, and three times the support of Scott Walker, two governors who were close behind him just a month ago.

Trump's favorability is also on the rise; 58 percent of Republicans now have a favorable view of him, even after controversial comments about FOX anchor Megyn Kelly.

TRUMP: You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.

A. JONES: And former prisoner of war John McCain.

TRUMP: He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that were not captured, OK, I hate to tell you.

A. JONES: The tough-talking Trump tops the field on every issue, with Republicans trusting him most to deal with the economy, social issues, ISIS and illegal immigration. In fact, he is setting the agenda and driving the conversation on illegal immigration.

TRUMP: We have to make a whole new set of standards.

A. JONES: He is calling for, among other things, deporting all of the undocumented, an idea some of his opponents blasted as unworkable.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I appreciate the fact that Mr. Trump now has a plan, if that's what it's called, but I think that the better approach is to deal with the 11 million people here illegally in a way that is realistic.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not doable, and, secondly, I don't think it's right. I don't think it's humane.

A. JONES: Others responded to Trump's proposal to end birthright citizenship, a right enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am open to doing things that prevent people who deliberately come to the U.S. for purposes of taking advantage of the 14th Amendment, but I'm not in favor of repealing it.

A. JONES: Walker saying even the Senate's top Democrat once agreed with that idea. GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Even Harry Reid,

even Harry Reid said it's not right for a country to recognize a birthright for people whose families have not come in legally.

A. JONES: Reid has since reversed his position.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

A. JONES: Now, two other candidate, Lindsey Graham and Chris Christie, also said changing birthright should be considered. And there's one more interesting data point in our poll. Despite Trump's strong standing among Republican voters, 58 percent of them say the party has a better chance of winning the presidency next year if he is not the nominee. That's really interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Interesting, although his opponents, Athena, still talking about Donald Trump immigration plan and not their own today. Athena Jones, thanks so much.

[16:05:00]

So, while Trump turns the Republican field on its head, Hillary Clinton still the Democratic front-runner. But if she hopes to win the general election, she will need to follow President Obama's road map to the White House and holding together a coalition of voters that very much includes African-Americans and likely the support now of the Black Lives Matter movement.

We have seen that group disrupt rallies put on by other Democrats and one week ago, members of Black Lives Matter tried to get into a Clinton event. The Secret Service stopped them. Instead, members got a private meeting with the former secretary, and now today we're getting our first look at the video.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny here with me now.

Jeff, it's a really interesting video and pretty tense.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It was a tense.

And it was a frank and intense encounter, also a rare behind-the- scenes look at a meeting we seldom see with activists who try to get into that campaign event. But we also saw a side of Hillary Clinton we hardly see at this private meeting with activists in New Hampshire last week, where Secretary Clinton addressed the activists one on one.

She tried to give them suggestions. She told them without a concrete plan, their movement will get nothing but lip service. That did not sit well with them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Respectfully, if that's your position, then I will only talk to white people on how we're going to deal with the very real problems.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton face to face with protesters from the Black Lives Matter captured on camera in video released today.

JULIUS JONES, BLACK LIVES MATTER: You were saying what the Black Lives Matter needs to do to change white hearts.

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: Look, I don't believe that you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.

ZELENY: A passionate moment from a new movement confronting presidential candidates. Bernie Sanders surrendering the stage in Seattle, Martin O'Malley heckled in Phoenix.

MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All lives matter.

ZELENY: A movement drawing attention to African-Americans dying at often the hands of police and high incarceration rates. It's now front and center in the Democratic presidential campaign. The private meeting with Clinton happened last week in New Hampshire.

CLINTON: We can do it one of many ways.

ZELENY: Today, two of the organizers talked to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

J. JONES: I got the answer that I expected, but I didn't get the answer that I wanted.

ZELENY: All this as Clinton struggles to fend off a bigger campaign controversy, fallout from her decision to use a private e-mail server as secretary of state.

CLINTON: You may have seen that I recently launched a Snapchat account. Those messages disappear all by themselves.

ZELENY: The Clinton campaign reverting to a familiar playbook, diminishing the issue as an old partisan fight. She defended her stand on a weekend trip to Iowa.

CLINTON: It's not anything that people talk to me about as I travel around the country. It's never raised in my town halls. It's never raised in my other meetings with people.

ZELENY: But today in Nevada, a few voters we talked to outside her campaign stop said they wanted to hear an explanation.

MONICA ACUNA, NEVADA: That's one of the reasons why I am here. I would like the record to be set straight and I would like to know what she has to say about everything.

PAMELA GRIMM, NEVADA: It's sad that she has ended up in this situation, because she's such a woman with integrity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now with congressional hearings, a Justice Department investigation and Republicans feeling the fire, this e-mail controversy is likely to hang over Clinton and her presidential campaign.

Now for that meeting with activists we told you about earlier, that video was made public today. The Clinton campaign issued a short statement a short time ago and saying that the campaign will have continue to have discussions and will work together to change lives and to raise awareness -- John.

BERMAN: Interesting day.

Jeff Zeleny, great to have you here with us.

I want to talk about all of this, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, with CNN political commentators S.E. Cupp, Paul Begala.

We should disclose that Paul is a senior adviser to the super PAC backing Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Thank you both.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And proudly so.

ZELENY: And proudly so. Thanks for being with us.

For that reason, I am not going to start with you, though. You're suspended for one question.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ZELENY: And we're going to talk about Donald Trump.

There are two explanations for Trump's meteoric rise these two months which we have been getting from pundits and also from politicians. Number one, it's early. And, number two, it's all a media creation. I don't think that these are sufficient anymore.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No.

In fact, I have given some other explanations. I think, one, you have to consider that Trump is pulling from Democrats. He is pulling from moderates and independents, as well as Republican. Two, if you look at the context of how Trump is pulling Republican support, it's only surprising if you don't consider recent Republican history.

If you think that every Republican is that dug-in, ideological, purity-testing, anti-squish conservative, a la Ted Cruz, well, then you would think, how can they support Donald Trump? But you have to remember there are Republicans out there that are different.

BERMAN: He is leading on social issues too. [16:10:01]

CUPP: Exactly. There are Republicans out there who probably have some privacy concerns, but ultimately support the Patriot Act.

There are Republicans out there who are evangelical, but don't think that social issues are at the center of their daily lives and want to consider all kinds of other issues. The Republican Party is not a monolith. And there are a lot of people who have found something interesting in Donald Trump that's not Washington, that's not the same old same old, and that's why he is pulling people in on both sides of the aisle.

BEGALA: Yes, I agree with all of that.

Well, it's not both sides of the aisle. It's exclusively Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: That's not true. Two of his biggest supporters have been on CNN and they're African-American sisters from North Carolina and they're Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: They're charming. They're total YouTube stars. But they're outliers.

Trump -- this is identity politics, in much the same way that Barack Obama got 95 percent of the African-American vote, Hillary will win the women's vote. Donald Trump is getting the vote of angry old white men with bad hair. And that's the heart of the Republican Party.

BERMAN: And 60 percent favorability among women.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Among Republican women.

BERMAN: They're the ones who vote in the Republican primary.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He is tapping into something -- that's the phrase everybody uses -- and it's called anger.

This is wonderful for me as a Hillary guy. It's wonderful for the Democrats. It's ultimately wonderful for Mr. Trump, but terrible for the Republican Party, because he is branding their party as viciously anti-immigrant, anti-Latino now with this really strident -- the most anti-immigrant and anti-Latino position I think in any position that I think any major candidate has ever taken.

He is pulling the rest to him.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: Ask Scott Walker.

The 14th Amendment he is one of the Republican Party's greatest gifts to America. And now serious leading Republicans, two of the three top Republicans running for president, want to appeal a big...

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Not Marco Rubio though and not Jeb Bush.

CUPP: I understand wanting to tie Donald Trump to the whole of the party, but let me just point out...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He's the leader of the party.

CUPP: This is a party Donald Trump has not even pledged to support should he not be the nominee, so they're not all in one wrapped up in a ball.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Paul, we have gone too easy on you so far. Let's talk about Hillary Clinton.

For a moment, I am not going to talk about e-mails and I am not going to talk about Black Lives Matter. I want to talk about the environment, because today Hillary Clinton put out a tweet that she signed herself with her initials where says that she opposes Arctic drilling, a position now supported by President Obama. She says she opposes that. She splits dramatically from the White House on this matter of energy exploration and energy delivery.

Riddle me this Paul Begala, how is it then that she justifies saying this about the Keystone pipeline?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: This is President Obama's decision, and I am not going second-guess him, because I was in a position to set this in motion, and I do not think that would be the right thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: She is picking and choosing where she is second-guessing here.

BEGALA: Yes, of course, because she has a brain. She's an independent person. She's not going to -- I bet she will be 90 percent with President Obama and probably 90 percent...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: She did. Well, no, on Keystone because she was involved in the process, she doesn't want to prejudice... (CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: She never had a discussion about Arctic drilling with the president?

BEGALA: I have no idea. And I didn't major in geography, but the Keystone pipeline is not in the Arctic.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: But she was also involved in Russia. She was involved in Iran. Is she not going to take positions on all of these other episodes she was involved in?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: She's taken a position on the Iran deal. She supports it.

CUPP: There is no excuse to say I was intimately involved in this, so I am going refrain.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's actually a very good excuse.

CUPP: Why?

BEGALA: Because many of the people who are ruling on this used to work for her.

I think it's perfectly fine to sit out Keystone.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I think it's good that she is weighing in. She did not have any role in whether or not we drill in the Arctic

Now she is running for president. She is saying, as president, I won't allow that. I think it's great. She is going to be a free agent. In the vast majority of issues...

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Expect when she is not.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm sure she authentically looked at the Iran deal and decided that it makes America stronger and safer. She is going to support it. That is the president's top foreign policy objective right now. She is with him on that. And she will be on almost all issues.

BERMAN: And 30 seconds on Jeb Bush. His staff were smiling today or not?

CUPP: Oh, I don't know. I think Jeb is doing OK. Jeb has not performed as well as Jeb and everyone else wanted him to perform.

But, frankly, I don't know how anybody has been able to do anything with Trump eating up all the oxygen. The best he can do is kind of just stick around. He has been sticking around.

BERMAN: Sticking around is hardly a compelling campaign slogan.

CUPP: I would not put it on a bumper sticker.

BERMAN: S.E. Cupp, Paul, thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate it. Great to have you here.

In our national lead, two women about to make history as they graduate from the Army's Ranger training program. But not everyone is convinced they should be on the front lines, including a former Army Ranger who was black of the Black Hawk Down rescue mission. We have him on with us in just a moment to explain why. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:19:00] BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In the national lead, two women are leading the way, making military history. This Friday, they will be sworn in. They will be the first women to graduate from the Army's elite combat Ranger School.

For 62 days, the training put them through in tense physical and mental test all while operating on little food, in minimal sleep for eight long weeks. The primary mission: get these students ready for close combat. Only a few make it through the training.

Now, two women will cross the line, but we will not hear about them on a battlefield. Not yet. The Defense Department doesn't allow that yet.

So, joining men now to discuss is Jeff Struecker. He's a retired Army Ranger. His crew helped inspire the Hollywood thriller "Black Hawk Down".

Also with me is Donna McAleer, a West Point graduate, an Army veteran, she serves on the defense advisories women in the service committee.

Jeff, I want to start with you, because today on the news of this history being made. Republican Senator Marco Rubio said anyone willing to serve and can pass all the requirements should be able to do so, should be allowed in the Army Ranger unit. [16:20:03] Jeb Bush said nearly the same thing.

So, why are they wrong?

JEFF STRUECKER, RET. U.S. ARMY RANGER: I would disagree with these guys because they don't understand the requirements that you're going to ask of men that serve in the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, which by the way is a completely different unit than attending the Army Ranger course. Those Rangers --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Those Ranger course, which they will do and they will get the ranger pin. The issue is, will they be allowed to serve in the unit? Right now they're not. One senator and one governor says they should be allowed to since they passed the training, and you say no?

STRUECKER: Yes. That's exactly right. Just because you successfully completed the ranger course, and by the way, there are thousands of people who attend this course, hundreds of them graduate every year, that will never serve in the ranger regiment. Just because you completed it does not mean that you can serve in the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment.

BERMAN: What are they lacking?

STRUECKER: So, the Ranger Regiment is typically given some of the most violent, the most dangerous missions in combat. That is a special operations unit that's basically used at the leading edge of battle all over the world, and up until this point in our country's history, we have not placed woman on the cutting edge of battle. Women have been on battlefields for decades in our country, actually for hundreds of years, ever since Molly Pitcher in the Revolutionary War. But we've never expected women to serve in that role and I think what we have done is opened the door to the expectation that women will now serve in the most violent dangerous role in the military.

BERMAN: Donna, do you think that these two women, these West Point graduates like you should be allowed to serve on the cutting edge, on the leading edge despite what Jeff says?

DONNA MCALEER, ARMY VETERAN: Well, all capable soldiers -- airmen, marines, coasties should be able to serve. It's not an issue of gender. It's about the best service member for the job, who the can perform, who has the physical and mental toughness, the ability to lead and inspire when they're at their absolute breaking point.

This is about leadership. It's about readiness. It's about performance.

BERMAN: So, Jeff, if they have the leadership, if they have the readiness, if they have the performance -- just because it hasn't been done before, why should it be done now?

STRUECKER: John, Donna is absolutely right. The Ranger Course is ultimately a course about leadership. It places people in the most difficult of conditions imaginable, deprives them of food, deprives them of sleep, puts them in the exposure to the elements for days on end, and then places them in leadership roles.

But just because women can complete this course doesn't mean that they should complete this course. I think that there's something greater at stake and that's the future of the country. There's a social issue that's on the table here that apparently nobody wants to talk about.

BERMAN: I'd like you to talk about that. What's the social issue that should keep women from being in combat roles like this? STRUECKER: Yes, the social issues, through the course of humanity,

almost every society in human history has been largely protected by men and the woman are the protected in the society. By placing women in these kind of roles -- just because they can again doesn't mean that they should. By placing women in this kind of roles, you're potential raising future generations of Americans where woman are now the protectors and men are the protected.

And, frankly, I'm not sure that parents of American daughters want their young girls to be forced into roles that they're the protectors.

BERMAN: Donna, I'm going to let you respond to this.

MCALEER: Well, I think it's important nobody is being forced into anything. There are more than 300,000 women that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many on the frontline. As a matter of fact, today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Lieutenant Laura Walker, an engineer officer who was killed in Afghanistan.

So, women have been serving in the frontlines since the start of our country. This is not placing anybody in any role that is prepared. These soldiers have sought out this challenge. They have trained, they have prepared, they have demonstrated they're mental and physical toughness. Their leadership capability in this course, and should be afforded the opportunity.

Why don't we want the best and brightest and the strongest and our most disciplined leading our service men and woman today?

BERMAN: Donna, I'm going give you the last word -- the reason Jeff says is because the society could be damaged if woman are protecting us.

STRUECKER: No, John, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying women -- this opens the door for women to be forced into roles where they are now protecting the society in the future. It's not happening today. But it could happen in the future, and that's a great concern of mine. As a parent of two daughters.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Donna, go ahead.

[16:25:00] MCALEER: And I'm a parent of a young daughter as well, and I could not be more proud of the ranger candidates that will pin that tab on Friday, Class 813. There are 37 men along with these women that have endured the course. Not just for 61 days, actually 118 days.

And I want our leadership to be the best, brightest and the strongest, the most capable and those that want to serve.

This is what this ranger class has demonstrated. They want to serve. They want to lead. They have the ability to inspire, and they're the best of the best.

(CROSSTALK)

STRUECKER: These ladies are an exception to the rule and not the norm. They're exceptional women, clearly, but they're an exception to the rule. They're physiologically different than most men --

BERMAN: But, Jeff, that's a different argument, Jeff. I certainly respect and revere your service and I respect the fact that you come on to give your opinion here. But you said now two different things. You said, one, that these women are the exception, and they clearly passed the test and earned the ranger pin. You know, so they're there. They made it, but then you're saying that even though that they made it, it's bad for society if they're protecting us.

STRUECKER: Yes, so I'm saying that they're the exception to the rule and it opens the door to the normalization of roles of men and woman in the military. And I think that's a potential problem in the future, especially the most violent and most dangerous combat roles. Those roles should be reserved for men alone.

MCALEER: We have to remember that women are already there and soldiers are there. Less than three percent of soldiers in the army have earned the ranger tab. These are not average soldiers, the men, the woman. This is not about the average. It's about the performance the best, the most capable, those that can lead and inspire in the toughest, most violent, most challenging situations. These soldiers, these rangers, this entire class brings different perspectives that make our armed forces stronger.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Donna McAleer, Jeff Struecker, again, thank you both for your service and for helping to keep us safe. I thank everyone out there, male or female who does the same. Thanks, guys.

Coming up, the manhunt is on for the suspect that police believe is responsible for this explosion and now a second bomb blast this morning has been connected to the first.

Plus, Rosie O'Donnell asking for help in finding her missing daughter who she says is in need of medical attention. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)