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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Pope Francis Coming to Washington; Trump Controversy; 2016 Candidates at Odds with Pope's Views; Sources: Walker to End Presidential Bid. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Could Donald Trump's current drown the entire Republican Party in controversy? Or will the wave push them into the White House?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead. The Republicans running for president long ago stopped being polite and started getting real. But, as Dr. Ben Carson says, he would not vote for a Muslim president and Donald Trump suggests, hey, maybe we already have, hah-hah.

Will their straight talk make the rest of the Republicans feel toxic to voters, as many Republican officials fear?

They all used to want his blessing, but now some politicians don't want his council unless it's in a confessional booth, of course. The pope coming to Washington. Hear exactly who is not laying out the welcome mat.

The national lead. She washed up from Boston Harbor thrown away in a black trash bag weighed down with bricks. And now baby Bella's mom is in court. Why do prosecutors say that her boyfriend allegedly beat the toddler to death?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our politics lead. After losing the White House in 2012, Republican Party leaders conducted what they called an autopsy. Among the recommendations -- quote -- "The Republican Party is one of tolerance and respect and we need to ensure that the tone of our message is always reflective of these core principles. In the modern media environment, a poorly phrased argument or out-of-context statement can spiral out of control and reflect poorly on the party as a whole."

Now, there are two Republicans who have an interesting way of demonstrating lesson learned. Donald Trump talking in the most ambiguous terms now about whether or not President Obama is a Muslim. Spoiler alert: He isn't.

And now Dr. Ben Carson saying a Muslim American should not be president of the United States, to which Republican Senator Ted Cruz reminds us of Article VI of the Constitution "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash is here.

And, Dana, Donald Trump reminds us that some of these Obama is a Muslim rumor started by people who were supporting or working for Hillary Clinton in 2008.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

The Clinton campaign back then always adamantly denied that that was true. But there were stories citing Clinton researchers or associates back then saying that President Obama or then Barack Obama was a Muslim, even that he went to a madrasa, which is a Muslim school, when he was a kid living in Indonesia.

In fact, I remember when CNN's John Vause went to Jakarta to investigate that and it turned out the school never has had any religious curriculum. But I should just answering that, Jake, even Hillary Clinton herself sowed some doubt back in 2008 during a "60 Minutes" interview saying she didn't think Obama was a Muslim then, but she added, "Not that I know of."

Now, being a Muslim and not believing one should be in the White House are very different. And that is today's controversy on the trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Even in a campaign full of explosive comments, this one immediately stood out.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.

BASH: Ben Carson said that, he wouldn't want a Muslim as president, in answer to a question about whether the Islamic religion is consistent with the Constitution. Some of Carson's competitors distanced themselves.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the American people are going to decide who the president is based on the merits of their positions and their qualifications, not based on their religious beliefs.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the Constitution provides that there should be no religious test for public office. And I'm a constitutionalist.

BASH: There are two Muslim members of Congress. Both lashed out at Carson.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Saying the U.S. shouldn't elect a Muslim president is as off as saying we should not elect a neurosurgeon as president. You know, the freedom of religion that we have in this country is a founding principle of our great nation. So for any candidate to suggest that someone of any faith is unfit for public office simply because of what he or she may believe is nothing short of religious bigotry.

BASH: The Democratic front-runner for president was quick to chime in, saying in a tweet: "Can a Muslim be president of the United States of America? In a word, yes. Now let's move on."

The conversation about Muslims in America began at a Donald Trump town hall last week, when he failed to correct a voter who falsely said President Obama is a Muslim, even though he is a Christian. On Sunday, when asked what he thinks about the idea of a Muslim president, Trump stirred the pot, making this not-so-subtle suggestion about President Obama.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people have said it already happened, frankly. But, of course, you wouldn't agree with that.

[16:05:00]

BASH: This as Trump's status as the Republican front-runner is starting to slip. He's still on top, but losing ground, down eight points in a new CNN/ORC poll since early this month.

And Carly Fiorina is on the rise, in second place with 15 percent after a standout debate performance. Trump has now set his sights on Fiorina, not only going after her record as a Silicon Valley CEO, but also her persona.

TRUMP: She's got a good pitter-patter, but if you listen to her more than five minutes straight, you get a headache.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And he also called Fiorina a robot. But a lot of people who watched Fiorina at CNN's debate thought she looked prepared, even presidential. Tonight, she's going to have a chance to show some personality in what is usually a friendly forum and that is "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon."

But, Jake, big picture, last week's debate may have scrambled the race a little bit, but still it actually magnified the outsider ideal, the idea that people of the Republican electorate want candidates who have never been in politics before. Trump, Fiorina and Carson are all leading the pack now.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

Let's turn to the Democrats now and our latest CNN/ORC poll showing Hillary Clinton recovering some of that support that ran away from her over the summer.

Let's bring in CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, one poll, of course, does not a campaign make, but Clinton's campaign has got to be relieved by these new numbers out today going in the right direction for them. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. I

would say they're cautiously relieved. The hope of the campaign being that her recent apology for her use of a personal e-mail address and server while secretary of state would stem those dips in the polls that she's seen recently.

But you're right, this really is just one welcome data point, as Hillary Clinton travels today to Louisiana and here to Arkansas as she rails against Republicans who want to repeal Obamacare.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Today in Baton Rouge, Hillary Clinton hit the campaign trail. She's buoyed by a new CNN/ORC poll that shows she's opening her lead in the Democratic field. She stands at 42 percent nationally, with Bernie Sanders at 24, and Joe Biden still mulling a run at 22 percent.

It's good news for Clinton after months of sliding poll numbers, as Sanders and his passionate following have zapped away support. Clinton told CBS she does not intend to run a negative campaign against Sanders.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know Bernie. I respect his enthusiastic and intense advocacy of his ideas. That's what I want this campaign to be about.

KEILAR: But a major unknown for her campaign, will Biden run? If he stays out, this new poll shows most of his support goes to Clinton, putting her almost 30 points ahead of Sanders.

Privately, Clinton supporters are concerned about a Biden run, but, publicly, Clinton displays no such worry.

CLINTON: He's obviously considering what he wants to do, including whether he wants to run. And I just have the greatest respect and affection for him. And I think everybody just ought to give him the space to decide what is best for him and his family.

KEILAR: In an interview with the Catholic magazine "America," Biden, who just lost his son Beau to brain cancer three months ago, made clear he is not ready to make a decision.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not quite there yet, and I may not get there in time to make it feasible to be able to run and succeed, because there are certain windows that will close. But if that's it, that's it.

KEILAR: Biden also discussed his views on abortion, that he personally is anti-abortion, but doesn't want to impose that view on others.

BIDEN: I'm prepared to accept that moment of conception is human life and being, but I'm not prepared to say that to other God-fearing, non- God-fearing people that have a different view.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Now, Biden's decision on whether or not he will run for president is very much a family affair. His wife, Jill, has long been known as a resistant player in that decision.

But it's interesting, Jake, because after recent reports that she is now supportive of a Biden candidacy, her spokesman actually saying on the record that she would be on board if her husband decides to run, stressing, of course, that his mind is not made up on this.

TAPPER: Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this and everything else 2016 with CNN political commentators Paul Begala and Amanda Carpenter.

Amanda, Ben Carson's campaign manager just told the Associated Press that -- quote -- "Republican primary voters are with us at least 80 to 20."

Do you think that's true? And what do you make of this flap?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, st, I just think this whole flap is incredibly unfortunate.

But Donald Trump brought it on himself and the entire Republican Party. He was a high-profile birther for many years and he didn't push back on the question. That said, I do like Ted Cruz's response, saying we don't have religious tests in America, and if you want to talk about the issues, I'm happy to talk about the issues, whether that's how President Obama isn't tough enough on radical Islam or anything else.

[16:10:03]

They need to steer the conversation to substance and put an end to this birtherism.

TAPPER: Paul, what should Trump have said, in your view?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he should said what John McCain said in 2008. Senator McCain was at a town hall -- I think it was a woman stood up and said Obama is a Muslim, he's not even American.

And he stopped her. He said, no, ma'am. First of all, there's nothing wrong with being Muslim. Second, he's a Christian, he's a good man and we just disagree. John McCain is a man who -- his premise is always honor. I don't agree with him on politics, but he behaved honorably.

I think most Republicans are honorable. This is what for me so upsetting me as a citizen. As a Democrat, it's great. But as a citizen, the Republican Party in the last election cycle nominated a Mormon, part of a religious group that had been discriminated against viciously in our history. I was really proud of your party for doing that. Right? And now they

seem to turn away -- 43 percent of all Republicans, not just the kook fringe, 43 percent of all Republicans in our CNN poll doubt that the president is either a Christian or a citizen of the United States. That's heartbreaking.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the Democrats for a second. Amanda, I'm guessing you don't buy Hillary Clinton when she casts herself as an outsider.

CARPENTER: Well, A, I don't buy it. But, two, I just find it contradictory to what she is running on.

She should be running on her record. She says often, I'm one of the most vetted people in American politics. You know me. And then to turn around and say I'm an outsider just doesn't make logical sense. Maybe it's because she's a woman and the Democrats aren't used to having women in power. Republicans have had several women running. We had Sarah Palin as V.P., Michele Bachmann, now Carly Fiorina. Maybe that's why.

TAPPER: Paul, let me ask you a question.

When I had Carly Fiorina on the show a few months ago, I think, and I asked her about an abortion bill in Wisconsin, she pushed back and she said, why aren't you asking me about Hillary Clinton's position on abortion? She has the extreme position on abortion.

You heard Joe Biden just there talked about he believes life begins at conception. He just doesn't want to impose his views on others, he thinks the party should be more welcoming of people who are anti- abortion. And Hillary Clinton was asked yesterday by John Dickerson, do you support any regulations or restrictions on abortion, and she basically said no. Does that open her up to any sort of criticism?

BEGALA: Within the Democratic Party, frankly, no, because there are lots of pro-life Democrats. I worked for one, Bob Casey, the governor of Pennsylvania.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: That's how you made your bones.

BEGALA: That's the first campaign I ever won, not the first I ever worked on. Governor Casey won that race, not me, and his son Bob Casey Jr., who Hillary has campaigned for and with and helped and supported.

So there is a difference of opinion

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But what about in the general election?

BEGALA: But there's not a lot of fluidity, frankly, on the abortion issue. That is to say, most people believe, as my old boss Bill Clinton used to say, it should be safe, legal and rare.

If you want to reduce the number of abortions, this is science, empower women and girls more. Give them better income, better educational opportunities and the abortion rate drops. Laws don't change it. Economic prospects do.

CARPENTER: The Democratic Party has gone way extreme on this issue.

There used to be a consensus where abortion should be safe, legal and rare. But now it just seems on demand everywhere, no questions asked. The Democratic Party has gone so far left into an extreme version of this issue. You have Hillary Clinton -- people can't say there should be any restrictions on abortion.

So that's why, you know, we're at the place in politics where we are now, where it may go to a shutdown very soon because there are no longer pro-life Democrats in the United States Congress.

TAPPER: All right. Amanda, Paul, thank you so much. Thanks for coming in. I really appreciate it.

Where politics and the pontiff collide -- some on Capitol Hill hope the pope leaves his views for the church at the Vatican. One Republican lawmaker even planning to boycott the Holy Father's speech to Congress. Who's that?

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:38] TAPPER: Moments ago, Pope Francis boarding a plane in Havana. He's making one more stop in Cuba before he heads to the United States. We're going to continue our politics lead now and talk about the pope while he has none of the trappings of traditional power, political power that is, Pope Francis, of course, has massive influence and he's made his views known on subjects ranging from climate change and capitalism to the Iran deal and diplomatic relations with Cuba.

When the pope speaks to Congress this week, Republican members, some of them, hope he talks about his opposition to abortion and his opposition to same-sex marriage. And they hope he leaves his progressive views back at the Vatican.

One Republican is even boycotting the speech. The 2016 candidates in both parties -- well, they're not always in sync with the pontiff either.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux has filed this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump doesn't mince words, even when his target is the pope.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to have to scare the pope. They better hope that capitalism works because it's the only thing we have right now. And it's a great thing when it works properly.

MALVEAUX: Traditionally, Republicans have been politically in sync with the pope on most issues.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: To us Your Holiness, the Holy See and your pastor represent one of humanity's greatest moral and spiritual forces.

MALVEAUX: But this campaign season is anything but traditional. While Trump may be the most polar opposite to Pope Francis, his Republican rivals are also struggling to align themselves with the pontiff's agenda.

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard.

MALVEAUX: The pope most recently calling on Europe and the U.S. to take more refugees from Syria. While Trump agrees with that, others are lukewarm.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At some point, you can't just look at the symptoms. You've got to address the problem. And the problem is squarely with ISIS and it's with Assad.

MALVEAUX: The pope's critical role in restoring ties between the U.S. and Cuba has also alienated some candidates.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just think the pope is wrong. And so, the fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones.

MALVEAUX: Also at odds with the pope, his support for the U.S. proposed nuclear deal with Iran. Republican candidate Ted Cruz paired with Trump and Sarah Palin at a Capitol Hill rally to make the point.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you vote to send billions of dollars to jihadists who have pledged to murder Americans, then you bear direct responsibility for the murders carried out with the dollars you have given them.

[16:20:08You cannot wash your hands of that blood.

MALVEAUX: Nearly all of the Republican candidates also rejected the pope's call for a man to take responsibility for climate change and businesses to rein in fossil fuels.

DANIEL BURKE, CNN RELIGION EDITOR: There's a different set of priorities that he'd like politicians to talk about. And it's not just abortion and gay marriage anymore. It's immigration, it's climate change, it's all of those issues that the Catholic Church has been talking about but maybe they're on the bottom of the list. He's putting it to the top of the list.

MALVEAUX: But despite these differences, Republican presidential hopefuls both Catholic and non-Catholic recognize the power of the people's pope who has a 90 percent approval rating among American Catholics and 70 percent approval of Americans overall, forcing the GOP pack to do a delicate dance, showing respect for the pope's moral authority while dismissing his overall agenda.

As for the Democratic candidates, while they're happy to embrace the pope's emphasis on social justice and inclusion, they're radically at odds with the church's traditional stance against same-sex marriage, birth control and abortion. While the pope preaches what the church considers a culture of life, on Sunday, Hillary Clinton said she was opposed to the government limiting abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that, you know, again this gets back to whether you respect a woman's right to choose or not.

MALVEAUX: As Pope Francis makes his way to the U.S., the 2016 candidates are choosing what suits them to embrace.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The pope has played an extraordinary role in speaking out on issues of enormous consequence that impact every man, woman and child, not just in our country but on the planet.

MALVEAUX: Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And our thanks to Suzanne Malveaux.

Now, some breaking news from the campaign trail. Tonight, CNN has learned Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will end his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. That's according to a GOP strategist close to the campaign and a senior Republican adviser with knowledge of Walker's plans.

Let's get right to CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, the governor's campaign has scheduled a press conference in just a little while. Not a huge surprise although the fact that what happened this quickly after that CNN poll showing him with less than one-half of 1 percent after being at 5 percent earlier, that's pretty quick movement.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very quickly, especially given the fact that he was riding so high not that long ago.

TAPPER: Yes.

BASH: And the bottom line is that this is as we were just talking about in the beginning of the show, this is the year for the non- politician. And Scott Walker is a lifelong elected politician.

And it's not just that. He has had trouble really kind of gaining his ground in trying to prove that he is this outside guy but also a conservative with a conservative record and still kind of an aw-shucks Midwestern guy. In the end, it sort of ended up like a muddled kind of message.

But the fact he went from riding so high, Jake, to now literally an asterisk in our poll shows that, you know, we see it as a problem but clearly that campaign which is very big, they have a lot of staffers, a lot of overhead if you will, shows they don't have a path.

TAPPER: Right. Here's the thing, he was number one in the polls in neighboring Iowa. And then he started sinking I think he was ninth or tenth. "New York Times" reported that there were fundraiser of his that started saying on the record they were going to look around at other candidates. It was reported last week that he owed $100,000 to various vendors.

This campaign was in trouble. And he needed something big. He needed to make it clear to people that he was going to be legit.

BASH: Exactly.

TAPPER: And he hasn't had that opportunity yet.

BASH: He hasn't. This is a campaign also that focused on Iowa. It was Iowa or bust. And I think that the other story line here is that this is a Trump issue. That he was supposed to be doing so well there then came Donald Trump who took all of the oxygen not just from Walker but other candidates. But for someone like Walker who put all of his eggs in the Iowa basket to be Mr. Conservative, it was very hard to compete with somebody who got all the free air time.

TAPPER: And Walker was supposed to be the fighter. He was supposed to be the fighter and Donald Trump ended up taking that heavyweight championship.

BASH: Exactly. Exactly.

But again, I think it's important to underscore what I was kind of mentioning at the beginning which is he was supposed to be the fighter, but he was also supposed to be the guy who could show that he would fight and then would win the fights. But he had a lot of trouble explaining himself on conservative issues when his positions in the past didn't really mesh with what he was talking about on the campaign trail.

TAPPER: Dana Bash, thank you so much.

Coming up, the pope's Cuba tour included a private meeting with Fidel Castro at his home.

[16:25:00] Castro's wife and children apparently did not get the memo on appropriate attire. We'll explain, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The world lead now: the street barricades will go up as the red carpet

rolls out. In fewer than 24 hours, Pope Francis will make his first ever trip to the United States and his first stop, Washington, D.C. We're getting an early look on what to expect, huge crowds have lined the streets in Cuba as the pontiff crisscrosses that country.

Let's go to CNN's Patrick Oppmann, live in Dana where the pope started his trip.

Patrick, there's little down time in the pope's schedule.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jake. The pope has now traveled from one end of Cuba to the other. And his trip has more than exceeded expectations.