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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Iowa Battle; Toxic Tap Water; Cruz vs. Trump; Clinton, Sanders Battle For Voters in Iowa; Class Action Lawsuits Being Filed Over Tainted Water. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 19, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:12]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Some folks think they have an idea who Donald Trump's mystery endorser might be this evening. You betcha.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Just hours after getting an endorsement from the family of John Wayne, Donald Trump is planning a major announcement with a special guest. Could that person have Alaska on her luggage tags?

It's being compared to Hurricane Katrina. Only, it's the drinking water,not the rising water. Lawsuits now piling up over the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, with many children hit the hardest.

Tarnished Oscar. One of the biggest stars on Earth now siding with those boycotting the Academy Awards over a list of nominees whiter than a Kenny G concert.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with our politics lead, 13 days until Iowa and Donald Trump is looking to seal the deal. He's teasing a big endorsement, saying he will announce the new supporter this evening. Many are speculating that the surprise endorsement could be 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who told me, in December, that she was torn between Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I'm not going to pick one right now. But what a nice problem to have, if it came down to Cruz and Trump. That's a good problem for voters to have, because we know that, as you say, they are both strong and very decisive and someone who would take the initiative. That is what we need today, and both those candidates fit that bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And more bad news for Cruz. The Republican governor of Iowa said today that he wants Cruz to be defeated in his state's caucuses.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray is in Iowa covering the race.

Sara, not a great day for Ted Cruz.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Jake. And it is sort of incredible to see Terry Branstad out here saying this kind of thing.

He usually likes to stay above the fray, even if he has his personal favorites. It is pretty rare for him to come out and completely say, Iowans, you shouldn't vote for someone, all of this coming as, as you pointed out, Donald Trump is teasing this big endorsement tonight, and the two of these guys are just neck and neck here in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you talk about temperament, Ted Cruz's got a rough temperament.

MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump and Ted Cruz tangling over who has disposition to be commander in chief.

TRUMP: Ted is worried about his temperament, and people are talking about his temperament. I haven't talked about his temperament, but he's got to be careful, because his temperament is -- has been questioned a lot.

MURRAY: Cruz is arguing Americans aren't ready for a President Trump and his frequent Twitter wars.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They don't want to wake up every day wondering if the latest polls might set off the commander in chief into a frenzy of tweets.

MURRAY: The two leaders in Iowa escalating their attacks just weeks before the caucuses.

CRUZ: This race nationally is coming more and more down to a two-man race between me and Donald Trump.

MURRAY: And now Cruz is unleashing a new tactic, preemptive strikes against Trump.

CRUZ: Mr. Trump enthusiastically supported President Obama's stimulus plan and said the only problem was it should have been bigger. I don't think we should have a massive payoff to lobbyists from taxpayers.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, in Iowa, Trump's trying to win over evangelical voters, saying he'd be better for them than Cruz.

TRUMP: I will be much stronger in protecting the evangelicals. I will be much stronger, much, much stronger in protecting our country. And I think I will be a much better person for evangelicals, but also for everybody else.

MURRAY: And insisting his strong poll numbers and latest debate performance even have the GOP establishment warming up to him.

TRUMP: They're contacting us left and right about joining the campaign.

MURRAY: All while receiving an endorsement from the daughter of Iowa- born icon John Wayne.

JOHN WAYNE, ACTOR: And somebody ought to belt you in the mouth, but I won't.

TRUMP: John Wayne represented strength. He represented power.

MURRAY: Part of what seems to be a new strategy for Trump, endorsements. Trump announced Monday he will be rolling out several in the coming days ahead, with a big surprise scheduled for later today.

Cruz has his own big backers in the Hawkeye State, like Congressman Steve King, but one Iowan who won't line up behind him, longtime Governor Terry Branstad, today, Branstad saying he wants to see Cruz defeated.

GOV. TERRY BRANSTAD (R), IOWA: He hasn't supported renewable fuels and I believe it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:05:02]

MURRAY: Now, as for this big announcement tonight, there's still no confirmation as if to it will definitely be Sarah Palin. But Trump did field plenty of questions about it earlier. He said he's a big fan of Palin and he thinks people will be very excited to see who joins him at his rally in just a couple hours -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Joining me now, Republican start Katie Packer, Ben LaBolt, former press secretary for Barack Obama's 2012 campaign, and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash in New Hampshire.

Dana, how surprised were you to hear Iowa's governor, Terry Branstad, tell CNN and announce that he wants to see Ted Cruz defeated in the caucuses? It was rather uncharacteristic for him.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's right. I wasn't surprised to hear that that's how he feels. He is somebody who is a traditional Iowan.

And most Iowans, particularly in the sort of rural parts of the state -- I was there with Ted Cruz -- it is a big issue that doesn't support continuing subsidies for ethanol. In fact, Terry Branstad's son Eric had been following Ted Cruz around in an R.V. to try to convince voters that Ted Cruz is wrong on that issue. So I wasn't surprised that he felt that way.

I absolutely was surprised that Terry Branstad said this publicly, for all the reasons Sara Murray just reported on. He's an iconic figure at this point in the Republican Party in Iowa. He's obviously a very longtime, long-serving governor, but had traditionally stayed out of it. And it just kind of signals to Iowans and to Republicans, really close to the caucuses, that maybe they should think twice before they go and caucus for Cruz.

TAPPER: Ben, you were with Obama when he won Iowa in 2008. So much of this is about timing, and there are Republicans out there who think that maybe Ted Cruz -- and, look, he could still go on and win the Iowa caucuses -- but some people think maybe he peaked a little too early.

BEN LABOLT, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's potentially true.

Look, I worked for Howard Dean as well. And some of these endorsements remind me of when Al Gore and others endorsed Dean about a month out from the caucuses, but then Dean ended up collapsing at the end. Cruz has been out front, has become a target, and it looks like Trump may have a late surge of momentum here.

TAPPER: Katie, the big question, if this is Sarah Palin, the endorsement coming this evening, we do not know yet know that for sure, but if it is, Sarah Palin, in a lot of ways, paved the way for Donald Trump and Trumpism.

Do you think her endorsement would actually win over new voters or are Palin's fans already with Trump? You know what I mean?

KATIE PACKER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, I think it's really likely that the voters that are Palin-type voters are already with Donald Trump and it's not going to mean a lot of momentum.

I do think a one-two today, like Palin and Branstad, is not a good day for Ted Cruz. But, you know, two weeks doesn't seem like a lot of time, but a lot can happen in the next two weeks.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

Dana, you just interviewed Ohio Governor John Kasich and his family. There are some signs in New Hampshire, where you are, Kasich is rising?

BASH: There are. He's gotten some pretty big newspaper endorsements over the past couple of days. And although all of the talk, of course, is what we have been talking about, Cruz and Trump, he is quietly still going from town hall to town hall.

I asked him about that and about the fact that with all of this anger and frustration at Washington, how and why he's staying so positive. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am really, really positive. Up until now, the celebrity candidates have been the story. I'm not a celebrity candidate. You know, I also said, if I get smoked here, I'm not going to carry on a fairy tale. QUESTION: What does smoked mean?

KASICH: It means just like I get beaten badly.

BASH: Like third?

KASICH: Well, I don't -- we will know on the 10th of February. But that's not going to happen.

I just -- unless everything that I know about politics, which is the most important thing, the ground game, unless everything is repealed, we're going to do extremely well here and I'm going to come out of here, and contrary to what some people think, we have got activity in many states now and very optimistic about the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And that was also an answer, Jake, to a question about the fact that he is saying that the day after New Hampshire, he needs to be the story in order to keep going -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, Katie Packer, Ben LaBolt, stick around

Keeping with our politics lead, the Supreme Court taking up one of the most controversial issues of the Obama administration just in time for the election. How is it all going to play out on the campaign trail? Stay with us. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:40]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Continuing with our politics lead today, Hillary Clinton and her campaign now acknowledging that securing the Democratic presidential nomination could be a very long and very expensive process.

Today, Clinton was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's leading LGBT rights organization, while her main competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders, is on the ground in Iowa making a series of stops in town hall-style meetings.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is traveling with Senator Sanders' campaign. He joins me live from a winery in Carroll, Iowa.

Jeff, Clinton is really pushing this electability argument hard. But Sanders has a response.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he sure does. And almost taking a page out of Donald Trump's playbook, Bernie Sanders has started every one of his events today reading poll numbers, saying that he's actually ahead of Hillary Clinton in a head- to-head matchup with Donald Trump.

He's trying to convince these Iowa voters of one thing, that he can win.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): When Hillary Clinton talks about her experience...

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a complicated job waiting for the next president that we have to make sure we get right.

ZELENY: ... Bernie Sanders responds with an electability pitch of his own, enthusiasm.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is our campaign that is generating the excitement, generating the interest, bringing young people in.

[16:15:02] ZELENY (voice-over): That's the deadlocked Democratic race in a nutshell: experience versus enthusiasm.

Sanders rolled across Iowa today trying to build momentum for a political revolution. And every stop, he was sure to remind voters he can win.

SANDERS: So, anyone who tells you, well, and I've read this, I like Bernie's ideas, seems like a nice guying he can't win. That really is not true.

ZELENY (on camera): You feel you have to spell that out clearly for voters, that you can win?

SANDERS: Yes. What we have to explain is that poll after poll has me further ahead of Donald Trump and other Republicans than Secretary Clinton, that in fact, for us to win and retain the White House and regain the Senate, we need a large voter turnout.

ZELENY (voice-over): He's trying to puncture Clinton's air of inevitability.

SANDERS: Today, the inevitable candidate does not look quite so inevitable as she did 8 1/2 months ago.

(CHEERS)

ZELENY: Monday in Iowa, Clinton urged Democrats to follow their heads, not their hearts and to remember how difficult the presidency is.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to overpromise, I don't want to come out with theories and concepts that may or may not be possible.

ZELENY: Sanders says his ideas for universal health care and more can be reached if voters rise up.

(on camera): Are you overpromising some things you can't deliver? SANDERS: No, I'm not overpromising. Virtually, every proposal that

we have brought forth has the support of the vast majority of the American people.

ZELENY (voice-over): But Clinton is increasingly preparing for a long primary fight, even into the summer, as she told CNN's Alisyn Camerota last week.

CLINTON: Remember, I campaigned all the way into June last time.

ZELENY: But it all starts in Iowa where she's asking voters to scrutinize sanders.

Frank Nekola says Sanders' plans are too good to be true.

FRANK NEKOLA, IOWA VOTER: Bernie promises too much stuff to the young people, everything free and all.

ZELENY: But Lori Arnold believes in Sanders' ideas.

LORI ARNOLD, IOWA VOTER: I don't think every politician can deliver on everything they say, but I think he comes pretty darn close.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: But it's, of course, the undecided voters in the middle who will help decide this race. And, Jake, I can tell you, there are a lot of them. Talking to voters at Bernie Sanders' rallies, there are people who like what he has to say, but they're still not totally sold.

It's slightly different in Clinton rallies. Her supporters are more locked in. The question here over the next 13 days is, can Bernie Sanders do a mini-version of what Barack Obama did here in 2008, and draw in some of those voters who aren't regular Democrats, if you will, to participate in the Iowa process here, the Iowa caucuses that kick off this race to the White House -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Also in politics today, the Supreme Court setting itself up for an election year battle. Today, the high court agreed to review legality of whether President Obama's executive actions shielding more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Those immigration actions would also allow millions of undocumented immigrants to get legal authorization to work and to receive benefits.

Now, since President Obama unveiled that program more than two dozen states have been vigorously challenging it in court. So, now, the U.S. Supreme Court will step in and settle the matter once and for all, and the ruling can come down in the middle of the presidential campaign.

Let's get back to our political panel here with me.

And, Katie, I have to say, there was a Democratic congressman on CNN earlier today, Hispanic-American, he couldn't have been happier about the fact the support is going to bring this front and center in an election year when the Latino vote is so important.

KATIE PACKER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, it is very important and without a doubt, if our campaign, the Romney campaign in 2012, had done better with Latino voters we would have won the White House. You know, I think Republicans are whistling past the graveyard if they think the way they treat this important segment of the voting public has no ramifications, I think they're just fooling themselves.

TAPPER: Let's turn back, if we can, to the Democratic race, Ben, because I have to say, we are sitting there watching Jeff's piece. And you have Bernie Sanders speaking, you know, very emphatically about the revolution he wants to bring and universal health care, et cetera, and then Secretary Clinton making arguments very similar to what she said in 2008 about let's get real, compromise is necessary, there are certain political realities.

Do you worry at all that -- I don't know if you worry at all or not -- but I mean, is that going to end up with the same result for her, losing Iowa?

BEN LABOLT, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, OBAMA 2012 CAMPAIGN: You know, I think it's more effective argument against Bernie Sanders because President Obama was somebody who ran on a message of taking on longstanding challenges that the country had faced and finally tackling those problems. And Bernie Sanders is a purist who's been shouting from one aisle in Congress across the other aisle. So, I think it could have a bigger impact.

It also looks like Sanders has gotten a little bit off-message. Anytime you get a candidate reading poll numbers from the stump, it becomes a little bit of echo chamber campaign instead of reaching people.

[16:20:05] But look, they've got an even chance of winning the state of Iowa right now.

TAPPER: And, Katie, let me ask you, before I go to Dana, the electability argument, do you buy it? Do you think Bernie Sanders is a tougher Democratic opponent than Hillary Clinton?

PACKER: No, I think that a candidate that's willing to shift to the middle as much as Hillary Clinton has proven she's willing to probably is tougher in a general election. And I think that many primary voters are receptive to that. I think that was an argument that Governor Romney used effectively in primaries last time around.

But the bigger concern is I think that Hillary's just stale. I think this is a message she touted over and over again in 2008. It wasn't particularly effective and I just think it's sort of stale, and people are looking for something new and they don't seem to be all into Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: Dana, let's go to you now. Hillary Clinton has said that the governor of Michigan, Republican, acted like he didn't care about the Flint water crisis. We're going to have more on that crisis later in the show. But Governor Snyder accused Clinton of politicizing the crisis. Do either of them have a point?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think they both have a point. Of course, everything right now is political. But at the same time, when you're governor of a state and you have that kind of crisis that is going on where children are sick, other people are sick, and you know, goodness knows what diseases they could have down the road because of this lead in the water -- excuse me, the cold wind -- then, yes, the governor of the state has culpability, no question.

I actually asked John Kasich about it a short while ago, because he too is chief executive of a state. He said that he does not think that Rick Snyder should resign. Of course, Kasich is a fellow Republican governor. So, that's not surprising.

But, of course, everything right now becomes political, for better or for worse. And sometimes, you know, when things do rise to the political level when they're as important as this, it could have benefits because it could mean that they're in the spotlight and people there could get help faster.

TAPPER: Ben, before you go, I have to ask you, Jim Clyburn, the dean of the Democratic congressional delegation in South Carolina, he says that if Hillary Clinton loses Iowa and loses New Hampshire, she might be in trouble in South Carolina, even though the Clinton campaign is trying to reassure people she has a fire wall because she has such strong support among minorities and in the south. Is he right?

LABOLT: Look, in 2008 we always emphasized the national polls don't mean much before the early states. And Iowa's an early state and South Carolina is an early state. So, I expect some tightening in South Carolina.

That being said, Bernie Sanders has not proven that he's able to reach a diverse coalition at this point. He has the support of some young people in the Obama coalition, but he hasn't shown a ton of support among African-Americans or Latinos yet, and that may be a little bit of a fire wall for Clinton.

TAPPER: Yes. It's something like he's I think 18 percent among South Carolina African-Americans, Clinton with all of the rest. It's not very comprehensive.

Ben LaBolt, Katie Packer, Dana Bash, thank you all.

He says it's his Katrina, but the governor of Michigan says he will not resign over the dangerous water in Flint. This, while the city continues to bill residents for that very same poisoned water. Really?

Plus --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are all going to die. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:51] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In our national lead today, President Obama will sit down with the mayor of Flint, Michigan, to talk about the environmental disaster in her city. For nearly two years, residents have been subjected to drinking water with elevated levels of lead. Complaints to authorities fell on deaf ears.

In addition to the presidential meeting today, two class action lawsuits are being filed today, blaming high-level government official for the toxic water. On the list of people being sued: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, who acknowledged that the Flint water crisis is his hurricane Katrina. Snyder is expected to talk more about the toxic water during his State of the State Address this evening.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent, Sara Ganim. She's in Lansing, Michigan.

Sara, what kind of personal injuries and physical damages are being cited in these lawsuits?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This lawsuit talks about hair loss, Jake, skin lesions, neurological, and psychological changes in these people that they believe is from drinking water that was tainted with lead and other heavy metals because of this water crisis here.

They also are seeking damages for things mitigating -- ways they can mitigate these things that happened to them. You know, lead poisoning is not reversible. It not something you can cure. But there are ways to work toward mitigating it, like proper nutrition, and early childhood education.

Well, we're talking about Flint here, Jake, a town with 40 percent poverty, they don't have a grocery store. They don't have the money to give people to mitigate this problem. And that's what they're looking for tonight in this State of the State address that the governor's going to give. They're looking for answers and also for money that they're expecting him to devote resources to the town of Flint to help them get through this.

Now, you mentioned that he said yesterday, in an interview with "The National Journal", that this was his Katrina. That's how residents in Flint feel, too, they feel like they were let down, they feel like the response was poor.

Someone who you will not see here tonight at State of the State address is the mayor of Flint because she's meeting today with President Obama. He is actually appointing a team from the Department of Health and Human Services to come here to Flint tomorrow to deal with the coordinating the response here, Jake.