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Historic Blizzard; Michael Bloomberg for President?; Democratic Presidential Forum; Democrats Locked in Tight Race in Iowa; 25+ People Killed in Winter Storm. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 25, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Exactly one week from today, we begin picking a president.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A critical night in the 2016 race. It's the last time Democratic candidates will be able to make their national pitch before the Iowa caucus. Tonight, CNN's town hall, all of this as President Obama gets surprisingly frank about who should replace him.

Uncivil war, the GOP front-runners tearing each other to shreds with a week until Iowa decides. Will a different billionaire businessman, Mike Bloomberg, be there to try to pick up the pieces?

Plus, the big dig, a historic and deadly blizzard collapsing roofs, crippling the nation's capital, burying New York City. Some mayors may end up dodging snowballs in the aftermath.

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

With just seven days until the Iowa caucuses begin, we of course today begin with our politics lead. On the Democratic side, it could not be any closer, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders making their closing pitches to voters, while the winner of the last Democratic caucuses, President Obama, weighs in on his possible successor.

Senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me live from Iowa, where the Democrats will participate in a CNN town hall this evening.

Jeff, I'm not sure if you're in Dubuque, Des Moines, Davenport, Marshalltown, Mason City, Keokuk, Ames, Clear Lake, Iowa city, Sioux City, but you have been following the candidates across the state. Are you expecting fireworks this evening?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, impressive Iowa geography there.

But, look, we are at the point of a campaign where fireworks are a risky proposition. Hillary Clinton at this point is trying to win over Bernie Sanders supporters, not turn them off. So I do not think tonight at this town hall meeting there will be many fireworks, but there will be distinctions being drawn. The most precious commodity in Iowa right now is that undecided voter and all candidates are targeting them.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need more respect, more tolerance, know love, more kindness.

ZELENY: But that all may have to wait. The Democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is deadlocked. Today, in Iowa, Clinton presented herself as a realist, taking aim at Sanders' proposals, starting with free college tuition.

CLINTON: I don't think it's right to give me and my husband free college for our child. I think that, if you can afford to pay, you should pay.

ZELENY: Sanders is asking voters to join him in what he's calling a revolution, a political movement to bring real change.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nothing that I have described to you today is utopian, it is not pie in the sky. In fact, much of what I have talked to you about today exists today in other countries on Earth.

ZELENY: The candidates have been making their case for months, Clinton's voice showing a strain today.

CLINTON: You do talk a lot in this campaign.

ZELENY: One week from tonight, voters will finally start having their say. The outcome of the Iowa caucuses will set the tone for the rest of the 2016 campaign.

President Obama weighed into the race far more than ever before in an interview with Politico.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot.


OBAMA: And just letting loose.


OBAMA: I think Hillary came in with the both privilege and burden of being perceived as the front-runner.

ZELENY: Still staying neutral, but sounding favorable to Clinton. He said he understood Sanders' appeal, but pushed back to any comparisons to 2008.

OBAMA: You're always looking at the bright shiny object that people don't -- haven't seen before. That's a disadvantage to her.

ZELENY: Iowa is a test of organization. The real activity is taking place behind the scenes at campaign offices, with Clinton aides shipping out boxes to precincts and team Sanders trying to capture the late enthusiasm. The implications stretch far beyond Iowa.

ANN HOFFMAN, SANDERS SUPPORTER: I think it makes it a real horse race. And I think it will energize people all over the country who think, as I did in 2008, that Obama can't win, so let me go for somebody else.

ZELENY: Clinton supporters hope this campaign has a different ending.

SUE SORDEN, CLINTON SUPPORTER: It is very similar, but, this time, Hillary is going to come out on top. I'm confident of that. I love Bernie Sanders. I love a lot of things he says. But I think Hillary is the one that's going to win.


ZELENY: And, Jake, that is the interesting dynamic in this race. The voter Sue Sorden right there summed it up pretty well. She is a Hillary Clinton supporter. She was wearing a Hillary Clinton 2008 sweatshirt there.


She said she likes Bernie Sanders just fine, but Hillary Clinton is the one who is needed to get the job done. So, that is the Clinton campaign's argument in the final week here, Jake, but the Sanders campaign are asking their supporters to believe. So we will see if President Obama putting his thumb on the scale today influences any of the Sanders' supporters decisions -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny live in Des Moines, Iowa, thanks so much.

Let's turn to the Republican race now, which is also as tight as a tick. Ted Cruz says that Donald Trump represents New York values. But if you look at the campaign ads coming from both sides, you might conclude they both believe in the Chicago way, if you have seen "The Untouchables."

That means he pulls a knife, you pull a rhetorical gun. Trump put out this spot last week painting Cruz as pro-amnesty. Today, Cruz's orbit pulled out its gun. Watch this ad from a Cruz super PAC.


NARRATOR: Does this sound conservative?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am pro-choice in every respect. I am pro-choice in every respect. I am pro-choice in every respect.

NARRATOR: For partial-birth abortion, not a conservative.


TAPPER: CNN political reporter Sara Murray is Ankeny, Iowa.

Sara, you're trailing Senator Marco Rubio today, while Trump is in New Hampshire. He's getting ready to rally another big crowd in a few hours in the Granite State.

Has Trump's campaign responded to that ad, that pro-Cruz super PAC attack ad?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I think what we're seeing is Donald Trump responding to the tougher tenor of this campaign right now.

When he was speaking to Wolf Blitzer, he called Ted Cruz a nasty guy. But what I think is even more interesting than this latest battery of attacks is the fact that, like you said, the race is head to head, neck and neck in Iowa, and the guy leading by just a little bit, Donald Trump, is nowhere to be found in Iowa today.


MURRAY (voice-over): It's the final stretch in Iowa, and Republicans are scrambling to get ahead.

CRUZ: One hundred and seventy-seven hours, that's how long we have got until the Iowa caucus.

TRUMP: If you lose your wife, if you lose your husband, I don't care. Go caucus. OK?

MURRAY: With a week of campaigning until the caucuses, Trump leads the field, and the billionaire businessman is feeling confident.

TRUMP: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's, like, incredible.

MURRAY: So, confident he's campaigning in New Hampshire today and slamming the GOP establishment.

TRUMP: The establishment, the media, the special interests, the lobbyists, the donors, they're all against me.

MURRAY: While other candidates hunker down in the Hawkeye State. But this weekend, Trump took a shot at traditional campaigning. Instead of taking his jet back to Manhattan, he spent the night in a Holiday Inn and attended a local church.

TRUMP: We talked about humility at church today. I don't know if that was aimed at me. Perhaps.

MURRAY: All as Ted Cruz tries to knock Trump down a notch, today getting a boost, an endorsement from former Texas Governor Rick Perry.

RICK PERRY (R), FORMER TEXAS GOVERNOR: Ted is the leader that we need to reignite the promise of America. That's why I'm supporting Ted Cruz.

MURRAY: And needling Trump for botching a biblical reference when he referred to the New Testament book 2nd Corinthians as 2 Corinthians.

CRUZ: Well, you know, two Corinthians walk into a bar. MURRAY: And Cruz isn't the only one having fun at Trump's expense, as

"Saturday Night Live" unveiled a skit with Trump and his latest campaign surrogate, Sarah Palin.

TINA FEY, ACTRESS: Thank you, Iowa. Oh, I wanted to take a break from my full-time career of writing things on Facebook to fly down here and lend my support to the next president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hey, America, isn't she great? Just the total package. Smart, legs, yelling, everything. I haven't seen a woman this impressive since Jeb Bush.


MURRAY: Meanwhile, Marco Rubio picked up his own high-profile endorsement from the "Des Moines Register" editorial board, and hit the trail with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have always felt real good about our work here. I have. And every week -- every day that goes boy, obviously, we are very encouraged by the support that we are building. We will see what it translates to a week from tonight, but we feel very positive about it.


MURRAY: Now, Marco Rubio is hoping this last sprint through Iowa, as well as appearances with local leaders, could help him surprise here on caucus night.

He will also be campaigning with Chuck Grassley on Saturday. And that won't be Grassley's only appearance. On Friday, he will be hitting the trail with John Kasich, so all of the politicians out in full force on the stump in Iowa -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

It has been a wild and wacky campaign, 2016 so unpredictable, and now there could be yet another chaos agent added to this already volatile mix. Former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg reportedly concerning a presidential bid, alarmed at the prospects of the Democratic and Republican nominees being, in his view, far too extreme, especially if they are Bernie Sanders on the left and Ted Cruz or Donald Trump on the right, in his view.


CNN's Phil Mattingly is in New York.

Phil, Bloomberg's first opponent is time. He is going to have to make a decision before the Democratic and Republicans have likely chosen their nominees.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. The reality here is Michael Bloomberg's window to make this decision is small.

He has a limited amount of time, according to his advisers, as they see the map right now, to get onto the ballot in all 50 states. Right now, they're pegging it as an early March decision. What will we be through by then in the Democratic primary? Just about through Super Tuesday, same with the Republican primary.

So, Jake, the idea of what's going to actually tip the scales and send him into the race remains somewhat ambiguous amongst his team right now. it's something that causes a lot of concern, but it also opens a lot of doors going forward onto what will actually make Mike Bloomberg decide whether or not he's going to get in, Jake?

TAPPER: Of course, what separates Mike Bloomberg from other third- party candidates is he's a billionaire. How much could this cost and how much is he willing to spend?

MATTINGLY: Well, a nice round number that people on his team are tossing around is $1 billion. But the reality is this, Jake. As I talk to people who are around him in his orbit, if he decides to go, there will not be a cap on what he has to spend.

One billion tracks pretty closely to what we saw in 2012 with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in terms of cost. But Mike Bloomberg will not enter this race without the intention to win, so anything is on the table, $1 billion just the starter number here, Jake.

TAPPER: Just a starter, $1 billion.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

President Obama coming the closest he has come yet to endorsing a candidate in the Democratic race, so what does team Bernie think of his comments so far? That's next, as our politics lead continues. Stay with us.


[16:15:58] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More on our politics lead today: Bernie Sanders has gone from being the longest of shots of a candidate to running neck in neck with Hillary Clinton in Iowa, if not ahead of her.

Tad Devine, senior media advisor to Bernie Sanders, joins me now.

Thanks for being here.


TAPPER: I want to get your reaction in an interview with "Politico's" Glenn Thrush, President Obama was asked if Senator Sanders focuses too much on one issue, that issue being income inequality. Take a listen to President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will say that the longer you go in the process, the more you're going to have to pass a series of hurdles that the voters are going to put in front of you. Because the one thing everybody understands is that this job right here, you don't have the luxury of just focusing on one thing.


TAPPER: That kind of dovetails with a message we're hearing from the Clinton campaign, which is this is a broad job, you need to be focused on more than one thing, the ability to do more than one thing.

Did you take that as a criticism, and does Sanders need to broaden his message?

DEVINE: I didn't take it as a criticism as all. I think the president is absolutely right. If you want to be president of the United States, you need to handle many, many, many responsibilities. Bernie understands that and he's prepared to do so as president.

TAPPER: The president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, Dan Gross, and that group has endorsed Hillary Clinton, today accused Senator Sanders of misleading voters when he says he stood up to the gun lobby. He said, quote, "Sanders continues to present himself as a crusader against special interests but then failed to stand up to the corporate gun lobby, the most evil and harmful special interest in our nation today."

Your response.

DEVINE: I disagree. Bernie Sanders has -- he lost his first race for the House in 1988 because he stood up and said, hey, listen, if you send me to Congress, I'm going to vote to ban assault weapons. He supported background checks since the early '90s. He wants to close the gun show loophole. He supports the president's actions. He said recently he would support legislation, which has been drafted, as long as there's some accommodation for small gun shops in some areas.

So, he earned his lifetime D-minus rating and I think it's a fair representation for him to say so.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question, he was put in an awkward position after it was announced that the LBGT rights organization and Planned Parenthood endorsed Hillary Clinton. He referred to them as they're part of the establishment.

Now, Bernie Sanders has been in office since 1981, almost continuously. "Rolling Stone" magazine 10 years ago said he had more amendments passed in the previous decade than any other lawmaker.

DEVINE: That's correct.

TAPPER: That's a compliment, by the way. But, I don't mean this as an insult, but how is he not part of the establishment? DEVINE: Well, listen, you know, I think he's not part of the

establishment because he wants to change a rigged economy in America that's held in place by a corrupt system of campaign finance. You know, the establishment is what's holding that rigged economy in place. The establishment is what satisfied with the campaign finance system and is participating in it.

Bernie has refused to participate in a rigged economic system. He's been against it and he's refused to participate in a corrupt system of campaign finance. So, I think he's not part of the establishment because he's running so vigorously against it.

TAPPER: "The Des Moines Register' endorsed Hillary Clinton over the weekend partly because they don't see how Sanders as being able to realistically answer how he can transform Washington and really put his ideas into practice.

If President Obama couldn't transform Washington, how is Bernie Sanders going to?

DEVINE: Well, first, you know, Bernie Sanders will have the luxury of being president without this country losing 800,000 jobs a month which was what was happening the day that President Obama came into office. You know, we were facing perhaps a second great depression. He had two very hot wars going on.

President Obama has done a great job but Bernie Sanders will be much better positioned to make the kind of changes he's talking about just because he's going to inherit a much better situation than the president.

TAPPER: All right. Tad Devine, we'll see you on the campaign trail. Only one more week. Thanks so much for joining us.

DEVINE: Thank you.

TAPPER: Don't forget, tonight, an event you'll see only on CNN, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley go face to face with voters in Iowa for a special town hall. CNN's Chris Cuomo will moderate this unique opportunity for Iowans to ask questions of the three Democrats, exactly one week before the first votes are casts.

[16:20:08] It all starts tonight at 9:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

Coming up, they cut through steel bars and they used bed sheets to descend five stories. Three dangerous inmates on the run after a jail break. New details about their plot, ahead.

But first, buried by the blizzard. Our own Jennifer Gray is live from atop a mountain of snow in Washington, D.C. -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Jake, when you have almost 18 inches of snow in the District of Columbia, where does it all go? Well, it's being brought here. We'll talk about all of it coming up after the break.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The national league now, a big dig-out happening after a devastating and in some cases deadly blizzard -- from crashes on icy roads to medical emergencies shoveling snow. More than 25 lives have been lost in this winter storm as far south as Georgia.

[16:25:05] That's where strong winds knocked a tree onto a mail truck killing a postal worker, 36 years old De Carlo Alan (ph).

Three days after the first flakes the federal government is still not operational. Schools are shut down. Airlines are running limited flights if any and huge mountains of snow block streets and sidewalks. Some pedestrians are risking their very lives walking on icy streets as cars try to pass by. CNN has teams positioned up and down the East Coast to show the condition

We're going to start with CNN meteorologists Jennifer Gray. She's here in D.C.

Jennifer, the forecast now calling for rain and more snow. That sounds like it could make the situation even worse.

GRAY: Yes, it actually could, especially once that rain falls and gets that snow hard and compacted. It will be hard for crews.

But believe it or not, they're actually loading up the snow in dump trucks and carrying it here, RFK Stadium parking lot. It's where the Redskins used to placement there is this huge mound of snow. And thinking behind that is, it's easier to take the snow out of the city versus moving it around the city.

And so, there has been a line of dump trucks one after another. Let's talk about those totals because Reagan came in at the fourth snowiest snowfall on record. New York City, though, one-tenth of an inch away from tying that record, if you can believe it or not. We had almost 18 inches of snow here in Washington, D.C., and then areas just outside of D.C., Dulles Airport, had almost twice that.

So, regardless of where you were and how much snow fell where you are, it's going to be a while before we can all dig out.


GRAY (voice-over): Millions of people are digging, plowing, and bulldozing their way out from under the blizzard that blasted the East Coast over the weekend. The deadly winter storm caused roofs to collapse and was responsible for accidents like this one between a snow plow and a train in Connecticut.

More than two dozen people were killed, including a mother and baby who died in their car from carbon monoxide poisoning. It's paralyzed some places that were in its path, most notably Washington, D.C.

CHRIS GELDART, DIR., D.C. HOMELAND SECURITY & EMERGENCY MGMT. AGENCY: This was a historic storm. We're dealing with removing a lot of snow. It's not just plowing it off to the sides as you may be able to do in a suburban area.

GRAY: The nation's capital is closed for business on Monday. The federal government told employees not to come to work and Washington, D.C., closed public schools. Even the metro remained partially closed for the morning commute.

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: The roads are still dangerous. We are still in a snow emergency in Washington, D.C.

GRAY: The district's slow cleanup is being compared to New York City, where schools are open despite the storm dumping more than 26 inches of snow in Central Park, the second largest snowfall in the city's history.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: I know other cities struggled and a lot of them are not blessed with the kind of public employees, the number and the quality and the highly trained public employees that we have.

GRAY: Still, New York is not without trouble. The school bus stuck in the borough of queens, a signal that pockets outside Manhattan are still being dug out.

And it wasn't all snow. Flooding in New Jersey hit residents that are still recovering from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Despite the mess, some managed to have fun with the record-breaking blizzard. In Philadelphia, residents were sledding down the famous rocky steps. And in Washington, hundreds suited up for a snowball fight. This group even built a snow bar, complete with champagne.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in D.C. for snowmageddon but didn't enjoy it in the same way that I'm enjoying it right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think this is a fantastic way to celebrate a snowstorm.


GRAY: All right, take a look at this graphic. Look at Dulles, look at Baltimore, almost 30 inches of snow. Now look at Reagan, D.C., only 17.8. Believe it or not, there's actually a little bit of a controversy surrounding the snowfall measurements taken at the airport and somehow either the snow measuring board got blown away or they couldn't find it underneath all the snow they were measuring. So, there is an investigation going on to determine what exactly happened at Reagan during the storm.

It may sound funny, Jake, but believe it or not it's actually very serious because you want to have that total correct because that's going to go down in history. Not only that, it does have a domino effect when you're talking about funding coming in to help with recovery and things like that. But they're actually looking into it to see what happened with that snowfall total at Reagan, Jake. TAPPER: Leave it to Washington, D.C., to have a controversy and a

cover-up when it comes to snowfall totals.

Jennifer Gray, thanks so much.

Travel issues continue to be a major problem after this massive storm. Thousands stranded as flights across the country are cancelled. And this pain, it's far from over. That story next.