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RNC Reacts to Trump Skipping Debate; Voters React to Trump Skipping Debate; Sanders Visits Obama at White House; Heidi Cruz Talks Husband Ted Cruz. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 27, 2016 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Just a primetime debate, and I'm just trying to get a sense is that OK with the RNC?

SEAN SPICER, SPOKESMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I'm going to punt that one and leave that up to ABC to announce the criteria for that. I think the answer to that will be settled shortly.

BLITZER: All right. What should we expect tomorrow night without Donald Trump on the stage? What do you think? It's going to be less lively, more lively, more attacks against Ted Cruz, who could be the front run other that stage tomorrow night. Give us your analysis?

SPICER: I think that what we have seen in each of these debates is very robust and lively discussion on the issues of the candidates putting forward. I think you're going to see the same thing tomorrow night. You know, when we had the last debate where we had a smaller main stage debate, I think you had a bunch more substantive discussions. I think you'll see another one tomorrow night.

BLITZER: One final question, Sean. Trump says during the time of that primetime debate on FOX tomorrow night, he is going to have an alternative event, shall we say, raising money for Wounded Warriors out in Iowa, a telethon, all that kind of stuff. Is that OK with you?

SPICER: I mean, it doesn't really matter, I guess, is the answer. I mean, as far as we would obviously as I said at the top I love to have Mr. Trump be part of this debate. He has the right to not attend or to attend based on what he believes is in his campaign's best interest. I do think -- I applaud the goal that he is trying to serve and help the veterans. Obviously, I love it at an alternative time because we have a great schedule. The RNC has gone to great lengths to make sure this debate process is in the best interest of the candidates. Obviously, my -- you know, the RNC's position is we love everyone at that debate. We love everyone focused on that debate, but, you know, it's a good cause.

BLITZER: Sean Spicer is with the RNC.

Sean, thanks very much. Good luck at the debate tomorrow night.

SPICER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, just a few days before the Iowa voters picked their candidates in the caucuses, how are they reacting to the news that Donald Trump is skipping the last debate before the caucuses? We're going back to Iowa right after a quick break.


[13:36:13] BLITZER: Donald Trump once again rewriting the political playbook after the Republican presidential debate, the last one scheduled before the very important Iowa caucuses. The question now, what will be voters, people in Iowa, the Republican caucus goers, think about all of this?

Joining us now is Kathie Obradovich, columnist for the "Des Moines Register," a newspaper in Iowa.

Kathie, thanks very much for joining us.

What has been the reaction out there among Republican caucus goers?

KATHIE OBRADOVICH, COLUMNIST, DES MOINES REGISTER: Well, I think people are that Donald Trump is passing up on a last opportunity to talk to a really big audience here before the Iowa caucuses. Of course, there has been a really, I think, tight battle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and it's gotten to be a nasty battle as well, and you know what they say, be there or be talked about. Trump is also missing an opportunity to answer become to the attacks that probably will come from the other candidates on that debate stage.

BLITZER: He says what he wants to do, instead is having a different event at the same time in Iowa to raise money for Wounded Warriors. How is that going to play?

OBRADOVICH: Well, you know, I think that I said this for a long time, that the only thing that really hurts Donald Trump in the polls is if everybody turns off their camera and ignores him, right? That's not going to happen. He is still going to get a place in the spotlight. He is going to be out front and center and, of course, doing something for charity as opposed to being part of the political fisticuffs on this debate. I honestly don't think that missing this debate is going to actually hurt Donald Trump. I do think it's unfortunate for the voters.

BLITZER: Ted Cruz, as you know, has challenged Trump to a one-on-one debate. Just the two of them for 90 minutes with or without a moderator. How will that play? We just heard the RNC, the Republican National Committee spokesman, Sean Spicer, say that would not be authorized for the RNC and should not take place.

OBRADOVICH: Yeah. I don't think that's the only reason it won't happen. You know, I think that Trump right now has a lead. There's not really any Benefit to him to give Ted Cruz an opportunity being one-on-one with Donald Trump on stage, and I also think that Ted Cruz is an excellent debater, and Donald Trump has his own style as well. I just don't think that Trump has any up side to letting something like that happen.

BLITZER: So basically, what's your assessment right now? A two-man race in the Iowa caucuses? Either Trump is ahead or Cruz is ahead. The last polls we've seen, Trump a little bit more ahead. What's your assessment? You've been covering this story now for a long time.

OBRADOVICH: It sure looks like a two-man race, Wolf, also I have to say I am waiting for the "Des Moines Register's" Iowa poll, the gold standard, to come out this weekend and we'll see what our pollster has to say about that. You know, for the last month or so it really has looked like a two-man race, and a fight for third place as well between Ben Carson and Marco Rubio. We always talk about there being three tickets out of Iowa, and on the Republican side, you know, we sort of know pretty much where those tickets might be going. We just don't know what order.

BLITZER: Yeah. Dr. Ben Carson told us at the top of the hour he is going to surprise a lot of people in Iowa. He said, "I am predicting it right here on your show." We'll see it that happens. If he comes in third, obviously, he moves forward to New Hampshire a week later.

All right, Kathie, thanks very much for joining us.

OBRADOVICH: Thanks, Wolf.

[13:39:49]BLITZER: Up next, Bernie Sanders in the White House today, visiting the president of the United States in the Oval Office. There is was, walking into the West Wing of the White House. What did they talk about? Is he ready to be more aggressive in his battle against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination? We'll speak to his campaign when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's turn to the Democrats fighting for the presidential nomination. President Obama just wrapped up an Oval Office meeting with Bernie Sanders just two days after the president offered some high praise for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Our CNN poll of polls, by the way, shows a statistical dead heat between Clinton and Sanders just five days out of the Iowa caucuses. You see the numbers right there.

Joining us now from Des Moines, Iowa, Symone Sanders, the press secretary for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Symone, thanks very much for joining us.

The president says he is not endorsing any of these Democratic candidates until the primary process is over with. Just a little while ago, following his meeting in the Oval Office with Senator Sanders, Senator Sanders emerged in the driveway there outside the West Wing and said this. Listen to this.


[13:45:] SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the president has tried to do to, Vice President Biden has tried to do is be as even-handed as they can be. I know there was some discussion the other day about a political interview where he was tipping the scale for Secretary Clinton. I don't believe that at all. I think he and the vice president have tried to be fair and even- handed in the process. And I expect they will continue to be.


BLITZER: He says he didn't ask the president for his endorsement.

We also just heard, Symone, from the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest following the president's meeting with the Senator. Listen to this.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's good for the Democratic Party for there to be such a robust debate going on about who should be our party's nominee. That debate is good for our democracy, and it's also good for the party. And in the context of that debate, Senator Sanders has had great success in engaging and even inspiring a large segment of the Democratic Party.


BLITZER: I am told this is only the second, only the second time that president over these seven years that he's been president has met privately with Senator Sanders. Is that right?

SYMONE SANDERS, NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, BERNIE SANDERS PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, Wolf, thanks for having me today. And the Senator and President Obama have had a number of opportunities chat. They've spoken at White House get-togethers and whatnot. So, yea, this was the second time he's been in the Oval Office -- he was in the Oval office today, but they have spoken on a number of other occasions.

I think it's important to know just as the Senator said when he left the White House that the president and the vice president have been very even-handed in this and we're just -- we're happy about the way things are going.

BLITZER: What's the biggest difference from a Democratic perspective, Democratic caucus goers, the biggest difference from your perspective, Symone, between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?

SANDERS: The biggest difference, Wolf, is Senator Sanders has spent his entire life advocating for hardworking American people in this country. He has taking on the rigged academy that we believe is held in place by a system of corrupt campaign finance. He is the only candidate in this race that is standing up to the billionaire class. He is the only candidate that has a real plan for lifting up the middle class in America. That is the key difference. He is inspiring folks. He has the enthusiasm. But what's much more important is that the people had this enthusiasm. And this is not just about Senator Sanders. This is about the people. This is about their movement. That's why we're calling it a political revolution.


SANDERS: So I think that's the key big difference. BLITZER: Just a little while ago, out on the campaign trail in Iowa, Hillary Clinton says this about Bernie Sanders' stance on health care. Listen to what she said.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He has a different idea, and I fear it would lead to gridlock, not action. It would throw us into a contentious national debate that would not move us forward, and I don't think the people I have met in Iowa can wait.


BLITZER: Your reaction.

SANDERS: My reaction, Wolf, is she's right. The people in Iowa, they cannot wait. There are 29 million Americans in this country who are uninsured. Millions more are under insured. Senator Sanders' plan is for universal health care. It builds on the success that is the Affordable Health Care Act, and it keeps things in place. This is the -- this is really the culmination of what the Affordable Health Care Act was about. I agree with Secretary Clinton. Folks in Iowa, folks across this country cannot wait, and that is why we must move to provide universal health care, health care for all right now because health care in this country should be a right, just like education.

BLITZER: Symone, as you know, the New Hampshire "Union Leader" newspaper out in Hampshire and MSNBC, they say the plan -- they want to defy the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, and host the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire five days before the state's primary. Here's the question, will Senator Sanders participate?

SANDERS: You know, Wolf, our campaign manager has been out there talking about this, and he has noted that we are going to work with the DNC to provide more opportunities for robust debate and forums and whatnot in this election. Right now, as our campaign manager has said, we are not participating in that debate because we do not want to be barred from participating in the debate that is going to happen on February 11th. We believe the American people should have the -- as many opportunities as possible to hear from the folks that want to be president. That's why we are out here pounding the payment in Iowa. The Senator was in Minnesota right now. He is back in Iowa tonight. We're going to be out here and meeting with the folks in Iowa all throughout the weekend, all across the state. We will be in New Hampshire the following day, meeting, again, with folks in New Hampshire, meeting people where they are, talking about the issues that they most care about.

[13:50:06] BLITZER: Symone Sanders, thanks so much for joining us.

SANDERS: Thank you for having me, Wolf. Talk to you again soon.

BLITZER: Thank you. Coming up, Ted Cruz's wife stepping up her defense of her husband, reacting to some who say he is universally unliked. That would be Donald Trump who said that. We're going to hear from her, Heidi Cruz, who spoke with out Dana Bash, when we come back.


BLITZER: With the Iowa caucuses only a few days away, Republican candidate, Ted Cruz, is working overtime to try to get the word out about himself. He is trying to draw attention away from his main rival, Donald Trump, and reclaim his lead in the Hawk Eye State. Tonight, he is courting evangelical voters, speaking at a pro-life rally with former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who recently endorsed him.

And that's not the only help Ted Cruz is receiving. His wife is out on the campaign trail drumming up lots of support as well.

Heidi Cruz spoke exclusively to our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, who is with me.

I saw part of the interview. But we have got more. She is an impressive woman in her own right.

[13:55:20] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: She absolutely is. In the past 10 months, since Ted Cruz announced, she has been working hard behind the scenes, really as a key player in his campaign. Now she is coming out and having the more traditional role of a political wife, trying to humanize him. It's probably not too late for Ted Cruz since we know what Donald Trump has been saying about him.


BASH: You have probably heard Donald Trump is really going after your husband very hard on this likability issue. He called Ted Cruz "nasty, a whack job, someone who can't get along with people." What do you, Ted Cruz's wife of 15 years, want to say to Donald Trump about that.

HEIDI CRUZ, WIFE OF SENATOR & REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE TED CRUZ: Well, I want to tell the American people who Ted is and --


BASH: And who is that?

CRUZ: An incredibly thoughtful person, a person who never misses a birthday, who never misses valentines, who reads bedtime stories to his daughters.

BASH: From the Senate floor.

CRUZ: Even from the Senate Floor. And more importantly, at home, a person who when I'm busy running around trying to pack who he had more on his plate sat town and packed my suitcase for me. (CROSSTALK)

CRUZ: That's the kind of person Ted is.

BASH: So you want to say to the American people -- and you know the way, especially where we are in the campaign, where you have someone like Donald Trump, who has successfully called Jeb Bush low energy, he is trying to make this Ted Cruz's label. How do you push back on that?

CRUZ: Well, we push back on it in many ways. It's easy to do because it's who we are. We don't need to go through the eyes of other candidates. We can give the voters a chance to meet us directly, to meet Ted directly.

BASH: Probably not a surprise to you that your husband is sort of actively disliked by a lot of his colleagues in the Senate, Republican colleagues in the Senate. But you chose to spend your life with him. Why are they wrong?

CRUZ: It's very clear. When you go out and campaign with Ted, you see why they're wrong. When you go to a rally, a town hall, a one on one, Ted is personable. He has a conversation with people. He describes the fundamental principles of the founding this country. He answers people's questions. He listens to them. He takes their advice. He's patient. And those that say they dislike him are the very people Americans are trying to vote out of office.


BASH: Wolf, I know you probably pack Lynn Blitzer's suitcase all the time.


But one thing she says he doesn't want to change is what his colleagues are most angry about, which is the fact that he doesn't compromise. She said that's what she likes most about him, he stands for principal.

BLITZER: She went to Harvard Business School and got an MBA, and has worked at Goldman Sachs which, all of a sudden, in Republican circles, is controversial.

BASH: It is. I asked about the fact that there could be a contradiction, at least there could be, with the idea that Ted Cruz won in 2012 in his Senate race, now running for president very much against the establishment but also big government, and, look, wall street was helped out big time by big government with the bailout a few years ago. He's run against that. She works for Goldman Sachs, kind of the epitome of Wall Street. She had a quick answer. She said, look, she's in charge. She is an executive in the Houston office. She is in charge of helping people manage their money. These are entrepreneurs. And she turns it into the fact that it's good for the American people to make wealth outside of the government sector.

So she is very polished. I think a big part of it is she also worked on a campaign. She met Ted Cruz --


BLITZER: And she is on leave from Goldman Sachs now.

BASH: Yes -- George W. Bush's campaign. And she is on leave so she can devote full time to her husband's campaign.

BLITZER: We are going to have more coming up in "The Situation Room" as well.

BASH: Thanks.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks for that.

For the latest in politics and all the presidential contenders, head over to CNN

We leave you with this. Barack Obama will attend a special ceremony later this evening at the Israeli embassy in Washington, marking International Holocaust Memorial Day. Israel is honoring two Americans as "righteous among the nations." It's an honor given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. One of those being recognized is the first American soldier ever to receive the honor, Master Sergeant Ronnie Edmonds, who was a POW at a Nazi concentration camp, and ordered with a gun pointed to his head, to separate out his Jewish soldiers. Edmonds, a Christian, refused, and the next day, his 1200 American soldiers stood together all alive. We'll have much more on the ceremony coming later today in "The Situation Room." Brian Todd working on that.

That's it for me. Thank for watching.

For our international viewers, "Amanpour" is next.

For viewers in North America, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.