Return to Transcripts main page


Republicans Preparing to Debate Without Trump; Clinton Willing to Do More Debates; Donald Trump to Skip Debate; North Korea Preparing for Another Rocket Launch?. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 28, 2016 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Donald's duel. In the countdown tonight's primetime Republican presidential debate, neither front-runner, Donald Trump nor FOX News shows any signs of backing down. Trump is getting ready to hold his own event. And in a big surprise, some of his rivals say they're going to attend.

Fight night. If Trump stays off the debate stage, will the Republicans establishment candidates concentrate their fire on him anyway, attack Senator Ted Cruz, or keep up what critics of their own party are calling their circular firing squad.

Taken for granted. With the Iowa caucuses only days away, the Democratic race is getting hotter and angrier than ever. The actress, Susan Sarandon, is campaigning for Senator Bernie Sanders, accusing Hillary Clinton of patronizing women and taking their votes for granted. The former secretary of state is in THE SITUATION ROOM today. We'll get her reaction.

And sabre rattling. Tonight we're getting new information about what kind of surprise North Korea's Kim Jong-un may be preparing the underground. The U.S. suspects he's working on a multi-stage missile capable of lobbing a nuclear warhead at targets in Asia, Hawaii, or ominously, even the West Coast. Can anyone stop him?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following the breaking news in the presidential race. The Republican presidential candidates are preparing for tonight's final high-stakes debate before Monday's Iowa caucuses, but the front- runner, Donald Trump, apparently won't be there after a bitter public fight with FOX News. We expect Trump to skip the debate and hold his own event at the same time. At least two of Trump's rivals, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, say they'll stop by.

We're also watching fireworks on the Democratic side of the presidential race. Senator Bernie Sanders exploded when he heard about the latest accusations from some of Clinton's supporters. And the former secretary of state is taking our questions this hour. We'll get her response. Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of all the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the -- at the site of tonight's primetime Republican debate. CNN political reporter Sara Murray has the very latest -- Sara. SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Other

candidates are hunkering down, getting ready for the debate tonight, but Donald Trump isn't one of them. And for any other candidate it would be considered insane to skip this last debate just days before the Iowa caucuses, but folks tell me in Iowa Donald Trump has played by his own rules this far; and it's worked out for him every time.


MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight Republican candidates are preparing for a showdown on the debate stage. All except for front-runner, Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: I'm not going to do the debate.

MURRAY: He'll be holding a competing political event in Des Moines, as he retaliates against FOX News for the network's sarcastic response to his relentless criticism of one of tonight's moderators, Megyn Kelly.

TRUMP: I was not treated well by FOX. They came out with this ridiculous P.R. statement. It was like drawn up by a child, and it was a taunt. And I said how much of this do you take? I have zero respect for Megyn Kelly.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, other FOX hosts are urging Trump to forgive and forget.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: But I think you should be the bigger man.

MURRAY: But Trump has his own idea of fairness.

O'REILLY: It's called an eye for an eye, I guess, also. You can look at it that way.

MURRAY: And despite FOX's pleas...

O'REILLY: That's what America is about, robust debate.

TRUMP: That's fine.

O'REILLY: Don't walk away from it.

MURRAY: Trump is moving forward with his rival event, which he says will benefit veterans. Scheduling it to begin the same time, tweeting today, "The debate tonight will be a total disaster. Low ratings with advertisers and advertising rates dropping like a rock. I hate to see this."

FOX insists no rates have changed.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz, Trump's closest rival, is preparing to be the prime target for the remaining GOP opponents tonight. All while needling Trump for backing out. SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Gentle Donald cannot

handle Megyn Kelly.

MURRAY: Pushing for a one-on-one debate with the Donald.

CRUZ: He and I are the leading candidates in this state right now, so how about the two of us in a one-on-one debate, mano-a-mano?

MURRAY: Cruz's super PAC's vowing to pony up $1.5 million for wounded warriors if Trump agrees to a head-to-head showdown with Cruz. Carly Fiorina, who's set to appear on tonight's undercard debate, upped the ante, offering to donate $2 million to veterans from her campaign if Trump will debate her tonight at Drake University. Others in the GOP field are less amused by Trump's latest stunt.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not a show. This is serious.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has brought the debate, the presidential debate, the tenor of the debate, to a historic low.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Basically this is like -- this is like a 13-year-old argument.

MURRAY: But some of the struggling undercard debaters are looking to get in on the action. After the early debate wraps up, both Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee will appear at Trump's event.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm delighted to join with Donald Trump.

MURRAY: Even as they wage their own campaigns in Iowa.

HUCKABEE: It's not an endorsement of Donald Trump's candidacy. I'm still running for president.


MURRAY: Now, Wolf, the big question is how will this all change the dynamic of the debate here tonight? It could give some of these other candidates that we see out in the wings a little bit more talking time, but it could also mean that the knives are out for Ted Cruz, the other candidate who is leading here in the Hawkeye State -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you. Sara Murray reporting.

Let's go about three miles away from the site of tonight's debate. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is at Drake University, where they're getting ready for Donald Trump's special event to benefit veterans. Sunlen, you're outside the venue for this Trump event. What can we expect tonight?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they have to tell you there's still a lot of mystery surrounding this event tonight, which really speaks to how hastily arranged this has all been by the Trump campaign. The doors will open in about an hour. Already on the other side of this building behind me, that's where the line is starting to form.

Right now about ten people in line. The first person telling us that he got there at 11:30 this morning. The Trump campaign is touting this will be a sold-out event. They say they will fill up all 775 seats inside, and the main event here will start at 9 p.m. Eastern time. That is the exact same time that the debate will be under way and starting. That's no coincidence there. The Trump campaign really wanted to leave tonight that split screen, his counter program being the headline of the night.

This event being billed as a fund-raiser to benefit veterans organizations, but at this hour we do not know specifically what veterans organizations are going to benefit, get the money from tonight. The Trump campaign not divulging that information at this time.

I can tell you there is a lot of pushback already today from various veterans organizations, the IAVA saying that they don't want to be involved, that they will reject any money that the Trump campaign gives them tonight. They say, Wolf, they do not want to be wrapped up, in their words, in a political stunt.

BLITZER: Sunlen, the doors open in an hour, even though the actual event doesn't start for four hours, 9 p.m. Eastern. But there's only, what, about ten people waiting in line so far?

SERFATY: That's right, about ten people, Wolf. We talked to the first person who got in line this morning at 11:30 a.m. and talked to him about the antics of Donald Trump. He said, "These antics don't bother me at all. It's a bold and risky political move," but he said that makes him like Donald Trump even more.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, we'll watch together with you, thank you.

Let's get some more insights on this unprecedented debate chaos.

Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Dana, he's taking a pretty big risk, Donald Trump, tonight, isn't he?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is obviously a guy who thrives on taking risks. He's done it his whole life and, for the most part, it's benefited him. But this is kind of the ultimate high-wire act for him. He's betting on the fact that his support is so strong and so robust that he can leave this important opportunity for a normal politician to be on a debate stage four days before Iowans go to caucus when many of them will use this opportunity to make up their minds.

BLITZER: For Ted Cruz, Donald Trump's main rival right now, there's an opportunity, but there's also a risk for him.

BASH: There is. I've talked to some people in the Cruz campaign. They are expecting that he will likely now be the chief harpoon taker, because he will be center stage. He is going to be the front-runner in tonight's primetime debate.

But, you know, the flip side, there's also a potential positive, plus for him, which is it is a two-man race in Iowa. it just is. And one of the people is not going to be there, so he has the opportunity, if he chooses, to really go after Trump and maybe school him on some issues that conservatives might not know about and there's no Donald Trump there to respond, which is the rule, as you well know in debates. They don't have to abide by it.

BLITZER: What does it say that Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, is at war, basically, right now with FOX News, which is very popular with conservative voters out there?

BASH: Isn't it incredible? Honestly, I think the fact that FOX News released that statement, the statement that made Donald Trump say, "You know what? Enough already," made him walk, talking about ayatollahs and Putin, a very -- frankly, something that's elementary, was surprising, I think, for a news organization. But Brian Stelter, our media reporter, was talking about the fact that Roger Ailes, who runs the network, is an old-time campaign person, and he was running this back and forth with Donald Trump like a campaign.

So now we have this situation where the two of them are at war. And it's kind of a divide of the titans, if you will, and it will be fascinating to see who wins this one.

BLITZER: Yes. Just when you think it can't become even more bizarre, Dana, all of a sudden, at the Trump event two of the Republican presidential candidates who are in the second-tier debate, shall we say, they're going to show up and meet with Donald Trump later.

BASH: You know, it actually -- it makes me stop and think about the motto that we have when we do debates on most of the networks, which is we don't want to be the story. We want to be the platform. We want to be the opportunity to use our opportunity to give voters a sense of what candidates think but we don't want to be the story and that is the polar opposite of what has happened with FOX, especially with Trump.

BLITZER: Dana, don't go too far away.

Coming up, Hillary Clinton, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to speak to Hillary Clinton. That Democratic contest getting a bit nastier, more intense by the minute. Much more Hillary Clinton when we come back.


[17:15:34] BLITZER: In the tight Democratic race in Iowa, Senator Bernie Sanders today angrily slammed Hillary Clinton's campaign, accusing some of their supporters of going negative against him. I'll be speaking with the former secretary of state in just a few minutes, but first let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar. Brianna, what made senator Sanders so angry?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT; Wolf, it was the suggestion that some of his supporters would illegally increase turnout for him in the caucuses here in Iowa on Monday night. It's something that Bernie Sanders angrily dismissed as a smear.


KEILAR (voice-over): The Democratic race in Iowa neck in neck and getting heated. Bernie Sanders bristling when a reporter asked him about concerns young out-of-state voters could help throw the caucuses in his favor.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You talk about negative stuff, really? Based on what did they say? Based on David Brock's long history of honesty and integrity? The man who tried to destroy Anita Hill? Is this where this is coming from?

KEILAR: Sanders slamming one-time conservative hatchet-man, turned Hillary Clinton supporter, David Brock. It's a sign of how close Clinton and Sanders are in Iowa, just four days from the caucuses. The former secretary of state arguing she'll get things done in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Break through the gridlock, not add to it.

KEILAR: Her husband making the case for her in Iowa.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's one person who says I will never make the perfect the enemy of the good. We've got to get the show on the road right now.

KEILAR: And telling CNN his wife understands how upset voters are.

B. CLINTON: She's angry that so many Americans have not participated in the recovery and have had their potential that their dreams and their children's thwarted.

KEILAR: Bill Clinton campaigned in Mason City across town from Sanders last night while his wife attended a fund-raiser on the East Coast. Sanders seizing on the moment to paint Clinton as too close to Wall Street.

SANDERS: My opponent is not in Iowa tonight. She is raising money from a Philadelphia investment firm. Frankly, I would rather be here with you.

KEILAR: The two campaigns also sparring over future debates, Sanders charging that Clinton had a change of heart on additional debates, specifically an unsanctioned meeting next week in New Hampshire, now that she's trailing in the Granite State.

SANDERS: Now, you know, she's falling, apparently, behind in New Hampshire and wants to change the rules. But we are willing to say if she's willing to do a number of debates later on. KEILAR: The Clinton campaign today saying they're open to talks about

more debates later in the spring.

SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS: I give you Bernie Sanders.

KEILAR: Sanders also getting some backup from actress Susan Sarandon, who campaigned with him and also offered some sharp words for Clinton.

SARANDON: I think that's very patronizing to women to think that we all just follow our genitalia with candidates.


SARANDON: Sarandon really delivering, Wolf, some of the sharpest broad sides of the campaign so far, also saying, talking about Hillary Clinton. It's easy to be for gay rights and marriage when everybody else is, clearly trying to ding Hillary Clinton as she tries to emphasize decades of fighting for women, for children, but also she's emphasized lately fighting for the LBGT community, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting. Brianna, thanks very much.

And joining us now, the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

H. CLINTON: Madam Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

Thank you. It's good to talk to you again.

BLITZER: As you know, the Bernie Sanders campaign says they won't agree to debate next week, unless you agree to specific dates for three additional debates. Are you willing to agree to specific dates in the spring?

H. CLINTON: Well, first, Wolf, as I told you back in September, I have been willing to do more debates. I like debating. And I think it was important that my supporters, leaders in New Hampshire, said they wanted a debate. They offered a time. I agreed. And I am prepared to do that.

And certainly, with respect to future debates, we can start talking about scheduling those, but I look forward to debating the issues. I think the voters of New Hampshire and the country want us to keep debating the issues, so I hope that we'll all three be there next week in New Hampshire to talk about what our real plans are to deal with the economy and health care and rising prescription drug costs and so much else that people will talk to me about.

BLITZER: So you are willing to commit to three specific dates for additional debates after New Hampshire?

H. CLINTON: Oh, I've said, look, we have another one shortly after New Hampshire, as I remember on the calendar. And I've said we should start looking for dates and working to get those scheduled. I'm perfectly fine with that. But first things first. We have to agree that we're going to debate

in New Hampshire. Both the governor and I have agreed, and we're waiting for the senator to decide to join us.

BLITZER: So I just want to be precise. After the Democratic National Committee sanctions debates, you are now ready to commit to three more debates. Is that right?

H. CLINTON: Well, I have been very public in saying I would like the DNC to work with all of the campaigns, because that's what it did when it set up this schedule, and obviously, we want to be supportive.

But I am urging publicly that we do this debate next week in New Hampshire. And then I've said I am more than happy for us to start scheduling additional debates, as we go through the spring in April and May and try to get those on the calendar.

BLITZER: OK. Let's move on. Talk a little bit about Susan Sarandon, who supports Bernie Sanders. I want you to listen to what she told Bernie Sanders' supporters. Listen to this.


SARANDON: Well, I think it's very patronizing to think that women vote for any woman that gets up there.


BLITZER: Are you confident that women voters out there are going to turn out for you in the way you -- the way you need them?

H. CLINTON: Well, look, I am thrilled to have so much support from leading women in our country, from elected women, from women activists, from organizations like Planned Parenthood fighting for women's rights.

I'm running to be president, because I think I have the best combination of experience, qualifications, plans and ability to get the job done.

But I do think it's an asset to be running to be the first woman president; and I want everyone, women and men in all parts of our country, to join me in making sure we build on the progress we've made and not let the Republicans rip away the White House and set us back.

BLITZER: Bernie Sanders is also criticizing you for attending a fundraiser in Philadelphia at an investment firm last night while he was holding a rally, speaking to caucus goers in Iowa. Does that make you look bad?

H. CLINTON: Oh, I don't think so. Look, I was in Iowa yesterday, all week. I'm back in Iowa right now. I'll be in Iowa through the caucus. I went to Philadelphia for two things.

Some of my supporters, including my good friend, Jon Bon Jovi, had a fundraiser for me, and I had a long-standing meeting scheduled to meet with 50 African-American faith leaders from across our nation. And it was a wonderful conversation. We ranged widely over everything from the terrible water crisis in Flint to what we need to do for criminal justice reform, how we guarantee economic opportunity and good jobs with rising incomes, equal rights and equal pay for women. It was just an absolutely stimulating and inspirational meeting.

And here I am, back in Newton, ready to go talk to hundreds of citizens who are still either making up their minds or learning more about what to do when they go caucus for me next Monday.

BLITZER: As you know, Donald Trump has planned a so-called special event to benefit veterans tonight at the same time the Republican presidential candidates are holding their debate. Is that appropriate? Do you think he should boycott that debate?

H. CLINTON: You know, I am certainly not going to get into the machinations of the Republican primary process, other than to say I deeply regret the tone, the rhetoric that you're hearing, not only from Mr. Trump but a number of the other candidates. The kinds of insulting remarks they're making about groups of people in our country; their strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act, wanting to defund Planned Parenthood; coming back to trickle-down economics. You know, it's really a quite disturbing spectacle that we have going on.

So whether or not they are together when they debate and reinforce these positions, which I think would be so harmful to our country, is something that, you know, they have to decide among themselves.

But I'm going to continue to point out the stakes in this election, because ultimately it will come down to one Democratic nominee and one Republican who are fighting for the future of America. And I strongly disagree with the direction that the Republicans intend to take our country, and that's why I'm fighting so hard to be that Democratic nominee, to be able to make the case that we want to build on the progress we've made, and we sure don't want the Republicans ripping it all apart.

BLITZER: Madam Secretary, on national security while I have you, the Pentagon now acknowledging that some U.S. troops already are inside Libya, and they're also signaling that the U.S. could get much more involved in Libya soon.

Would you support significantly increasing the number of U.S. troops inside Libya, which for all practical purposes today, is a failed state with ISIS in control of big chunks there?

CLINTON: Well, I haven't been briefed on the specifics of what the Defense Department is considering. There are certainly operations that Special Forces are conducting in a number of places throughout the Middle East in support of local forces and local government authorities and also to try to help defeat ISIS and its affiliates.

So I can't comment specifically, Wolf. There has been a great effort recently, led by the United Nations to try to get the two factions in Libya to cooperate. And, yes, there is one part of Libya that has been claimed by ISIS. And there's a great deal of concern among Libyans and Europeans, as well as Americans and others in the Middle East about that.

So I will -- I will hold my judgment about exactly what is being carried out until I have more information about it.

BLITZER: One final question, Madam Secretary, before I let you go. You said it would be a great idea to appoint -- to nominate President Obama to the U.S. Supreme Court. Have you given more thought to that possibility?

CLINTON: Well, I have no idea that he'd ever be interested, but it was a fascinating idea. And if I'm so fortunate enough to be president and get the opportunity to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, which I hope I do, then I would certainly talk to him about it.

I think he has other plans for his future, but hey, it would be worth the effort. We know he's a brilliant writer. He taught constitutional law, so I think it's worth a try.

BLITZER: Madam Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

CLINTON: Good to talk to you again, Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: All right. So you just heard the former secretary of state. She has given us a lot to discuss. Will there be more Democratic presidential debates, for example?

Let's bring in Real Clear Politics national political reporter, Rebecca Berg; CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp; and our senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.

Ladies, we have lots to talk about. Let's take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[17:32:28] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're just four days away from the Iowa caucuses and the presidential candidates, they are scrambling for supporters with time running out.

Our top story is Donald Trump skipping tonight's primetime Republican presidential debate after his escalating feud with FOX News reaches a breaking point. And Hillary Clinton making the case to female voters she is not taking them for granted.

Let's turn to our experts for more analysis once again.

Nia-Malika Henderson, what do you make of the Republican candidates who were critical of Donald Trump's decision, the opportunity potentially they have for themselves tonight?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the stage is all theirs tonight. We get a chance to see the folks in this race that, you know, that are there without Donald Trump. I mean, this is kind of the party that I think that the RNC has always wanted to showcase without the kind of bluster and persona of Donald Trump hanging over everyone's heads. So I think everyone has a real --

BLITZER: Who has the most to gain potentially?

HENDERSON: I think Rubio and Cruz. I mean, they're the ones who are -- Rubio kind of vying for that establishment lane, Cruz neck in neck with Trump in Iowa and second in those national polls, so I think they have the most to gain. But I do think sometimes we overestimate the power of debates and these moments. You talk to political scientists about this and they sort of say there's not a real effect in terms of a bump in polls in standing even if you give a really great debate performance.

BLITZER: How much of a target will Trump be tonight? He's not even going to be there able to defend himself.

S.E. CUP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if I were any one of the candidates I would make sure to make note of the fact that I showed up, I'm here, we're here to talk to you, Iowa, and look who isn't. But what's so interesting is if you think back to the previous Republican debates, in advance of all those debates, we're all here talking about what to look for and it's always Trump v. someone.


CUPP: It's going to be Trump v. Bush, then it was Trump v. Carson, then it was Trump v. Fiorina. And we're looking for those fireworks. Well, it was going to be Trump v. Cruz in this debate. Were they really going to attack each other? With that gone, now, as you said, that really opens the door for someone like Marco Rubio to have some momentum. Maybe Jeb Bush, we'll see if he can do that. Chris Christie. I mean, this really does sort of sanitize the debate for these guys to talk issues and really get their personalities across.

BLITZER: Without Trump there, will that open the door for others to go after the number two, shall we say, at least in most of the polls, Ted Cruz?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Absolutely, it's open season on Ted Cruz tonight because Donald Trump won't be there, so these candidates can try to attack Donald Trump in absentia but the problem is they risk ending up looking like Clint Eastwood at the Republican national convention talking to an empty chair.

[17:35:02] It's not as effective when you can't draw that contrast there in person. So I think by default almost Ted Cruz will become a target. And we're seeing him starting to sweat in Iowa. There was a report today by the "New York Times" that Marco Rubio has launched negative -- sorry, Ted Cruz rather has launched negative advertising against Marco Rubio, feeling the heat not only from Trump but also Marco Rubio gaining steam. So he's definitely going to be under attack on all sides tonight.

BLITZER: Nia, you were just there in Iowa. I guess one of the problems that Ted Cruz might have is he's sending a message to the caucus goers, you know what, this presidential debate and Iowa may not necessary be all that important.

HENDERSON: That's right but he also said, you know, if Donald Trump wins this thing and then wins New Hampshire, it could all be over. So --

BLITZER: That's what Cruz said.

HENDERSON: This is what Cruz said about Donald Trump.


HENDERSON: So it is very important for him. We'll have to see what he does tonight. You know, I think this gives all of those folks on stage to sort of be the big man on campus. That's the role that Donald Trump has played for all this time, all these many months.


CUPP: But to be sure when Ted Cruz said that if Donald Trump wins Iowa, and you know the map is -- what he's really saying is, if I don't win Iowa, then I'm done.


CUPP: So if you care about me, you have to care about me in Iowa.


CUPP: And that's true. I mean that's 100 percent, I think, true.

BLITZER: And Rebecca, the latest polls out of Iowa show Trump doing relatively well compared to Cruz. It's close, certainly, but it's not by any means a slam dunk for either one of them.

BERG: No, it isn't. And so a lot of this is going to come down, as it always does, to organization. How strong is Ted Cruz's organization actually. One interesting figure this week in a poll that I saw was that he is the candidate most Iowans say they have been contacted by in the lead-up to this race so clearly his organization is working hard, but can it deliver on Election Day and do those Trump voters show up. That's the question for ted Cruz.

BLITZER: We know that Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, S.E.

CUPP: Yes .

BLITZER: Are going to show up at Donald Trump's event honoring, supporting veterans after their earlier second-tier debate shall we say.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: That's pretty unusual. CUPP: Yes. I just actually talked to the Huckabee campaign. They

said they're really excited to be able to, A -- look, they're nakedly candid about this. To, A, be able to talk to veterans and veteran's groups and veteran's issues, but also to talk in a place where there are cameras.


CUPP: And you know that Trump event will be covered. I think most of Iowa voters will be watching the presidential debate, but this will get coverage. And for people like Huckabee and people like Santorum, of course this is an opportunity for them to, after the undercard debate, you know, trek on over a few blocks and get some coverage.

BLITZER: I spoke to Mike Huckabee earlier today. He certainly made it clear to me and I think to our viewers that he likes Donald Trump a lot more than he likes Ted Cruz.

HENDERSON: That's right.

CUPP: Yes.

HENDERSON: And let's face it, Mike Huckabee, he was the darling of Iowa in 2008. Rick Santorum obviously in 2012. What does he do? I mean, it looks like he probably won't win Iowa, unless there's a huge come from behind victory, but he has, I think, a chance to be kind of a player in this race after he leaves the race, which will probably be, you know, I'm not going to make any predictions, but he probably won't win Iowa and maybe he leaves the race certainly after that.

BLITZER: It's interesting. He won Iowa in 2008, Rick Santorum won in 2012 and both of those winners are coming to the Donald Trump event later tonight.

Ladies, stand by. We have much more to discuss.

The political news is still coming in. We'll take a quick break, we'll be right back.


[17:43:17] BLITZER: Let's get back to our political experts. Ladies, the vice president, Joe Biden, he was rather blunt in assessing the Democratic Party's prospects in this election this year, speaking of the Republicans. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We may be given a gift from the Lord in the presidential race here. I don't know who to root for more, Cruz or -- what's that guy's name? He's having a -- he's having a fundraiser for veterans tonight, I'm told. But all kidding aside, folks, you know, it's been a tough -- it's been a tough last couple of cycles. But we should get up, man. There's a real shot here.


BLITZER: All right. He's being blunt. He thinks there's an opportunity.


BLITZER: A great opportunity for the Democrats.

HENDERSON: Yes. And he wants to have a voice in this race, right. He wants to weigh in. We've seen him do it so far talking about Hillary Clinton, talking about Biden. In some ways I think he sounds not as bullish as other Democrats in terms of their shot in 2016. I mean, first particularly if it's Cruz or Trump. Democrats feel really, really, really great. I mean, they feel like they have more than a shot to take --

BLITZER: Who do you think Democrats would prefer running against, Cruz or Trump?

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, Trump, I guess. You know. But at the same time he's so unpredictable and how do you deal with this guy who's so good at media, at branding, and turning people's attention even when, you know -- you know, when it should be on the debate, we're going to be also be talking about what he does with veterans so it's --

CUPP: I actually think that Trump is more electable than Cruz in a general. And it pains me to say.

[17:45:02] But I don't know, Cruz really has a very, very narrow group of fans and supporters. He doesn't have the support of the larger Republican establishment or moderate Republicans. Trump is pulling from all different kinds of factions. And while I don't think he's capable of beating either Democrat in the general election, I think he'd win more voters than Cruz would.

BLITZER: Do you think?

BERG: Probably, and that's why you see some Bernie Sanders potential supporters thinking, well, maybe I'll go and vote for Donald Trump instead. He's tapping into the same populist streak, the same white working class streak of the electorate. And there's definitely much more room for crossover than if you look at Ted Cruz, who is to the far right of his party, doesn't have a lot of overlap with moderate Democrats.

BLITZER: This is -- you know, it's a question, the fact that Trump is not at this debate tonight. It's a question that is going to hover over these final few days before the caucus goers show up Monday night.

CUPP: Yes. It's amazing, because 40 percent of Iowa caucus goers are undecided. So it's a strange calculation. Like if you're an Iowa voter and you're four days out, are you going to watch a Trump fundraiser or are you going to watch the presidential debate where you might actually learn about the candidates? I'm sure he'll get some eyeballs for sure, but are those the voters that are really going to turn out Monday and caucus? I'm not so sure.

BLITZER: But his supporters are very loyal, Donald Trump's.

HENDERSON: They are. And they are looking at multiple sort of data points. I mean, they've got commercials, they've got mailers, they've got people calling their houses, they've got the local news, which is certainly going to cover this Trump event. He'll make the papers, I'm sure. So I think it's very much in keeping with Trump style.

BLITZER: Let's see how much money they raise for veterans as well.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, Donald Trump skipping tonight's primetime Republican presidential debate to hold his own event which he says will benefit veterans. There's new information coming in. We'll have an update live from Iowa.

And North Korea possibly preparing to launch a missile. We're going to show you new satellite images that have U.S. intelligence officials extremely concerned.


[17:51:32] BLITZER: CNN has obtained new satellite images tonight from North Korea. The images appear to show a top-secret facility being prepared for a rocket launch.

Brian Todd has been following this story for us. Brian is here. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight U.S. officials telling us they are keeping a very close eye on this facility because of the fact that it had previously been used by Kim Jong-Un's regime to test ballistic missiles. Now this comes as CNN has learned new information about that North Korean nuclear test earlier this month. A U.S. official familiar with the latest assessment telling our Barbara Starr the U.S. now believes that Kim Jong-Un's regime may have been trying to test components of a hydrogen bomb at the time.

Not necessarily a completely constructed bomb but components, possibly a detonator. Now between that and the possible rocket launch preparations here, Kim Jong-Un has clearly ramped up his threatening behavior recently.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight intelligence agencies from Washington to Seoul are closely watching this facility. North Korea's top-secret satellite launching station at Tongchang-ri. A U.S. official tells CNN in recent days satellite imagery has revealed personnel, equipment for rockets and fuel being moved into the compound. The place is so secret, parts are delivered by underground rail lines.

RICK FISHER, INTERNATIONAL ASSESSMENT AND STRATEGY CENTER: They understand that they are being watched 24/7 by satellites from many countries. So they have invested in underground facilities to conceal their missiles.

TODD: A launch could be imminent. North Korea will likely say it's launching a satellite into space, but U.S. officials and analysts believe the regime has an ulterior motive.

(On camera): What could the more dangerous possibility be?

FISHER: When North Korea says they're launching a satellite, that's significant and important and a potentially dangerous capability. But even more dangerous North Korea is testing a missile, perfecting a missile that could launch a warhead against the United States or other countries.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say Kim Jong-Un's missile testing is a major threat because his regime's already thought to have made progress toward miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile which could strike targets in Asia, possibly even Hawaii or even Seattle. It's not clear if those missiles have been sufficiently tested to be effective but the fact that Kim and his scientists are working feverishly toward that even has Kim's troubled allies in Beijing worried tonight.

HUA CHUNYING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN (Through Translator): China is closely watching the current situation and is seriously concerned about these developments.

TODD: The Chinese are already furious with Kim Jong-Un for conducting North Korea's fourth nuclear bomb test earlier this month. It's part of a steep downswing in this relationship since the young dictator took power. Experts say Chinese President Xi Jinping and his aides have never liked Kim.

MARCUS NOLAND, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: Cult of personality around this family dynasty in North Korea with utter derision. So they don't like the North Koreans, and one of the prime interlocutors between China and North Korea was Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong-Un's uncle who he publicly had executed which also caused ill will among some Chinese.


TODD: But analysts say as angry as China is with Kim they'll only want to punish him so much. They say what China fears most is a collapse of Kim's regime that would lead to instability at China's border and possibly millions of North Korean refugees streaming into China.

Wolf, they are constantly worried about that.

BLITZER: I know they are. And Brian, are the preparations at that rocket launch site in North Korea, what are the other concerns you're hearing about tonight?

[17:55:04] TODD: Well, that group 38 North which monitors satellite images from North Korea says the pictures here indicate that the North Koreans may -- they may be getting ready to test what's called a Musudan intermediate ballistic missile or they may be testing the engine for one of those missiles. If that's the case it is worrisome because the Musudan could be made into a mobile ballistic missile system and the U.S. and its allies would have difficulty tracking that in the field.

BLITZER: That would be very worrisome indeed.

All right, Brian. Thank you.

Coming up, we're awaiting Donald Trump's arrival in Des Moines where he plans to be center stage at a fundraiser tonight for veterans. And off the stage when his Republican rivals debate. Folks are already lining up. You're seeing live pictures. We'll go there for an update.