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45 Killed in Triple Bombing Near Damascus; Interview with Senator Rand Paul. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 31, 2016 - 07:30   ET

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


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[07:30:18] SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I am convince the most long lasting legacy of Barack Obama is going to be a new generation of leaders in the Republican Party who stand for freedom, who stand for the Constitution, and who stand for the Judeo Christian values that built this great nation.

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VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Ted Cruz there courting the evangelical vote ahead of tomorrow's caucuses here in Iowa.

But yesterday, I sat down with a few young voters here in Iowa, all students in Drake University, one, a registered Republican, another a registered Democrat, also an independent, and asked about the influence of religion in their decision making process. Watch.

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BLACKWELL: Evangelical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I consider myself a pretty strong Christian and, yes, I tend to vote evangelical I suppose.

BLACKWELL: What role does that play in your decision making process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, really a huge role. I think it is important we have a Christian leader of our nation and get our country back on -- back on the right track and that is another problem I have with Trump. He just doesn't seem to be quite as much a genuine Christian as Cruz or even Rubio.

BLACKWELL: Does religion play a role in your decision making process?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does. But I think kind of on the other side of the spectrum. I think a lot of Republican candidates have preached religious freedom, but only if you have Judeo Christian values. I think the First Amendment guarantees we don't have a national religion and everyone has the right to practice their own. And to say things like we need to create a registry of Muslims, or we need to watch mosques and monitor Muslims, that just directly violates the Constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honestly, religion isn't part of it for me because there is a separation of state and religion that I just don't think it matters to me whether my candidate aligns with my religious believes or not. But I do agree that like they definitely have to keep an open mind about other religions also.

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BLACKWELL: All right. Let's talk about this and bring back Mark Preston, executive editor for CNN Politics, and CNN commentator, Bakari Sellers.

And, Bakari, we were talking about the impact of religion on the Iowa caucus especially. Forty-seven percent of the persons who participated in the latest poll say they are born again Christians or evangelicals and you believe that's what is keeping Dr. Carson.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think once we saw Dr. Carson fall from front runner status, where it was Carson v. Trump. Since he fell, he flat-lined. But he flat-lined and he's been able to maintain that because of those evangelical Christian voters. And I think those voters are definitely showing up Monday night, like we don't know if the young people are going to show up. We don't know if the weather is going to affect people.

But one thing we do is evangelical Christian voters are going to be there on Monday night and that is -- I mean, they are either voting for Ted Cruz or Ben Carson. And one thing about this entire race, and I'm not the biggest Ben Carson political fan, but I can tell you that Ben Carson is the most liked candidate on either side.

BLACKWELL: People enjoy going to his events. Just to be with him.

SELLERS: He's a nice guy. It is hard to talk about someone who not only believes their faith but walks their faith. And Ben Carson is that guy.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: The most important, too, that if Bakari is correct in Ben Carson, we talked about this yesterday. He has flat lined at 10 percent. A, could he tip the scales to either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz by taking that 10 percent? That's the number one thing.

But also, if he says in the race how long does he stay in the race? In what other states could he effect? Not New Hampshire. Unlikely New Hampshire, but your home state of South Carolina.

SELLERS: In the South, not only in the Republican side but to Democratic side. What voters -- and I'm sure Mark and everyone else will delve into this soon -- but what voters -- what people realize is that African-American voters are some of the most religious voters that we have. BLACKWELL: Most faithful, yes.

SELLERS: Most faithful voters. And as you get to the South, I mean, we'll talk about the Republican part as well, on the Democratic side, as you get to the south, as you get to the SEC, you have this huge bible built Christian influence. You know, AME church, you know, every Sunday morning, you got the women on the front row with the big hat, those are the people who organize and get to the polls.

So, this is -- this is not something just in Iowa to watch, but this is something throughout --

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PRESTON: You know, to that point, that's why you don't see campaign events, been campaign events on Wednesdays, right? Because it's church --

BLACKWELL: Yes.

SELLERS: No, because growing up on Tuesday and Friday, you are in church with choir practice. On Wednesday, you have bible study.

BLACKWELL: Bible study.

SELLERS: On Saturday, my mom was making the program for Sunday morning church.

[07:35:03] So, this is a legit question.

BLACKWELL: And Sunday goes all day.

SELLERS: Sunday goes all day. You just try to get out before football.

BLACKWELL: We talk with these students also about electability question and effectiveness if especially the Ted Cruz is elected and that's who West Henry supports. Let's listen to that conversation.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Bernie is just so passionate about his ideas that that garners support in the younger voters. And he has some really bold ideas. And the term revolution and stuff like that really appeals I think to young voters who want change.

BLACKWELL: Are you concerned about his electability?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, that is always a concern. I think Hillary and both have a sense of electability. I don't know which one is more electable. And I guess we'll just find out.

BLACKWELL: Senator Cruz calls the Hill the Washington cartel, we've heard that, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. BLACKWELL: He hasn't made many friends on the Hill and he's proud of

that. How much can he get done even if the House and the Senate stay with the GOP?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be interesting to see if he was elected president. I guess there is no real way to tell if he could really get Congress to unite around him. But I think, yes, there is a reason we're seeing Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz and Donald Trump doing so well. People are really frustrated with the things in Washington that don't get done. It is just the same over and over and over.

And they say they are going to do things and they don't. And I think Bernie Sanders, and Ted Cruz, and even Donald Trump to a point are -- people feel like they can trust them more and think that they will actually do what they say and make things happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems to me they will bring with them voters that really hold their elected officials accountable. Whether that be calling their congressman or actually voting in local elections, people sort of seem to think that presidential elections is the only ones that matter and I would like to see that change.

So, I'm just hopeful that more people will get involved in the electoral process and that will kind of change the tide of our country.

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BLACKWELL: Kevin and Natalie there, the Democrat and the independent respective will on the fence leaning towards Bernie Sanders. But they have this question of electability. Will America elect a self described Democratic socialist?

You're a Hillary Clinton supporter. So --

SELLERS: Well, I mean, I will also tell you this and this is something that Bernie Sanders campaign probably will not tell you, but Bernie has to win Iowa and New Hampshire. There's no splitting the baby, because as you get further down, electability is a big issue.

In 2008, when I was supporting Barack Obama, and we were literally on the phone call with David Axelrod and -- with Axelrod and Plouffe, we were talking about the fact that we want to know if white voters are going to support Barack Obama. That was the central question we had going into South Carolina, due to electability.

And electability is going to be a huge issue for Bernie Sanders, especially if he comes out of here and doesn't get a victory. I mean, what happens to the campaign?

PRESTON: But what he has done, though, is -- let's assume that Hillary Clinton is the nominee. Let's just go under that assumption. What he has done is that he has injected passion into a Democratic Party that's been distraught over the fact that they don't think Barack Obama has done everything that he has suggested and Barack Obama has done a lot. I mean, let's not take that fact. But the one thing is the word "revolution" and I have to say this. So, Bakari did run for lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

PRESTON: And he did tell us that when he runs his next campaign --

SELLERS: I'm putting revolution in something. It is going to be a revolution for South Carolina or something.

PRESTON: It's an explosive word.

SELLERS: It's an explosive word.

PRESTON: It is.

SELLERS: And electability is going to be an issue. But I'm all here for the revolution. Let's get this thing popping.

BLACKWELL: Bring the revolution back again.

Now, let's talk Ted Cruz this week. He's really been proud of not having friends in Washington. What do you get done with Congress if you don't like it? I mean, you called it the cartel, that's how you got into the Washington.

SELLERS: Ted Cruz is really not a liked individual. I'm not someone who's necessarily an insider, but I do no members of Congress, especially on the Democratic side, and have a few friends on the Republican side, and Ted Cruz is simply just someone that is very, very difficult to like. And that -- you're feeling that.

And he's playing on that. He's playing against that. But the fact remains, if Ted Cruz happens to somehow flip Iowa on its head and win? Game on. We have a totally new race. If Ted Cruz loses this race, then you may not hear from Ted Cruz again.

BLACKWELL: I mean, when was the last time we heard from Bob Dole? But Bob Dole we heard from saying that he's not very well-liked --

PRESTON: And Bob Dole is nicest man on earth right now.

Let me just say, I spent many years on Capitol Hill covering the U.S. Senate. Here is the deal about the rhetoric on the campaign trail and it is frustrating. Anybody that goes out there and says they are going to burn down Washington is never going to get it done, they're going to change Washington by bringing it down.

You know, whether there is a any of the Republicans running, you know, whether that is Hillary Clinton saying that she'll knock heads with Republicans and push things through or whether it is Bernie Sanders saying, you know, basically, he's going to throw it all -- it doesn't work that way.

[07:40:10] People have to come together. So what's being said on the streets of Des Moines here, whoever gets elected was going to be down (INAUDIBLE) Washington. Totally different.

BLACKWELL: Mark, Bakari, thank you both. We'll continue the conversation, of course, throughout the morning.

And still to come: Rand Paul came out swinging in the Republican debate and got some good reviews for his performance there. Could he pull off an upset here in Iowa, performing better than some expect? "The Des Moines Register" out late yesterday has him at about 5 percent. We're going discuss with him. He'll be here with us.

Also, we're working on breaking news at this hour. A triple bombing in Damascus in Syria there. Reports that almost four dozen people are dead. And these are the early numbers.

We're getting some video in right now. We're trying to turn that over and bring it to you. We've got details coming up.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, in fact, out of Syria this hour -- 45 people were killed in a triple bombing in a Damascus suburb. Officials are saying, quote, "terrorists" detonated a car bomb at the bus terminal. Here are some pictures.

And this was followed by two suicide bombs at the scene targeting medics and onlookers.

Let's bring in Jomana Karadsheh who is following this.

What are you learning about the bombing specifically, Jomana?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi, we're getting little information coming through Syrian state media. The Syrian state news agency reporting more than 45 people killed, and over a hundred wounded so far in what seems to be a devastating massive attack in the Syrian capital Damascus.

[07:45:11] According to the Syrian state news agency, quoting interior ministry officials, saying that, first, the attack took place with a car bomb detonated at a bus terminal in Sayyidah Zaynab. This is a suburb of Damascus, a predominantly Shia area. We know that Shia militias aligned with the regime loyal to the Assad regime are present in that area.

Following that car bomb attack when onlookers and medics arrive at the scene, officials are saying two suicide bombers struck that area. And you can see this really high casualty figure that we're getting and we expect could possibly rise in the coming hours. There's been no claim of responsibility so far, Christi, but it is these kind of attacks in the past whether in Iraq or in Syria, they bear the hallmarks of extremist groups like ISIS or the al Qaeda affiliates in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra -- Christi.

PAUL: You know, it's interesting because we know that this is happening while representatives from Bashar al-Assad's regime are meeting with the Syrian opposition in Geneva, trying to have some sort of conversation. The timing of this you would think, Jomana, is quite significant.

KARADSHEH: Absolutely, Christi. It really underscores the complexity of the situation on the ground in sere why, while you have these talks progressing, taking place in Geneva. The situation, if you look, the groups that are missing from these talks, ISIS, Nusra Front. These are groups with a lot of power on the ground. They control a lot of territory in Syria. And possibly if they are behind this attack today as we would expect, again, they still have that ability to strike and cause this kind of civilian casualties.

You see these kind of devastating attacks that we see. And they are not part of these talks. And, of course, it could add to the complicity of the situation there in Geneva, with both sides, as we have seen in the past blaming each other for what they called the terrorist acts that take place in the country.

So, definitely, Christi, it's very interesting timing with the talks taking place.

PAUL: All right. Jomana, we appreciate you bringing us the very latest. Thank you so much. Again, 45 dead, more than a hundred wounded. We'll keep you on that, apprised of that throughout the morning.

Also, I want to take you back to Iowa in just a moment. Stay close.

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[07:51:19] BLACKWELL: It all comes down to Monday, Monday night, when the caucusing begins. And Senator Rand Paul is hoping, of course, he'll have a great showing like his father Ron Paul did in 2012 with 22 percent. But "The Des Moines Register" poll puts him at 5 percent at this point in the race. So, that may be a difficult haul.

We have with us this morning, the senator himself, Rand Paul, joining us to talk about those numbers and other topics.

Thank you so much for being with us.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

BLACKWELL: So, you're at 5 percent. How do you think you'll do?

RAND PAUL: We think we're going to greatly exceed that. We think students aren't showing up in the polling. We've been working very hard on the Iowa campuses. We're organized on 22 campuses, and our goal is 10,000 students. If we meet that goal, we think we're going to really exceed expectations.

The other interesting thing about the polling is, we when you ask people who did you vote for last time, only about 5 percent or 10 percent are saying Ron Paul, and he got 22 percent. So, there's 10 percent missing somewhere. And we think they're not showing up at the polls.

BLACKWELL: But the youth vote is difficult to bring out.

RAND PAUL: Yes.

BLACKWELL: How do you think you'll be able to do that this cycle?

RAND PAUL: We think we really connect with them because I'm the one candidate saying I don't want the government to collect all your cell phone records. And kids -- you know, I have three teenage boys. They communicate with everybody including us through their phone, and their life revolves around information they get through their cell phone.

They don't really want the government to collect their information. And since I've been a champion of not letting the government collect your cell phone information, I think they're going to come towards us.

BLACKWELL: You said -- in fact, you said it yesterday that the Republican Party needs to be a bigger, better bolder party. You started your campaign by talking about the possibility of inroads into the African-American community, especially. Do you think you've been successful, and how do you think some of the rhetoric that we've heard out of the GOP primary has impacted that ability to break in?

RAND PAUL: We worked very hard. I've been everywhere. I've been to Ferguson, South Side of Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, you name it, trying to say, you know what, the Republican Party wants African- American vote.

I've talked about economic opportunity by lowering tax kind of like Jack Kemp talked about, with economic freedom zones. I've also talked about giving people choices in which school they go to. But I've also talked a lot about criminal justice reform. The biggest impediment to getting a job in America right now is having a previous criminal record or having had trouble as a teenager.

And I think teenagers deserve a second chance. I also think the war on drugs has disproportionately and unfairly affected the African- American community, and I'm not afraid to say so.

BLACKWELL: This weekend I was in an African-American and Latino community here in Des Moines. A lot of people don't think there are minority neighborhoods here in Iowa, but there are. Platinum cuts.

And I ask, had any of the candidates come through and here's the picture. You're the only major candidate to visit this community, go in face to face and meet the candidates. And we were talking during the break, and you said that you really are concerned that even the Democrats are not going to these neighborhoods because they take the vote for granted.

RAND PAUL: I think the vote has very much been taken for granted. And I know what I sense when I've been in the African-American community is they're saying we want people to compete for our vote, because for so long, it's been almost entirely a Democrat vote. Democrats don't show up. Republicans don't show up because they don't think we have a chance at the vote.

And I really sense that we do have a chance for the vote because some of the things like the three strikes you're out and putting people like Demaryius Thomas' (ph) mom being in jail for 15 years, that all came from bill and Hillary Clinton's criminal justice stuff they did in the '90s. And a lot of us thought it was bad then, and I think it's unfair and ought to change.

So, there are some Republican voices that I think people will listen to.

[07:55:00] BLACKWELL: Quickly, let me come to you about not just the race for president but the race for Senate in Kentucky. There are some who are questioning after some of your statements during the debate, if you are making a play for your seat in the Senate instead of full steam ahead for the White House.

RAND PAUL: You know, people have run for both. Paul Ryan last time ran for Congress and the vice president at the same time, so it's not unheard of. I guess I'd just say what I stand for and hope that it resonates.

But I think it's also good for Kentucky to have a big voice on the national stage. I've been, when I ran for office in Kentucky, I promised to be a conservative. I am a conservative. I promise also to say, you know what, I'll be frugal with your money. I've given $2 million back from my budget.

BLACKWELL: What's your primary focus now?

RAND PAUL: The primary focus is getting the message out, and the message is same, whether it's in Kentucky or nationally, which is -- we have to do something about the debt.

BLACKWELL: You've got people all across the country who are working to get you elected president -- or first to get the nomination.

RAND PAUL: Right.

BLACKWELL: And I wonder if it's a concern if you say, I ask you what's your focus and you say, to get the message out and not to be the nominee of the party.

RAND PAUL: Well, no, it is to win. It is always to win. I grew up as a competitor. I'm here to win.

I mean, we're not here for second place or sixth place. We're here to win, and we're going to surprise a lot of people on Monday.

BLACKWELL: You've got an exciting event that is happening tonight. Your father, former congressman, former candidate, Ron Paul, will be out with you. You say for the first time.

RAND PAUL: Yes, this is his first time on the trail, and we'll be at University of Iowa tonight. I think we already have over 1,000 RSVPs. It's going to be a big event. BLACKWELL: All right. Senator Rand Paul, so good to have you.

RAND PAUL: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BLACKWELL: And we will, of course, have our special coverage throughout the day here from Des Moines as we count down the hours to the start of the Iowa caucuses tomorrow night. We're going to toss things now to D.C. and a special edition of "INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING."

PAUL: Absolutely. Hey, great job, Victor.

Thank you so much. Make some great memories today.

"INSIDE POLITICS" starts now.