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Christie Unleashes on Rubio in Establishment Lane; Clinton Defends Wall Street Speech Fees; Sanders Picks Up Former NAACP President Endorsement; Sanders Campaign Responds to Tough Questions about Veterans Affair Committee. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 4, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is picking up his attacks against Rubio, if that's even possible. He's hoping to slam the brakes on any Marco- mentum has the race to Tuesday's critical primary in New Hampshire. Take a listen.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has given the same speech he's been giving for six years. His handlers surround him and coddle him. They call on members of the press, individually selected, to ask him their selected questions. And then he does a drive-by, 45-minute town hall meeting where he gives the same 60- second canned answers.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us again, Barry Bennett, Katie Packer and Josh Holmes.


BERMAN: I know.


Chris Christie doesn't mince words. You get a sense of how he feels about this.

Katie, I want to make a broad sweeping generalization, which is that the establishment has decided that Marco Rubio is their guy. The media, the establishment conservative media, and a lot of strategists, not unlike you, have decided Rubio is their best shot. Everyone is pushing him. It has to be frustrating for others. Is there anything they can do to get in Rubio's way?

KATIE PACKER, FORMER DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER, MITT ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Sure. They're going to keep trying. I think what a lot of voters are seeing is this angry, mean, old-white-guy shtick hasn't worked for our party, and maybe they're looking for something different. And I don't understand this idea that these candidates going out and being so hostile is something that is going to draw people to their cause. There used to be a time when surrogates would hands that job for you. I guess in the age of Donald Trump, people are trying to compete to be the biggest jerk they can be.

BOLDUAN: Barry, Donald Trump doesn't need many surrogates because he handles his attacks on his own. We're seeing that play out with Ted Cruz's flavor-of-the-month target. Why has he not done that with Rubio? He's the one guy that could be a threat that we haven't seen him take on.

BARRY BENNETT, FORMER BEN CARSON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I don't think that a lot of us feel that Marco Rubio is near the threat that the establishment thinks he is. He hasn't really accomplishments much in Washington, but he doesn't stoop at things when he was in Florida. I think all those things will come back to haunt him.

BERMAN: Josh, you want to weigh in? He's getting endorsements right now. More and more people lining up, Tim Scott, to endorse Marco Rubio. Rick Santorum can't name one thing in the Senate he did.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: The thing we're not talking act is there's no candidate in the field that's undergone more dollars spent against him on advertising than Rubio. And Jeb Bush's unloaded their coffers on his head and they're still standing. I don't think there's anything that hasn't been exhausted against him. Now there's three candidates in Bush and Kasich and Christie who see them -- Marco Rubio in their lane for victory. Tactically, I'm not sure if it makes a lot of sense. If you think about how many voters that are up for grabs when you have Cruz and Trump in the top two in the polls and those three are trying to split three ways by going after Rubio. I understand what he's trying to accomplish.

BOLDUAN: But as you point out, when you have Kasich, Christie and Bush, all the dollars behind them, especially Bush, now focused on Marco Rubio, regardless if you think that he's been vetted the most or not, some of the stuff, especially what Christie is saying that he accomplished nothing in Florida or the Senate, do you think that label is going to stick.

HOLMES: I don't think that label sticks for any of them. Where is Donald Trump's accomplishments, or Cruz's accomplishments? I think ultimately this is about the future and the accomplishments that they could potentially bring to the presidency of the United States, which is what Marco has been speaking to while the rest of them have been wrestling in the mud. So, you know, I don't think it's something that's going to stick in New Hampshire. I think the voters are -- Chris Christie has been there for seven months and he's talked to everybody. Only now is he getting down in the mud with it. We'll see if it works out. I think it's a thin demographic he's going after.

BERMAN: Katie, you spent a lot of time working for the Romney campaign. A lot of whispers that Romney may be endorsing -- maybe he would endorse Marco Rubio. Want to give us odds?

PACKER: I'm not going to speak to that. Governor Romney has several friends that were very helpful to him that are still in the race, and I think that he's going to look very closely at whether or not his support could make a difference for somebody that he would like to actually see win and could win.

But I do think that it's sort of laughable that the discussion is that somehow Marco Rubio is this establishment guy with establishment support. This is a guy that the establishment tried to keep out in -- last spring when a lot of the establishment money lined up behind Jeb. It's a guy that took on the establishment several years ago to go after Charlie Crist.

I think the big threat is that Marco Rubio is somebody that is able to unite a lot of the establishment folks and folks that are sort of forward-leaning, you know, very conservative voters, and that he's able to bridge that gap and that's threatening to some of these candidates.

[11:35:52] BERMAN: Quickly, do you know if Romney is going to endorse him and don't want to tell us?

BOLDUAN: Blink twice.


PACKER: I'm not going to speak to that issue. I'll let you talk to Governor Romney.

BERMAN: She knows! She knows!


I'd be happy to.


BERMAN: We'll bring the governor on tomorrow and ask him.

Katie Packer, Barry Bennett, Josh Holmes, thank you to all of you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.

HOLMES: Thank you.

BERMAN: She knows. She knows.

BOLDUAN: She knows. You can't force her. She's not going -- OK, programming note for all of you out there while we fight. Donald Trump will join Anderson Cooper on "A.C. 360" tonight at 8:00 eastern. A whole lot to discuss.

BERMAN: All right. Bernie Sanders has earned an endorsement. A source close to the campaign telling CNN a former head of the NAACP will throw his support behind Sanders. How will the Clinton campaign respond to that? We are joined by a top Clinton supporter, next.


[11:41:05] BERMAN: You know who won the CNN Democratic town hall last night? America and the people of New Hampshire. There were great questions, a great discussion on important issues. The candidates had a lot of interesting things to say.

Now, both candidates did run into some trouble, right?



BERMAN: They had some answers that they'll have to elaborate on and maybe explain over the next few days.

Hillary Clinton, why Goldman Sachs paid her $675,000 for three speeches.

BOLDUAN: That's just one of the things she'll have to answer for.

Let's bring in Jim Demers, a former New Hampshire state house representative, and a Hillary Clinton supporter, to discuss.

Thank you for joining us.


On the question John was talking about, she ran into trouble. For Hillary Clinton, one of the things she faced some trouble on and will need to answer for is this question about her speaking fees she received. Do you think it was a mistake that she received $600,000- plus from Goldman Sachs in speaking fees?

DEMERS: You know, I really don't. I don't think it's the big issue that some are trying to make it into. If you look at Hillary Clinton's record, she's never been bought by anybody. She's got a record of standing up to the financial institutions. As a matter of fact, all you need to do is come to New Hampshire and see the ads that are on TV from all the super PACs being funded by hedge funds and other financial interests that are anti-Hillary Clinton to know that they're certainly not supporting her and that her track record speaks for itself.

BERMAN: Her answer was, on the $675,000, was "that's what they offered." What kind of a message do you think that sends to New Hampshire voters?

DEMERS: Well, look, I think New Hampshire voters really do look at the records of the people who are running. Hillary Clinton has been in politics and public life for a long time. So she's got a record that people can look at. It is a record of standing up for working people, for standing up against the big interests. So I think that the real debate here is who's going to really wage the fight and Hillary Clinton has been proven time and time again that she stands up for the little guy and the middle class. That's what this is going to be about.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about who is going to wage the fight, that goes to a big theme that has been hitting both of them, which is this issue of being progressive, progressive enough, or who is the most progressivist. Do you think that Bernie Sanders is more liberal or progressive than Hillary Clinton?

DEMERS: I think they're both progressives. As I mentioned before, Hillary Clinton has a record of fighting for health care for all. She's fought for women's rights. She's fought for gay rights. She's fought for union rights. She has a progressive record.

Now, if the argument is because she's been effective in reaching across the aisle and working for Republicans, it's a litmus test for not being progressive, then we're in big trouble. The voters of New Hampshire and across the country are fed up with Washington gridlock. Hillary Clinton has proven she's a realistic progressive. She can fight for the things she believes in.

But we have to be realistic here. The Democrats don't control the U.S. Congress. So we need to elect a president who can work with both sides. And if we really want to pick the records apart, let's look at one of the biggest issues that America is facing. That's gun violence. When it comes to a record of being progressive, Bernie Sanders voted against the Brady Bill and against liability for gun manufacturers. That's hardly a progressive record. I think this is kind of a foolish discussion. They're both pretty progressive when it comes to the big issues.

BERMAN: Mr. Demers, I want to get your reaction to the Ben Jealous endorsement of Bernie Sanders. Quickly, your reaction?

DEMERS: Look, I think that it's an interesting endorsement. Hillary Clinton has got a lot of endorsements as well. There's no doubt about it that Hillary Clinton has a record of standing up for African- Americans for Latinos. Look at her record in the U.S. Senate. And, you know, she's been a fighter for everybody. That's the kind of president she'll be. The endorsements mean little to people in New Hampshire. They're looking at the records and what you're going to do, and they're really looking at how realistic the candidates are.

[11:45:36] BOLDUAN: Jim Demers, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

DEMERS: Great. Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Coming up for us, what does Team Sanders say this morning? What are they going to respond to? Mr. Demers. What are they going to say? We're going to talk to a senior advisor to the Sanders campaign, coming up next.


BERMAN: According to Bernie Sanders, he is a progressive 100 percent of all days, and Hillary Clinton, only some of them.

BOLDUAN: That was one of the major rifts between the two candidates last night at CNN's big town hall. Sanders also faced tough questions about his time as the head of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during the scandal that rocked that agency. Here's what he said about it last night.


[11:50:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR & DEMOCRATIC TOWN HALL HOST: You were on the Veterans Affairs Committee for eight years. You headed it for two years. There were 18 inspectors general reports talking about problems plaguing the V.A. Why were there so many problems, and why did it take you so long to act?

SANDERS: Fair question. And I think the answer is that we have worked on many, many issues, Anderson. And your point is fair that we should have acted sooner. We should have known what was going on in Phoenix, those long waiting lines, and the lies that some administrators were telling us.


BOLDUAN: "We should have acted sooner," that's one of the things that he said.

Let's bring in Tad Devine, the senior media advisor for the Sanders' campaign.

Tad, thank you so much for joining us.

You heard Sanders. He's defended himself before, of course. He defended himself last night about the criticism as head of the V.A. committee. Still, well-respected veterans groups have said this -- one has said this in an interview with CNN when it comes to interference. "Where were you, why didn't you conduct more oversight and why didn't you get to the bottom of this." That's Paul Rieckhoff, the head of the IAVA. Why is Paul Rieckhoff wrong?

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR MEDIA ADVISOR, BERNIE SANDERS PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, I think he's wrong because Bernie Sanders acted. First of all, last night, Senator Sanders was honest about the oversight. And then he acted when it became apparent that there were problems there. As a matter of fact, the legislation that he led into law, along with Senator John McCain and the Republicans in the House, is the most significant piece of legislation to come out of the last session of Congress.


BOLDUAN: Right, Tad. But when you --


DEVINE: -- administration.

BOLDUAN: Right. But when you mention Republicans in the House, that's interesting, because CNN, they did a lot to uncover this scandal. Drew Griffin was one of them. And in follow up, Drew Griffin he points out during the time that all of this was happening, the House Veterans Affairs Committee, run by Republicans, it held 42 separate hearings related to oversight of the V.A. Bernie Sanders' committee held seven hearings.

DEVINE: Right. Right. Listen, you know, we know the House of Representatives under Republican control will investigate every action of a Democratic administration. They have made that clear. All they want to do is investigate the actions of the Democratic administration and not accomplish anything on behalf of the American people.


BOLDUAN: But you don't think Bernie Sanders should have investigating this?

DEVINE: Well, as Bernie Sanders said last night, we should have acted sooner. I think he was honest. That's one of the fundamental differences in the campaign. Bernie Sanders will stand up and say, listen, I should have acted sooner. He's honest about what happens in terms of his responsibility. And what he did, along with John McCain and others, is pass the most significant piece of veterans legislation that has been passed, certainly in the last session of Congress, and probably in the last couple of decades. That's why the American Legion and other major veterans groups have given Bernie Sanders the highest honor they can give anyone, because of his leadership on this issue.

BERMAN: Tad, Senator Sanders likes to point out that he is the most progressive candidate. You know, points it out a lot, frankly, in this campaign. Is he the most liberal?

DEVINE: Well, you know, it's funny, somebody asked me that question earlier. I've never heard Bernie describe himself as a liberal.


BERMAN: Would you?

DEVINE: We, of course, have all heard -- I would describe him as someone who is very progressive in terms of his political Philosophy. He gave a speech at Georgetown and describes his political Philosophy as being a Democratic Socialist. He's been very open and honest about what he views.


BERMAN: Why not just say I'm the most liberal?


DEVINE: Listen, because -- you know, he just doesn't feel that word applies to him. Listen, he's not running away from a progressive philosophy. He laid it out. In that speech in Georgetown, if you look at it, what Bernie Sanders wants to do is finish the unfinished agenda of Franklin Roosevelt, OK, what President Roosevelt laid out in the final speech before he died before Congress. That we need to make health care a right for all in America. That we need to have an economy that works for people so they cannot only earn a decent living, but they can actually have some time to spend with their families, as well. That we need to make sure this country educates our children. And that's why Bernie Sanders believes we should make universal college education in America available today for all of our kids.


DEVINE: And he's very progressive in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt.

BERMAN: Is it fair then to call him "big government," for instance?

DEVINE: Well, listen, I think what Bernie Sanders wants to do in government is to find out where we're wasting money. He believes that the United States of America should not have to spend as much money on its military budget as the next nine nations combined. OK? Bernie Sanders is someone who I think on the Budget Committee, where he's the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, wants to make sure that the Republicans, who are happy to spend money on the credit card of the future, are reined in when it comes to spending, and also make sure this government has enough resources so that we can educate our people, provide health for everyone, and make sure that we have a future. Invest in our infrastructure, build a future for this nation. That's the programs he's interested in. And he'll do it in a fiscally responsible way.

BOLDUAN: Tad, is President Obama a progressive in Bernie Sanders and your definition of progressive?

[11:55:13] DEVINE: I think he certainly is. Listen, there isn't a litmus test for this. The reason we've had this debate about whether or not Hillary Clinton is a progressive or not is because one day she says she is, and the other days she says, well, some people say that I'm a centrist and a moderate.


BOLDUAN: Those who say that say she is a realistic progressive.

DEVINE: She's the one that made this debate.

OK, well, I would like to know. I know, in Ohio, on September 15th, she stood in front of a bunch of people and said, some people call me a centrist or a moderate, I plead guilty. OK? And now she is telling us she is a progressive. She should just pick one or the other. That's all we're saying.

BERMAN: All right. Tad Devine, the war over labels. Great to have you with us. See you in New Hampshire, Tad.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Tad.

DEVINE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Chris Christie, as we said, not letting up on Marco Rubio, calling him a coddled candidate, accusing him of giving canned answers. We're going to get an update from Team Rubio, just ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)