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Priebus Talks "Establishment Candidate" Set Back in N.H.; Warning of ISIS Attack on U.S. this Year; What Role Will Sanders N.H. Win Play Going Forward; Does Jeb Have Upper Hand in S.C. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 10, 2016 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus.

Reince, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's talk about what happened in New Hampshire and what it means for the party. John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, if you look at the results -- and we have them on the screen right there -- they combine for about 45 percent of the vote in New Hampshire last night. Do you believe it would benefit the voters if they had a clear -- if they had clearer choices with fewer candidates? In other words, do you welcome the possibility that more of these Republican presidential candidates might suspend their campaigns?

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, it's not a matter of whether, Wolf, I welcome it or wish for it. It just happens naturally so there's just not enough hard money to go around. But I think it's going up to the voters and the delegates in South Carolina and Nevada, and March 1, Super Tuesday. I think this thing will get sorted out. Keep in mind, 5 percent of the delegates get awarded in February, 60 percent get awarded in March, so it's early. This will play itself out and we'll get to a good place in our party where we rally around a particular person. And look what we get to run against. I mean we get Hillary Clinton, who can't win women, can't win young people. People don't trust her, or a Socialist from Vermont. So, yeah, we've got a lot of intrigue and drama going on. But we also have a lot of interest. And we've gotten an opponent coming up that's very, very weak.

BLITZER: How worried are you, Reince, that some of these Republican presidential candidates are really clashing, attacking each other, they're going after each other big time. As the leader of the Republican Party, does that bother you?

PRIEBUS: Sure, yeah, it bothers me. But you'll have punches and shoves and some pushes. It's normal. And it's a limited amount of time. We're sitting here in February and it seems like things that happened in January is two years ago, so when we get to March, April, May, June, July, it will feel like forever, Wolf, and we'll be interviewing with each other in June and we'll say, remember back when, like, oh, yeah. It's going to get old, it's going to get clarified, and feel like it was a long time ago when we're sitting in the middle of summer with a nominee. BLITZER: I'm sure you took a close look at the Republican primary

exit polls from New Hampshire last night. Here's a few numbers that may be of concern for you. 47 percent of the Republican voters said they felt betrayed by Republican politicians. 50 percent of them said the next president should be from outside the so-called establishment. Are you worried about those numbers? These are Republican primary voters?

PRIEBUS: No, not really, because I think a lot of people in both parties are mad at the parties, mad at the system, mad at Washington that is a factional-type government. It's sort of very difficult obviously when you have a split government to get things done, and people don't want to have time for things not getting done, so I think it's normal and common. And I expect that that sort of vein is going to play it out the next few months. And we'll have a unified party when it's done and those folks are -- as long as they're staying in involved, which it's important for us to keep those folks involved in the party, that they will participate come November, 2016.

BLITZER: I'll ask you what I asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz about Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, thinking seriously of running as a third=party Independent candidate. Publicly, he said, "The level of discourse and discussion is distressingly banal and an outrage and insult to voters." Will you welcome a third party run by Bloomberg?

PRIEBUS: Yeah. I don't view it as a third party. I view it as another Democrat. So you'll have two Democrats running and splitting their vote. Look, he's been fighting and pounding away at Republicans for how long now? He wants to take all the guns away. He wants to tax Slurpees and sodas. The guy is a liberal Democrat. So great, if they want to have two Democrats run and split their vote and let us compete in places like Connecticut and New Hampshire and Maine, places we used to win 20 years ago, we'll take it. Honestly, it's no skin off our back.

BLITZER: Donald Trump said the same thing. If he wants to run, that's fine with him.

PRIEBUS: It's true, that's why. I mean, it's just --


BLITZER: Go ahead, finish your thought.

PRIEBUS: No, I was going to say because it's just true. I mean, he hasn't been friendly to the Republican Party in years and years. And so at the end of the day, he takes their votes away, he can't get to 270 electoral votes, it's not possible. Even if he did win a few electoral votes, he'd put the race in the hands of Paul Ryan, and I would imagine Paul will choose the Republican.

BLITZER: It goes to the House of Representatives if nobody gets 270 electoral votes --

PRIEBUS: Right. [13:35:08] BLITZER: -- according to the U.S. Constitution.

Reince, thanks very much for joining us.

PRIEBUS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Still ahead, the U.S. fight against ISIS, a new assessment says the militant terror group is being helped by Russian air strikes. We'll explain the latest information coming in. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The U.S. battle against ISIS now being fought on several fronts. And today, we're learning more about the progress being made in Iraq and Syria.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here.

Jim, yesterday you talked to top U.S. National Intelligence officials. They warned of likely ISIS attacks here in the United States this year. You're getting more information on what emerged from that intelligence assessment.

[13:40:13] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, his assessment, particularly on the threat to the U.S. homeland, and this from both the head of DNI, the director of National Intelligence, but also the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, that ISIS will attempt attacks on U.S. soil in 2016. What's key, San Bernardino, deadliest attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. That was inspired by ISIS. They're talking about ISIS attempting to direct attacks on U.S. soil, in other words, devote resources to try to carry out terror on U.S. soil.

BLITZER: As they did in Paris?

SCIUTTO: As they did in Paris, exactly. They don't have the same connection they had to Europe in terms of easily getting fighters to their there from Syria and Iraq, but they know -- and they made this very clear in testimony yesterday -- that this is extremely important to ISIS leadership. This is a strategic emphasis for them now to carry out terror here.

BLITZER: And this notion that the U.S. and its allies, the Iraqis, they're making progress on the ground in Iraq right now, and in Syria against ISIS. What are they saying about that?

SCIUTTO: That's right. So on the good side, Brett McGurk, in charge of the president's fight against ISIS, he said, in his testimony today, that in terms of territory, that ISIS has lost 40 percent of the territory that it had in Iraq, 10 percent in Syria. The U.S. has killed 90 senior to mid-level leaders, 400 tanker trucks destroyed in six months. This also interesting. A reference that seems to say that when they did this raid to capture Abu Siayyaf (ph), an ISIS leader, that it yielded a huge amount of intelligence. We knew that, but he implied, Brett McGurk, this was the most ever from a Special Operations raid. And that's important for establishing future attacks, find out where their operatives are and so on.

But I will say this. On the negative side, he said that Russian activity there, that the U.S. has known from the beginning, directed principally at directing regime of Bashar al Assad, is having a negative effect in the fight against ISIS.

Here's what Brett McGurk had to say.


BRETT MCGURK, U.S. ENVOY TO COALITION AGAINST ISIS: Assad cannot remain in power if we are going to get out of this incredibly difficult situation. As I mentioned, discussed with the chairman, it's a question of what's going on north of Aleppo. My job on ISIL, in fighting ISIL, we had some real progress to push across what we call the Mari Line (ph), and the Russian air strikes have pulled those forces to fight the regime when they're ready to fight ISIL. So what Russia is doing is directly enabling ISIL.


SCIUTTO: So U.S. allies on the ground, the so-called moderate rebels, opposition, that were fighting ISIS, that the U.S. was backing with intelligence, air strikes, et cetera, have diverted to fight the regime as Russia has been backing the regime. That's a real loss to the U.S. to try to push up towards that area close to the Turkish border.

BLITZER: That's a real loss, a complicated situation, very complicated.

Afghanistan, too. We'll get to that, later, no doubt about that. A blast from the past. U.S. troops going into Helmand Province.


BLITZER: Haven't heard that in a while, but that's what's going on as well.

Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Coming up, Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire by a landslide. What role will that play down the line in places like South Carolina and Nevada? We'll discuss that and more when we come back.


[13:47:12] BLITZER: The stage is set for the PBS News Hour Democratic presidential debate, which will be simulcast on CNN tomorrow night. The candidates will meet again, this time in Milwaukee. But the dynamic may have shifted. Bernie Sanders delivered a crushing blow in the New Hampshire primary last night. He captured 60 percent of the vote compared to Hillary Clinton's 38 percent. He won by some 55,000 votes.

Let's discuss this and more. I'm joined by CNN political commentators, Maria Cardona and Van Jones.

Maria, a lot of people anticipated a Bernie Sanders win but this was a huge win that surprised so many people, is he now considered a very, very serious threat to Hillary Clinton's campaign?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's certainly considered a very serious contender during the primary and I think the Clinton campaign is certainly looking at him as that. It was a terrific night for him. There's no question about that and it was a tough night for Hillary Clinton but let's keep this in perspective. It was the second contest when you get through with the first four states, you're only going to have been decided 4 percent of the delegates and so it's very, very early. Going into South Carolina and Nevada and in the states for Super Tuesday, the terrain is more favorable for Hillary Clinton and that is what they'll be focusing on.

Having said that, it doesn't mean she doesn't have to learn lessons from what has happened thus far and she was very clear about that last night and there f there's anything we know about Hillary, her true grit was forged in the heat of these kinds of battles so she's going to move forward with a message of bringing everybody together and working on everyone's behalf and having those personal connections in these diverse communities where she has been working for decades and so that's what they'll be underscoring.

BLITZER: Van, Bernie Sanders won in the age demographics, voters 18 to 64 in New Hampshire. He won decisively. The only demographic she won were voters 65 years and older. So what does she need to learn to attract younger voters?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think a big thing she made a mistake on, she tried to bring out these feminist icons to try to almost shame young women into being for her. And I think that was a completely wrong way to go. She kind of started dropping these feminist bombs on their own campaign, because these young women today are very sophisticated on issues of gender, sexuality, transgender, all this different stuff, so they have a very sophisticated conversation going on. Nobody wants to be lectured to by someone their grandma's age. I think that was a big mistake.

I think she needs to recognize there is real pain out there for Democrats, for Independents and Republicans. People hurt, people are going to holler. And she needs to welcome in a different way this expression of real concern on the part of young people. Don't take it personally. And make sure that she's connecting with their emotions, not just with their policy needs.

[13:50:18] BLITZER: Was it a mistake, Maria, for her to bring -- he's referring to Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright.


BLITZER: Was it a mistake to bring them out for her campaign. CARDONA: Well, I think, in all fairness to the Hillary Clinton campaign, I don't think they knew exactly what these two iconic women were going to say. And yes, I think their message, their messages were mistaken. They were completely in the wrong context. I'm glad Gloria Steinem apologized. And in terms of what Madeleine Albright, what she said I have repeated many times. I think a lot of women agree with it, in a different context. Van's right. You don't shame people into voting for somebody. You have to earn that vote. And Hillary knows that. But I also think, in all fairness, and I think Van would agree with me, that's not when she lost the young woman vote. I think that had already started to be cooked into the cake. And what these women said was not helpful. But I think that is a big lesson that the Hillary Clinton campaign is going to be looking at. And agreeing with Van, she needs to bring people in. She needs to empower them. She talks about how she's going to be everyone's toughest and strongest and best fighter. She needs to also say I need you to fight this with me because young people like to be part of the action. They like to be empowered. They don't just like to be talked to in terms of what other people are going to say. I think that's what she will focus on going forward.

BLITZER: We'll focus on these conversations down the road.

Maria, Van, guys, thanks very, very much.

CARDONA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, battleground South Carolina. Jeb Bush now preparing for a political slugfest as the primary season shifts south. Does he have the upper hand of being the so-called alternative to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz? We'll talk about that and much more when we come back.


[13:56:20] BLITZER: Jeb Bush is hitting the ground running in South Carolina today. He's trying to turn a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire into winning big for the presidency.

Joining us now live from Manchester, New Hampshire, is Ron Brownstein, our senior political analyst, editorial director for the "National Journal."

Ron, Bush obviously has a lot of money in his campaign. He's got super PACs. But after a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire, a sixth-place finish in Iowa, what kind of finish does he need in South Carolina to be credible?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he needs I think to move ahead of the other contestants in his lane, Wolf. Two big things happened in New Hampshire. One is that Donald Trump demonstrated again that his appeal transcends most of the usual boundaries in the GOP. He was strong across gender lines, age lines, ideological lines. And the one thing that's probably the weakest link is his armor is his standing among those white collar, college- educated Republicans, and that lane simply did not consolidate it. Everything was there for Marco Rubio, coming out of Ohio, trying to be the candidate of those voters. Instead, he tumbled badly. He dropped, Wolf, 20 points relative to Iowa among conservative and moderate voters. And that's what is giving Jeb Bush a second chance in South Carolina. It's less the strength of his performance than the weakness of Rubio's. It gives him an opportunity in South Carolina where he has organized quite a bit to reemerge as the champion of those voters.

BLITZER: As you know, "Politico" quoted a Marco Rubio aide saying that South Carolina is going to be a, quote "blood bath" between Rubio and Bush. Who has the better ground game in South Carolina right now?

BROWNSTEIN: I think they both have strong organizations there and both have a lot of local support. But I Bush is more deeply invested in the state. He has the tradition of his brother, who won his decisive victory there in 200O that really sealed the nomination against John McCain, who will be campaigning for him.

Wolf, as you know, up until 2012, South Carolina has been the decider in the Republican primaries. Every contested race from 1980 through 2008, one candidate won Iowa, a second won New Hampshire, one of the two won South Carolina, and that person was the nominee. We'll see if that pattern holds this time.

Certainly, what happened last night, gives a big advantage in the long run to Trump. Not only because he is strong, but when you look at the other candidates, whether it's Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich or Jeb Bush, none of them are appealing broadly across the party. They are alls till locked at this point. They're really one niche without the breadth needed to take on the Trump juggernaut.

BLITZER: How important is it for Jeb Bush that his brother, the former President George W. Bush, plans on campaigning with him in South Carolina?

BROWNSTEIN: It's important among the voters he can realistically compete for. As we talked about before, the Tea Party really began in large part as a reaction or rebellion against George W. Bush, who many view as a big government conservative. Now that Bush is clearly planted in the mainstream conservative lane, has less hold of appealing to the disaffected voters that are dividing between Cruz and Trump, maybe along evangelical class lines, I think for that white collar part of the party, centered around Charleston, around Columbia, George W. Bush can be an asset. That's what makes, Wolf, real quick, South Carolina is so fascinating. It's a state -- and the reason it's been so important is because all the elements of the Republican coalition are probably pretty evenly divided there. And you have the foundation for a Trump candidacy on the blue collar side and the foundation candidacy on the evangelical side, and then a battle remaining of who can consolidate the more professional, managerial component of the party.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, thanks very much, as usual.

That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room." In the meantime, the news continues next on CNN.