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Clinton And Sanders In High-Stakes Debate Tonight; Gregory Meeks Of Congressional Black Caucus Endorses Hillary Clinton; National Urban League Talks Of What's Important To Their Community; Rubio And Bush On The Attack; Inside The Battle For Aleppo; Trump and Bush Trade Blows; Bombing Aleppo. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 11, 2016 - 13:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Aleppo, Syria, 2:30 a.m. Friday in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Up first, campaign showdown. The Democratic presidential candidates meet in a high-stakes debate less than eight hours from now. This will be the first face-off between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton since his blowout win in New Hampshire. Sanders hopes to maintain the momentum while Clinton is trying to hone her message and her strategy.

Our CNN Senior Political Correspondent Brianna Keilar is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for us. That's the site of tonight's PBS Democratic presidential debate which will be simulcast right here on CNN.

Brianna, how important is this debate for both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really going to be a crucial 95 minutes tonight, Wolf, because you have this narrative in place right now, coming out of Bernie Sanders' win in New Hampshire. He's really riding high. We've seen him taking this victory lap in the last day, being very visible, going on "THE VIEW," going on "The Late Show," talking to Reverend Al Sharpton.

And you see Hillary Clinton kind of laying low in the last day, getting ready for tonight, as she often does. And that just speaks to how crucial, I think, her campaign views tonight to be. She wants to turn this narrative around. So, just seeing defeat, such a big defeat in New Hampshire.

And, really, I think what we're going to see, talking to sources, is Hillary Clinton trying to draw contrasts between herself and between Bernie Sanders. That she's going to try to cast him as someone who is really walking away from president Obama. I think we're going to see that distinction.

And then, I think we're also going to see Bernie Sanders, as well as Hillary Clinton, trying to push forward towards Nevada and South Carolina. Two very different electorates that we're going to be seeing moving forward, as opposed to what we saw in Iowa and New Hampshire -- Wolf. BLITZER: The race clearly has changed since Sanders, I think it's

fair to say, had a land slide win over her in New Hampshire, right?

KEILAR: That's right because he -- right now, you know, they're at a bit of a tie. And he's seen as a very legitimate contender against Hillary Clinton. And she's very much, in a way we haven't seen, back on her heels more than before.

But I think what we're also going to be seeing moving forward is a race that is also changing. The Sanders campaign knows that it has a lot of difficulties ahead of it. And that's namely because of the Hispanic vote in Nevada which will have its Democratic caucuses next. And then, because of the African-American vote in South Carolina which will hold its primary later this month.

Hillary Clinton is heads and tails above Bernie Sanders, with particularly black voters. That is something that Bernie Sanders is going to try to be tailoring his economic message so that he can attract some more black support.

But it's also, even just today, Wolf, you saw the Congressional Black Caucus Pac endorse Hillary Clinton. And this is just indicative of how well she is doing with black voters, with prominent African- Americans and just how much ground in this area Bernie Sanders has to make up.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Brianna, thanks very much. Brianna Keilar is in Milwaukee for us.

Let's get some more insight now, the debate strategy for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders going into the debate tonight.

Joining us, our CNN Political Director David Chalian, our CNN Politics Executive Editor Mark Preston and our CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen. David Chalian, she's got a -- she's a very good debater. But do you think her strategy has evolved, shall we say, as a result of her defeat in New Hampshire, leading into tonight's debate?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, there's no doubt that she wanted to sort of regroup and I think sharpen her contrast with Sanders. I think that's what I'm expecting to see and sort of what I'm looking for. Because I think she thinks that he is starting to win the debate of ideas with her, and that is unacceptable to her.

So, I think what you're going to see is a real investigation, if you will, or exploration of his record compared to her record, so that she can try to show Democratic voters that she's had progressive ideas in the very same way that he has. That's her mission tonight.

BLITZER: The exit polls in New Hampshire show that she did not do well among the younger voters, men and women for that matter. She's got to be -- she's got to broaden her appeal, shall we say.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: She does have to broaden her appeal. And, look, the Sanders campaign has done a wonderful job, a very smart, strategic job, of bringing younger voters in. Where the divide is, when it comes to women, is that younger voters don't see this as this once in a lifetime opportunity to have a woman elected president. Older women do and that's why she does so well.

But talking to a top official in the Clinton campaign just an hour ago asks about this. And they said, listen, we're not going to make the same mistake that we did in New Hampshire. New Hampshire was what it was. We're going to make a play for younger women but not just white younger women, meaning they are going to try to target African- American women.

[13:05:13] And these are their points. Guns, they're going to try to highlight Sanders' gun record. They're also going to point out that Sanders has been very critical of the first black president ever elected in the United States. And they're going to try to continue to hammer home on the idea that Bernie Sanders wants to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

BLITZER: That's interesting stuff. Is Hillary Clinton, herself. going to make those points or her surrogates and her surrogates and her aides going to make those points?

PRESTON: I believe it's going to be her surrogates and aides. But I will tell you, tonight on that debate stage, I think she's going to talk about guns. And I -- and she will, in a not so subtle way, talk about the difference with Barack Obama and Sanders.

CHALIAN: She made all three of those points that you just laid out in the South Carolina debate with Bernie Sanders, I should note. And it still didn't resonate, perhaps, (INAUDIBLE.)

BLITZER: David Gergen, Sanders says he's fully expecting more attacks from Clinton and her supporters. Listen to what he said Tuesday night after winning decisively in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been criticized during this campaign for many, many things. Every single day. That's OK. That's all right. They're throwing everything at me except the kitchen sink, and I have the feeling that kitchen sink is coming pretty soon as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I think he's going to get a lot more scrutiny now that he's doing so well in these primaries, right?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he will. But, Wolf, I question the notion that she would be benefited from going after him and drawing all these divisions. She doesn't need to tear Sanders down so much as she needs to build Hillary Clinton up. In the eyes of -- especially in the eyes of the -- of the young. If she needs -- she needs to give voice now to millennials, especially young women. She needs to give voice to black Americans and she needs to give voice to the working-class Americans. And all of those people are not resonating, so far, with the kind of message that she has projected. She is the most experienced person to run for the presidency in a long time. But she -- that makes her the establishment. That makes her the walking establishment, and she's now got to convince these people -- a lot of questions in the younger. Even questions now starting to pop up in the black community about her and whether they'll support her. She needs to bring those people to her and inspire them. Not -- I don't think it's as important to tear down Sanders as it is to inspire and tear -- build herself up.

BLITZER: One of her main points, David Chalian, as you know, is that, you know, he's got revolutionary ideas, free tuition, all this kind of stuff. It's not really practical. In the real world of Washington, D.C., you're not going to get that passed. She's going to be more practical, right?

CHALIAN: That is -- that has been one of her message points. I don't know that that has been a winning resident message point for where the electorate is right now. To David Gergen's point, that's why I think she has to find a new way to talk about her own progressive credentials and set the bar of what still can be achieved. But if you just come out, as she has, and said, but I can get this done. When you look at the exit polls, that's not necessarily the highest priority for Democratic voters right now.

PRESTON: Well, and one of the things she does, too, is when she says, listen, I have the progressive credentials. When I graduated college back in -- you know, in the 1970s -- this is what I did in the 1970s. Well, guess what? A whole new generation, you know, looks at the 1970s as eons and eons ago. So, she does need to do a better job of conveying, as David said, the positiveness. But they do need a way to try to take him down a few notches. They have to take him off of this slide, or rather this ascension, that he has going on right now.

BLITZER: She may try. Very quickly, David Gergen, she may try to use foreign policy which, supposedly, is her great strength and maybe his weakness in this debate tonight.

GERGEN: I would think she would. And I think there she can be -- she's very knowledgeable. I think she just needs to keep it brief. Don't get down too far in the weeds and give people a very clear understanding of, sort of, where is she going.

This campaign has been too much about the past on her part. It's got to be more about the future. And here's where I think we should be going. Here's the kind of world I think we should be building together.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by.

Tonight's CNN will be simulcasting the PBS news hour Democratic presidential debate live from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You'll find it right here on CNN. And for our viewers in the United States, you can also find it on your local PBS stations.

Hillary Clinton is getting a big boost as she battles Bernie Sanders for African-American voters in South Carolina and across the south. Today, the Congressional Black Caucuses Political Action Committee announced it was endorsing her by an overwhelming, near-unanimous vote. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: So, you judge a person by their results. And there is no question that the person that has obtained the most results and benefits for communities of color, and everyone in America, in my opinion, but especially getting Democrats elected, that it's not even close. It's not even close. It's Hillary Clinton.

[13:10:14] (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That strong endorsement comes just a few days before Hillary Clinton is set to meet with a group of civil rights' leaders in New York. Among the people attending that meeting next week will be Marc Morial. He's the president of the National Urban League.

Marc is joining us now live. Marc, thanks very much for joining us.

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just up front, U.S. president of the National Urban League, I take it you're not endorsing anyone, at least right now. Is that right?

MORIAL: We do not. We have no plans to endorse anyone so I'm in a great position to talk about this campaign and talk about what's important to our community. And, Wolf, as you mentioned in your tease, we will be hosting Hillary Clinton in a civil rights briefing next Tuesday, and we've offered the same briefing to all candidates, Republican and Democrat. We are in conversations with the Sanders' campaign about scheduling a briefing with him. The Clinton campaign is first because they were the first to respond to our invitation.

BLITZER: The -- I guess the question is this, as president of the National Urban League, I assume you've worked closely with Bill and Hillary Clinton over the years. Has Bernie Sanders been directly involved in the issues that you're promoting as president of the National Urban League?

MORIAL: So, this is -- this is true when it comes to Bernie Sanders. My first opportunity to meet Bernie Sanders is when he attended the National Urban League's 2015 conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But Bernie Sanders and I did have a telephone conversation, oh, about two or three years ago when he called me to talk about a youth employment bill that he was introducing.

But certainly, there's been a long-standing, I think, relationship with Hillary Clinton, with Bill Clinton and many leaders of cities and many leaders in the urban community and many African-American leaders. So, the track record is there. I think with Bernie Sanders, there's an acknowledgment that he's been a proponent of progressive causes. But I think he also starts out at -- in a place where people are just getting to know him for the first time.

BLITZER: In the African-American community because there's a very small African-American community in his home state of Vermont. A small African-American community in Iowa where the caucuses took place. But among Democrats, more than half of those expected to vote in the Democratic primary in South Carolina are going to be African- American so that will be critical moving forward, right?

MORIAL: No doubt, Wolf. And I think what we -- what we've seen is that only four percent of the delegates on the Democratic side have been determined. And now, the landscape ahead will certainly be diverse states, states with African-American, Hispanic, blue collar Democrats, Democrats who are middle and higher income. A much more, if you will, diverse mix of gumbo, if you will, of people. And that's what's ahead.

And so, this will be a test for these candidates, the ability to build within the Democratic, if you will, community, a coalition of supporters. And I think South Carolina is one state, and many states ahead, where the African-American community is going to be critical.

Now, if one asks, what is important? So, the question really is, who offers a relationship with the African-American community when it comes to the idea of governing? And so, you've got to not only look at what candidates are saying in the context of this race, you've also got to look at where they've stood and where they've led on issues historically. And one of the things I think is important is whether Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton -- and this is an important question for them. What have their staffs, what have their senior leadership teams looked like, not only in their campaign, but historically, as they've been in public life. So, that's an area of inquiry.

Where they have been on legislative issues where they've had to cast votes. And what positions are important to them? What is their vision for the African-American community to be a part of a governing coalition should they become the nominee and should they become president of the United States? Those are the very important questions I think that people are going to be talking about as they look at the upcoming, if you will, primaries ahead.

BLITZER: Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League. Thanks very much for joining us.

MORIAL: Always, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the Republican candidates, they're also on the campaign trail today. They're also on the attack. You're looking at live pictures right now of Jeb Bush's even in Florence, South Carolina. We're going to tell you how both Bush, Marco Rubio, others, are criticizing their respective rivals.

And later, we'll take a rare look inside a war-torn city in Syria. Our own Fred Pleitgen, he's there on the outskirts, the front lines in this war in Aleppo. He'll join us live from Syria. A lot more coming up.

[13:15:03]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As the Democratic presidential candidates get set to face off in Wisconsin in a key debate later tonight, that is being simulcast, by the way, right here on CNN, the Republicans are laser-focused on South Carolina. Take a look at the map. Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Dr. Ben Carson, they all have about a dozen events between them in the course of today. And then there's Donald Trump, fresh off a rally in South Carolina last night. There was a huge crowd there. He's flying solo to Louisiana today, where he'll rally voters tonight in Baton Rouge in advance of the Louisiana contest next month.

And in a conversation with Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, Marco Rubio told me he's confident about next week's South Carolina primary. He also wasted no time slamming Jeb Bush and his experience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jeb is trying to say whatever he can to get an advantage. The fact of the matter is, Jeb has no foreign policy experience. None. He just has none. No foreign policy experience. And he was governor a long time ago. The world has changed a lot in the last ten years and foreign policy has changed a lot in the last five years. And no one on that stage has more experience or has shown better judgment or a better understanding of the national security threats before this country than I have.

[13:20:03] Governor Bush spent a lot of money in New Hampshire and finished basically tied with me and Ted Cruz, despite spending a record amount there. Obviously he's still in the race. He's going to go to South Carolina. We'll see how things play out. But I feel really good about our team in South Carolina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Right now, take a look at this. You're looking at live pictures of what is the first of three planned campaign stops for Jeb Bush. He's meeting with voters at a restaurant in Florence, South Carolina, before he continues on to events in Sumter and Columbia. By the way, today is his birthday. They just wished him a happy birthday. He's 63 years old today.

Remember, we're just nine days away from the first in the south primary, and Jeb Bush is taking direct aim not only at some of the Republicans, but especially against the front runner right now, Donald Trump.

Let's go to Victor Blackwell. He's covering the Bush campaign for us. He's joining us now live from Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.

Victor, has Jeb Bush responded directly to what Marco Rubio told me yesterday, that the guy -- Rubio says, has really no foreign policy experience?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, we put that question directly to the campaign's communication director, Tim Miller, and he offered no response, because, as you said, they're putting it straight to Donald Trump. But, look, the governor has said that this is a national security election here in South Carolina. And that's the argument they're making. Lindsey Graham, his former opponent, now a supporter, a South Carolina senator, his introduction is based specifically on national security. What the governor is talking about right now is national security.

What did they hand out here at this location? Not flyers about an economic message or a social justice message, but specifically about national security. And, again, they're taking it to Donald Trump, saying that he is not prepared, that he's not a serious candidate. Listen to what the governor said yesterday at a rally at a bar, actually, near Myrtle Beach about Donald Trump, as he's compared to President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Can you imagine Donald Trump as president of the United States, where he spends his time pushing people down to make himself the big dog on the stage? We will be worse off than we are now, and we're really bad off right now.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Remember I called him a low- energy person? He's a low-energy person. I said -- no, I said he's a stiff. And I said that if he was in the private sector, he wouldn't be able to get a job. Other than that, I think he's excellent. This is going to be our president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: And, Wolf, there was one person at that event near Myrtle Beach who said to Governor Bush, listen, here you're confident, you're calm, you're relaxed. You're not that person in the debates. Why? Well Governor Bush then said, watch me this Saturday. In fact, vote for me next Saturday. But he is suggesting that there will be a change continuing this ramped up attack on Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Victor Blackwell covering Jeb Bush down there. Thanks, Victor, very much for that report.

Governor Kasich, he's also in South Carolina right now. He's speaking at a town hall in Myrtle Beach. You see him there. They're all going out, they're all campaigning. Not very far down the road, the South Carolina contest, which will be critical on the Democratic and Republican side.

And this just coming in to CNN. Donald Trump now settling. The presidential candidate has settled his differences with Univision over their decision not to broadcast the Miss USA and Miss Universe contests. Univision dropped the pageants in protest of Trump's comments about illegal immigrants in his campaign kickoff speech when he said Mexico was sending, among others, some of the worst to the United States. Trump sued. Now they've settled. The terms of that settlement, though, they are being kept confidential.

Up next, more news happening right now. Russia and the United States squaring off directly over Syria. Accusations flying as the bombs fall. We're going to sort out what's going on. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:28:19] BLITZER: Once Syria's economic hub, the city of Aleppo is now a casualty of war. In the fight against ISIS, both the U.S. and Russia are carrying out air strikes. Now these two global rivals are trading accusations against one another of exacerbating the situation. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, the U.S. is brushing off Russian claims that two American war planes bombed Aleppo. What sparked this latest uproar?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Pentagon says they really don't know. That they have seen the Russians do this before, making statements about U.S. military operations that the U.S clearly says are not true. So why is the U.S. saying this one's not true? Because there are no ISIS targets in Aleppo. The U.S. mission is to bomb ISIS. ISIS is not in Aleppo. Who is in Aleppo are Syrian civilians and anti-regime opponents. Opponents of Bashir al Assad, the very targets that the Russians have been bombing for some months now. So the U.S. says it's absolutely not U.S. war planes, and that the Russians they say simply are not telling the truth. The Russians say that there were two U.S. war planes bombing in Aleppo.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Are there any planes for the Russians to cut down their number of sorties?

STARR: Well, at this point, the U.S. doesn't see it. You know, there are these ongoing peace talks that are very difficult right now and don't really appear to be headed anywhere the Russians have been calling for some sort of cease fire. But when you look at what is happening in Aleppo, the city in the last several days has become surrounded. Surrounded due to Russian air strikes, regime forces, Iranian backed Shia militias, hundreds of thousands of people at risk, really just barely subsisting in this city.

[13:30:06] The Russians engaging in some -- at some points in more than 100 air strikes in a 24 hour period, according to U.S.