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THE SITUATION ROOM

Syria Truce?; Bernie vs. Hillary; Republican Race Heats Up; U.S. Warns About Security for Papal Visit; U.S. to Discuss Advanced Missile Defense for South Korea; Syrian Ceasefire Prompts Hope, Skepticism; Trump: May Sue Cruz for 'Not Being a Natural-Born Citizen'. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 12, 2016 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And Russian roulette. Serious questions remain about a potentially historic truce in a civil war sending shockwaves around the world. Why are the Russians still bombing even after agreeing to a truce?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: There is breaking news in the presidential race. We are standing by for a Donald Trump rally only hours after Trump threatened to sue Senator Ted Cruz.

Trump says if Cruz doesn't stop running negative ads and "clean up his act," Trump will sue Cruz for not being a natural-born citizen.

Also happening now, Hillary Clinton making her first foray into South Carolina since her disastrous showing in the New Hampshire primary. She is singing the praises of President Obama and hitting hard at Senator Bernie Sanders.

We're also following an ominous new warning about security as Pope Francis begins another visit to the Americas, including stops right across from the U.S. border. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are raising concerns about homegrown violent extremists who could target places where papal events could be attracting thousands.

Our correspondents, our analysts and our guests have full coverage of the day's top stories.

I want to begin with the presidential race and our Joe Johns. He's in Denmark, South Carolina, where just a little bit ago, Hillary Clinton took up some of the same new themes she debuted during last night's debate.

Joe, what did she tell the crowd?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, at a town hall in this poor South Carolina school district, she went all the way back to the beginnings of her career, talking about her work as a lawyer, just out of law school for the Children's Defense Fund. She also threw in a full-throated defense of President Obama's record, all of this as part of the outreach of the African-American community in the run-up to the primary in South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): Tonight, Hillary Clinton is pitching South Carolina voters on why she is best suited to be the Democratic nominee.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to go after every single barrier that stands in the way of what Americans can do.

JOHNS: The Clinton campaign is hoping the Palmetto State can help slow Bernie Sanders' momentum following his big New Hampshire win on Tuesday.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, New Hampshire.

JOHNS: The fight for the first-in-the-South primary will likely hinge on support from African-American voters, who make up over half the Democratic electorate in the state. Clinton lost African-Americans in South Carolina to President Obama by nearly 60 points in 2008.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, South Carolina.

JOHNS: With the president still held in high regard by African- Americans and Democrats nationwide, both candidates are working hard to show their support for him, including in Thursday night's debate in Milwaukee.

SANDERS: President Obama and I are friends.

CLINTON: I think President Obama has set a great example.

JOHNS: Clinton is trying to drive a wedge between Sanders and President Obama.

CLINTON: The kind of criticism that we've heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans. I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama.

SANDERS: That is...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: Madam Secretary, that is a low blow.

JOHNS: With Sanders returning the favor.

SANDERS: One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.

JOHNS: Sanders also targeting Clinton over Wall Street contributions to her super PAC.

SANDERS: Fifteen million dollars from Wall Street.

CLINTON: Barack Obama.

JOHNS: An attack Clinton rebutted by noting President Obama's super PAC also took money from Wall Street in 2008, but that did not influence his decision-making as president.

CLINTON: Let's not in anyway imply here that either President Obama or myself, would in anyway not take on any vested interested, whether it's Wall Street, or drug companies, or insurance companies.

JOHNS: But Sanders refused to let Clinton off the hook.

SANDERS: People aren't dumb. Why in God's name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it. They want to throw money around.

JOHNS: When it comes to reining in Wall Street, Clinton said she and Sanders share a similar view, but that her agenda goes beyond that one issue.

CLINTON: I am not a single-issue candidate and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: From here, Hillary Clinton goes onto Minneapolis and a political dinner where she will also see Bernie Sanders, after that, to Las Vegas, and then before the end of the week, to Denver, Colorado. So a very busy schedule for Hillary Clinton and her campaign -- Brianna.

[18:05:02]

KEILAR: All right, Joe Johns, thank you.

And let's get some information now on this breaking news in the Republican presidential race and Donald Trump's threat to sue Senator Ted Cruz.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is in Greenville, where Cruz was among the Republican presidential candidates visiting a forum there on faith and family.

Are they reacting to this, Sunlen, this threat from Trump?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are, Brianna.

Ted Cruz himself here moments ago, as well as his campaign, really downplaying this threat coming from Donald Trump tonight. Cruz's communications director, Rick Tyler, likened Trump to a 3-year-old child, he says, who needs to stay in a time-out chair.

Donald Trump is not in South Carolina today with the rest of the candidates, but he's mixing it up from afar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump's pledge to stay above the fray in South Carolina short-lived, Trump blasting rival Ted Cruz on Twitter, writing -- quote -- "If Ted Cruz doesn't clean up his act, stop cheating and doing negative ads, I have standing to sue him for not being a natural-born citizen," just hours after posting this -- quote -- "How can Ted Cruz be an evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?"

Late today, Cruz returning fire.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's more than a little irony in Donald accusing anyone of being nasty, given the amazing torrent of insults and obscenities and vulgarities that come out of his mouth.

SERFATY: This new offensive comes a day after Trump showed off a lighter side in Louisiana, even autographing a baby and suggesting he was ready to go positive.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I won't use foul language. I'm just not going to do it. I'm not going to do it. They're all saying, do it, do it. No, I'm not.

SERFATY: But Trump couldn't stay out of the all-out fight breaking out in the South Carolina trenches.

NARRATOR: There's nothing conservative about giving money to the Clintons. There's nothing conservative about Donald Trump.

SERFATY: The airwaves plastered with negative ads.

NARRATOR: Ted Cruz voted to undermine our national defense and weaken our ability to track terrorists.

SERFATY: The attacks between the candidates flying back and forth with a dizzying pace.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Maybe you should vote for more than just a pretty face next time.

SERFATY: But that ad backfiring on Cruz. His campaign is pulling it off the air after it was revealed that actress is also an adult film star.

CRUZ: It was designed to be a fun, light, cute ad. It happened that one of the actresses who was there had a had a more colorful film history than we were aware.

SERFATY: Cruz's team is refocusing today with a new ad directing fire up instead at Hillary Clinton in a spoof of the movie "Office Space." Many of the candidates today speaking at the conservative Christian

Bob Jones University in South Carolina, making a big pitch to woo coveted evangelical voters.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe that you put your faith in a lockbox when you're in public life and say, well, that's only for my private matters. That's just not -- that is totally wrong.

SERFATY: And jockeying over who has the most conservative credentials.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You disagree with people, for example, on the definition of marriage, they call you a hater and a bigot. Now, what is the next step?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: All of this sets the stage for what will absolutely be a fiery and heated debate Saturday night here in Greenville, South Carolina. Brianna, that comes just one week before Republican voters head to the polls.

KEILAR: All right, Sunlen Serfaty saying there that Donald Trump stirring things up from afar.

Let's go to afar. That's where we find Jim Acosta. He's awaiting the start of Donald Trump's rally in Tampa.

Do you think, Jim, we will be hearing more of this offense against Ted Cruz tonight?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's a safe bet.

Donald Trump is doing some telegraphing that he will be bringing up his feud with Ted Cruz here at this rally that we're waiting on in Tampa, Florida. Besides that tweet you just mentioned with Sunlen in which Trump threatens to take Cruz to court, the GOP front-runner has been retweeting his supporters all afternoon long as well, tweets questioning the Texas senator's Canadian birth and his eligibility to be president.

Another thing we're going to be listening for at this rally, Brianna, frankly, is Trump's language. Last night in Louisiana, Trump vowed to clean up his rhetoric, no more foul language, he said. But earlier today, the other candidates in this race have been seizing on this.

Jeb Bush said today that Trump's language is a sign of his insecurities. Marco Rubio complained that he can't explain some of Trump's recent vulgarities to his kids. He just doesn't want to go there. And Trump is obviously on a tear this afternoon. We're going to see. We're going to be putting this to the test shortly here in Tampa.

We will see whether or not Trump can tone it down tonight. He also has a big debate tomorrow. But it seems, Brianna, that his rivals have sort of found a sensitive spot where -- a pressure spot you might say. They're poking it suggesting that Donald Trump cannot tone down his act when it goes to places like the Deep South, down to places like the Bible Belt, where people will expect their candidates to be a bit more polite -- Brianna.

[18:10:15]

KEILAR: Yes, we will see.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

South Carolina presents Jeb Bush with an opportunity to build on some momentum that he received from New Hampshire voters. He's about to get some in-person help from his brother, the former president.

Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM is Bush adviser Michael Steel.

Mike, thanks so much for talking to us today.

Tell us about why this decision to bring the former president in to help his brother out.

MICHAEL STEEL, JEB BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, look, New Hampshire reset this presidential race, as it often does.

KEILAR: Oh, my goodness. All right.

We're having a little technical difficulty there. We will be right back in just a moment with more from this interview.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:15:17]

KEILAR: We are standing by for breaking news in the Republican presidential race. Donald Trump will be starting a campaign rally in Florida shortly.

Right now, we are talking with Michael Steel. He's a top adviser for Jeb Bush, whose presidential campaign got a bit of a boost there in New Hampshire, where voters sent several other Republican presidential candidate to the sidelines.

We are back with you now, sans technical issues, we hope, Michael.

Tell us about this decision to bring the former President George W. Bush out on the campaign trail to help out his brother. Why now?

STEEL: Well, New Hampshire reset the race, as it always does.

And South Carolina is the most military-friendly state in the country. Huge veteran population. Really concerned about national security. Governor Bush has the best record of leadership and the best detailed plans to take on, and confront, and defeat ISIS. He's endorsed by 12 Medal of Honor recipients, over 40 former generals and admirals. And obviously the ultimate validator when it comes to being ready to be commander in chief is the former commander in chief himself. We're excited to have him down here.

KEILAR: A lot of people look at this and they say even Jeb Bush's campaign sort of slogan or his poster, it says "Jeb!" It doesn't have his last name. He's had to say over and over and over, I'm my own man. Is there any concern that this could work against him or aligning him with the former president is a bell you can't unring?

STEEL: No, I think, look, Governor Bush has always been clear he's proud of his family. His father is the greatest man alive. His mother is a national icon. He's proud kept this country safe after 9/11. He's proud of all of that.

But he also knows that this race is not about the issues of 1988 or the issues of 2000. It's about the issues we face in 2016. And he had to prove it and earn it by talking about his record of achievement and his details plans for the future.

At the same time, Governor Bush -- excuse me -- President Bush is an enormously popular figure here in South Carolina. We think it's going the be a lot of excitement and a real asset to our campaign here.

KEILAR: We have noticed Donald Trump taking aim at the former president coming out on the campaign trail for Jeb. He's sort of insinuating that he's trying to get help from his family, first his mom, now his brother. What's your reaction to that?

STEEL: I think the more attention we get to the fact that the 41st and 43rd presidents, as well Barbara Bush, support Jeb is -- that is great.

KEILAR: Sorry about that. I just had an issue in my ear there, Mike.

But I do want to ask you, when you have the former president coming out, you know, he's someone who definitely connects with people on a sort of a retail campaigning basis. Is he is better campaigner than your candidate?

STEEL: I think it's a very different race and he faced very different issues when he ran for president.

The important thing that Governor Bush has to do, Jeb has to do is talk to people about his record of achievement in Florida. He was the most transformative conservative governor of the 21st century. He cut taxes every year and the economy boomed. He led the nation in job creation seven out of every eight -- seven out of eight years. He took on the teachers union to reform the education system.

And he has detailed plans to fix the mess in Washington, get our economy moving again, create 19 million new jobs, rising middle class wages. That's what he's running on this year.

KEILAR: Something that I think a lot of people heard Rupert Murdoch say -- he is of course the News Corp. chairman -- he called Governor Christie a suicide bomber who -- quote -- "damages the victim while blowing himself up."

He was talking about Chris Christie in this debate with Marco Rubio. There are some Bush backers who are continuing to hammer Rubio as well. Do you think that your candidate is in danger of doing what Christie did here?

STEEL: No, I don't think at all.

I think that the problem that Senator Rubio faces isn't his kind of robotic recitation of talking points or bits from his stump speech. The problem is that he has no real record of achievement. You look at the things they point to in the Senate, the Hezbollah sanctions bill, the passed almost unanimously and Senator Rubio didn't even bother to show up to vote.

Or reforming the Veterans Administration, that was a massive bipartisan bill written by Senator Sanders and Senator McCain. Or the Obama risk corridors issue, which Senator Rubio takes credit for, the senators who actually got that done say that he wasn't anywhere to be found. And, in fact, he showed up to vote against the bill on final passage.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Are you in danger of, by attacking Marco Rubio, giving an advantage here to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, two candidates who we all know people who back your candidate would prefer much less over Marco Rubio?

[18:20:01]

STEEL: Well, we think that the way to beat Donald Trump is to beat Donald Trump. That's why Governor Bush has been taking him on for months while a lot of these guys have been just playing possum and hoping for the best.

Donald Trump is not a conservative. We can't beat Hillary Clinton if the conservative party nominates someone who is not a conservative, who has supported partial-birth abortion, who has supported massive tax hikes, who has in fact supported Hillary Clinton. That's not the way to win.

Our job is to win this election. And that's why we have the best candidate in the race to do just that.

KEILAR: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, her endorsement is up for grabs. I know there's a lot of candidates who would really like to have it. Do you have any indication that she could endorse Jeb Bush?

STEEL: Governor Haley has offered tremendous leadership to the people of South Carolina. In the wake of the Charleston shooting, in terms of school reform, she's a great leader. We would love her support. But I have no indication one way or the other.

KEILAR: OK. At the last debate, I think, the moment of the debate really was Chris Christie taking on Marco Rubio, doing some of the dirty work there and then, of course, he gets out of the race. In this next debate that we're going to see tomorrow, is that a role that Jeb Bush is going to be taking? Is he going to be doing some of that dirty work?

STEEL: You know, I actually disagree. I thought the best moment of the last debate was when Jeb Bush took on Donald Trump for trying to kick an elderly widow out of her house in Atlantic City to pave it over and build a new parking lot for his limousines.

And I think that's what you will see on Saturday night, Governor Bush continuing to press the case against Donald Trump, because he would be a disaster for our party and a disaster for our country.

KEILAR: All right, Michael Steel with the Bush campaign joining us from Florida -- pardon me -- from Florida -- from South Carolina, from South Carolina.

(CROSSTALK)

STEEL: South Carolina.

KEILAR: It's been a long week. All right. All right, Mike Steel, thanks so much.

Just ahead, we're going to go back to our breaking news, waiting for Donald Trump's Florida rally and more on his threat to sue Senator Ted Cruz.

We're also learning more about how the U.S. military is responding to North Korea's recent test of a rocket that may be capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear warhead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:26:51]

KEILAR: We are standing by for Donald Trump's latest rally in Tampa, Florida, this as Trump is now threatening to sue Senator Ted Cruz.

We want to get more on the state of the Republican presidential race from CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson. We also have CNN politics executive editor Mark Preston, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's the senior editor at "The Atlantic."

So, OK, first to you Mark. You have Donald Cruz -- Donald Trump -- I am struggling. A 26-day workweek, that's my excuse here. OK?

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: All right, so Donald Trump goes after Ted Cruz today in this tweet. He's saying, if he doesn't clean up his act, I'm going to sue him.

OK. Who is he playing to and is this effective?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, let's start that Hilary and I were sitting in these chairs 24 hours ago talking about how Donald Trump had pulled down the negative advertising and there was going to be this new Donald Trump. But guess what? He can pull down negative advertising.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: We didn't really believe it, though.

PRESTON: No, we didn't believe it. But we said he should go back up with an ad.

KEILAR: It's hard to believe, right

PRESTON: But when you have Twitter right now, which Donald Trump is clearly lighting up right now, and not only is he going after Ted Cruz, he's now going after Jeb Bush.

And who is he playing to? He's playing to these conservatives who might look at Ted Cruz and say, wait a second, he is not one of us, although I would say that Donald Trump is probably playing with fire a little bit, because he's saying, if you read what he says, I am going to go after him unless he starts playing nice. I'm going to call into question his citizenship, which doesn't make sense.

Either you're going to go after him because he's a citizen.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Actually, that was a question that I had. It just sort of seems like a bullying threat then. Right?

ROSEN: Well, he's pressing on him to try and keep the negative -- to keep Cruz back from hitting on him. So, you know, it's sort of the tactic. He's done it all along.

He did it with Marco. He did it with Jeb, and he did it with Hillary Clinton. This is how nasty I am going to get if you don't stop talking about me.

But, you know, I think there's another piece of this with Trump, which is, you know, this turned actually into an actual political campaign over the last two weeks. He needs it to be brought back to sort of some level of theater, because that's when he gets a lot of attention. That's when the media sort of goes into him totally. That's when people get interested in his events. I think he thinks the theater helps him.

KEILAR: So, you see him trying to kind of stir up some drama there.

Nia, I wonder what you think about Trump -- you have Trump taking aim at Cruz, not just on this front, but also saying he's dishonest. He's clearly trying to carve out with some of the evangelical voters there in South Carolina. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And

you saw this kind of start in Iowa. He tried a number of different things. There was the line he had at some point which was something like, oh, I don't see a lot of evangelicals coming out of Cuba. That didn't really go over well.

And then he's kind of shifted to Ted Cruz as kind of a mean and nasty guy, and nobody really likes him. Why can't he get along with people? He doesn't have good manners in a sense. And then he's shifted to this other thing about Ben Carson, saying he was up to dirty tricks in Iowa.

And, in some ways, I think it will be effective to a certain extent. Donald Trump did pretty good among evangelicals both in Iowa and in New Hampshire. I think he came in second. In some of the national polls, he's leading among evangelicals. He doesn't need to win evangelicals. He just needs to, I think, carve out a few here and there, pick off a few so he can remain competitive.

[18:30:15] KEILAR: And Ron, there was this split among evangelicals once you started looking at education level in New Hampshire.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Right. Absolutely. And in Iowa, as well. And I think that is really one of the absolute keys to the election going forward in South Carolina, across the south and into the Midwest.

Ted Cruz is lopsidedly dependent on evangelicals. If you look at his vote, it's very similar to Rick Santorum in '12 or Mike Huckabee in '08. In New Hampshire, Ted Cruz only won 8 percent of voters who were not evangelicals. Which means that if Donald Trump can crack his hold on evangelicals, Cruz is in a very, very tenuous position.

And what we see is that Donald Trump is strong among blue-collar Republicans across the religious boundaries, dominant among blue-color Republicans who are not evangelicals. And in New Hampshire we saw him beat Ted Cruz among the blue-color Republicans who are evangelicals.

And Brianna, the reason that's so important is that, in South Carolina, the biggest single group of the electorate are evangelical Christians who are also blue-collar. And if Donald Trump does well with them in South Carolina, he will win the state. And it will point the pathway for him to shake Cruz's hold that Cruz believes he has, not only on the south, but also states like Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, where there's a big number of voters who fit that description, as well. Absolutely critical swing constituency in the Republican arty.

KEILAR: Hilary, I want to ask you about something different, which is Donald Trump has taken aim at the pope, calling him a very -- that's the question. You always wonder who is the person that he goes up against and is going to lose against. Right. But so he's called him a very political person.

ROSEN: Yes.

KEILAR: He is heading to the U.S./Mexican border. Is this anything -- you know, obviously, this would be a big problem on the Democratic side if a candidate did this. A lot of Republicans, I think, felt that when the pope came to Congress and spoke to them, that they got a little bit of a talking to. Is this anything that even affects him?

ROSEN: This will be interesting to see what happens at the debate, Republican debate. You have Marco Rubio, a strong Catholic. You have Jeb Bush, you know, who has no real in towards the religious conservatives. This could be one.

The problem is, is that it's on this issue of the border. Right? So can they effectively go after Donald Trump for attacking the pope when what he's doing -- the pope is doing is actually showing compassion for Mexican immigrants? And so they are in a bit of a catch-22. He may just get away with this, but there is no question that this will not sit well over the course of the long term with independents across the country, with moderate Republicans.

KEILAR: But in a general election let's say?

ROSEN: No question.

HENDERSON: I think it works in the primary. You listen to conservative talk radio. And when the pope was here, they were kind of going after him and saying that he was too political.

So I think it works. And in South Carolina in some ways.

PRESTON: And it's worth noting that evangelicals are not necessarily in love with Catholics, specifically in the south as this race is turning down to Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina. You know...

HENDERSON: Even though Santorum was a Catholic who masqueraded as an evangelical.

KEILAR: Ron, I want to ask you about Marco Rubio. He is getting aggressive on the campaign trail after what was really a bitter defeat there in New Hampshire. He's going after Donald Trump. His use of crude language. He's saying, "Look, I can't even tell my kids the things that he said." He's going after Jeb Bush on his lack of foreign policy experience. Does this work for him?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, Rubio, everything was teed up for Rubio in New Hampshire to emerge as the champion as the mainstream conservative center right bracket. There were endorsements coming out one after the other, kind of a drumbeat. And then he kind of crashed and burned to that fifth-place finish. Not only because of the debate, but also because he pitched his message in New Hampshire in a more partisan and ideological tenor that was really appropriate for the voters who were available.

And if you look at the difference from Iowa to New Hampshire, Brianna, He didn't change much in his support among very somewhat conservative and moderate voters. He fell 20 points among somewhat conservative and moderate voters. That is the constituency that is most kind of at sea in this election, you know, without a clear champion and the bracket that is kind of most open to him. And we'll see if he gets another chance.

I think with the New Hampshire chance gone, it is possible, even likely that that bracket doesn't consolidate for several more weeks, if ever. Which of course, is an advantage to Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, Ted Cruz.

KEILAR: OK. Well, looking at that breakdown, How does that effect then his message going into South Carolina with the type of Republican voters you have there?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, like I said, you know, the theory of the Rubio case has been that voters in the center of the party will come to him eventually as everybody else fades away, and he doesn't really have to worry about them. He can send most of his time focusing on candidates to his right and trying to cannibalize their support, whether it's Cruz or Trump.

By criticizing Trump's demeanor is a sign that he understands that that is the biggest hang-up for voters that are kind of in the center right in the party about Donald Trump. It may be a sign that he's kind of focusing back more on them.

[18:35:09] But you know, I think we're going to see at the debate tomorrow night who Marco Rubio is talking to. There has been a door open for him all the way that he doesn't want to walk through. And instead he's trying to run through a wall that is pretty crowded to candidates to his right in terms of Cruz and Trump.

KEILAR: Big moment for Jeb Bush is that his brother is coming out on the campaign trail in South Carolina. He has said, "I'm my own man." He's sort of tried to create his own space away from his brother. So this is something that I think a lot of people are wondering how is this going to play out? When you look at this, and he's taped this radio ad that's airing, that's going to air in South Carolina. What do you think?

PRESTON: I think it was too late, quite frankly. And I'm not saying that Jeb Bush doesn't have a shot. He still has a shot at the nomination. Anyone that tells you right now they have a bead on who's going to win is clearly lying. Right? Because it's such a bizarre cycle.

Jeb Bush has been using George W. Bush to raise money. So he's quietly been doing stuff.

What I don't understand, though, is when they were looking for traction, they weren't getting any movement in the polls in November, December, even back to October, why didn't they bring out George W. Bush? Why didn't they bring him out in Iowa where there is a big veteran population? They are now bringing him out in South Carolina, where there's a huge veteran population.

Look, George W. Bush might not be beloved by Democrats and a lot of independents, but he is by Republicans. And I think that it's probably late. ROSEN: Well, I think they didn't bring him out, because when he launched his campaign, those were the questions that he most stumbled over in his early interview, questions over how he would differ from his brother's administration, what he disagreed with, the war in Iraq, a whole series of things that he just hadn't really thought through good answers to. And it slowed him down significantly.

KEILAR: All right. Hilary, Mark, Nia, Ron, stand by for me. We're going to have more as we talk about the Democratic side of the race and the fight for key constituencies among minority voters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:41:24] KEILAR: Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are back on the campaign trail after some sharp clashes in their debate last night. We're back now with our political experts to talk about this.

I want to talk, you know, about one of the things I think that we saw last night that certainly the Hillary Clinton campaign is really gravitating towards, a question about whether race relations would be better under these candidates versus President Obama. Here's what Bernie Sanders said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, "PBS NEWSHOUR": So race relations would be better under a Sanders presidency than they've been?

SANDERS: Absolutely. Because what we will do is say instead of giving tax breaks to billionaires, we are going to create millions of jobs for low-income kids so they're not hanging out on street corners. We're going to make sure that those kids stay in school, are able to get a college education.

KEILAR: How is that going to play?

HENDERSON: You know, first of all, I don't really know what people mean by race relations. I don't know that, you know, we're all going to sit down together and have a Coke and a smile or something.

So I just think it's a vague idea. And he probably didn't answer it in the best way. Right? Because this idea that he'll be better than President Obama. And also that President Obama wasn't very good, right? Because if you saw the way that -- the way that Hillary Clinton answered it, she basically said listen, Obama has been great...

KEILAR: She sort of said, "I disagree with the premise." Yes.

HENDERSON: The question is, as you said, Hillary Clinton campaign has certainly seized on this as a sort of there you go again, Bernie Sanders, kind of criticizing this president and saying you'd be better or different in a way.

KEILAR: You said something during that sound bite that was -- you said those kids. And you're sort of getting to the othering that Bernie Sanders has been accused of before.

ROSEN: This is my issue with how Bernie Sanders talks about race. He only talking about African-American as low-income folks. That it's -- that only if you're poor do you feel discrimination or other, you know...

KEILAR: That it's economically based, not race based.

ROSEN: And you know I don't think that's real people's experience. You know, I have kids of color. They're not poor. But they -- they're, you know, experience fear sometimes the same way other young kids of color do. And it's just that kind of empathy piece just doesn't feel genuine enough for me with Bernie Sanders.

And so I agree with Nia. It was awkwardly stated what he said. I don't think he's of mal intent. I just don't think it's really his experience very often.

KEILAR: And Ron, what do you think of that? Because he also has said before -- someone basically said, "How are you going to appeal to African-Americans?"

And he said, "Well, the same way that I basically am appealing to the general population," which was sort of like, "Why did he say that?" That's certainly not the articulate way for him to explain himself.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Look, I think he is somewhat misinterpreted in what he was saying, but it is nonetheless, revealing, because as Hilary said, his view of the world -- every issue is through an economic lens, through a lens of economic equality.

And I think -- he wasn't really saying he's going to manage race relations better than President Obama. I thought he was saying he was going to create more opportunity for African-Americans through all of the programs that he's got. His massive public works program, his free public college and so forth.

But it is a reminder that he is simply not that comfortable on almost any terrain that goes beyond this issue of inequality and kind of viewing the world through that lens.

[18:45:04] That is where he goes back to all the time. And when he has to talk beyond that, he often seems a little bit at sea. By the way, that's why you see Hillary Clinton, you know, emphasizing this idea that yes, inequality is an issue, but we have to talk about all sorts of other barriers in society. It is a not so subtle way of suggesting that Bernie Sanders is a one note candidate.

KEILAR: Mark, a battle last night over this idea of practicality, Hillary Clinton, and idealism, Bernie Sanders.

When you look at them battling over that, it's this flashback in a way I think to 2008. Let's listen to something she said during that cycle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, I could stand up here and say, let's just get everybody together, let's get unified, the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.

Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no allusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: As I recall, that did not work for Hillary Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Maybe not her best campaign moment, right? Listen --

KEILAR: Is this some of that? Is this a shade of that?

PRESTON: Listen, the problem for Hillary Clinton right now is that she has that populist to the nth degree to her left right now and that is pitch fork in his left hand and a pitch fork in his right hand and he's turning around saying, let's go burn down the Capitol. And guess what? There are a lot of people in this country that want to get to Washington, D.C. and burn down the Capitol.

And quite frankly, there's a lot of problems here that need to be fixed. The pragmatic discussion that she is proffering and talking about is not electrifying.

KEILAR: It's sort of boring. It lacks inspiration, right?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It's boring, but --

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: She doesn't -- my -- I think he is extremely good at talking about the problems in this country and she is extremely good talking about the solutions in this country. You know, the solutions are a little tougher, a little wonkier, a little less dreamy than talking about the -- solving the problems.

But she is starting to approach this more I think with kind of imagining the best, being a little more inspiring. I think you saw a softer, bigger tone from her last night that had a -- kind of an airier quality. Sometimes this is just about not trying to only hammer the nail. Sometimes this is about, like, showing people your whole toolbox.

KEILAR: I'm going to have to leave it there. It was so nice to end the week with you guys, though, I'll tell you.

Hilary, Mark, Nia and Ron, you guys have a great weekend.

Just ahead, there are new security concerns about the pope's safety. This is ahead of a planned visit near the U.S. border.

And we're also learning new information about the U.S. military response to North Korea's satellite launch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:52:34] KEILAR: The U.S. issued an ominous warning about security and the possibility of a terror attack while Pope Francis is visiting Mexico. He actually arrives in just a couple of hours now.

I want to bring in CNN justice reporter Evan Perez to tell us more about the U.S. security concerns.

What are they, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, this was actually a security assessment that was issued by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department and it folks on the pope's visit to Ciudad Juarez, which is on the border with El Paso on February 17th, next Wednesday. The pope is going to be celebrating an outdoor mass in a field right along the border.

And on the U.S. side, there will be 17,000 pilgrims who are going to gather to watch this mass. And so, the concern there is you could have something there like what happened in Paris where an attacker focuses on attacking people outside of the state, but really focusing on the outside. That is one of the concerns that the FBI and DHS raises in this assessment.

And secondly, they're talking about, as we always hear, lone wolf attackers, people who might be motivated to try to do something, simply because this is a very big international event, something that would attract a lot of attention.

KEILAR: It's going to be quite the visual. And so, as you described that, it sounds like there's these general concerns. Are there specific threats that they're looking at?

PEREZ: This focuses on the U.S. So, they know of no specific threats, the assessment says, the FBI and DHS have seen no information of any credible threats to the U.S. events. It doesn't address the situation in Mexico. As you know, Ciudad Juarez was a very dangerous place, until a few years ago. It's a lot safer now but that is something that is going to be left to Mexican security, not the U.S.

KEILAR: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much for that.

We're also learning some new details about the U.S. military response in the wake of North Korea's satellite launch this week. This comes as a Pentagon report is revealing new information about North Korea's military.

I want to bring in Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr on this.

This is a very, very interesting case here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is, Brianna.

And what we are learning here today is that just next week, the U.S. and South Korea are going to sit down in Seoul and begin talking about all the details to send the U.S. military's THAAD missile system to South Korea. This is a highly specialized missile that can shoot down incoming North Korean short range, all the way up to intermediate range ballistic missiles.

[18:55:01] So, what does it really do? It provides a security umbrella over South Korea. More security confidence that they can see to their own security in the wake of the recent North Korean satellite launch on top of the three-stage rocket. The equivalent of a North Korean missile and North Korea's nuclear test.

A lot of concern that the North Korean regime is just wholesale moving ahead with its weapons program. And, in fact, today, the Pentagon sent Congress a report about all of this, underscoring that North Korea is trying to build a three-stage long-range missile, put a nuclear warhead on top, and have it be able to be able to reach the United States.

This is the ultimate concern right now. It's one of the big concerns that's going to be facing the next president after the election because North Korea has something else in mind. They want to build this missile nuclear warhead and put it on a mobile launcher, essentially a truck that they can run around the North Korean countryside. U.S. satellites may find it very difficult to be able to track that and at the same time beefing up their own forces.

They are, according to the Pentagon report, beefing up their special operations forces. Those special ops forces, the best equipped, the best trained, and the best fed of the North Korean military. There's a big reason for the best fed -- a country with severe food shortages. It keeps those troops loyal to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr, thank you for that report.

Let's turn now to the ongoing bloodshed in Syria and the potential cease-fire that many hope is going to lead to a lasting peace. This is an agreement that is set to take effect next week, but there are already concerns that some parties will not hold up their end of the bargain.

Let's get the latest now from CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. This is a really big concern that this isn't going to actually be in effect.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. It's very tenuous. World powers agreed for the first time since the war began to a ceasefire and the delivery of much need humanitarian aid.

For now, the truce is only on paper. It is fragile, partial, and leaves the Syrian people at the mercy of Russia, who the U.S. fears cannot be trusted. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): No sign yet of a truce in the suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus. Opposition workers rescued victims from the rubble. The ink not even dry on last night's cease-fire.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we have here are words on paper. What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground in the field.

LABOTT: It was the first agreement to halt the fighting since the war began five years ago, but it freezes major gains by President Assad's forces after Russian air strikes and an Iranian-backed ground defensive drove opposition forces out of Aleppo and surrounding areas they'd occupied for years. The deal doesn't cover ISIS or Syrian al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front, considered the terrorist group which has fought Assad's forces alongside U.S.-backed rebels.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): That is why our air space forces will continue working against these organizations.

LABOTT: Russia is promising another week of air strikes leading up to the cease-fire. U.S. officials fear the time will help Assad's forces seize even more territory.

A task force led by the U.S. and Russia will identify remaining targets, but it's clear the two countries don't agree on which groups are fair game. Today, President Assad said he intends to retake the whole country from rebel forces whom he calls terrorists.

PRES. BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIA (through translator): If we negotiate, it does not mean that we stop fighting terrorism.

LABOTT: Starting Saturday, humanitarian aid will flow to seven besieged areas. But not relief for Aleppo, or tens of thousands of Syrian hungry and in need of medical care are fleeing for the Turkish border.

The Syrian opposition said it was optimistic, but would not return to the peace talks until the aid was delivered and the cease-fire took hold.

SALEM AL-MESLET, SYRIAN OPPOSITION SPOKESMAN: It's a test for goodwill and we'll wait and see what happens there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: Secretary of State John Kerry hopes a cease-fire will turn the Syrian civil war into a war against ISIS. Today, Defense Secretary Carter meeting NATO allies welcome Saudi Arabia's offer to deploy ground troops to Syria as part of a coalition fighting ISIS. Russia's prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, warned that that would drag everyone, including the U.S. and its allies, Brianna, into a permanent war in the region.

KEILAR: Big warning.

All right. Elise Labott, thank you so much.

And a reminder to our viewers: you can tune into tonight at 10:00 p.m. and watch that PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential debate here on CNN.

And remember that you can always follow us on Twitter. Just tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us Monday in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Brianna Keilar. Thank you so much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.