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Ted Cruz Pulls TV Ads; Obama Opens Up; Pope Francis Visits Mexico; New Allegations in Flint, Michigan. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired February 13, 2016 - 06:00   ET



[06:00:10] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and you are up early. We're so glad to have your company. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

We are now just hours away from the GOP debate face-off in Greenville, South Carolina. This time six candidates on stage and expect even more aggressive attacks.

Senator Marco Rubio trying to rebound after a poor show in New Hampshire going after former mentor, Florida Governor -- former Florida governor, Jeb Bush. Now, Bush is ramping up his attacks on the frontrunner Donald Trump. And despite a place to stay above the fray, Trump is launching a new offensive threatening to sue rival Ted Cruz over his citizenship, did you get all that?

PAUL: I fell like we need a white board

BLACKWELL: There's a lot going on.

PAUL: Yes. There's a lot going on. Trump blasted Cruz on Twitter writing, "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." Well, late yesterday Cruz returned fire.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will give him this, he's not boring. My approach consistently has been I'm not going to respond in kind. So he can launch whatever insults he wants. My focus is going to be on the substance of issues. And there is a reason that Donald engages in attacks, because it's all a smoke screen to hide from his record.


PAUL: Now, last night Donald Trump held a rally with thousands of supporters. Take a look it up here in Florida, CNN's Jim Acosta was there and has more of Trump's latest line of attack.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Christi despite sending that tweet warning he might sue Ted Cruz over the Texas senator's attacks, Donald Trump did not mention his arch rival very much at this big rally in Tampa.

Trump did keep his promise that he made on Thursday though when he vowed to stop using any vulgarities on the campaign trail, but Trump still went on the attack, hitting one of his favorite targets Jeb Bush insisting the former Florida governor is unable to negotiate with U.S. adversaries, here's what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, Jeb. He's asleep at the wheel, folks. No, seriously, can you imagine Jeb negotiating with China? Can you imagine?


ACOSTA: Cruz did fire back at Trump saying the real estate tycoon's complaints don't square with his coarse language and other GOP contenders are also raising doubt about Trump's ability to keep it clean on the campaign trail. With Bush and Marco Rubio saying Trump's language is simply not appropriate for children at his campaign rallies, Victor and Christi.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jim Acosta for us, Jim thank you so much. So why is Donald Trump saying he will sue Ted Cruz now? I want you to listen to what he said previously.


TRUMP: Because the fact is there's a big overhang. There's a big question mark on your head and you can't do that to the party. I'm not bringing a suit, I promise, but the Democrats are going to bring a lawsuit.


BLACKWELL: He's not bringing the suit, he promises.

Now, let's bring in CNN political commentator Errol Louis, also David Swerdlick, assistant editor of the Washington Post and Steve Munisteri former adviser for Senator Rand Paul's presidential campaign. Gentlemen, welcome to you all.

And Errol I want to start with you. This threat to sue Cruz over this as he calls it ineligibility to be president, they have to assume that's going to come up with the debate tonight.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One would hope that the moderators would bring it up then perhaps Donald Trump, but I mean let's be clear he always had the ability Donald Trump did to sort of mount a legal challenge to the point is though it's not really a serious possibility. They teach you the first week in law school, Victor that anybody can get into court. The question is whether you can stay there.

So, yeah, he can start a lawsuit and get a couple of news cycles worth of talking points out of it, but the suit would probably be bounced out of court in fairly short order. We'll see if Donald Trump really means it.

BLACKWELL: David he's getting a news cycle just by threatening to sue, do you expect he's serious or this just the latest Trump rant?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR WASHINGTON POST: Well, I don't know how far he'll take it, but to the point that Errol just made right. Every day that Donald Trump is talking about Ted Cruz's citizenship and everyday that Ted Cruz is defending his citizenship is a day that Ted Cruz can't point out to voters that Donald Trump is not as conservative as he is or that he's the better candidate and Donald Trump is controlling the news cycle every day leading up to South Carolina. That way and it's worked for him so far and I think they're going to continue to use that tactic until it doesn't work anymore.

BLACKWELL: Steve let's talk about Trump v. Bush. Jeb Bush has been ramping up the attacks since after that New Hampshire debate those proved to work from well and coming in fourth place there in New Hampshire. I want you to hear what Trump said about Bush in Tampa.


TRUMP: See, he's bringing his brother in now. He's bringing -- He tried the mother which is -- who's a very nice lady I'm sure. But he tried the mother, that didn't work out so good.


[06:05:06] BLACKWELL: All right, Steve that's the sound bite bringing in to this narrative George W. Bush is going to be on the campaign for his brother. Is Jeb Bush a serious contender to win South Carolina? I mean, the latest polls, although they're several weeks old have Trump several points ahead.

STEVE MUNISTERI, FORMER ADVISER FOR SENATOR RAND PAUL'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, for him it's just not about winning it's about surviving. Right now he's at 11 percent. He needs to get his numbers up or he may not make it to the next round.

BLACKWELL: Do you think he can win in South Carolina?

MUNISTERI: Personally, I don't think he can win South Carolina but I don't think that's his major goal. His major goal is to get his numbers up high enough so that he could be the alternative to Trump and Cruz. He's really in a different primary right now. He's in a primary with Senator Rubio and Governor Kasich.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about Rubio. Errol, after that -- he admitted it the poor showing in New Hampshire that last debate, what does Rubio have to do tonight to stop the slide?

LOUIS: Well, he's got to have a better than average sort of gaffe- free debate where I think all eyes will be on him and, you know, the attacks that came from Governor Christie even though Christie is no longer in the race will be sort of hanging over the room, you know, is he giving sort of canned talking points line, is he repeating himself. So, if he doesn't psych himself out psychologically he'll probably do just fine. So he's got to do that, but then more importantly he's got to do a lot of work outside the debate arena. He's got to really get a ground game going, he's got to get a good showing when the votes are counted next week. Remember, he had the strategy of 3, 2, 1. He was going to come in third in Iowa, his advisers said and then second in New Hampshire and then first in South Carolina, the math doesn't look like it's working out for him at all, so far.

BLACKWELL: David, Marco Rubio has been on the attack on this week saying that Donald Trump does not have foreign policy experience, Jeb Bush does not have foreign policy experience. When I was in South Carolina following the Bush campaign I took it to their communications director and they wouldn't even answer the question. I mean, I have -- they is the Bush campaign looking past Marco Rubio now because at least rhetorically Jeb Bush seems to be focused squarely on Donald Trump.

SWERDLICK: Well, the good news for the Bush campaign is that they've sort they've done so poorly up to now that they have nowhere but to go up. They see that Senator Rubio has had a tough week and they feel like they can go into this campaign knowing if they can just score some points, keep jabbing partly at Rubio and jabbing partly at Trump they can slowly climb back into this race now that a few other candidates have dropped out knowing they have some money to burn and knowing that they've got for instance some newspaper endorsements coming out of Texas recently.

The Bush campaign, you know, sees themselves as playing a longer game whereas Rubio has to come into the debate tonight as Errol said and basically show a sense of humor about the fact that he had kind of a dismal week.

BLACKWELL: Steven, Ted Cruz was in front of 14,000 people last night at a rock concert in Greenville, South Carolina, a Christian conservative rock group there. I think we have a video of Cruz speaking to them he is obviously going to do well with the 65 percent of GOP voters who identify themselves as evangelicals, what does he have to do on that -- this debate stage tonight?

MUNISTERI: Well, he has to show himself as the alternative to Donald Trump. He really wants to portray the race as a two-person race.

BLACKWELL: And how does he do that?

MUNISTERI: By keeping his focus on Trump. I also think he needs to solidify the conservative line. He wants to try to pick up some of Ben Carson's vote and for him it's all about maintaining the message that he's going to fight for conservatives and he's an uncompromising conservative that is really his appeal to the base.

BLACKWELL: All right. Steve Munisteri, David Swerdlick, Errol Louis thank you all. We're going to have you back at the bottom of the hour. You brought up Dr. Carson who has said that he can win South Carolina the latest polls don't show that he's in the top three or four. We'll see what he can get done and how long he stays in the race. We'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.

And a programming note CNN hosts a post debate special tonight with Erin Burnette immediately after debate, so stay with us for that.

PAUL: Hillary Clinton fighting her way back to the top after a crushing loss to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, her new plan of attack.

BLACKWELL: Plus, Ted Cruz pulls his new ad after the discovery of a porn actress is one of the main actors there, why some people think that was a wrong decision?


[06:12:55] PAUL: Twelve minutes past the hour right now and we are two weeks out from the Democratic primary in South Carolina. Hillary Clinton seems to be sharpening her attack against Bernie Sanders right now pinning him as the candidate of false hope and promises. Listen to this.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDITATE: I want you to understand I will not promise you something that I cannot deliver. I will not do that. I will not make promises I know I cannot keep. We don't need any more of that. What we need is a commitment and a determination to follow through.


PAUL: Now, among Clinton's supporters, there are signs that there could be some concern about her viability this morning. According to the Washington Post, one Super PAC backing the former secretary of state is prepared to spend $5 million on her behalf, but here's the thing, that's money that wasn't supposed to be touched until the general election.

CNN political commentator Errol Louis back with us again and Democratic strategist and Bernie Sanders supporter Nomiki Konst, thank you both so much for being with us.

Errol I want to start with you. This infusion of Super PAC money that we're hearing about this morning, do you see that as an erosion of confidence in Clinton's campaign amongst her people?

LOUIS: I think of it more as a strategic decision to not assume that the nomination is hers for the asking and recognizing a little bit belatedly frankly that Bernie Sanders represents a real threat, not Bernie Sanders himself although he's a formidable candidate as we have learned and as Clinton has learned, but because he represents a real play for the Obama coalition, the millennials, the women, the independents. We'll see if he makes any inroads with the black and Latino communities.

He is really sort of eroding and going right after some basis of support that she might have taken a little bit for granted. I see the news report that you just related as them saying, OK, all bets are off, we've got to really try to shore up the house before it's too late.

PAUL: You know, we had an issue we saw overnight with Bernie Sanders as he was speaking to some a community, to some folks in the black community.

[06:15:05] They were very welcoming initially, but at the end of the day it turns out that it didn't necessarily go so well they eventually asked him, you know, they asked him can't you talk in specific points about what is affecting the black community. And he responded saying, it's not always just about race. It's about the economy. What does he have to do to make things better and try to pull in some of those African-American votes?

NOMIKI KONST, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think, frankly, he has to go for the jugular on this one. I mean, the African-American community has suffered the most as a result of many of Clinton's policies, both Hillary Clinton designing welfare reform under the Clinton administration and many of the policies under Bill Clinton himself.

And there's this false narrative that they have been strong for the African-American community. When he says things like improving the economy, I think he needs to connect the dots a little bit more. I'm of the belief that millennials really understand this because they're the result of the economy, their generation has been hurt by the economy.

But I think the African-American community, in particular, has, you know, these Democrats have come in, swooped in for their vote, had parties, played the saxophone, done all these fancy things which image wise look good for the black community. But in terms of policy, when you talk about, you know, deregulating Wall Street, that significantly affects the African-American community. When you talk about welfare reform, these crime policies, private prisons, I mean, the biggest donor to Bill Clinton's campaign, one of the biggest donors was private prison industry in the '90s. So this deeply affects the African-American community.

And to go back to the earlier point about the fund raising, when you look at Hillary Clinton's fundraisers, most of her fundraisers had maxed out right now. And she cannot go to Wall Street to raise more money because it doesn't look good. She, in fact, canceled two financial industry fundraisers before New Hampshire because she knew that wouldn't look good.

So not only are they creating a new Super PAC strategy, but the DNC itself headed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz who is basically a supporter of Hillary Clinton, has decided to accept lobbying money. And to go against the Biden-Obama policy where they decided they weren't going to do that anymore. And to be fair, neither Obama or Biden will be going out there and fund raising from lobbying money

But, you know, they are preparing for the general election. And they see Hillary Clinton as the nominee who's the most likely to raise money.

PAUL: Errol, I wanted to ask you about that. When we talk about this Super PAC coming out with this money that it was not going to touch yet, doesn't that obviously has a potential to hurt Clinton because it's one of Sanders' biggest critiques against her, that corporate backing via the Super PAC's. How did she manage that now?

LOUIS: Well, she's in the same box, she's in the position she's always been in which is, you know, either you take outside money or you don't.

I think she expressed in the last debate a certain amount of frustration over the issue because, you know, her idea that both Obama and Clinton and almost every other serious contender for the presidency has taken lots of money, and that includes money from corporations. And many of those corporations happen to be investment banks. She doesn't want some unique standard to be applied to her that has never been applied to anybody else.

Now, this plays right into Senator Sanders' hands. He then say, look, you know, why would Goldman Sachs or anybody else give any money to anybody if they didn't want to just sort of buy the government. It's a very simplistic kind of an argument. But it seems to work with Sanders' supporters. And so, Hillary Clinton is between a rock and a hard place.

My guess is that she will do the practical thing. She will do whatever it takes including changing the Super PAC strategies if that what the -- those outsiders want to do. Or changing her campaign and fundraising strategy to make sure she has what she needs to win race after race. And get through the primary season.

PAUL: You know, one of the things that was striking was after the debate. We did not see either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders go to Nevada. And that is the next race for them. Why is it that he didn't go to Nevada? Is he that - is he that confident in that state?

I don't know if confidence is the right word. I mean, to be fair, there was one day in between the debate and in New Hampshire primaries. So, you know, they're both setting up their operations right now in Nevada. And they both have plans to have big rallies in Nevada. So it's not like they're ignoring the states, it's just - think it's just a functionality thing and knowing that the schedule was when -- I think, he'd do it one day in between he met with Al Sharpton in New York.

So, sometimes you can kill two birds with one stone by doing a very public event that sends a message to the voters you're trying to attract in a certain state. I mean, you've seen Hillary Clinton do it. She was talking about Flint, Michigan, which is part strategy to affect the Midwest. But mostly, to talk to the African-American community and say that this is what's going on with the water crisis is affecting your community the most. I think Bernie Sanders is doing the same thing.

I mean, we're in the era of mass media. As long as they have their ground operations in place and they show up for the primaries and the caucuses and have their big events, I mean, that's what's important to their supporters.

PAUL: All right. Nomiki Konst and Errol Louis, always appreciate you both. Thank you for being here.

[06:20:03] KONST: Thank you.

LOUIS: Thank you Christi.

BLACKWELL: The fight heading into South Carolina is heating up as it usually does.

Let's turn now to Hawaii, trying to get ahead of the Zika virus before it even starts up there. They're planning to prevent the outbreak in that state.

PAUL: Plus, crews are still looking for any possible survivors of the quake that rocked Taiwan a week ago. Why they say the casualties are going to continue to rise. But they are still looking for survivors.


BLACKWELL: Hawaii has started to put some sprayers, these insecticide sprayers, into population centers. They've got people going door to door now in expectation that mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus could eventually reach the state. The governor assigned an emergency proclamation as an effort to, "get in front of the situation."

The World Health Organization recently announced the two possible Zika vaccines are under development. But they won't be available for at least a year and a half.

PAUL: And two brothers from Washington State who vanished six months ago, they a look at them here. They had been found, safe and sound in Mexico. Their biological mother is charged now with kidnapping the boys and taking them out of the United State as of last August

She'll be in court in Los Angeles this week on Tuesday. And these two boys who are 15 and 9 are now reunited with their father.

BLACKWELL: In Southern California, an enormous natural gas leak has finally been stopped. That means thousands of people who live in the community of Porter Ranch will soon be allowed to return to their homes. That leak was first discovered four months ago. Engineers are now preparing to fill that t well with concrete to permanently seal it.

[06:25:04] PAUL: And let's take you to Ohio now because the FBI is assisting police in Columbus to determine the motive of a man who attacked several people in a restaurant with a machete.

Police are investigating it as a possible lone wolf terror incident. Four people were injured including a man who's in critical condition this morning. Police shot and killed the 30-year-old attacker following a car chase. BLACKWELL: The number of people killed by the magnitude 6.4 earth quake that hit Southern Taiwan a week ago has now risen to 108. Rescuers are still working to find survivors. And they believe at least eight people are reportedly trapped in the rubble of a collapsed apartment complex.

PAUL: Still to come, the Ted Cruz campaign is taking its latest political ad off the air waves. What's so controversial about it, well, it's not the message per se, it's rather the messenger

We'll have details on some the backlash and some people who think it might not have been a good idea.

BLACKWELL: All right. Plus, President Obama is candid about life in Washington and why he says he does not miss the campaign trail at all.


BLACKWELL: Coming up on the bottom of the hour now and we're looking ahead to the GOP debate in South Carolina tonight.

The candidates are of course trying to make their case to the large portion of evangelical voters in the state.

[06:29:59] Ted Cruz is also trying to explain to the voters why an adult film actress appeared in one of his campaign ads. Watch.


CRUZ: The ad was a fun ad but it was also making a serious point about all of the grassroots activist who were disappointed by Marco Rubio.

It happened that one of the actresses who was there had a more colorful film history than we were aware. We had a casting call and she came and auditioned and we did not realize her film history. When we did, we decided that prudence dictated pulling the ads down. So we did.


BLACKWELL: All right. Let's bring back CNN political commentator, Errol Louis; David Swerdlick, assistant editor of "The Washington Post" and Steve Munisteri, former adviser for Senator Rand Paul's presidential campaign.

Of course, we know as many as two-thirds of the voters, the GOP voters in South Carolina, are self-identified conservative Christians, evangelicals.

Do you think, Errol, that it made a difference if this ad was taken down or left up?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, leaving it up would have left it for us to talk about day after day. So pulling --


BLACKWELL: We're going to do that anyway.

LOUIS: -- well, very true. But they don't have to pay for it now.

So that would have been a problem.

I think though also, you know, it's interesting to note, Victor, that the young lady in question calls herself conservative Christian as well. So there's some room for a really fascinating local debate about who this young woman is and what her values are and, you know, whether or not that means anything.

But, look, it's harmless for Ted Cruz because it doesn't -- I don't think anybody seriously doubts his commitment to faith-based politics. This doesn't -- this isn't -- this is so far out of character that I don't think anybody believes he's been like some kind of hypocrite on these very core issues.

And, Steve, the actress was on CNN last night. I want you to listen to what she said about the ad.


AMY LINDSAY, ACTOR: I think it's a very interesting slant that people would look at it, that this is also someone who could be a Ted Cruz voter and that's not what you're hearing. You're hearing that they're all white males over the age of whatever and Christian fanatics and gun-toting -- I mean, I'm a pretty liberal social -- socially leaning person. But I do have my fiscally conservative views.

And I that should be very interesting, you know, like this is the face of the new Republicans. And that's what I would personally do with this whole attention.


BLACKWELL: So, Steve, with the actress now coming out -- and she's been on CNN several times now -- does she, in some way, hurt Ted Cruz?

I mean, does she make a strong point here?

STEVE MUNISTERI, FORMER ADVISER FOR SENATOR RAND PAUL'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: She's not going to hurt Ted Cruz one bit. The voters in South Carolina are like base voters in Texas and other places. The key issues for those voters are going to be the economy and jobs and who can beat Hillary Clinton.

This particular incident will have no effect on the campaign whatsoever, by and large.

BLACKWELL: All right.

So David, let's move on. The last major poll out of South Carolina is from January, so it's pre-Iowa, it's pre-New Hampshire.

How tight is this race today?

DAVID SWERDLICK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's tight at the top, right?

You've got Donald Trump; you've got Senator Cruz and you've got, right on their heels, Bush sort of surging slightly and Senator Rubio kind of trying to hang in there.

Once you get past those candidates, I don't think it's tight. I think we're at that stage in the race, Victor, where we're really narrowing it down to folks who have a real shot and some of the candidates who were also-rans, a Ben Carson, a Carly Fiorina, who surged early are falling away.

And now voters are going to get a chance to scrutinize these top-tier candidates a little bit better.

BLACKWELL: So, Errol, where does John Kasich, who finished second in New Hampshire, where does he fall in that ranking?

Is he in the top tier here or is he in an also-ran as we look at South Carolina?

LOUIS: Well, I don't think you could call him an also-ran because he's the governor of a state, Ohio, which is pivotal for the Republicans. As is often said, no Republican president has been elected ever without winning Ohio, so now he's not really seriously competitive in South Carolina, in part. because he put all of his resources into New Hampshire. It paid off well for him there.

But in South Carolina, first of all, he's broke, you know. And then he came into the year with just a couple of million dollars, which is not really enough to mount a serious national campaign. And he's spent almost all of that. And he has very little presence in South Carolina.

So he's making, in some ways, a token effort to try and capitalize on his win in New Hampshire but he's in tough shape.

You can look to him tonight to try and really make some fireworks happen at the debate because he's got to get something going there.

BLACKWELL: So, Steve, you do think, for John Kasich, South Carolina should not be his focus?

He should look deeper into March and look to Michigan, should look to Illinois and stop spending money in South Carolina?

SWERDLICK: Yes. And what hasn't been mentioned is South Carolina is a winner-take-all state. Twenty-six delegates are winner-take-all at large. And the other 25, 22 of them are winner-take-all by


SWERDLICK: -- congressional district. So unless you can come in first place or win some of the congressional districts, you'll get zero delegates.

So I think John Kasich is going to get zero delegates. So he's very wise not to waste his resources there.

BLACKWELL: All right, Steve, David, Errol, thank you all. We'll continue the conversation throughout the morning.



PAUL: Meanwhile, President Obama is spending the weekend in California ahead of Monday's summit with leaders from Southeast Asia. In a new turn this week, though, the president, he's opened up, reflecting on everything from his presidency to the current state of politics and CNN White House Michelle Kosinski has more for us.


While the antics of the campaigns grind onward, sucking up all the attention, President Obama has had a talkative week of his own. He's been critical, at times scathing of American politics right now, but also introspective and personal, capping it off with an appearance on "Ellen;" this time, though, no dancing.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): President Obama on Ellen's daytime talk show now in the sunset of his time in office. The last time was back in 2007 as a candidate. You can see the difference. Today --


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's always good to get out of Washington, which can sometimes be a little depressing.


OBAMA: Well, Washington.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): He and the first lady had fun with this.

OBAMA: Somebody call the Situation Room because things are about to get hot.


OBAMA: Michelle, this Valentine's Day, I'm going to treat you right. I'm going make you some zucchini bread.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): His lack of dancing now aside, a more relaxed, some say funnier, less constrained President Obama is what we've been seeing. On Wednesday in Illinois, where he announced his candidacy for

president exactly nine years earlier, he excoriated the state of American politics.

OBAMA: Our children are watching what we do. If we lie about each other, they make up facts and ignore science. If they see us insulting each other like schoolkids, then they think, well, I guess that's how people are supposed to behave.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): In this year's State of the Union address, President Obama had said one regret is not being able to better bridge the partisanship, the rancor that has only gotten worse.

This week in an interview, he revealed that, "Every day I'm in this office, I look back and say, well, maybe I could have done that a little better or maybe I should have reached out to that person more effectively. Or maybe if I had framed the issue better then people would have come together and find common ground."

Politics has always been rough games. Abraham Lincoln was called an idiot, a yahoo, an obscene ape by his opponents.

But President Obama feels things are worse today, the polarization...

OBAMA: If I listened to some of these conservative pundits, I wouldn't vote for me, either. I sound like a scary guy.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VT., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Madam Secretary, that is a low blow.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): And while the candidates continue to insult each other or whomever, President Obama plans to keep on calling them out and calling for, in his words, "a higher discourse."

OBAMA: I still believe in the politics of hope.


KOSINSKI: The president has also been outspoken on what he sees as the corrosive influence of money in politics, on gerrymandering and the fact that so few Americans vote. He's even indicated that these are some issues he wants to keep working on after he leaves office -- Victor and Christi.

PAUL: All right, Michelle, thank you so much.

Up next, Pope Francis is waking up in Mexico City this morning.



BLACKWELL (voice-over): The pontiff is just a few hours from a major mass there. And we'll have details on his message of hope and solidarity.






PAUL: So Mexico's president was at the Mexico City airport this morning to meet Pope Francis as he arrived from a stopover in Cuba. Take a look at this.


PAUL (voice-over): What a welcome there. The pope is going to be in Mexico for six days. A formal welcoming ceremony is planned later this morning at the national palace.

BLACKWELL: And tonight, the pope will hold a mass at the Basilica of the Virgin Guadalupe. Our Rosa Flores is traveling with the pope.

And, Rosa, so what's the goal?

What does the pope hope to accomplish during this trip?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I'm just going to go ahead and say it. I think that there hasn't been this much action in Mexico City since the film "Spectre" was filmed here with Daniel Craig and all of the power of James Bond because let me tell you something. There is just an energy about Mexico with Pope Francis here.

As you mentioned, I'm traveling with the pope. And so I was there when the crowds were welcoming him. There was a mariachi band, four cloreg (ph) dancers. And you could just see the pope glowing as he was accepting and taking all of this Mexican love in.

Now he has a packed day. He starts off and he visits with the president of Mexico -- because, let's not forget that, not only is he here as the leader of the Catholic Church, he's also the head of the state of the Vatican. And so he's going to be meeting with the president just like he does whenever he visits any other country.

He meets with bishops and then like you mentioned he's going to be coming here to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Now I've got to share this with you as well. Whenever Pope Francis speaks about La Guadalupe, his face just lights up. He's very much a devout to the virgin of Guadalupe. And what we're expecting is for him to celebrate mass with thousands of people inside this basilica.

And, of course, he is expected to share a message of mercy and, then, guys, he's expected to pray in front of the Madonna for as much as he would like. We're told from the Vatican, maybe up to 30 minutes -- Christi and victor?

PAUL: All right. So Rosa, we get to see all of these images of what's happening --


PAUL: -- but I understand you had a real personal moment with him on the plane and he told you something that we were wholly unaware of until now.

What was that about?

FLORES: Well, Pope Francis goes around and he gives one-on-one time to all of the journalists on the plane. Now there's more than 70 of us, so imagine. He's very gracious.

So what I had for him -- and we usually just bring little gifts for the pope, all of the journalists do -- and so what I had for him were letters written by children in Chicago to the pope. And so I presented all of these letters, more than 200 of them.

And he really just lit up because, as you know, he loves being around children and talking to children.

He said, "Oh, these are just so beautiful," "son preciosas," he said.

And then he told me a little secret. He said, you know, I'm publishing a children's book and it's going to be out soon. And it's a children's book with letters from children from around the world and he's answering their questions. So it's going to be a beautiful book.

PAUL: Very interesting. All right. Hey, Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

What an experience for her.

BLACKWELL: Yes she's had a few personal moments there on the plane. I remember the last one, as he traveled to Cuba on the last trip.

Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

All right, still ahead on your NEW DAY, new allegations are hitting Michigan officials in the wake of this Flint water crisis. I shouldn't say the wake. It's still going on.

Could the state have blocked an investigation into an outbreak that killed almost 10 people?

PAUL: Plus, record-low temperatures are sweeping parts of the nation. Snow is pummeling (ph) others. What we're learning this morning about what this all means for you.




(MUSIC PLAYING) BLACKWELL: Ten minutes to the top of the hour now and we may be

seeing new consequences of what started as just toxic levels of lead in the city of Flint, Michigan's, water supply.

PAUL: The water supply has been linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease and now a whistleblower tells CNN at least nine people died because state officials prevented an investigation into the outbreak source.

CNN's Sara Ganim has the exclusive interview here.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the summer of 2014, people in Flint started dying in what would become one of the worst outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in U.S. history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were suspecting the City of Flint water supply.

GANIM (voice-over): After the city began drawing from the highly corrosive Flint River, brown water started flowing from taps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the big red flag.

GANIM (voice-over): Eventually toxic lead would be discovered. But that summer the county health director hadn't found the source of the Legionnaires' disease, which, by that point, was already killing people. So he got in touch with the CDC.

GANIM: When you reached out, what did you expect to happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We expected that we'd have a team of people that would help us identify the source of this bacteria, the source of this illness to stop it.

GANIM (voice-over): But that didn't happen.

The Centers for Disease Control, the federal agency tasked with investigating outbreaks, didn't show up. And the county health director, Jim Henry, says Michigan state officials purposely kept them away.

JIM HENRY, COUNTY HEALTH DIRECTOR: Our whole team was angry. It was -- you could -- you could see that it was an intentional, deliberate method to prevent us from doing our job.

GANIM (voice-over): According to CDC protocol, a state must invite the CDC to investigate an outbreak. And Michigan did not do that.

HENRY: The state stopped our investigation by prohibiting us to communicate. They prohibited communication between the Centers for Disease Control and Genesee County Health Department. They prevented that team to come here and help us find the source.

GANIM (voice-over): Legionella thrives in warm weather and Henry says he was racing against the clock, trying to prevent another outbreak from happening the following summer, still hoping the CDC would come and pinpoint the cause.

HENRY: It was infuriating.

GANIM (voice-over): Michigan state officials did provide assistance but never found the cause of the outbreak.

The state would not agree to an interview, saying only this, "We were able to meet the epidemiological case investigation need in the county. CDC was a part of these conversations as they were involved in many aspects of the investigations."

But the CDC tells CNN that it felt a comprehensive investigation was warranted and offered to further assist Michigan. In this case, Michigan felt that they had the skills and resources needed to perform the investigation themselves.

As the weather warmed in 2015, just as Henry had feared, there was a second wave of cases. But to Henry's astonishment, the state had already declared the Legionnaires' outbreak over.

GANIM: When you read that, what did you think?

HENRY: There must be a mistake.

We had two new cases in June; we had multiple cases. And to determine the outbreak over must have been some sort of mistake.

GANIM: That's what you thought at the time.

HENRY: That's what I thought at the time.

GANIM: What do you think now?

HENRY: It was intentional to stop the investigation that would implicate the Flint water system and this outbreak.

GANIM (voice-over): By summer's end, four more people would die, including 58-year-old Deborah Kidd.

Her son, Troy, says she got sick after visiting the E.R. for a migraine. She didn't know there were high levels of Legionella in the hospital water supply. His family is now suing the hospital and the state.

DEBORAH KIDD'S SON, TROY: I think it's a cover-up. I think it stinks. I think they knew there was something more going on than what they wanted to really let on.

GANIM: The CDC did finally make it to Flint last week but experts tell us it's likely too late to make any kind of scientific link. So to this day, they still do not know the exact cause of the outbreak -- and they may never know.

Back to you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Sara Ganim, thank you so much. We're also learning now that some officials reportedly complained that

Flint's water treatment plant was rushed into operation. The "Detroit Free Press " obtained emails from the city's laboratory and water quality supervisor, who wrote this eight days before the plant opened.

"If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple of weeks, it will be against my direction. I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before --


BLACKWELL: " -- I will feel we are ready."

Now it's not clear if these issues had anything do with the lead or Legionnaires' issues.

PAUL: And in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new plans for an alternative water supply for Hoosick Falls. This is a small upstate town, where the water system has been contamination with a cancer-causing chemical.

Additionally, the state's offered to purchase and install water filtration systems for roughly 1,500 homes.

BLACKWELL: All right. At the top of the hour we got new developments this morning on the battle against ISIS in Syria. And Russia's air campaign comes under criticism from world leaders as more civilians are killed in the strikes.




PAUL: Edging toward the 7 o'clock hour here on a Saturday morning and the deaths of two 15-year-old girls on the campus of an Arizona high school appear to be the result of a murder-suicide now. This is according to investigators who found a gun and suicide note near the 10th graders' bodies. It is believed the two were in a relationship.

BLACKWELL: There's a bizarre update to the death last year of Texas deputy Darren Goforth. You will remember he was shot and killed while fueling his patrol car.

Well, according to reports, three deputies have now been fired for having an inappropriate relationship with the fallen deputy's alleged mistress during the investigation. The sheriff says his office expects a higher standard of conduct.

PAUL: Record low temperatures expected to hit parts of the U.S. today, perhaps where you're waking up. The Northeast has it particularly bad. Wind chills expected to drop below 40 to 50 below zero.

Oh, no. Officials in New York City, in fact, warning you, just please stay indoors. If you have to go out, bundle up because these are dangerous, possibly life-threatening cold conditions.


PAUL: So we need to just sit at home and grab some nice, hot coffee.

BLACKWELL: Stay with us.

PAUL: Chill out a little bit.

Yes. We are here for you.

And our next hour of NEW DAY actually starts now.