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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dead at 79; Justice Scalia's Death and the Battle for His Replacement; Trump and Bush Clash in G.O.P. Debate. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2016 - 06:00   ET



[06:00:16] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama orders flags at half staff this morning upon the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: The 79-year-old died in his sleep on a hunting trip to West Texas. His death had evoked an outpouring of sorrow across the political spectrum. And with his death, the presidential campaign season takes on an entirely new shape.

We are always grateful for your company. Thank you for being here. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. The uncompromising voice of conservatism on the nation's highest court now silent. Justice Antonin Scalia sudden vacancy on the bench now setting up an election year fight that could shift the balance of the Supreme Court.

PAUL: This morning we're following reaction from the Republican presidential candidates at last night's debate.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta leading our coverage from Washington.

Good morning to you, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Victor and Christi. That's Justice Antonin Scalia dead at the age of 79 while on a hunting trip in Texas. He was said to have gone to bed, Friday night not feeling well. He was found unresponsive Saturday afternoon. With 29 years on the bench, Scalia was the longest serving member of the current court.

He was appointed in 1986 by President Reagan. First Italian-American to be seated on the high court. He was a strong vocal conservative voice throughout his term. A critic of Roe V. Wade and a dissenting voice in last year's -- last term's same-sex marriage cases. Most recently, he was criticized for his comments regarding affirmative action.

The tributes are rolling in, but now the question is who will succeed Scalia and who will appoint that person. President Obama said, and I don't think it was a surprise to anybody that he intends to make that nomination in due time.

But Senate Republicans have made it very clear. They did it almost immediately. They want the next president to fill the vacancy, not president Obama. A lot of reaction this morning.

And Justice Scalia's death and the battle for his replacement on the bench loomed large at last night's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins me now with a reaction from the G.O.P. hopefuls. Ryan, they disagreed over a lot last night, but they agreed on one thing, essentially, and that is this next pick should go to the next president.

Ryan, good morning.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, good morning to you. And while politicians from both sides of the aisle are making sure to honor the memory of this Supreme Court titan, the political battle over who will replace him started immediately.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A moment of silence for Justice Antonin Scalia.

NOBLES (voice-over): It did not take long for the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to get political in the Republican presidential primary debate.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It's called delay, delay, delay.

NOBLES: One by one, the G.O.P. candidates paid homage to the conservative lion and predicted that any Obama nominee to replace him would be unsuccessful.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will not have a consensus pick when he submits that person to the Senate.

NOBLES: But President Obama is pushing forward, promising to nominate someone quickly and warning Senate Republicans to not play politics with the court.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote. These are responsibilities that I take seriously as should everyone.

NOBLES: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on the president to wait, and leave the decision in the, quote, "hands of the voters" and the winner of the race for the White House.

Rank and file Republicans like Lindsey Graham said any Obama nominee will have a tough time being confirmed. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The practical consequences that no one will be appointed that's not a consensus choice.

NOBLES: And as the president and Senate leader squabble, it will be against a backdrop of an increasingly divisive presidential election.


NOBLES: Hillary Clinton rushed to support Obama's right to pick the nominee and push the Senate to confirm.

CLINTON: It is outrageous that Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail have already pledged to block any replacement that President Obama nominates.

NOBLES: The Republican candidates vowed to stand in the way. And once elected, nominate a conservative in the mold of Scalia.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the most important judgments for the men and women of South Carolina to make is who on this stage has the background the principle the character, the judgment and the strength of resolve to nominate and confirm principled constitutionalists to the court. That will be what I will do if I'm elected president.

NOBLES: Setting the stage for a rocky few months in Washington with the future of the Supreme Court and the White House in the balance.


NOBLES: And Jim, I'm sure you know having been on the campaign trail that these presidential candidates have already talked quite a bit about who they will nominate to the Supreme Court. Now with the death of Justice Scalia, that issue becomes even more important on the campaign trail.


[06:05:10] ACOSTA: That's right, Ryan. Many of these candidates often site Justice Scalia as somebody that they would want to pick for the Supreme Court. Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.

And for more on the partisan battle over replacing Scalia, I want to bring in our panel this morning.

CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue and CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley who joins us on the phone.

Doug, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, I don't think this was too surprising, came out with a statement last night saying, quote, "It's been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during the presidential election year. We know that that is not the case because Justice Anthony Kennedy who is perhaps the most consequential Supreme Court justice rights now. He is the swing vote on the high court is a recent example where that was not the case.

He was nominated in 1987, late 1987, but confirmed in 1988, February 3rd if I'm not mistaken by a vote of 97-0. What do you make of this and how should President Obama handle it, do you think?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think it's going to be that one of the big debate, if not the big debate issue of the year. I mean, Barack Obama will pick somebody who he thinks deserves to be on the Supreme Court. He'll be someone that he thinks has a real chance of getting through. But the reality is nobody is going to get through this year.

In a presidential election cycle as vicious as this one is and is bound to be and is bound to get even worse, there just won't be anybody. So we're going to have like, I think, until November certainly. A lot of -- just a frozen environment between the White House and the Senate over the Supreme Court nominee. And I think it's going to be the big issue on the campaign trail.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And Ariane, the Supreme Court docket is obviously loaded with a lot of important cases. They are every year, of course. And, you know, this raises the prospect of a 4-4 tie on the Supreme Court from time-to-time. What happens next do you think?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, as you said, this is a monumental shift, right? And we're halfway through this term right now. The justices have just come off -- are coming off their winter recess.

And in fact, there are big cases this term. Affirmative action. Immigration. Abortion. When the court is split 4-4, that means that the lower court decision stands. There is no presidential value and the lower court decision will stand. So that could have been consequences here.

For instance, there is a big challenge to public unions. The unions won at the lower court and after oral arguments, the Supreme Court -- the conservatives looked like they were poised to rule against the union. Well, now, if it's 4-4 that won't happen and the unions could win. But it could be different in these other cases. There are a lot of big issues that will be decided or not between now and the end of June.

ACOSTA: And when the president had vacancies during his administration, he appointed two women. Two women who he thought would be reliable liberals or progressives on the court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

They were not big battles. The congress, the Senate essentially went ahead and did their duty there and conceded that the president has essentially the right to nominate who he wants to the high court. It wasn't too big of a battle. Who do you think the candidates could be this time around? And, obviously, this is a very different situation this time around.

DE VOGUE: As you said, the climate has changed with these confirmation hearings. And over the years they have gotten more and more difficult. So right out of gate, one of the top nominees is a judge named Sri Srinivasan. He was confirmed unanimously. He'd be the first Indian-American. He is currently a judge. His name could be in play.

Another Judge Merrick Garland. I think he's 63 or 64 years old. And, usually, a president wouldn't want to -- would want maybe somebody younger, but he's considered a moderate. He might be in play.

There are women. Patricia Millett. She is one of the first nuclear option judges on the bench there. And another judge, Jane Kelly out of Iowa. She might be interested for her Iowa connections which might attract Grassley. And finally, you know, they could think of a senator. Senator Klobuchar, for instance. Maybe that would make things a little easier. It depends how he's going to make the pick.

ACOSTA: And just very quickly, Doug, could the president potentially avoid a bitter partisan battle here if he were to try to attempt to nominate maybe a moderate? And I'm not saying he would nominate a Colleen Powell or a Michael Bloomberg, but somebody who would be rather tempting to the Republicans to go along?

I mean, could he pull something out of his hat like that to sort of change the dynamic of this, what is a pretty predictable debate so far.

[06:10:10] BRINKLEY: He could try that. And he very well might, but his idea of a moderate will not be the Ted Cruz tea party Republicans idea of one, hence I think it won't happen. I think the president will come up with a name. It will be a good one. And it will probably be, you know, have a large chance of succeeding after the election if the Democrats win.

But I see, you know, gridlock. We keep talking about the political gridlock and dysfunctionalism in Washington. We're now looking at judicial gridlock.

ACOSTA: Ariane de Vogue, Doug Brinkley, thanks very much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it. Lots more to talk about from last fight's G.O.P. debate including clashes over immigration.

Details on how Marco Rubio used his Hispanic heritage to take a jab at Ted Cruz, who also is of Cuban descent on this issue.

And also, we'll go back and look at Antonin Scalia in his own words. Hear about what he said about his time on the Supreme Court and the importance of the job.


PIERS MORGAN, FORMER CNN HOST: Will you ever retire?

ANTONIN SCALIA, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Of course, I'll retire. Certainly I'll retire when I think I'm not doing as good a job as I used to. That will make me feel very bad.




FMR. GOV. JEB BUSH, (R-FL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president needs to appoint someone with a proven conservative record similar to Justice Scalia.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are one justice away from a supreme court that will strike down every restriction on abortion adopted by the states.

[06:15:00] GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not even two minutes after the death of Judge Scalia, nine children here today, their father didn't wake up. His wife, you know, sad. But you know, I just wish we hadn't run so fast into politics.


ACOSTA: But they ran into it pretty quickly. The Republican candidates got down right nasty at times during last night's presidential debate. But the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia provided at least a moment of consensus among the field and what quickly erupted into an ugly night of clashes and personal attacks between White House hopefuls.

Joining me now, CNN political commentators Jeffrey Lord and Ben Ferguson. And CNN politics reporter Eric Bradner.

Jeffrey, I guess, first of all, I want to go to you.

What did you make of this eruption between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush over the presidency of George W. Bush and 9/11? That seemed like risky territory for Donald Trump. I know he likes to tell it like it is, but that could be risky down in South Carolina.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it can and it cannot. Here's the deal. There's something that I called the Reagan-Bush divide. In other words, there is a division in the Republican Party and the conservative movement between Reagan conservatives and as they call them colloquially, I can get that out, the Bushes.

And President Bush 43 and 41 are well loved, well respected, well thought of. But there is a difference on the size of government, the role of government. There was a difference with President Bush 43 over illegal immigration and he was responsible for comprehensive immigration reform. So there are differences there so it's not entirely as you might think.

ACOSTA: And just in case our viewers missed this exchange, let's play it and then I want to get Ben's comment on the other side. Let's play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.

They lied. They said there were weapons of mass of destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

JEB BUSH, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am sick and tired of him going after my family. My dad is the greatest man alive in my mind.


Well, while Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe and I'm proud of what he did.


ACOSTA: Ben, how do you think this is going to play down in South Carolina?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this is one of the biggest vulnerable moments of Donald Trump's run for the White House. I don't know why he thought this was a good idea because he literally sounded like you could have taken what he said and put it on the Democratic stage and had this debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

This is not something that conservatives are going to connect with. I think it is also a pretty cheap shot, the way that he continues to handle this. And to say, you know, you guys lied. His new thing now is to call everybody a liar. But the reality is Donald Trump during this time frame that he's criticizing was helping Harry Reed, was helping Nancy Pelosi, was giving six figures to the Democratic Senate committee to help re-elect Democrats. So this opens him up to that exact attack of saying, Donald, you are saying now you are this Republican, this conservative. Yet when you are criticizing George Bush, you were a Democrat giving six figures to liberal Democrats to undermine the Republican movement. And I don't know why he thought this was a good place to start this and to go all in on this and call people liars.

The Bush Family people like Republicans like George Bush especially when it comes to national security and 9/11 to use a Democrat talking point that there weren't weapons of mass destruction and to throw that in the face of Jeb Bush and every Republican in the room, I mean, really, I thought I was watching for about 45 seconds of Democratic debate. We're just waiting for Hillary Clinton and Bernie to chime in.

ACOSTA: And, Eric, it was a pretty shocking moment to hear Donald Trump say that George W. Bush did not keep the country safe because the World Trade Center came down on his watch.

You know, I've been to a lot of Donald Trump rallies. He goes after the Bush Family on just about every occasion that he can. They cheer at the Donald Trump rallies, but they were booing last night. What do you make of that?

ERIC BRADNER, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. Yes, I mean, Trump sort of blamed the audience saying look these are all Jeb Bush's donors. It was a fascinating risk going into the South Carolina primary. South Carolina is a state that is more military oriented than those who have voted so far. And Donald Trump was the front runner there. So a big risk.

And I also thought it was fascinating to watch Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Two guys sort of battling for the same donor class, the quote, unquote, "establishment lane," actually unite on this with Rubio really chiming in to defend Bush's brother. And blaming 9/11 on Bill Clinton saying it was Clinton's fault for not doing anything about Osama Bin Laden.

[06:20:03] And these two who are really competing for a similar pool of voters who are sort of on the same side and eager to take on Donald Trump tells you a lot about that exchange and about the politics of South Carolina especially heading into the primary there on Saturday.

OK. And I guess we'll find out in the coming week just if there was any damage done to Donald Trump. It was fascinating television to watch and just sort of unpredictable, I think, in terms of what happens next.

Jeffrey Lord, Ben Ferguson, we'll see. And Eric Bradner, thank you very much. We appreciate it. We'll get back to you, of course.

Programming note later this week. CNN will host two Republican presidential town hall events in South Carolina. All six Republican candidates will participate. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson will appear on Wednesday night. And Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and John Kasich will appear on Thursday night. And then Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and John Kasich will appear on Thursday night. Both events will be hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper and will take place live at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. The town halls will give South Carolina voters an opportunity to question the candidates and, of course, the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be addressed as well.

The Republican presidential town halls, Wednesday and Thursday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And Victor and Christi, we'll send it back to you, guys, in Atlanta. That was some debate last night. I just never thought we would see Donald Trump and Jeb Bush go at it over the presidency of George W. Bush like that. Who would have thought that that would have been the big moment in last night's debate, but it certainly was.

BLACKWELL: And the audience was so deeply engaged. I mean, we've seen candidates booed before, but last night was new in some respect.

Jim, thanks. We'll have more in the campaign trail, of course. Still to come this morning.

But, next, another big story. The pope celebrating mass in a notoriously dangerous region of Mexico. We'll take you there.

PAUL: And there is a deadly car pile up. We're talking dozens and dozens of vehicles that collide. The storm that caused it, where it was hit them.





PAUL: Pope Francis in the thick of his visit to Mexico right now calling on bishops there to take on the country's drug trade. He says it's a moral challenge to the church and to society. The pope's visit is expected to last Wednesday when he'll speak at the Mexican border town of Juarez.

BLACKWELL: A Mississippi police officer is recovering after being shot in the head. This happened in Clarksdale, Mississippi late last night. Investigator say the officer responded to a call, a robbery at the convenient store. He was then shot, left for dead in the street by two masked man. We don't know much about the condition right now. But we'll learn -- as soon as we learn more, we'll pass that on to you.

PAUL: And wind chills of negative 40 degrees. If you're not there, can you imagine it? Low temperatures in the single digits as record cold is covering the East Coast. Look at these pictures.

You might want to think about just say staying in Valentine's Day. Even public officials are reflecting that. Wind chill warnings active now in Upstate, New York. And in Philadelphia, they are expecting a low of 4 degrees today. And snow.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And talk about snow? Look at this mess caused by snow. A 60-car pile up. This is in Pennsylvania. Three people have been killed. More than 70 hurt. This happened on I-78 of Pennsylvania Highway near Fredericksburg. Huge mess there.

PAUL: Justice Scalia had a conservative voice that was pivotal on the Supreme Court most would say. Well, we're talking to a man who knew him so well. Maybe learn some things about him we didn't know before. One of his former clerks.

BLACKWELL: Also, the tiny town in West Texas, where Justice Scalia died. People there are reacting this morning. Hear what they have to say about his passing. Also, how will this change the presidential campaign?