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Trump Attacks Cruz; President George W. Bush Campaigns for Jeb; George W. Bush: Jeb Will Be 'Strong & Steady Hand'. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 15, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: After staying out of politics for more than seven years, George W. Bush is about to make his first appearance at a campaign rally trying to boost his brother Jeb. We're going there live.

Unhinged. That's just one of the names Donald Trump is calling Senator Ted Cruz today. Trump also says he is preparing to launch a lawsuit, and now Cruz is firing back.

Partisan fight. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's shocking death, President Obama and Senate Republicans are preparing for an epic battle over choosing and confirming a replacement.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: There is breaking news in the presidential race. We're standing by to watch the former President George W. Bush step back into the political spotlight. He will be speaking any moment at a South Carolina rally for his brother Jeb.

Donald Trump is in South Carolina, meanwhile, and turning up the heat on Senator Ted Cruz. Trump says he has hired a lawyer and will sue if Senator Cruz, quoting Trump, doesn't take down his false ads and retract his lies.

All this comes as President Obama and the Senate Republicans dig in for a long, bitter fight over replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans say they will block anyone the president nominates. One of the president's spokesmen is accusing the Republicans of -- quote -- "a lot of bluster" and is pointing to other times they have eventually backed down.

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

As we stand by for the former president and his brother, let's go to our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, to set the scene for us -- Dana. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a senior Bush campaign source told me today they are banking on tonight's South Carolina rally featuring the 43rd president to bring them the best news coverage since Jeb Bush's announcement on June 15, especially where it matters, South Carolina, where team Bush knows it has to turn his campaign around.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jeb Bush is a leader who will keep our country safe.

BASH (voice-over): Dynasty be damned, Jeb Bush thinks his brother George W. can help.

(on camera): You have been a presidential candidate for eight months. Why now?

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because we're nearing the beginning of this process. He knows what it takes to be a president of the United States, to be commander in chief, to keep the country safe, and that he believes that I have those skills.

BASH: The 43rd president has a whopping 77 percent favorability rating among Republicans nationwide. And Bush campaign sources tells CNN they believe he's even more popular in military-rich South Carolina.

G. BUSH: Honored and humbled by the huge victory we had here in South Carolina.

BASH: Sixteen years ago, George W. Bush turned his campaign around with a South Carolina win. Jeb Bush's opponents now are trying to stop him from doing the same.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

J. BUSH: So here's the deal. I'm sick and tired of Barack Obama blaming my brother for all of the problems that he's had.

BASH: Trump doubled down today on his attack on George W. Bush's handling of 9/11.

TRUMP: I have heard for years he kept the country safe after 9/11.

What does that mean after? What about during 9/11? I was there. I lost a lot of friends that were killed in that building.

BASH: And Trump keeps taunting Bush.

TRUMP: The name Bush would have been better than an exclamation point. He's Jeb Bush. Now the exclamation point didn't work. So, now he's using Bush. But I think he should have used his name. I think it shows that he wasn't proud of the family. BASH: But that's nothing compared to what Trump is now saying about

Ted Cruz.

TRUMP: Jeb is just Jeb. But this guy, Ted Cruz is the most dishonest guy I think I have ever met in politics. I think he's an unstable person. I really do. I really do.

BASH: Today, Trump threatened a lawsuit against Cruz on his claim the Canadian-born Texas senator is not eligible to be president.

TRUMP: He doesn't have the right to serve as president or even run as president. He was born in Canada. I will bring that lawsuit if he doesn't apologize.

BASH: Trump and Cruz's battle for similar voters in South Carolina is getting bloodier by the day, like with Cruz's new anti-Trump TV ad.

TRUMP: I am pro-choice in every respect.

NARRATOR: We cannot trust Donald Trump with these serious decisions.

TRUMP: He's printed lies. He said I'm pro-choice. And I'm pro-life. He's printed lies.

BASH: Cruz is fighting a multifront South Carolina war, too, trying to pull Trump down from high atop the polls and keep Marco Rubio from climbing.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two of the candidates in this race, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, both have the very same pattern. Whenever anyone points out their record, they simply start screaming liar, liar, liar. It's a very odd dynamic.



BASH: But name-calling is happening nonstop on South Carolina airwaves right now, negative TV ads from Ted Cruz's campaign, Marco Rubio's and super PACs supporting all of them.

South Carolina voters have seen ugly politics before. But, Wolf, candidates calling each other liars, that's mudslinging at another level.

BLITZER: Yes, Trump calls Cruz a totally unstable individual, the single biggest liar I have ever come across, obviously tough stuff. Stand by. Everyone, stand by.

I want to go to CNN's Athena Jones. She's at the site of this evening's Jeb Bush rally. You're looking at live pictures there.

Set the scene for us, Athena, I assume a very big crowd there in North Charleston.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. It is a very big crowd. The program getting under way at any minute.

This is a much bigger crowd than we're used to seeing at a Jeb Bush event. And it has a lot more of a rowdy-like feel than we're used to seeing at a Jeb Bush event. That's because George W. Bush is a huge draw. I have talked to a couple of folks in the crowd who said they are here because they are huge George W. Bush fans and they want to give Jeb a listen.

One woman told me she was choosing between Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Another woman said she was choosing between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. And earlier, when there was a supporter on stage trying to rev up the crowd who shouted, who hear wants to see Jeb Bush become the next president, only about a third or a half of the crowd cheered.

Now, maybe not everyone was listening, but it seems to support the idea that a lot of folks are out here because they want to see the former president. He will be coming on stage any minute. We expect to see him on stage with former his wife, first lady Laura Bush. They will be introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham, who will speak for a few minutes, then President Bush.

And then President Bush will introduce his brother Jeb Bush. Of course, the Bush campaign is hoping that having his brother here is going to help him a lot here in South Carolina. He really needs to finish strong here after finishing in sixth place in Iowa and fourth place in New Hampshire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena, thank you. We are going to have live coverage coming up. As soon as the former president shows up there, we will go back there.

But we're also following some other breaking news in the fight to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by this weekend's shocking, unexpected death of associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Senate Republicans insist they won't confirm anyone President Obama chooses. But, this afternoon, one of the president's spokesmen called the Republicans' threat -- and I'm quoting now -- "a lot of bluster."

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. She's got more on the latest developments -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Justice Scalia's death puts President Obama and Senate Republicans on a collision course and causes a monumental shift on the high court at a time when it's taking up several consequential cases.


BROWN (voice-over): The body of Supreme Court Antonin Scalia transported home to Virginia aboard a private plane.

The 79-year-old conservative icon was found dead of natural causes Saturday morning at this bed in this Texas hunting resort, President Obama mourning his loss in an address before the nation. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Justice Scalia

dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy, the rule of law.

BROWN: Scalia's sudden death comes as the justices are considering major cases on contraception, abortion, immigration and voting rights and is expected to have a huge impact on the court.

STEVE VLADECK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There's both a long-term impact to Justice Scalia's death and a short-term impact. And the short-term impact is going to be immediately felt. All of these cases are very narrowly divided on the court. One vote here and there could tip the balance.

BROWN: Without Scalia on the bench, the eight remaining justices could find themselves in a 4-4 split in their decisions. If that happens, the lower court's ruling is upheld and there is no national precedent set by the high court or a decision is delayed until a new justice is named.

VLADECK: So, where the government lost below, a 4-4 tie in the Supreme Court means the government still loses. And so, for example, on President Obama's immigration plan, that would not be a win for the White House.

BROWN: The battle for a new justice has already begun. Some early possibilities include Sri Srinivasan, a 48-year-old D.C. Circuit Court judge appointed by a unanimous Senate vote.

Merrick Garland, chief judge of D.C.'s Court of Appeals, considered a moderate nominated by President Clinton. Paul Watford, an Obama appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Jane Kelly, another Obama appointment in Iowa who, like Srinivasan, was confirmed by a unanimous vote by the Senate.

No matter what happens in the coming months, Democrats and Republicans agree Justice Scalia's legacy as a legal giant will long survive him, even if the court's conservative majority doesn't.


BROWN: And the next round of oral arguments is scheduled to begin February 22. Chief Justice Roberts is expected to pay tribute to Scalia from the bench. But, Wolf, already tributes have been pouring in from people on both sides of the ideological spectrum.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, we will stay on top of that story as well.

I want to go back to South Carolina right now. There's Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, introducing the former president of the United States and Laura Bush.


Let's listen in.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Don't worry, Jeb. Even I can't screw this up.


GRAHAM: Thank you for coming to show your support for the next president of the United States, Jeb Bush.


GRAHAM: Speaking of presidents, welcome back, Mr. President and Laura.


GRAHAM: South Carolina has missed you, Mr. President. The country has missed you, Mr. President.


GRAHAM: This is Bush country, Mr. President.


GRAHAM: If somebody told me I had eight years to live, I would want it to be under the Obama presidency because it seems to last forever.


GRAHAM: One more year, and this guy is going.


GRAHAM: Mr. President, thank you for coming back to South Carolina, where you are truly loved and appreciated. Thank you for keeping us safe while you were president of the United States. Thank you for your leadership after 9/11.


GRAHAM: Thank you for taking the fight to the enemies of this nation. Thank you for having the back of those who are doing the fighting, Mr. President. Thank you for being a decent and honorable man, Mr. President.


GRAHAM: Now, all of us are going to get to vote Saturday, right? If you show up Tuesday, you will be by yourself, February the 20th, Saturday.

The whole world is watching what we do here in South Carolina for a reason, because we pick presidents here in South Carolina. Everybody who goes to vote Saturday needs to understand one thing. The military is going to be stuck with a choice of the American voter. The only way you become commander in chief is to be elected by your

fellow citizens. Please think about those who are doing this fighting when you vote. We're a nation at war. And we're going to elect a president who will be a wartime president.

We need to elect somebody who has got a steady hand, that can be trusted, that's got the right temperament, that will have the backs of those who are doing the fighting, and will be a commander in chief worthy of those who have sacrificed so much.

And, in my opinion, that is Jeb Bush, without any doubt.


GRAHAM: Some people ask me -- I was honored to run for president. If you wanted to take money out of politics, you should have joined my campaign, because we ran out of money.


GRAHAM: But when my time was up, I decided to stay in the fight, because it means so much.

The chief reason I ran was to start a discussion about how to defend this nation and turn around a foreign policy that's in free-for-all, to get the Republican Party back to its roots as being a party of a strong national defense.


GRAHAM: I have been to Iraq and Afghanistan 36 times. It is a long way over there. And I can -- well, thanks to those who go over and do the fighting.


I have been in the Air Force for 33 years. I retired this June, 140 days on the ground as an Air Force reservist. I have learned a lot about this war. When it came time for me to choose when I got out, Jeb was the easiest choice I have ever made.


GRAHAM: Forty generals and admirals supporting his campaign, 12 Medal of Honor recipients supporting his campaign, the commander of the South Carolina National Guard, Bob Livingston, Major General Livingston, who commanded troops in combat, are supporting Jeb's campaign.

There's a theme here. Those of who have taken time to understand this war know that Jeb can win this war. He has a plan that I trust will lead us to victory. But, tonight, you are going to hear about some -- hear from somebody who knows what it's like to be a wartime president, who has been commander in chief in tough times.

Tonight, you're going to hear from a man that I admire greatly, because when the going really got tough, he hunkered down. He never followed the polls. He followed sound military advice.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, you're going to hear not only from a president of the United States who understands what it's like for a nation to be at war. You're going to hear from the brother of the next president of the United States.


GRAHAM: I don't know about you, but I like Bushes. Bush values are South Carolina values.

Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, George W. Bush.


G. BUSH: Thank you all. Thank you.

Sit down unless you don't have a seat.


G. BUSH: I'm -- Laura and I are thrilled to be here.

I want to thank Senator Graham for his friendship, for his leadership.

Lindsey Graham loves South Carolina, and he loves our country, and we're fortunate that you sent him up to the United States Senate.


G. BUSH: I want to thank the singing ag commissioner. That guy has got a heck of a voice.


G. BUSH: If they ever have a contest about who can sing the best among the ag commissioners across the United States of America, you win.

Mark Sanford is here. I appreciate Mark coming.

Thank you very much for being here, Mark.

There's a lot of famous people here. I have got to bring up my friend David Wilkins. He's from Greenville. David was our ambassador to Canada, former speaker of the House, and a dear friend of Laura and mine.

And we want to thank you, David, for coming down and being with us. Thank you very much.


G. BUSH: There are people from the House and the Senate state government here. Thank you all for coming and appreciate you helping a brother.

I want to thank all the grassroots activists who have come. Thank you for taking time out of your day. Thank you for your interest in the political process. Thank you for your hard work for Jeb. Thank you for what you're going to do, which is to vote for him on Saturday here in the great state of South Carolina.


G. BUSH: I'm really happy to be back in this great state. I have got a lot of fond memories. I worked -- I walked in the Okra Strut in Irmo. I was pleased they didn't make me dress as an okra stalk.


G. BUSH: I finally remember going to the 437th and the 315th Air Wings here in Charleston.


G. BUSH: Perhaps my most interesting memory came in Greenville before the 2000 primary. David and Susie and I and Laura went to Tommy's Country Ham House. And we were eating breakfast. As a matter of fact, I was eating some bacon, when I looked out the window and a PETA protester dressed as a pig pulled up in a dump truck.



G. BUSH: He unloaded a huge load of manure in the lot to try to prevent me from leaving. It was kind of a sign of things to come.


G. BUSH: But let me tell you something about the Ham House. Even a steaming pile of manure can't ruin their good bacon.



G. BUSH: I love the spirit of the people of South Carolina.

I am particularly touched by the way the community banded together to comfort the victims of last year's shooting at Mother Emanuel church.


G. BUSH: And then protest against racism and hate. It's a strong signal to the United States of America.


G. BUSH: And I applaud your governor's response to that tragedy. And I applaud you for putting her in office. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: Laura and I spent time with Governor Haley and her family at the American Legion post in Columbia this afternoon. Thank goodness our country welcomed her parents when they emigrated here in 1969.


G. BUSH: Since we left the White House, I have been kind of quiet in the public square. Eight years in the limelight was plenty.

And Laura and I are really happy in what she has described as the afterlife.


G. BUSH: We're spending a lot of time on our ranch, where we have become tree farmers. Gives me a chance to practice my stump speech.


G. BUSH: I have written two books, which has surprised a lot of people, particularly up East, who didn't think I could read, much less write.


G. BUSH: I have been one to defy expectations. I have been misunderestimated most of my life.


G. BUSH: And as a real shock to people, I have become an oil painter.



G. BUSH: But let me assure you, I know that the signature is worth more than the painting.


G. BUSH: I want to thanks for -- thanks to brother for giving us something to do today, something important. I'm proud of his candidacy, and I'm really proud to have been invited.

I came here for two reasons, one, because I care deeply about Jeb, and, two, because I care deeply about our country.


G. BUSH: I thought it was appropriate to discuss a subject I know a lot about, what it's like to be president.

Being your president was a high privilege and the honor of a lifetime. And, by the way, if serving as president of the United States makes me a part of the so-called establishment, I proudly carry that label.


G. BUSH: There seems to be a lot of name-calling going on, but I want to remind you what our good dad told me one time. Labels are for soup cans.


G. BUSH: The presidency is a serious job that requires sound judgment and good ideas. And there's no doubt in my mind that Jeb Bush has the experience and the character to be a great president.


G. BUSH: Here are some things I think people ought to look for in the next president. For starters, I think you ought to look to someone who has had executive experience, someone who knows how to run a large, complex organization, to lead people and to make sound, crisp decisions, for example, someone who served two terms in a large Southern state as its governor.


G. BUSH: I think you ought to look for someone who can handle intense pressure and won't wither during crises. I believe that strength can come from faith.

It can come from the comfort of a higher power and the humility that comes in realizing the almighty's gift of grace.



G. BUSH: That humility is important for politicians to remember when they talk about their faith.

One of my favorite Bible verses for those in the political arena is from the book of Matthew. To paraphrase, how can you say let me get that speck out of your eye when I have got a log in my own?


G. BUSH: Jeb is a man of humble, deep and genuine faith, faith that reveals itself through good works, not loud words.

I think you should look for someone whose humility helps him understand what he doesn't know and surrounds himself with people who do know what he doesn't know.


G. BUSH: Jeb is plenty smart, Phi Beta Kappa from the great University of Texas.

I know, it's not South Carolina.


G. BUSH: OK, Clemson.


G. BUSH: Let me tell you something. He's going to assemble a great team of people to whom he will listen. He will create a culture in which they can deliver not just the good news, but the bad.

He will listen carefully to their advice, and then he's got the backbone necessary to make the tough decisions on behalf of the American people.


G. BUSH: The presidency is often defined by the unexpected. There's going to be crises, and it's important to have a president who can handle them with calm resolve.

When Americans woke up on September the 11th, we did not know that the world would forever change that day. I was sitting in a classroom in Florida listening to a child read.

My chief of staff, South Carolina graduate Andy Card, whispered in my ear, "A second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack."

My first reaction is, I was hot. We're going to deal with these people. My second reaction when I was staring at this young child is that my job became crystal clear, and that is to protect her, her community and her country.


G. BUSH: On the way to Air Force One from that school, Condi called me and said a plane has hit the Pentagon. I felt the first was one an accident, the second was an attack, and the third one was a declaration of war.

I became something -- I became something that no president should ever want to be, a wartime president. And I made a lot of tough calls, every one of them with that child's image in my mind to protect her and the country she's fortunate enough to call home.


G. BUSH: I have seen Jeb in action.

He will be a strong and steady hand when confronted with the unexpected. Multiple hurricanes hit Florida when I was president and he was governor. He led a robust, well-organized response that showed the compassion, his compassion for those who hurt. He did this as governor of Florida, and he will do this as president of the United States. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

G. BUSH: It is vital that you select a candidate who is thoughtful and trustworthy, someone who says what he means and does what he says.

When the American president speaks, the world listens. You can trust Jeb Bush to be measured and thoughtful on the world stage. Our enemies and allies will know that, when President Jeb Bush speaks, he will follow through on his words.


G. BUSH: I think you ought to look for a leader who is optimistic, with a vision for a brighter future, a person who can see beyond the horizon.

When Jeb looks beyond the horizon, he sees a better tomorrow. He believes, and I believe, that America's best days are ahead of us, and that we're on the verge of the greatest time to be alive in human history.

[18:30:05] And with the right policies and with a strong leader like Jeb Bush, we can get there.

An optimistic future starts with making sure our economy grows so people can find good work. We need a president who will make the private sector, not public sector, a priority. Jeb has laid out an attainable goal, a clear and easy to understand goal, which is what a leader must do. And that is to have 4 percent economic growth a year. The cornerstone of his policy is to empower entrepreneurs and small business owners, the dreamers and doers who drive the American economy. He's laid out a specific plan, a well-thought-out plan, a measured plan that he will put into action when you send him to the White House.

Jeb understands that the most solemn job of the president is to protect us. So your most solemn job as voters is to elect a president who understands the reality of the threats we face. And who knows how to deal with them. I've studied Jeb's plan to defeat ISIS. He relies upon the military and our intelligence community. He will take their sound advice, and he will implement that plan. The types of ISIS have been defeated in the past, and they can be defeated in the future, but we need a leader who knows how to do so.

Jeb understands this. And it's important for the people of South Carolina to understand this. That America must lead, and that when America does not lead, chaos will reign.

Laura and I loved our eight years in Washington. But we really don't miss it too much. Oh, we miss our friends, but we don't miss power and fame. But here's really what I do miss. Thank you, but let me tell you what I miss.

You know, it's an amazing country. I made it pretty clear we're going to defend ourselves after 9/11, and millions volunteered. And to be able to salute the brave men and women who wear our uniform was an honor of a lifetime. The highest honor of being president is to be the commander in chief of the greatest force for freedom ever.

So I would look for a candidate who has genuine respect for the United States military, who will support them on the battlefield -- who will support them on the battlefield and when they return home. Jeb has pledged to rebuild our armed forces and overhaul the V.A. And I believe him when he says it, and I know he'll do it when he's the commander in chief of the United States.

One of the most comforting aspects of the presidency was my family, starting with my loving wife, Laura. Living in the White House can be like living in a museum. I remember the time I went to visit Mother and Dad when they were there, and Mother said, "Get your feet off the Jeffersonian table." But Laura made the White House a home. She was the greatest first lady ever. My little sister, Darla, is here, and she talks to Mom nearly every day, so don't tell her I said that.

Jeb adores the love of his life, Columba. I'll never forget when we were both younger living in Houston, Texas, and we'd go to the Astro games. And we'd sit out in the bleachers. I'd watch the game, and Jeb would write love letters to his future wife and our next first lady, Columba Bush. They've raised wonderful children, Texas land commissioner George P., Noelle and Jeb Jr. And like me, Laura -- like Laura and me, Jeb and Columba are grandparents. He's known as Gampy. I'm known as Hefe. For those of you who are not bilingual, that means the boss.

[18:35:31] Speaking of family, I think the voters should vote for the candidate who's got the most opinionated mother. I've always wondered whether our mother learned to be opinionated at Ashley Hall right here in Charleston.

Finally, we need to nominate somebody who can win in November. All the sloganeering and all the talk doesn't matter if we don't win. We need someone who can take a positive message across the entire country. Someone who can inspire and appeal to people from all walks of life. Not just one party or one class of people. Jeb will listen to the voices of the disenfranchised. He will rise above the petty name calling and, once elected, he will not need a poll or focus group to tell him how to think or what to do. He will stand on principle. He will not waver in the wind, and he will always do what's right for American people.

I know campaigns are stressful, and they're taxing. But they should be. Because the job of the president is much harder than a campaign. These are tough times. And I understand that Americans are angry and frustrated. But we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration. We need someone who can fix the problems that cause their anger and frustration, and that's Jeb Bush.

Seems like Americans are yearning for a strong leader. I'd like to remind you and the voters what true strength means. Strength means facing challenges and prevailing. It means sacrificing and enduring and emerging a better and bigger person. It means having a set of core principles, beliefs that are true on the campaign trail and will be still true in office.

Strength is not empty rhetoric. It is not bluster. It is not theatrics. Real strength, strength of purpose, comes from integrity and character. And in my experience, the strongest person usually isn't the loudest one in the room. I've seen in my brother a quiet conviction and a core of conscience that cannot be shaken. And my hope is that the people of South Carolina will see this, as well.

This is a serious election for a serious job. So please welcome a serious and thoughtful candidate, a good man. A man I am proud to call my big little brother, Jeb Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeb Bush! Jeb Bush! Jeb Bush!

J. BUSH: Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President.

Laura, it's such a joy to have you here.

Thank you all for coming. It's such a joy to have you all here.

To my friend Lindsey Graham, thank you for your friendship, your advice and your support. I'm going to be here for six days. We're trying to improve the economy of a good economy in South Carolina. We're going to spend as much money as we can, meet as any people as we can.

[18:40:04] Saturday is going to be a surprise, because you all are going to go out and get ten other people to do the same thing, to vote for Jeb Bush for president.

I am -- I'm so honored that my brother is here, because this is a dangerous time. The world has been turned asunder. The day Barack Obama was inaugurated, we were safer. We were stronger. We were freer. Today, for all sorts of reasons, that's not the case. This election is, who's going to be the steady hand to keep us safe? Who's going to deal with the national security challenges that we face? Who's going to focus on the economic security challenges that a majority of Americans now feel?

We're living in difficult times. And this election is really important. And I look back during my brother's time. He didn't know 9/11 was going to happen, but he rolled up his sleeves, and he inspired us and he kept us safe. And I'm proud that he did it.

I don't know -- I don't know if you all watched the debate on Saturday. Did you get a chance to see it? Wow. It was kind of weird, parts of it. I never thought in a Republican debate we would be talking about impeaching a Republican two-term president who was extraordinarily popular for good reason amongst Republicans. I thought that was a little weird.

I thought it was a little strange that a front-running candidate would attack the president of the United States who did keep us safe, while he was building a reality TV show. I'm sure it was a fantastic one. I've never seen it. I'm sure it was great. George Bush brought together a team to build the security apparatus that to this day is one of the reasons why we haven't been attacked more often than we have. I'm proud of him, and I know you are, as well.

Some of the dialogue back and forth made me wonder. I closed my eyes, and I thought it was Michael Moore on the stage.

Any case, this is not about the front-running candidate. This is about how we can restore our country's greatness to restore economic and national security. And that is why I'm a candidate for president.

Here's the reality. Here's the reality. We need a president that will respect the armed forces. A month and a half ago, two months ago, I had a chance to speak at the Citadel. What an extraordinary university that is. I thought you guys would be out there. And before I did it, I had a little P.T. work with the Summerall guards at 6 a.m. Sorry. Twenty-five push-ups, 25 sit-ups, calisthenics. I think they were taking the old guy to see how long he would last. I thought we were finished, and then we ran three miles. Then we finally finished. They circled around, and they started

asking me questions. Will you have our back? Will you be a commander in chief that respects the military? Are you going to impose conditions on the military, making it harder for them to do their jobs? Are you going to eliminate the sequester? These were all really good questions.

And here's the answer. I will have the back of the military. I will be a commander in chief that respects the armed forces. We will eliminate the sequester, rebuild our military and make sure -- and build again a bipartisan consensus that peace through strength is the proper foreign policy for this country.

When we're weak, it creates voids, and those voids are filled by elements of terror and nation states on the run. For us to be strong and safe, we have to rebuild the military. It is the first priority. There are candidates on our side that don't believe it's important. I do.

And we need a plan to deal with the threat of our time. In August, I went to the Reagan Library to talk about how we needed to engage with ISIS, how we needed to destroy this threat. You know who I called? I called a lot of people because, to George's point, I know what I don't know. I don't have it all figured out. That's the sign of a good leader, by the way. The best time is when you learn. You don't learn when you're just talking. You learn when you listen. In fact, we need a president that will listen a lot more, learn and then lead. That's what we need.

And in August, I called one of the candidates running for president, some who I've always admired, the leading national security expert in the United States Senate. I called your senator, Lindsey Graham, and sought out his advice. And he gave it to me to show you what kind of patriot was.

[18:45:02] I don't know if I called any other candidate if they would have done it, but he did. And I'm proud of our relationship because we agree, we must destroy ISIS. We have to destroy ISIS. And the way to do it is to create a strategy where you engage with the Sunni Arab countries. You engage with Europe. You have boots on the ground with special operators in Syria. You re-establish the ties with the Sunni tribal leaders. You arm the Kurds directly and you get the -- you get the lawyers off the backs of the war fighters to win this war.


Leadership is not about talking about it. It's not. Leadership is when you are tested you have the skills to build consensus, to make tough decisions, to move forward, to make sure that you solve problems.

Governors have that opportunity. George was a governor, a successful governor in Texas for six years. Ronald Reagan was a pretty successful governor and president, eight years in both spots.


One of the candidates says I don't have foreign policy experience. I'll tell you what I do have. I have experience to make tough decisions. I have experience to lead a state, the largest swing state in this country, to a better place.

When I was governor -- when I was governor, we had eight hurricanes and four tropical storms in 16 months, $150 billion of property losses. And at one point, we did not have a commercial property insurance market. It was gone. And if you don't have insurance, you can't get a loan to expand your business. People were struggling. If you lost power for three weeks, you didn't have food. People were moving out of the state for fear of being able to keep a job.

We led. Did you ever hear anybody complain when I was governor about FEMA? I accepted personal responsibility and we need a president today that runs to the challenge rather than cuts and run. And that's what governors learn how to do.


I got to be governor at a time where I disrupted the old order of things on behalf of my state. In Florida, a vetoed 2,500 separate line items in the budget for a $2 billion cuts in the budget. They called me Vito Corleone. It was supposed to be an insult. I took it as a term of endearment and ran with it.

We need Vito Corleone to go to Washington, D.C., to be able to bring budget discipline.


In Florida, we had eight balanced budgets. When I ended, we had $9 billion of reserves, roughly 35 percent to 40 percent of general revenue. That is cutting and making sure that government lives within our means. We need that kind of approach, a balanced budget amendment and making sure that we have -- we move toward a balanced budget in Washington, D.C., for our children and grandchildren. I know how to do it.


In Florida, we eliminated lifetime career civil service protections. The great workers that work in government don't need it. They don't need at all. The ones that's need it are the ones that shouldn't be there.

In Florida, we reduce the government workforce by 11 percent. But we led the nation seven out of eight years in job growth, 1.3 million jobs were created during my time. Don't you want that for Washington, D.C., as well?


And the first place that I would take that skill is the Department of Veterans Affairs.


You all have seen the atrocious waiting lists that veterans coming home don't get care. Last year, the department came up with a brilliant idea. We'll give out bonuses. $142 million of bonuses last year went out for all sorts of things, including reducing the waiting list which sounds like a worthy objective.

The simple fact is the waiting lists were reduced. Veterans didn't get care, and vets died. They died. And the simple fact is only three people have been fired.

Heads will roll in the Department of Veterans Affairs when I'm president of the United States.


We will give veterans expanded choices where they can go to private provider or a private clinic or a local hospital. The best way to ensure the department does a better job is to make sure veterans have other choices. It works in schools. It works across the board. Giving people choices makes everybody better and we desperately need this to honor the dedicated service of men and women in uniform that come home and deserve to be at the front of the line. Not the back of the line.


[18:50:03] Here's the challenge. Everybody's got a lot of ideas, but on that stage on Saturday, who's done it? Who's done it? A lot of big talkers. A lot of turns of the phrase for sure, but who has actually rolled up their sleeves and taken the hits?

I'm not -- I don't know if you see the scar, this is the one where we created the first voucher program in the country. The second voucher program and the third statewide voucher program. These aren't easy things to do. I didn't cut and run. I did what I thought was right and Florida now

has the greatest gains in learning because we disrupted our public education system in the right way, empowering people to make choices for themselves.

Who's done it? Who has created the environment to make sure we can grow our economy at a faster rate?

I believe I have those skills because past is prologue. We cannot entrust for the next president of the United States with the great challenges we face someone who has not been tested. There will be a challenge. It could be a pandemic. It could be a huge natural disaster. It could be an attack on this country.

And the question is, who do you want to have to sit behind the big desk? Who do you want to have to be able to lead us through difficult times?

The next president will be challenged, and I believe I have those skills to work on behalf of everybody to make sure that we have a better future for ourselves.

Let me conclude with this. I believe that life is a gift from God, that it is divinely inspired, that --


That we're here for a purpose. We're all here for a purpose.

And if we all reach our God-given abilities, nothing will stop the United States of America. We will lead the world for the next two generations of time not because of our government, but because the American people are really extraordinary and exceptional. We still are.

I'm sick and tired of politicians that divide us up in our disparate parts, that believe somehow the end is near, when, in fact, all we have to do is fix a few big complex things, which requires leadership, and we'll take off as a nation. We'll be safe and secure, and we'll have rising income.


A year ago, I met a woman, a young woman, African-American, 25-year- old from Jacksonville, Florida, named Denisha Merriweather (ph).

Denisha had a difficult life starting out in life. She was -- she lived in poverty. She had a challenged family.

She was held back two years in a row in third grade, one of which was my doing because we eliminated social promotion in third grade when it was governor. There's a gate in Florida, if you don't -- if you can't read by the end of third grade, you don't go to fourth grade.

We're not so worried about the self-esteem of Little Johnny. We're worried about whether Johnny can read. (APPLAUSE)

So, this little girl -- this little girl had to have been angry. She had to have been quite angry, I'm sure. She was held back. Her godmother thankfully found out about the Florida corporate tax scholarship program, the largest voucher program in the country. Today, 80,000 low-income kids go to private schools because I took on really, really powerful interests and we won.

Denisha got to go to a Christian school. And I know for a fact what happened, that first week, it had to have been. A teacher put her arm around that child and said, "I love you. You're capable. You can do this. Jesus loves you. We can do this together."

And guess what? She overcame those two years that she was held back. She graduated from high school. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. Now, Denisha Merriweather is getting a master's degree at the University of Central Florida.


If you believe like I do that everybody has an ability to make a contribution, that if everybody reaches their God-given abilities, this country will take off, we won't be as gloomy. Millennials will believe the American dream is alive, people will take risks again, on behalf of their own dreams.

We'll lessen the demands on government. We'll get back to the business of creating high sustained economic growth, where everybody can benefit. That's the mission.

We cannot allow politicians to divide us up in our disparate parts anymore. We need a president with a steady hand that runs to the challenge, that believes in the greatness of this country, that believes that if we set a set of common purposes, one of which is that everybody should have the chance to rise up. Nothing will stop the United States of America.

I believe that in my heart and if you believe it --


If you're tired of the politics of division, if you want someone with a proven record, a solid conservative who acted on his conservative beliefs each and every day as governor, someone with 32 years of private sector experience, then you're looking at the nominee for the Republican nomination.

[18:55:10] And I can beat Hillary Clinton. I can promise you that.


The only way a Republican and a conservative wins is by campaigning with their arms wide open, with a hopeful optimistic message, campaigning in every nook and cranny of this country, making sure that everybody knows that we want them on our team. The only way we win is to do what Republicans when they win always do. Campaign like George W. did. Campaign like Ronald Reagan did.

We have to get back to that. And when we do, we'll win and we'll restore America's greatness in a way that will sustain it the next two generations. I ask for your support next Saturday. I ask for your prayers for our family.

God bless you all. Thank you very much for coming.


BLITZER: There you have it.

Jeb Bush giving a very strong speech, a one-two punch introduced by his big brother, the former president of the United States, making his debut out there on the political campaign trail. First time since leaving office that George W. Bush is out there campaigning this time for his younger brother.

Dana Bash, what did you think?

BASH: I thought George W. Bush did in his very not so subtle way really hit Donald Trump. I mean, he has been so far off the campaign trail in every way, physically and also symbolically, but this was him going all in for his brother and showing the contrast between the kind of president he thinks his brother should be and the kind of that President Donald Trump would be. Not by name, but it was very clear who he was talking to.

BLITZER: Jamie, you spent a lot of time watching these Bushes over the years. What did you think?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Two things: best speech I've heard Jeb Bush give.

BASH: I agree.

GANGEL: Without a different person.

The other thing is, what Dana just said about George W. Bush hitting Donald Trump, I noticed this as we're listening, the three of us immediately started writing when he said that Jeb would be measured and thoughtful, that he would rise above petty name-calling. If I look at our notes, it's exactly the same thing. That he will be serious and thoughtful, that the strongest person isn't the loudest one.

This was taking on Donald Trump right and left and in the center.

BLITZER: And I wrote down that when George W. Bush said, "Jeb has the experience and character to be a great president," the strong words from the former president about his brother -- what did you think?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Let me just wrapped it up very quickly -- Jeb Bush got kicked right in the behind. We saw it tonight. He put on a show tonight that we haven't seen. He showed energy that we haven't seen. Look, it's been building up to this point. Maybe having his brother

in his corner now is going to help him push him along.

BLITZER: The question, Jeffrey Toobin, is it too little too late?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But I have to tell you, I was so struck by President Bush's invocation of that famous moment in the school in Florida when he heard about the 9/11 attacks, which is really the crucible of his presidency, yet here we are debating about a Republican presidential candidate disparaging George W. Bush about that moment, something that was completely off-limits in American politics, even for Democrats for years and years.

And now, we're going to learn whether that's an effective argument in a Republican primary.

BLITZER: He's talking about, Dana, he's talking about Donald Trump saying that the worst terror attack in the United States happened on George W. Bush's watch and he should be held responsible for that.

BASH: That's right. And as we were listening to George W. Bush deliver that sort of anecdote and really detailed anecdote about from his perspective about what happened on the morning of 9/11, we were all saying we wondered if that was part of the speech by Saturday night's debate when Donald Trump really went after the Bushes and George W. Bush in particular for 9/11. That is very unusual in a Republican debate --

BLITZER: Donald Trump also going after Jeb Bush because he brother launched the war against Saddam Hussein.

GENGEL: Right, these are Trump -- vintage Trump attacks, but the reality is when you go after someone's mother or their brother, it's very personal. So, it takes it up a notch.

BLITZER: It seems to have inspired Jeb Bush, the attacks and now the introduction by his brother.

PRESTON: Right. And we saw that in the debate just a couple of days ago. In the previous debate, we saw Jeb Bush with a little fire in his belly. It built up a little bit this past debate, and I think Jamie's right and Dana's right. Look, this is the best we've seen Jeb Bush's campaign. It's just this past --

BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey, are we going to see more of this one- two combination?

TOOBIN: Well, we'll see if George W. Bush -- if Jeb Bush, sorry, if Jeb Bush is still in the race after South Carolina. Another fourth or fifth place finish, I mean, how long can Jeb Bush say in that race? I mean, we've got to see the results first.

BLITZER: We'll see the results on Saturday.

All right, guys. Thank you very much. That's it for me. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" picks up our analysis of the Bushes' speech