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Fight Over Supreme Court Appointment; Clinton, Sanders Tied in Nevada; War Between Trump, Cruz Rages; Candidates Seek Big-Name S.C. Endorsements. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 17, 2016 - 13:30   ET



[13:34:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This just in. The White House now says President Obama and the first lady will go to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to pay their respects to the late justice, Antonin Scalia. Scalia will lie in repose at the court on Friday. His funeral is Saturday.

Meanwhile, the president says it's his constitutional responsibility to nominate a new U.S. Supreme Court justice to replace Scalia. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now.

I intend to nominate somebody, to present them to the American people, to present them to the Senate. I expect them to hold hearings. I expect there to be a vote.

I'm amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there.


BLITZER: Joining us now from Salt Lake City in Utah is the Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a member, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thank you for joining us.

You obviously have a lot of historic unique perspective on this whole confirmation process, the notion of going forward. The president is going to nominate someone to succeed Antonin Scalia. Will you, should you hold hearings before the Judiciary Committee for this nominee?

[13:35:21] SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R), UTAH: Well, he has an absolute -- he has an absolute obligation and even a right to nominate whoever he wants.

Now, the second part of that is the United States Senate has an absolute right to handle it when it comes up to the Senate. And it's going to be up to, it seems to me, Senator Grassley and Senator McConnell to determine whether they have a hearing or whether they don't have a hearing. But Senator McConnell is right. He wants to get it out of this tremendously political brouhaha time, that this presidential candidate the situation is in, and get it to where it will be decided by whoever wins the presidency next year.

In fact, this is the first time, really, the first time that anybody has nominated somebody -- will have nominated somebody during a presidential year who wasn't nominated in the year before, you know, in the last 80 years. So it's a serious set of problems here.

BLITZER: The chairman, Senator Grassley, says he's open to the possibility of holding hearings. He wants to see who the nominee is. Out of procedural matter, though, would you be among those who would be in favor of a filibuster, requiring 06 votes to break a filibuster to not even allow a vote for the nominee?

HATCH: No, I don't think we should filibuster Supreme Court nominees or any judge nominees. We wouldn't have to filibuster. Just -- all it would take is for Senator Grassley to just say, look, we're not going to confirm anybody this year. The reason we're not going to confirm is because we value the court, we don't want it to be in this political atmosphere. We value the integrity of the court, and we're going to put it over until next year, which is fair. Because whoever wins the election is going to have the right to nominate. And at that point, a Senate will be in a position -- greater position outside of all this controversy and brouhaha going on to confirm whoever the president puts out.

BLITZER: But don't you think the right thing to do is wait to see who the nominee is, and then make a decision as opposed to some of your Republican colleagues, who say, as a matter of fact, it doesn't make any difference? He could nominate Orrin Hatch to be the next Supreme Court justice --


-- we're not going to go along with that.

HATCH: Well, they have a right to feel that way. And I don't have any problem with that. And, you know, I can't wait to find out who the president is going to nominate. I have some ideas that, you know -- of who he might nominate. And some of the people may be very good in some ways. But there is a real value in protecting the integrity of this court, which I've done my whole 40 years in the United States Senate. By not letting it be in this tremendously volatile brouhaha called the presidential elections of this year. And I personally believe it ought to be put off until next year. And whoever is president will have the right to nominate whoever they want to.

BLITZER: Are you passing along any suggested names to the president?

HATCH: No. I'm afraid he doesn't consult with me on those. He will when he finally makes a decision. And we'll just have to see what he's going to do. Apparently, he's going to go ahead and he's going to make a nomination. He has every right to do that. But the Senate has every right to say, well, we think to hold hearings and to confirm somebody with less politics involved will be the first of next year.

And frankly, if you look over history, you know, at least over the last 80 years, nobody has been basically confirmed in the -- in the year of the last year of the president.


BLITZER: Justice Kennedy -- Justice Kennedy was confirmed, but he was nominated the previous year, but confirmed in February.


HATCH: I had said that before, that the Kennedy was confirmed. But that was after bruising battles over Senator -- excuse me, Robert Bork and others. And I have to say that it was quite a bit different. Everybody was kind of happy to have it over with at that particular time.

But as a general rule, they don't call them up during the presidents last year. And there is good reason for that. Because they know it's going to just smear the court, and be, you know, a great big brouhaha that the court doesn't need that the reputation of the court doesn't need. The court's integrity doesn't need. And I think that McConnell is right on this. And I think most Republicans feel the same way. Whether there is a hearing or not is decided by Senator Grassley, who is my chairman today, and Senator McConnell, who he'll consult with.

[13:40:10] BLITZER: Very quickly. One final question, to put on your constitutional expertise hat. Donald Trump is suggesting he's going to file a lawsuit against Senator Cruz, raising the question of his eligibility under the Constitution as a natural-born citizen to run and serve as president of the United States. Does Trump have a legal case against Cruz on this issue of the constitutionality of his being born in Canada?

HATCH: Well, I admit that issue hasn't been decided by the Supreme Court over the last group to decide the issue. But my personal belief is that there have been too many people who have run for president who were born outside of the nation, especially, you know, Senator McCain is a good illustration of that. And -- but Cruz was born to an American mother, therefore, had a right to an American citizenship. He's re-announced his citizenship in Canada. So I think it's a pretty tough case to try and bring. But I can't say that in this raucous day and age that the Supreme Court might agree with me. They may think otherwise.

BLITZER: Senator Hatch, always good to have you here on CNN. Thanks very much for joining us.

HATCH: Great to be with you. Keep up the good work.

BLITZER: Thank you Orrin Hatch. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Up next, there is a dead heat apparently in Nevada right now. The new CNN poll shows Hillary Clinton has lost her lead, now neck and neck with Bernie Sanders. Should her campaign be worried? We'll assess when we come back.


[13:45:58] BLITZER: Live pictures of Hillary Clinton, holding a rally in Chicago right now. She is looking ahead to the Illinois primary there, next month. She's also meeting with many women there in Chicago who, unfortunately, have lost their sons to gun violence. We're going to continue to monitor what she is saying. The Democratic presidential front runner right now, Hillary Clinton, in Chicago.

She did lose a solid lead to Bernie Sanders in recent days among Democratic voters in Nevada. She's way ahead in South Carolina, but in Nevada, it's a very, very different story. Let me be precise. Take a look at our new CNN poll. Clinton and Sanders in Nevada, they are in a dead heat. She leads by one percentage point, 48-47 percent, well within the margin of error. More recently, she was way ahead in Nevada. She is still way ahead in South Carolina right now by about 18 points, according to our latest CNN/ORC poll.

Let's bring in our CNN political commentators, Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona; and Republican strategist, Tara Setmayer.

Ladies, thank you for joining us.

To be precise, back in October, Maria, Hillary was ahead of Sanders in Nevada, 50-34 percent. Now it's neck and neck, 48-47. What happened?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what happened is we have a real primary on our hands. I've been saying from the beginning is actually great for the Democratic Party. Look, her campaign absolutely needs to focus on the fact that she needs to continue underscoring her message of lifting barriers for everybody, of making sure that this economy works for all communities of color. The speech she gave in Harlem yesterday was fantastic.

And those, I think, are the themes that will resonate in communities like Nevada, which has a lot of Latino voters there. Latinos have traditionally been backing her, and I think will continue to back her. And is she needs to continue to focus on this message of economic prosperity for everybody. That's where I think she'll start to get the younger voters and also focusing on how to it actually get things done as opposed to just talking about what everybody likes and sounds good. But how are you going to deliver for everyday Americans. That's where I think her strength is.

BLITZER: Tara, let me get your reaction to this battle, this war that's now under way between the Republican presidential front runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. You heard this back and forth. Ted Cruz now saying bring it on as far as lawsuits by Trump are concerned, whether to put on a negative anti-Trump ad, or to go ahead and raise questions about his constitutional eligibility to run as president because he was born in Canada. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, this is insanity. You have Donald Trump, who is basically like a vexatious litigant -- any time he gets hit back when he goes after people, he gets hit back, he decides he's going to sue them. He's like a rich bully on a playground. That's what he's doing because he doesn't like the fact that Ted Cruz is running powerful ads against Donald Trump that talk about his actual record. So he screams liar, liar, pants on fire, and I'm going to sue you. And that's not very presidential.

Now I don't know whether this is going to be successful, necessarily, for Cruz, trying to come back at Trump like he did today. I think the strategy there was to get some free media time so he could have a one- on-one, uninterrupted to combat what Donald Trump is doing, and he'll have that opportunity again tonight in the town hall. But I don't know if getting into the mud with Donald Trump is necessarily Ted Cruz's forte.

BLITZER: Maria, why do you think Donald Trump right now, according to our latest CNN/ORC polls in South Carolina, as well as in Nevada, is crushing Cruz and everyone else?

CARDONA: Well, according to the poll, which I thought had some terrific information in it, what he is focusing on is on what all slices of the Republican electorate want to hear, which is a candidate with strength, a candidate that focuses on how to get the economy going for everybody, a candidate who will be strong, you know, frankly, in the Republican electorate will be strong against undocumented immigrants and illegal immigration. And so Trump has topped all of that, including foreign policy, how to be strong with ISIS.

So what seems to me to be happening is that all of the other candidates are trying to hit Trump, but when he hits back, he actually underscores exactly all of the qualifications and the qualities that voters like about him, which is that he's not going to take it from anybody. He is going to fight back. And that --


CARDONA: And that does not bode well for the other candidates.


CARDONA: And frankly, Cruz --


[13:50:21] BLITZER: Hold on, hold on.

Go ahead, Maria.

CARDONA: Well, I --


BLITZER: Hold on.

CARDONA: I think to a lot of voters it is, Tara. Why would he be ahead by so much, especially among evangelical voters, which should be Cruz's strong point and he is leading by 20 points because he spoke --


BLITZER: Hold on.

(CROSSTALK) SETMAYER: Can I get a word in?

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Tara.

SETMAYER: Because people are enamored by a cult of personality. You hear people say he speaks for me, he has given me a voice. This is the first. But he is just a snake oil salesman. Do you think he doesn't recognize how to manipulate people's behavior? He has no record to support any of the things he's saying now but it doesn't matter because he has tapped into the emotion.

CARDONA: Exactly.

SETMAYER: And something really quickly about Hillary Clinton. She is in big trouble, huge trouble in Nevada. She was up 25 percentage points a month ago. For Bernie Sanders to close that gap like that, she is in huge trouble, which is why Bill Clinton is running around being a surrogate and she is running around barking and doing things out of character for her. It is a sign of desperation. If she loses Nevada, she is in trouble.

BLITZER: All right, ladies, stand by. Stand by.

CARDONA: Nice segue from the Republican craziness.


SETMAYER: That's what we do.

BLITZER: It's getting exciting on both sides.


BLITZER: Up next, in the search for endorsements, I'll talk to one key member of the House Freedom Caucus. He's in great demand since his first choice has actually dropped out. Stay with us.


[11:56:01] BLITZER: The fight is on for key Republican endorsements in South Carolina where the primary is scheduled for this Saturday among the Republicans.

Popular Governor Nikki Haley is uncommitted so far, though she has said she won't endorse Donald Trump.

Another key target for the Republican presidential hopefuls, South Carolina Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney. He is a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Congressman, thank you for joining us.

I know you originally endorsed Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who dropped out after Iowa. Which way are you leaning now?

REP. MICK MULVANEY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm not. I'm like so many South Carolinians completely undecided. I spent the last three days to try to meet all the candidates in person. I've had some success with that. I am completely undecided. I went to vote absentee yesterday, walked into the building, couldn't decide and walked out again.

BLITZER: Governor Haley saying she will vote for someone but it won't be Donald Trump. Is it possible you could vote for Donald Trump?


MULVANEY: I struggle with a bunch of different things. I look at Marco Rubio and I really like what he is doing in terms of expanding the party, bringing younger voters in, bringing new minority voters in. I worry about his experience. I look at Ted Cruz, who probably votes the way that I do most of the time. But I worry he is turning off large swaths of the voting party. He thinks there's a silent majority of conservatives who don't vote and don't think that's right, and we need to reach out to new voters. Then I look at Trump, who I think probably does have the experience, but I wonder if this is all one big negotiation, he is telling us one thing and we get renegotiated after the vote. I struggle as many do right now trying to figure out who I'm going to vote for on Saturday.

BLITZER: We are getting word that "The State," The Post and Courier," the newspaper there in South Carolina is now reporting that Governor Haley will endorse Marco Rubio later tonight. Have you heard that?

MULVANEY: That's news to me. In fact, I just talked to Trey Gowdy not 10 minutes ago. He didn't mention that. If the Rubio campaign had any knowledge of that 10 minutes ago. My guess is Trey would have said something to me.

BLITZER: We know Gowdy has endorsed Rubio, too, right?

MULVANEY: That' correct, as has Tim Scott.

BLITZER: So there is a lot of pressure on you to go forward with your fellow South Carolinians and go ahead with Marco Rubio.

MULVANEY: I hear about it every day, believe me. Gowdy and Scott have both called me just about every day. I like Marco. I saw him on Monday. I thought he handles himself extraordinarily well. I could be satisfied with any of those three men taking the banner for our party into a campaign against Hillary Clinton. I just don't know who I'm voting for yet. It is a hard for me, Wolf, to endorse and say I think you should vote for this person when I don't know who I'm voting for myself.

BLITZER: A lot of South Carolinians are undecided. The statement in the "Post and Courier," they are reporting that Nikki Haley will endorse Marco Rubio later tonight. We have not independently confirmed that. You don't know that yourself. I just want to be precise that the big newspaper there in South Carolina, that's what they are reporting right now.

You wouldn't be surprised by this, though, would you?

MULVANEY: No, I wouldn't. I mean, I would be surprised if she endorsed Trump, but that's about it. I think Nikki probably could go with just about any candidate other than Donald. It wouldn't surprise me, no.

BLITZER: She said she definitely will not endorse Donald Trump.

Why is he doing so well in your home state?

MULVANEY: We're angry. We really are. It used to be perceived that South Carolina was the fire wall for the establishment. That was the case for a generation. But about, four years ago, in my election, it changed. 2012, we didn't support Romney. We supported Gingrich. Now sort of the anger that is present all across the nation in the Republican Party, really comes to a head if South Carolina. That's why you are seeing Governor Bush do so poorly. But that anger, that frustration is here. It's real. It's driving Donald Trump. It's driving Ted Cruz. And it probably puts Trump across the finish line Saturday with a first-place finish.

BLITZER: Congressman Mulvaney, thanks very much for joining us. Good you have to on this show.

That's it for me. I'll be back at 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

The news continues right now on CNN.