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Democrats Focus on Nevada; Trump Weighs in on Rubio/Cruz Fight; Elijah Cummings Talks Democratic Race, Benghazi, African-American Voters; Turkish Response to Ankara Attack Strains U.S. Relations. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 18, 2016 - 13:30   ET


[13:33:51] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: While the Republicans focus in on South Carolina, the two Democratic presidential hopefuls, they're hoping to draw full houses in Las Vegas. The Nevada caucuses set for Saturday afternoon. Right now, they'll be -- they're in a tie, for all practical purposes, if you believe the polls, after Hillary Clinton won in Iowa, barely, and Bernie Sanders had a landslide win in New Hampshire.

Joining us now, the mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman.

Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.

You haven't endorsed any candidates yet, have you?

CAROLYN GOODMAN, (D), LAS VEGAS MAYOR: No, I have not. I'm just sitting watching and listening, and learning all of the time what's happening.

BLITZER: Are you going to endorse someone eventually?

GOODMAN: Probably not. I'm a nonpartisan, and I believe my role is to try to work cross party lines, and not favor one or the other. Parts of me are very, very Republican, parts of me are very, very, very Democratic. And so I think my function as an elected leader really is to pull people together, not separate them.

BLITZER: Bernie Sanders supposedly is banking on a big turnout in Nevada on Saturday. What's your guess?

[13:35:00] GOODMAN: You know, I think he's right. Everywhere you go, you see Bernie Sanders signs. I think his grassroots growth out here has been phenomenal. I see a continuing endorsement of Hillary, naturally. Because she's been coming out here since the days that President Clinton was elected. So my sense is, everything going forward -- I mean, I believe what's going to really be close.

And tonight, you know, we have the town hall meeting at the Cleveland Clinic, the Brain Institute, the fabulous building. It's great, designed by Frank Gary (ph), and it's the brain that looks all scrambled up. And so what a perfect place to have a town hall meeting, is in a brain center. I just love the idea of it.

But I think it's going to be interesting how this plays out. And my biggest concern is the apathy of voters continuing to go on, and not getting to the polls. No matter how much money you spend, it is getting your people to the polls. So that's what I'm looking to see what happens here, most definitely.

BLITZER: We'll all be watching on Saturday. We'll be covering it.

Carolyn Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas, thank you very much for joining us.

GOODMAN: Thank you so much for having us.

BLITZER: Becoming the Republican mantra of the 2016 election, why the "L" word is flying from the lips of so many candidates. We'll discuss that and more with our political panel.


[13:40:41] BLITZER: Donald Trump managed to weigh in this morning on the back and forth between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Trump tweeted, and I will quote him now, "I agree with Marco Rubio that Ted Cruz is a liar."

Both Rubio and Cruz answered questions from South Carolina voters at last night's CNN Republican town hall. But they also took time on stage to attack each other.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I said he's been lying, because if you say something that isn't true and you say it over and over again and you know that it's not true, there is no other word for it. And when it's about your record, you have to clear it up, because if you don't, people say then it must be true.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are following this pattern that whenever anyone points to their actual record to what they have said, to what they voted on, to what they have done, they start screaming, liar, liar, liar. I mean, it is the oddest thing.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our Republican political panel to discuss, Amanda Carpenter, CNN political commentators, former communications director for Ted Cruz; Ana Navarro, a CNN political commentator, a friend of Senator Rubio's, and she's supporting Jeb Bush in this election.

What was the best moment these two candidates, Ana, had respect I didn't feel, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Actually, I think it had nothing to do with policy. I think it had nothing to do with them attacking each other. I thought their best moments last night was when Anderson got them to open up about their personal lives, about how they met their wives. We -- you know, we've been caught in this cycle of insults hurled between one side and the other in this Republican cross fire. And I thought it was nice for a national audience to get to hear about Jeanette Rubio. To get to hear about Heidi Cruz. Two terrific women who are married to these men and who as first ladies would have a huge role to play in our national agenda.

BLITZER: Amanda, what do you think?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree. It was nice to see the human element come out of these candidates when it was so caught up in the sound bites of day to day. You know, Marco Rubio talking about his kids. I was picturing him having these cute little dance parties with his adorable family. Cruz, talking about how the torture that happened to his father influenced his perspective as it relates to Cuba. These are important things. They got to have a real, honest conversation on a stage with voters. And so it was just -- it was really refreshing. And part of that, to be honest, had to do with the fact that Donald Trump wasn't on the stage. It will be interesting tonight to see what happens between the dynamic where we've had these really thoughtful, provocative conversations, and then ending it with Donald Trump. Because I -- I am very curious to see how he holds up to the standard that's been set by the other candidates. And I expect Jeb Bush to also have a thoughtful conversation.

BLITZER You believe, Ana, this is a fight now between Cruz and Rubio for second place in South Carolina, that Donald Trump will win on Saturday?

NAVARRO: Well, all the polls certainly indicate that Donald Trump is far, far ahead. We have seen the polls be wrong before. We saw it in Iowa. It seems that in South Carolina, his lead is insurmountable. We shall see. Nothing is written in stone until the voters actually vote. I think there is a very tight race for second and third place in South Carolina between Cruz, Rubio, Carson and Bush. And we're going to see what voters turn out. And, you know, Wolf, I think last night also there was a very poignant moment that same question was asked to both of them about Cuba. And it's so significant. You know, these are two Hispanic guys. Ted Cruz is half Cuban, Marco Rubio is the child of two Cuban parents. And they both were asked a question about Obama, who President Obama last night announced he's going to Cuba in March. And you know, it was very nice to hear the passion with which they defended the victims of the Castro dictatorship in Cuba, and recognized that we should not be rewarding dictators that have ruled in that country for 56 years, oppressed people, tortured people, killed people, including Americans, with a presidential visit. I was very proud of both of them at that moment.

[13:44:54] BLITZER: On that issue, they both agreed as far as opposing President Obama's decision next month to go to Cuba. First time in more than half a century, an American president, almost a century, will actually have visited Cuba.

All right, ladies, thanks very much.

Next, the Democratic battle for the minority vote. I'll speak live with Congressman Elijah Cummings about the focus of the campaigns and where he stands in this current fight.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: The endorsement game is a major part of the primary fight. On the Democratic side, both Clinton and Sanders met recently with African-American leaders in an attempt to get critical endorsements ahead of the southern primaries starting with South Carolina.

Joining us from Baltimore is Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Congressman, thank you very much for joining us.

I know the Black Caucus Congressional Political Action Committee last week endorsed Clinton. You weren't a part of that. Tell our viewers why.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D), MARYLAND: I abstained, Wolf, because I'm the ranking member of the Benghazi Committee and I wanted to finish our investigation or at least get through it substantially further than what we are before I made that decision, in fairness to Hillary Clinton and to the investigation.

BLITZER: But you know Trey Gowdy, the chairman of your special committee, he's openly endorsing Marco Rubio.

CUMMINGS: I know that.

[13:50:08] BLITZER: Is that proper do you think?

CUMMINGS: I think that it says something about where Trey Gowdy stands. You know, that's up to him. I just think we have to produce a credible report. There will come a time when I will make an endorsement, Wolf, but, you know, I just want to get through a few more interviews. They've now spent $6 million on this Benghazi investigation. They keep coming up with more and more interviews. At some point, with our election right here in Maryland coming up at the end of April, I've got to make an endorsement. So I will -- it may come as soon as next week.

BLITZER: On Benghazi, Trey Gowdy now says your committee has interviewed 75 witnesses. Most recently, Susan Rice, the president's national security advisor; Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser. Without going into details, because I know these are all private interviews, except Hillary Clinton, when she testified in a public session, are you learning new information that's going to be useful to the American public?

CUMMINGS: No. It's the same rehashing of information we already know. Period. I think the Republicans are trying to draw this out into the election. I think they'll try to go probably until August or November if they can. This has been dragged out too long. Again, $6 million we spent already, and counting. It needs to be set down and we need to move on. Period.

BLITZER: Strong words.

What about the key issue right now for African-American voters? They make up more than half of the likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina. What's the biggest issue you think right now on their minds?

CUMMINGS: I think African-American voters are looking for authenticity and looking for somebody they can truly believe in. You know, we have had a phenomenal jobless rate, with regard to criminal reform, criminal justice reform. That's a very big issue for us. Miss Clinton, Secretary Clinton, just put forth a plan, a $125 billion plan, to address joblessness and the criminal justice reform and trying to get people back to work and train. And certainly Bernie Sanders has put forth his feelings about it. I think people are looking for the person who is going to be providing a practical solution and the person who is going to be able to carry out those solutions. And so it's -- I think it's up in the air. I really do.

BLITZER: Elijah Cummings, Democratic Congressman from Maryland.

Congressman, thanks very much as usual for joining us.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Still ahead, Turkey's response to an attack in Ankara is straining its relationship with the United States right now. Why that could severely affect the fight against ISIS at the same time. We'll go live to Turkey.


[13:57:10] BLITZER: Turkey says it's using air strikes to target leading Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.




BLITZER: This follows a blast in Ankara that killed at least 28 people. Turkish prime minister blaming a Kurdish separatist group there called the YPG. The organization denies responsibility. Then this morning, another attack in southeastern Turkey, a roadside bomb that killed at least six Turkish soldiers. The government is blaming the Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is joining us now from Ankara, Turkey.

Arwa, give us some perspective on these two Turkish groups because a lot of us originally thought ISIS may have been responsible for that bombing in Ankara.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this stage, the Turkish government is blaming both the YPG and the PKK, saying they worked together to carry out the Ankara attack that claimed at least 28 lives.

A bit of history on the two. The PKK is a Kurdish separatist group that has been at war with the Turkish state for about three decades now. It is a war that has cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides. Over the summer, a cease-fire between the two fell apart and hundreds have been killed, while huge swaths of southeastern Turkey have been turned into battlefields.

Now, let's go across the border to Syria. The YPG is one of the main Kurdish fighting forces inside Syria. That is the force that America considers to be its strongest ally inside Syria and it has received significant U.S. support in the forms of air strikes at times that have allowed the YPG to make gains against ISIS in some areas. But also take over territory that was controlled by Arab rebels that Turkey supports.

And Turkey views the YPG's presence along its border with Syria as being a direct threat to its own national security, Wolf. So Turkey does not differentiate between the YPG and PKK. The U.S. does consider PKK to be a terrorist entity, but not the YPG.

BLITZER: Turkey, of course, is a NATO ally, and all of this is straining Turkey/U.S. relations right now. I can only imagine the diplomatic channels, the conversations that are going on between U.S. and Turkish officials over the response for these terror attacks.

Arwa Damon, be careful over there. We'll stay in close touch with you.

Arwa Damon, reporting live for us from Ankara, Turkey.

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

For our international viewers "Amanpour" is next.

For our viewers in North America, NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow and Erin Burnett, a special edition of NEWSROOM, starts right now.

[14:00:11] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.