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THE SITUATION ROOM
South Carolina Town Hall; Nevada Caucuses; Sanders Strives to Win African-American Vote; 37K Pre-Registered for Nevada GOP Caucus; President's Plan to Shut Down Gitmo Draws Sharp Reaction. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 23, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Carolina conversation, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton getting ready for tonight's CNN town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, with primary day fast approaching for them.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Brianna Keilar. Wolf is on assignment. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin in Nevada, where the first caucus sites open in just two hours. Donald Trump, the front-runner, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz battling it out for second, both hoping that the polls, which have been fairly sparse, are not telling the whole story.
Senator Cruz holding a rally shortly in Carson City, Nevada, campaigning down to the closing bell there.
More now on all the contenders with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But we have a big lead and we don't want to blow it.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump looking to extend his winning streak.
TRUMP: South Carolina, absolutely perfect, and hopefully by tonight we will all be together and we will say this one was absolutely perfect.
SERFATY: Eying a third win in a row to cement his front-runner status.
TRUMP: These other guys, they're all gone. You know what? They made their little speech this morning and they ran away. And you shouldn't be voting for people...
SERFATY: The brash billionaire not holding back in the final hours of campaigning in the Silver State, ratcheting up his rhetoric at a protester Monday night.
TRUMP: He's walking out like big high fives, smiling, laughing. Like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you.
SERFATY: Trump also laying into rival Ted Cruz.
TRUMP: This guy is sick. There's something wrong with this guy.
SERFATY: Cruz returning fire today, accusing Trump of lacking core principles.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I frankly don't care what position Donald decides to support today or tomorrow or the next day. They change every day. I don't care what they are. But pick one and defend it.
SERFATY: Cruz is also in a bruising battle for second with Marco Rubio, as the two freshman senators fight for the mantle of Trump alternative in the race.
Rubio today making the case that he's the candidate conservatives can coalesce behind.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot nominate someone who cannot win because they cannot unite us.
SERFATY: The Florida senator is leaving Nevada before the start of the caucuses, looking ahead to March contests, with stops tonight in Minnesota and Michigan.
RUBIO: I'm not waiting in line because there is no line for president. And we're running out of time. This is no time for patience. People have now realized, look, all right, he wasn't our first choice, but now he's our best choice.
SERFATY: Meanwhile, the Kasich campaign is switching up its strategy, now going directly after its rivals, releasing a memo calling Rubio "another teleprompter-dependent senator," while the candidate brushed off calls from a supporter at a Georgia town hall to engage more forcefully with his competitors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What your going to do to stick to it Trump, stick to it Rubio?
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In terms of sticking it to somebody, I ain't going to do that. I'm not going down that rabbit hole.
KEILAR: Sunlen Serfaty is joining us now.
Sunlen, we just saw in your report Rubio is asking voters to nominate him because he says he can unite the party. He's clearly trying to differentiate himself from Donald Trump. What is Trump saying about Rubio?
SERFATY: Well, Trump had a pretty ominous message, warning to Marco Rubio today. Earlier today at his Sparks, Nevada, rally, he told supporters that largely he thinks he's been nice to Marco Rubio so far, but then quickly added this, Brianna.
He said: "Rubio hasn't hit me. When he does, you will see what happens."
Now, Rubio has been a candidate that's largely stayed away from directly taking aim at Donald Trump, so it is interesting that Donald Trump is bringing this up at a time where Rubio is on the rise, largely seen as being on the rise. Trump likes to say he's a counterpuncher. Essentially, this is all amounting to a big be careful, Marco Rubio, coming from Donald Trump.
KEILAR: A big warning. All right.
We know he will make good on it, too, all right, if Rubio does hit him.
Sunlen Serfaty in Las Vegas.
And joining us now, Trump national campaign co-chair Sam Clovis. We also have CNN political commentators Amanda Carpenter and Ana Navarro. Amanda is a former communications director for Senator Cruz. Ana is a GOP strategist and longtime friend of Marco Rubio.
Sam, how confident is the Trump campaign in Nevada tonight? He does have this very strong lead. But we know that the polls there can be a little wonky in really telling us what's going on, on the ground. Is he confident?
SAM CLOVIS, DONALD TRUMP NATIONAL CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR: Well, I think we're cautiously optimistic.
I think that we went into this with a very sizable lead in whatever polls that were available out there. It's a caucus state, so I think you don't want to get out in front of your headlights and sit here and predict anything because you never know.
Caucus locations, the administration of the party, how they go about doing it, there are a lot of things and a lot of hiccups that can occur. We will just wait until the votes are counted. And then if there's time to celebrate, we will celebrate tonight and then get back to the campaign tomorrow.
KEILAR: Ana, for sort of what we can sort of read into in these polls, you do have Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz kind of competing, it appears, in this for a second place, if the polls do tell us what's going on.
They are going back and forth a whole lot. Does that serve them well in the long term?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I'm not sure it serves them well in the long term, but I'm not sure you can avoid it in the short- term. The bottom line is, they are both first term senators. They are very alike on paper and they're competing for second place. So, how do you compete in the midst of a presidential primary without
having that type of crossfire between them? I also think both of them are very good at organization, on-the-ground organization. We saw that Ted Cruz's on-the-ground organization beat Donald Trump in Iowa, despite Trump looking better in the polls heading into that caucus.
When it comes to caucusing, on-the-ground organization really matters. Marco Rubio has had very good on-the-ground organization in Nevada for a long time. He has been spending a lot of time there, has visited the state. Grew up there for some years when and he was child. Was a Mormon for some time, you know, can sympathize and identify with the Hispanic community there.
So I think he brings a lot of natural assets to this Nevada contest.
NAVARRO: By the way, Brianna, it's taken me years to learn how to say Nevada in English, because in Spanish we only have one way to say it, thank God.
KEILAR: I'm from California, so I have always said Nevada. And it sort of irks me when I hear everyone saying Nevada.
NAVARRO: It's a Spanish word, which you guys have butchered so much. I can't even say it.
KEILAR: Well, you could say that about a lot of things, OK, but we got to get back to politics here.
OK, so, Amanda, you know, she's saying that Rubio has this ground came. So does Senator Cruz. Why are they taking each other on? Why don't they both take on Donald Trump, who is leading?
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They are both making the argument if we can get this race in a head-to-head matchup, both of us will be able to beat Donald Trump.
That said, I do agree this internal battle for second is doing some damage and may not be productive, because the lead that Donald Trump has is so big. They have to go at Trump. Cruz has made a concentrated effort to go after Trump. We need to see that out of Rubio, especially going into the debate.
It may have been because he's so focused on trying to beat Jeb Bush earlier for that sort of intra-primary primary that was happening for donors and things like that. But now is the time for Rubio to step up and go toe to toe with Trump and see how Trump handles him, because trying to go against Jeb Bush is a much different animal than trying to go against Donald Trump on the debate stage.
KEILAR: Yes, it certainly is.
So, Sam, in terms of what happens beyond Nevada, does the Trump campaign think they can sustain his momentum to Super Tuesday and beyond that?
CLOVIS: Yes, absolutely.
I think that if we have a win tonight and particularly if it's a big win, delegate count is what counts. We then go. We still have some proportional states on Super Tuesday to get to. I don't want to get too wonkish about all that. But delegate count is what counts. You have to cross a certain threshold.
I think as long as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are in the race together, one of them has to go, because they are not going to be able to pick up enough points along the way or enough delegates along the way to really catch up if there comes a stumble or some point down the road, because if we have a great night on Tuesday night, it's going to be really tough to swing this ship and catch up with it, because I think that the Trump train is going to be out far enough out in front, that it is going to be very difficult to catch if we have a great night on Tuesday night.
Ana, that could really pose an issue for Senators Cruz and Rubio. Rubio today said -- quote -- "We're running out of time" and that he wasn't the first choice, but that he's the best choice. Is that a smart move? Does that project the confidence that he needs to project?
NAVARRO: Well, you know, I think he's running with this theme of look, folks, if you don't want Donald Trump to be your nominee, I'm your best choice. Look at me. I may not have been your number one choice.
I think that when he's saying that, he's trying to appeal to folks like me or to folks who were supporting Scott Walker or Chris Christie, who may have wanted a governor with executive experience. And so I think he is going to hit this theme hard. I'm the one that can, one, beat Donald Trump and, two, unify this party and then beat Hillary Clinton.
I think you are going to see him go at that time after time after time. But I do think this crossfire between Cruz and Rubio is leaving a little bit of an opening -- and that's almost all he needs -- for John Kasich, who we're now talking about, because he is now the one that's taken up the mantle of the joyful warrior with executive experience.
So I think in the midst of this heated battle between the two senators, they got to be careful and look over their shoulder that they are not opening up room for John Kasich.
KEILAR: What do you think about that, Amanda? He did say -- he said I'm not going down that rabbit hole. I'm not getting involved in this back and forth.
CARPENTER: Yes, but he's also not trying to take on Donald Trump.
Listen, right now, there's a problem in the primary for Rubio and Cruz. Their names are John Kasich and Ben Carson, because they are both dragging votes away from those two. And so the most important thing that either Cruz and Rubio have to do on this debate stage is show people that they can take on Donald Trump and win.
Cruz has done it. Marco Rubio is saying he may not win a state until Florida, many, many days from now. That doesn't inspire confidence. Something has to change. And luckily there's an opportunity tonight to show what the margins will be and then on Thursday in the big debate.
KEILAR: Yes, big days ahead here.
Amanda Carpenter, thank you so much. Sam Clovis and Ana Navarro, thanks to all of you.
And we will have a lot more to talk about later tonight for sure and later this week, when the Republican candidates square off on stage in Houston. Wolf Blitzer will be moderating. This all gets under way Thursday night at 8:30 Eastern.
And just ahead, Democrats get ready for tonight's CNN town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, Hillary Clinton out in front, Bernie Sanders fighting to overcome his underdog status. We will get a preview from moderator Chris Cuomo.
And then later, back to Nevada, however you pronounce it, for the final caucus countdown, and a look at where the GOP race goes from there.
KEILAR: We're now less than two hours away from a CNN town hall, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tackling questions from voters ahead of this weekend's primary.
Right now, Mrs. Clinton is about to speak at a forum at a church. This is not far from where the town hall will be taking place. And this comes after a day of intense campaigning across the board.
Jeff Zeleny has a wrap-up.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Clinton campaign leaving nothing for chance in South Carolina, from the walls of her campaign offices to the message at her campaign rallies.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the numbers don't add up, it's wrong to make those promises.
ZELENY: Bernie Sanders is front and center on the minds of Clinton world.
JACQUELINE DEBOSE, HILLARY CLINTON VOLUNTEER: Bernie is not the man. Bernie was really running, he said, to push her to the left. OK. So he's done that.
ZELENY: Jacqueline Debose is working the phones to bring this Democratic race to a close.
DEBOSE: If he was a wise man, he would step away.
ZELENY (on camera): You think he should step away?
DEBOSE: I think he should stay way, like she stepped away graciously when Obama got the nomination.
ZELENY (voice-over): But Sanders says he's just getting started.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are getting very, very nervous all over this country and Virginia and everyplace else. We're taking on the entire political establishment.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ZELENY: In the fight for delegates, Clinton and Sanders are nearly tied in pledged delegates. Her advantage soars when you add in support from party leaders or superdelegates.
On his way to South Carolina tonight, Sanders swung through Virginia, one of the Super Tuesday states he's eying.
B. SANDERS: All right, you guys are getting me revved up here. It's going to be a long afternoon.
ZELENY: Sanders is stepping up his attacks on Clinton. And his supporters are following suit, including an endorsement and this radio ad from director Spike Lee.
SPIKE LEE, DIRECTOR: Wake up. Wake up, South Carolina. This is your dude, Spike Lee, and I know that you know the system is rigged.
ZELENY: The Clinton campaign hopes to answer the criticism with a strong win in Saturday's South Carolina primary, making an extra push for young African-American women.
MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: She says their names. Trayvon Martin.
ZELENY: Those mothers whose children have been killed in gun violence are campaigning here for Clinton, drawing a contrast with Sanders' position on gun control.
KEILAR: And Jeff joining us now.
So, Senator Sanders has weighed in, and he welcomed President Obama's Guantanamo plans that he laid out today, Jeff, but he also took another swipe at Secretary Clinton in the process.
ZELENY: He did, Brianna.
And he responded very quickly, within minutes of the president making this announcement at the White House. Senator Sanders weighed in as a way to show that he's with the president. That's been a central issue in South Carolina. The Clinton campaign has been suggesting that Bernie Sanders has not been a very loyal supporter or information.
But if you look into this a little bit more, he has voted against a bill to fund the closure of Gitmo, as has she. She supported a different bill. When you fact-check all of this out, both of them, both rivals have supported the closure of Guantanamo Bay, but I think Bernie Sanders was trying to embrace the president a little bit, because that's a central question here, particularly among African- American voters, if he's that loyal or supportive of the president.
That's one thing we will see here tonight, who can embrace this president the most warmly, I think, Brianna.
KEILAR: Certainly. All right, great report, Jeff Zeleny, for us there in South Carolina.
And, again, the candidates' next campaign appearance is going to be right there in Columbia. It will not include them facing against each other. Instead, they are on the University of South Carolina campus. They will be facing the voters.
Less than two hours from now, they will be talking to people, they will be taking their questions. They will addressing their concerns directly, perhaps, perhaps giving them the answers that they need to decide on Saturday in the primary.
"NEW DAY"'s Chris Cuomo will do hosting for us. And he's joining us now.
I know, Chris, that this has become a little old hat for you, these town halls, which you know I love, because I love the questions from the voters directly.
What do you think that we can expect tonight from these candidates?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I think you will be pleased, Brianna. I mean, let's be honest. That's why I agreed to do another one.
CUOMO: Once I found out this was something you were really accepting of, I felt like, wow, let's just keep going with it.
We both know why we love it. When you look around, it's just starting to fill up now here. It's different when a candidate is responding to you or to me vs. a person who is living the question that they are asking about. You're not going to get the same pat answer. You're not going to get the same kind of spin, because it's much more obvious to everybody.
So you're going to see how they engage on that human level. And then how do they weave their message into it? I think that dynamic is really priceless for the voters, and we're happy to motivate it. Really, tonight, I just have the best seat in the house to watch how these South Carolina voters interact with these candidates and how they decide to pick their opportunities to address this person's life vs. addressing their opponent as a point of contrast, also known as a hit, and the dynamic that goes back and forth.
I think we are going to have a great night, because stakes are very high and the candidates are really starting to focus on each other more. We will see how they finesse that while dealing with people and their real problems.
KEILAR: Yes. The stakes really are high, just as you said. And, obviously, we're looking towards Saturday. This isn't just about the delegates. It's about momentum going into a number of other races.
CUOMO: Absolutely. Well said.
I think that you're at the point in the race where you have to start acting like who you want to be. You know the advice you all get on a job interview. Right? Dress for and act like the job which you seek.
That's something I think we're going to see more on display tonight, owning the what-if possibility, that if I were president of the United States, here's what I will do. Here's how I will carry myself. I think you're going to see points of inflection about what the presidential tone, what the presidential ethos is vs. what we're seeing from some on the GOP side.
I think that's going to be into play. But at the bottom, this is a raw test of the ability to interact with other people and make the case to that individual, to the people seated here and all the millions watching at home whether or not you understand people like them and you have ideas to make their lives better.
KEILAR: But you know what we won't see tonight, Chris, very clearly is that jacket you wore at the last town hall, I have to say.
CUOMO: Listen, Brianna, I was afraid you would bring this up. But I must say I have a prepared statement.
KEILAR: You brought it up before.
CUOMO: No, I don't.
Listen, you are a very well-dressed person. Everybody knows that. That jacket was tailored and was very, very expensive. This was about the mike packs. I have different orientation of mike packs tonight, Brianna.
KEILAR: OK. CUOMO: I do not foresee it as a problem. And I got to tell you, I don't have another suit to lose. So this one has to work. OK?
KEILAR: Yes. It's working. It's working. And we will see you tonight along with you in this town hall.
Chris Cuomo, thank you so much. You know we're looking forward to this.
It gets under way just a short time from now, 8:00 Eastern, right here, followed by late caucus coverage out of Nevada.
Next, more on what Bernie Sanders needs to accomplish tonight and ahead of Saturday's primary. I will be asking his national press secretary about that next.
KEILAR: Tonight's Democratic town hall in South Carolina gets under way here in about 90 minutes, and the primary is so close, on Saturday.
Joining me now from Columbia is Bernie Sanders' national press secretary, Symone Sanders.
No relation, Symone, but I want to thank you so much for joining us. I know that we're just a short time away from what will be a key moment for your candidate in CNN's town hall tonight from South Carolina. What should we be expecting from him?
SYMONE SANDERS, SANDERS CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: Well, tonight, you can expect Bernie Sanders to go out there and make his case to the people of South Carolina and the American people, for that matter, why he's the best candidate in this race and why folks should vote for him.
We are going to talk about economic inequality. I hope we get to talk about criminal justice reform. I'm pretty sure we're going to talk about reaching a diverse electorate, appealing to African-American and Latino voters. And the senator is ready to have those conversations.
KEILAR: And you say that. You said, we're going to talk about income inequality, we're going to be talking about criminal justice reform.
Secretary Clinton has been going to great lengths to try to paint Bernie Sanders as a single-issue candidate. He said he doesn't know vaguely what she's talking about.
But she is trying to say, look, he's a one-trick pony who only talks about income inequality as the solution to all of society's ills. How does he combat that? How important is it for him to push back on that tonight?
S. SANDERS: Well, I think it's very important. And we don't have to do much pushing, Brianna, because everywhere the senator goes, he not only talks about economic inequality.
He's talking about climate change. He's talking about criminal justice reform. We're talking about universal health care and universal education. Health care, by the way, is something that folks in South Carolina can definitely identify with and get behind, as in they're -- South Carolina has refused to expand Medicaid.
So, there are hundreds of thousands of people right here in South Carolina without health insurance. In America, 29 million Americans are still uninsured, millions more still underinsured.
So, Senator Sanders is not a one-issue candidate, a one-trick pony. We're talking about all of these issues on the campaign trail. Senator Sanders has said, if Secretary Clinton decides to come to one of his -- one of his rallies, she would be able to hear about it.
So we're not concerned about the rhetoric that the Clinton campaign is pushing. We have a great message. We have seen that our message is resonating in places across this country. It's resonating right here in South Carolina. And we think that we can close these gaps here in South Carolina.
[18:30:20] KEILAR: Appealing to African-American voters in South Carolina is key. A Democrat cannot win there without grabbing a sizable portion of the black voting bloc in the Palmetto State.
He -- we saw Senator Sanders on Sunday. He was talking at a church. He was tailor -- sort of tailoring his message to this demographic. And he really struggled to get some good feedback, some good response from them.
How does he turn that around not just for South Carolina but for a lot of these southern states that are part of Super Tuesday next week?
SANDERS: Well, Brianna, I was at that church on Sunday, and I didn't see a struggle at all. What I saw at that church were folks responding positively to Senator Sanders' message. We were at post- Sunday dinner. And folks were eating, but people were coming up to the senator afterwards, thanking him for raising the issues of criminal justice reform in this election.
They came up to him, thanking him for his commitment to putting action behind the words Black Lives Matter, but they also thanked him for raising the issue of income inequality, raising the issue of...
KEILAR: But Symone, we know looking at this and what we saw in Nevada, that he is struggling with black voters. How does he change that?
SANDERS: Well, Brianna, I think it's an opportunity, not a struggle. Look, Nevada was the first opportunity in this election where we had a diverse nominating contest. Nevada was the first state. And that was the first time that Senator Sanders could demonstrate that he could win in a diverse electorate. He did very well with Hispanic and Latino voters. We are still, yes, we're reaching out to African-American voters. But African-American voters care about electability. And we have demonstrated that now we can go toe to toe with Secretary Clinton on the debate stage. We've demonstrated that Senator Sanders was a real candidate with a virtual tie in Iowa. And in Nevada, we demonstrated that we could win in a diverse electorate.
So we are looking forward to taking our message to South Carolina and beyond, and we think we'll be able to close these gaps.
KEILAR: OK. We'll be seeing you out there on the trail. Symone Sanders, thank you so much.
And joining us now to talk about all of this, CNN political commentator and former Obama administration official Van Jones; and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. She's the vice chair of DNC voter registration and participation.
OK, so to you first, Van. Because the -- you hear Symone, and she's trying to sort of, I think, downplay some of the challenges, understandably, that her candidate has; but appealing to black voters is key, and it's not just South Carolina.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
KEILAR: There are a number of other states. If Bernie Sanders cannot turn this around, does he have a shot?
JONES: No. He doesn't have a shot if he can't turn it around. This is his moment. This is the make-or-break moment for the Sanders candidacy. The problem is that he has not defined himself yet on some key stuff. His relationship with President Obama. She's basically painted him as anti-Obama. He's never said, "Listen, you love the president. You want to defend his gains. I love the president. I want to extend his gains" and really grab this president and show how he is a part of that legacy. He's letting himself be defined in ways that don't make sense.
Also, the other thing is I love that speech. You've got to stop giving that speech. Every black voter in the world, every human being and most Martians have heard that speech. He's got to start telling those civil rights stories. When he was in the Sixties, he was in the civil rights...
KEILAR: He got arrested. He organized a sit-in for segregated housing.
JONES: And if he wanted to be ugly, he could say, "And by the way, you were for Goldwater while I was out there." He didn't have to get ugly. He could just tell those beautiful stories. He's got to realize that, when you're in this situation, you have to do something different. You can't keep doing the same thing and expecting different -- different results.
KEILAR: Really interesting points you make there. So we're looking ahead to the town hall tonight. I love the town hall format. DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Me, too.
JONES: I love the voters asking questions. And there's always some surprises, right, for whether their interests, where their interests lie as voters or what their questions are. What do these two candidates need to do?
BRAZILE: I think they both have a lot of homework to do. Van talked about Senator Sanders and the fact that he has -- basically, he's on message. I mean, for those who've had to work with candidates and try to get them to focus on their message, look, he gets an A-plus for being on message.
But this is an audience, this is -- they're not looking for your song. They're -- want to hear the music behind it. And whether it's your background or your history, I think for both candidates tonight, it's to reach out to those voters who have not heard that message, who really, they're in pain. I've heard you say pain. They're in pain. But they're at HBCU, an historical black college at university. And they're worried if they're going to keep the doors open. They have HIV/AIDS, which is the highest in the country. They're worried about the cost of housing.
And so talk to them. Stop using sound bites. Talk to them as if you're at the kitchen table.
JONES: Preach! Preach!
BRAZILE: This is what a Catholic girl would do after 5 p.m.
But talk to these voters, because there's a gold mine there...
[18:35:07] JONES: Literally, for either one of them.
BRAZILE: ... for both of them. That's right. If they are able to reach the masses and understand their pain but also know they have to protect and preserve and expand President Obama's legacy.
JONES: And he got...
BRAZILE: That matters for black voters.
JONES: He got outfoxed -- outfoxed, outmaneuvered on the Obama question. What you want to do is hug Obama and say, "I'm going to take it forward." He can accuse her of saying, "You want to sit on his gains. I want to go on offense with his gains." He let himself -- that's very bad. We love this president.
The other thing, I think, that's so important, there are other issues besides criminal justice. Now, I'm Mr. Criminal Justice.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
KEILAR: What are the other issues that he should be focusing on?
JONES: Nobody ever asked me. BRAZILE: Hallelujah.
KEILAR: Here I am. Here I am, Van.
BRAZILE: Yes, yes, yes.
JONES: First of all, you have a lot of African-Americans in the military. If you're too war-mongerish, if you're two hawkish, those kids are going to be coming home in flag-draped coffins. He never talks about that.
In the Midwest, all of the Rust Belt, some of those NAFTA positions Hillary Clinton has had cost jobs. There are so many things that black communities are dealing with, from military, from jobs. Talk about the -- expand your argument out. Am I right?
KEILAR: Are they both making the case of sort of treating African- Americans like they don't care about these issues?
BRAZILE: No, but what Van and I are trying to say is that, when you talk to people of color, whether they're black voters or Hispanic and others, there are other issues that people are concerned about. People in the barber shop and the beauty parlor, people on the corner. And that's why when Bernie -- I'm just going give Hillary some play here. Guns. Guns matter, because the violence...
KEILAR: She'll be talking about it. She had this big gun event. Trayvon Martin's mom is out today.
JONES: I love them both. She has been smarter about finding those wedges.
JONES: He hasn't found those wedges. They both are right on criminal justice. But what about peace? What about trade?
JONES: Find those other wedges.
KEILAR: All right. Donna Brazile, Van Jones, guys, thank you so much.
BRAZILE: We're looking forward to it.
JONES: It's going to be amazing.
KEILAR: I sure am, as well. And we're going ahead to one of the many locations in Nevada where Republicans are getting ready to caucus.
[18:41:44] KEILAR: It is the final GOP test before Super Tuesday, one week from today. Tonight Republican caucus goers are casting their ballots in Nevada.
Turnout will be a big factor here. In 2012, only 7 percent of the Nevada Republicans took part. That is 33,000 voters out of 400,000. Well, this time around, 37,000 voters have pre-registered.
CNN's Brian Todd is in Las Vegas for us. He's joining me now.
And tell us about this, Brian. Because I do understand that there's growing pressure among state officials to just make sure that they get this right, that this goes smoothly.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. Tonight a lot of pressure on state GOP officials. There are a lot of problems in the vote count and in the reporting in 2012. They are under considerable pressure to get that right tonight.
And this is one of the places they're going to be doing it. This is Desert Oasis High School, just south of Las Vegas, home of the Diamondbacks. My photojournalist, Ken Boylan (ph) and I are going to take you inside as they prepare for this caucus.
Ken, come on through, and I'll hold the door for you. These are some of the poll volunteers getting ready. They do anticipate, as you say, a spike in turnout, with those 37,000 pre-registered voter. That's more than the entire turnout in 2012.
Voters check in here, show their photo I.D. They can, if they want, listen to some presentations from candidates' representatives and others. That will be going on over there. Some of the voting can be going on here or over there. They have kind of the freedom to move around and cast their vote any time they want, any time between 8 p.m. Eastern Time and about midnight Eastern Time tonight.
So it will be very exciting to see how many people turn up here. Again, the spike in voter turnout is going to be key, probably for Donald Trump.
Now on the problems from 2012. They had a lot of problems with the counting and the reporting. Some poll workers actually boxed up the results and drove them over to the central headquarters. Others emailed them in on Excel -- Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. And when they got there, the columns didn't line up. So they had to recount everything. That was a huge problem, Brianna. They say they're working on this, and we're going to see tonight if they have.
KEILAR: And you pressed a state Republican official about how this is going to play out tonight. What did you get back?
TODD: I spoke to Michael McDonald -- he is the state GOP chair -- just a short time ago, Brianna. Pressed him on all the different problems and how they're going to correct them. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL MCDONALD, STATE GOP CHAIR, NEVADA: We've used modern technology. We've used trouble shooters, people that are far more knowledgeable than I that gave us advice. So we've been able to correct the problems.
Now, it's a caucus. We're early. You know, we're still vague on the process. But learning from other states that have done this for a lot of times, and taking their advice. I think Nevada is going to have a great night tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And if they have a great tonight, that's going to very important for all the candidates taking part in this.
You know, one of the things that has led to some problems here is the confusion over when the caucuses start. They start in different times in different precincts. Here in Clark County, they start at 5 p.m. local time, 7 p.m. Eastern. But on other counties, they start at 6 p.m. local time, 7 p.m. local time. That's lead to some confusion. And we'll see if a lot of people can get past that and get to these areas tonight, Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. You'll be telling us how all that goes tonight. Brian Todd, thank you.
And back with us now, Adam Kahn, Republican Party chairman of Washoe County, Nevada.
[18:45:02] So, Adam, you heard Brian Todd's report there. How big of a deal are these concerns and also these varied times that these caucus sites are opening?
ADAM KHAN, CHAIRMAN, WASHOE COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, it's a huge concern. We look at 2012, we've been working since the day after election in 2012 to ensure it doesn't happen again. I know up here in Washoe County, which is the second largest county in the entire state, we went from 11 caucus locations in 2012 to now having 28 caucus locations. So, we more than doubled that. We have trained over 500 precinct chairs just in the past month and we've also trained 28 coordinators to coordinate each of those sites.
So, we have done due diligence, knowing the issues that will be coming up and doing the best we can with the rules that were given to us having it on a Tuesday evening with only a few hours to vote.
KEILAR: And last time we saw Nevada go through this, it was a 7 percent turn out for Republicans. Caucuses do require a little more effort. I think we should also say that.
But I know you're expecting a couple of things, right? Record turnout, perhaps. But also tell us about this issue with when folks needed to register as Republicans and how this could affect what we see tonight.
KHAN: I actually think it's a huge issue. So, one thing we do in Nevada to ensure the integrity of the election is to make writ you have to be a registered Republican by February 13th, which was ten days ago.
I was at a Trump rally just today earlier, and they had dozens of people outside registering voters, and I think it needs to be articulated to a lot of these people whoever they support is that if they registered today and show up on the caucus anticipating to participate, then they should know they can't.
I'm worried -- the only thing I'm worried about is people showing up saying, hey, I registered as a voter, why can't I participate this? And I think that's one of the only issues that we're going to be seeing tonight.
KEILAR: All right. We'll be keeping our eyes on Nevada tonight.
Adam Khan, thanks so much for being with us again.
And next, we have some campaign reaction to President Obama's plan unveiled today to close Guantanamo Bay.
[18:51:26] KEILAR: Today, President Obama sent Congress his long promised plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and he set off a firestorm. On the Republican campaign trail, reaction was swift and sharp.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You wake up this morning to the news that the president is planning to close Guantanamo, maybe even giving it back to the Cuban government.
This makes no sense to me.
When I'm president, if we capture a terrorist alive, they are not getting a court hearing in Manhattan, they're not going to be sent to Nevada. They're going to Guantanamo and we're going to find out everything they know.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All I can tell you is I profoundly disagree.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. President, you don't have the authority to give away vital military assets of the United States of America and if you do this to the next president, you will be held accountable for undermining the national security of our country.
BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to have a place to take people. We need to have a place where we can try to derived information from them that will be beneficial to us in terms of our safety, and I'm not seeing what the alternative is quite frankly.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right? Guantanamo Bay. Which by the way, which by the way we're keeping open, which we are keeping open. And we're going to load it up with some bad dudes believe me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: The president's plan includes transferring some of the worst inmates to high-security American facilities.
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has details.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hereby order Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a promise that President Obama made on his first full day in office -- close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. More than seven years later president has sent Congress a plan to do just that.
OBAMA: Let me point out, the plan we're submitting today is not only the right thing to do for our security. It will also save money.
STARR: The plan centers mainly on what to do with detainees too dangerous to be cents to other countries. There are 91 detainees left, 35 have been determined eligible to be transferred overseas.
That could lead 40 to 60 prisoners that might have to be transferred to a military or civilian prison in the U.S. Some will face military tribunal. The Pentagon calculates compared to keeping Guantanamo open closing it would lower costs by up to $85 million a year. That is the toughest part politically.
Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts made his view clear.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: This is what I think of the president's plan to send terrorists to the United States.
STARR: Congress already has banned the administration from spending money to transfer prisoners to the U.S.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It is illegal -- illegal for the president to transfer any of these terrorists in to the United States.
STARR: Because of congressional opposition the Pentagon still has not recommended a specific site for prisoners.
Defense officials have looked at the maximum security federal prisons in Colorado, the Navy brig at Charleston, South Carolina, and the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Defense Secretary Ash Carter making it clear from the outset the key will be getting congressional approval.
ASH CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have to get the support of Congress. I hope they will support a reasonable plan. We'll have to see.
STARR (on camera): President Obama insists the top terror suspects at Gitmo can safely be brought to the United States and held, many of them suspects in the 9/11 attacks.
[18:55:02] The only problem is he has yet to convince Congress.
Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
KEILAR: Lots to discuss. And joining us now, we have senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Also, John Yoo, who helped authorized the facility for enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay when he served in the Department of Justice. His new book is "Liberty's Nemesis: The Unchecked Expansion of the States".
Jeff, there's this legal component of all of this and then you have the political component. Is President Obama on firm ground in either respect here?
JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, politically he's got a big problem. You know, this story has just changed politically so much. George W. Bush, John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, they all wanted to close Guantanamo.
But once President Obama decided he wanted to do it, he ran into a wall of objections from Republicans. And there's no sign that's going to change. So, he's trying to close Guantanamo but certainly doesn't look like he can do it.
KEILAR: John, what's the legal argument for keeping the Gitmo facility open, of course, but also holding people there indefinitely without a trial. I know that you'll say they are not U.S. citizens. So, what happens? Do they just stay there forever?
JOHN YOO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Well, there's two grounds. It's a good question. There's a constitutional issue and international law of war issue. Constitutionally, I think President Obama sane tough spot because Congress has forbidden the use of any federal funds to bring anyone from Guantanamo Bay into the U.S.
So, President Obama is a commander-in-chief. He can release any of the people at Guantanamo bay to foreign countries under his constitutional power. But what he cannot do is to use federal funds in defiance of Congress. So, he can't bring them into the United States unless he's willing to be the first president other than President Lincoln at the start of the civil war to override Congress' power of the purse.
In terms of the legal -- there are national questions that they are prisoners of war. And so, during war, countries take prisoners and hold them as long as the conflict lasts. They don't have to try them. They can just hold them at Guantanamo Bay or some other facility until the hostilities are over. (CROSSTALK)
TOOBIN: Yes. But John knows that the hostilities are never going to be over the way the authorization of the use of military security forces written. That, you know, we are going to be continuing to fight terrorism forever, so we are now in a situation where we're holding these people indefinitely without a trial and that simply is indefensible, morally, constitutionally and legally.
And that used to be a point of bipartisan consensus that that has to end, but now that President Obama has proposed ending it, suddenly, it's very controversial.
KEILAR: But, John, what's the bottom line argument against bringing these people to the U.S.?
YOO: I think there are several. First, the communities in the United States don't want it. Second, people are very worried about the security around the facilities.
I'm not saying that, you know, al Qaeda is going to break into a trial and kill everyone in the courtroom. United States is going to have to spend a lot of known secure the area and you might well see terrorist attacks nearby or terrorist attacks in the U.S. as some of the top al Qaeda leaders, Taliban leaders were to come to the U.S.
This was all sparked -- I mean, Jeffrey is right, the politics has changed. I would say politics changed when President Obama wanted to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to down New York City and try him, where the annual security costs run more than running the Guantanamo Bay base itself.
TOOBIN: If President Obama had done that, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be on death row now. Guantanamo would be closed. Instead, we're in this continuing stalemate that does nobody any good, and financial cost of keeping Guantanamo open is just wildly extravagant and not necessary.
KEILAR: Jeff, can I ask you just really quickly. Especially as we've seen in recent years, these lone wolf attacks, isn't there more of a concern now about these folks being in the U.S. and inspiring attacks?
TOOBIN: Whether they are in the U.S. or not is not going to make any difference to lone wolves if they are in fact lone wolves. They're going to attack anyway. There is no evidence that moving these individuals into the United States where they could be housed with 100 percent security would increase the risk of terrorism in the United States at all.
In fact, the Defense Department under both President Bush and President Obama has said that keeping Guantanamo open as a symbol is a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and ISIS. It's not something that makes us more -- makes the world more dangerous. It makes the world less safe by not closing it.
KEILAR: Jeff Toobin, John Yoo, thanks so much. Thank you so much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.