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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Final Hours of Voting Underway on Super Tuesday. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 1, 2016 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- of those who we sampled said that they are first-time primary voters. So, that may bode well for Marco Rubio.

[16:30:07]

Is it going to be enough to carry him to a possible upset victory tonight or maybe to score some of those badly needed delegates? That's going to be the telling thing. Right now, Donald Trump has a solid lead, but Marco Rubio does tend to close out well in these states -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, thank so much.

Former Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has endorsed Marco Rubio, and he joins me from Tulsa.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. Good to see you again.

TOM COBURN (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Good to see you. Thanks for your good journalism on the misquote by Donald Trump.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

So, Senator Rubio, to be frank, is not favored to win any states today, which would make him zero and 15. If that happens, and I know you're rooting for it not to happen, but if that is the conclusion of this evening, doesn't the math just become impossible for him?

COBURN: Well, you know, I don't think you can say that until March 15.

First of all, zero for 15, we will see. Nobody knows the answer to that yet. And it may be. You know, this is hard. And that's what makes politics in America so great, is you have this great confluent of different people in each party trying to sell a product. And, quite frankly, in Donald Trump's case, he has sold a product that nobody's questioned the details behind him or the guarantee or the warranty.

So it's -- there's no question, everybody, it is going to be a hard time to climb against Donald Trump. But the more that comes out, and the more critical -- and I don't mean critical in the sense -- I'm talking about specific questions that get asked of him on policy, which he's not answered any, Jake.

There's not one direct answer to any policy question. What there has been is a lot of bloviating. And that excites people. He's an entertainer.

TAPPER: Right.

You served in the Senate with both Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz. You were a strong opponent of Senator Rubio's Gang of Eight immigration bill. Why endorse Rubio and not Cruz?

COBURN: Well, a couple of things. One is Rubio has the ability to work better with people, I think.

Number two is, he's much more attractive as a candidate to the female vote in this country. Number three is, Rubio -- look, everybody that's ever worked in the Senate's made mistakes. I guess maybe Ted hadn't, but everybody else has.

And I applauded his effort to try to solve the problem. I didn't agree with it, and I voted against it. And I actually spoke against it. But that doesn't mean it wasn't worth trying. And I think he learned his lesson. This country's only going to accept an immigration policy once they know our borders are secure.

And no politician, I don't care which side it is, is ever going to get the votes unless they secure our border first.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, you have had some very harsh words about Donald Trump. You said he's "perpetuating a fraud on the American people. His empty promises, bullying and bloviating rhetoric will only deepen the frustration and disillusionment that gave rise to his campaign. He simply lacks the character skills and policy knowledge to turn his grandiose promise into reality" -- unquote.

But if he's the nominee, you're going to support him, right?

COBURN: Well, probably, I will. I won't say that unequivocally.

I want to hear some answers, Jake. I want guys like you to get answers out -- what are the specifics that you're saying? Every other candidate's given specifics. And the press has allowed Donald Trump not to answer questions.

And so what we need to hear, you know, people -- there's no question people in this country are totally upset with the federal government. And they have every reason to be. But what they have heard is a great sales pitch with no details.

And all I'm saying is, you know, it depends on what his answers are to the critical questions. And if there's no answers, then on general election, he's going to lose. The reason I'm backing Marco Rubio is because he has the best chance to continue great leadership in this country.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, thanks so much for joining us. Good

to see you, as always.

COBURN: Good to see you, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: My Super Tuesday panel is back with me now.

Kayleigh, bloviating, no specifics, you will grant Senator Coburn that Donald Trump could provide a few more details into his policy plans, yes?

MCENANY: No, it's not about that.

We just heard the senator, in all due respect, say that Donald Trump is perpetuating a fraud on the American people. Well, you know what? The establishment, the GOP establishment has perpetuated a fraud on the GOP voting base. And that is why we're seeing this reaction.

They just voted for $1.3 trillion in new spending in January. They essentially sealed the way for the Iran deal. They have not defunded Planned Parenthood. This is a fraud. They promised one thing. They got into office, they did something else.

The frustration we see, the groundswell of support is because of things like the senator is saying. So, in all due respect, it's really not about the details. We have a president who has all the details mapped out, but we still have a country that's really hurting and is really frustrated.

[16:35:00]

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, some Republicans, Coburn, not during this interview, but previously, and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Republican, they're talking now about possibly voting for a third- party candidate if Donald Trump gets the nomination. Do you think that that's a reality? Is that really going to happen?

HAM: Look, I think a lot of people are very upset.

And it's not just about being -- the establishment being upset. It is about a bunch of voters among Cruz and Rubio and Kasich to some extent as well and Carson saying, OK, I understand the frustration and I completely disagree with the prescription being Donald Trump, partly because there aren't a lot of specifics when you push him on health care or something, partly because his ideology's not clear and they don't know if they can trust him, and partly because when he is asked to denounce David Duke and the KKK, it's easy, and he can't do it.

And that's a problem for the party.

TAPPER: Nia-Malika, what do you make of this schism? It seems to me that, at the end of the day, most Republicans will rally behind the nominee.

That's usually how it happens. These primary contests can be bruising. Well, this one is particularly bruising. HENDERSON: Yes, it is bruising, to have Mitch McConnell come out, to

have Paul Ryan come out, to Ken Mehlman, the ex-chair of the RNC, to come out and denounce him too.

It is odd, but it's also hard to believe that if Donald Trump is the nominee, what would it look like to have the establishment of the party kind of turn their back on the opportunity to perhaps win the White House? I mean, just logistically, what that looks like at a convention, when people are giving speeches, or people are...

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: ... giving money.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Exactly. So, it is hard to see what that looks like. But that's certainly the threat I think the Republican establishment is making.

TAPPER: John, how does that look like?

If Trump gets the nomination, do you think a lot of Republican senators will actually not go to the convention in Ohio?

KING: I think that's a possibility.

I think if Marco Rubio keeps saying he has small hands and he may have peed in his pants, for example, Donald Trump is going to have a hard time with Marco Rubio at his convention.

Look, people will calm down. A lot of this was discussed earlier. Mike DuHaime raised the point, a lot of this will be on Donald Trump. If you're the nominee and you're the winner, even if you have legitimate grievances against the people you ran against, it's your job to be big and to reach out.

The first test is on Donald Trump. Then the rest is on -- look, Speaker Ryan, strong words today. He is the guy who gets the gavel at the convention. He runs the show at the convention. He doesn't want Donald Trump as the nominee, but what does he do if Donald Trump is the nominee?

To David's point, the customer's always right. If Republican voters say this is our nominee, how does the Republican leadership run away from that? The Republican leadership has been fighting their own base. The Tea Party surprised them in 2010. Mitch McConnell said he was going to snuff the Tea Party out in 2014. To a large degree, he was successful in beating the primary challenges.

But you have had these people in an argument with their own base, their own voters, going on five years, six years now. If Trump wins, then that's a message to the leadership and they better get it.

BORGER: But you have all these senators, these Republican senators who are up for reelection in blue states. And I was talking to somebody yesterday who is very involved in the Senate campaigns. And he said to me, it's going to be each man for himself. Do what you have to do, because we don't want to lose control of the Senate. And that is clearly their worry with Donald Trump as a nominee.

By the way, it's also their worry should Ted Cruz become the nominee. But they're quietly saying to people, just do what you have to do.

TAPPER: All right, hold on, everyone. We're going to take a very, very quick break.

Next, Hillary Clinton turning her fire from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump. Does she think it's coming down to Clinton vs. Trump? We will ask our next guest, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

And Bernie Sanders telling voters it all comes down to one thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm confident that if there is a large voter turnout today across this country, we are going to do well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:55]

TAPPER: Welcome back.

It's the most critical day of the election so far, Super Tuesday, millions of Americans casting their votes. For Democrats, there are 12 contests under way. Hillary Clinton is hoping to run away with most of the delegates at stake today, after a pair of victories in Nevada and South Carolina.

But Bernie Sanders is not about to quit. He's insisting he's in it until the convention.

Brianna Keilar is at the Sanders headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, where there's another contest today.

Brianna, is it the same sense you're getting from the campaign, that he's in it until July?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, publicly, certainly, that's what we're hearing, Jake.

But I think what they're trying to project is that nothing's going to knock Bernie Sanders out tonight and that he's trying to push forward past Super Tuesday. I think the Sanders campaign is being pretty realistic about his prospects today, and they're setting up this expectation that a performance for him that would be a good performance doesn't have to be as good as what a good performance would be for Hillary Clinton.

So they're realistic about the fact that the polls show she's ahead in more of these Super Tuesday states than he is. They're looking towards the 5th and they're looking towards the 8th and they're looking towards March 15. They think that they're going to have better luck here beyond Super Tuesday.

And, yes, publicly, certainly, Bernie Sanders says this is something that is going all the way to the convention. But I think they will also be assessing the campaign in the weeks as we go forward here. What he does have, though, is a lot of money, $42 million that he brought in last month.

Now, he has been burning through a lot of that on ads, for sure, but that's a lot of money, including $6 million just yesterday, which is about what he pulled in the day after he won New Hampshire. He certainly does have money to keep going, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brianna Keilar in Vermont, clearly.

And with me now live, John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

John, good to see you again.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I want to ask you about these comments from the Sanders campaign that they're in it until convention, no matter what. What do you make of that?

JOHN PODESTA, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Well, look, I think what we're focused on is winning the delegates we need to secure the nomination.

We think we will have a super night here on Super Tuesday and rack up a strong delegate performance and a big lead with pledged delegates.

[16:45:05] So, that's our focus.

And Senator Sanders says offered a spirited challenge, we knew that. And we're out there making our case that Hillary Clinton is the candidate that can tear down barriers that are holding people back. So far that's being very well-received.

TAPPER: And Clinton's talking about Donald Trump on the stump these days, more so than Bernie Sanders in some speeches. According to "The New York Times," last summer Clinton's campaign manager joked, shhh, I've got to get me some Trump listening to the debate.

Does the campaign -- the Clinton campaign take Trump seriously enough, you think?

PODESTA: We've always taken Donald Trump seriously. Hillary Clinton was the first campaign to call him out for the bigotry and the bullying that he was doing last summer. But right now, we're focused on winning the nomination.

So, I want to correct one you said, Jake. We're looking to win delegates, to compete in these states. We're in a fight with Sanders. We'll turn to the general election when it's appropriate and at that time.

But right now, I think her campaign contrasting a campaign of inclusion, of tearing down barriers, whether it's rigged economy or institutional racism against his campaign or bigotry will shape up very well into the fall.

But the Republicans, first, have to pick their nominee and, first, we have to win the nomination. So, you know, there's a lot left to go in these contests to win the delegates to be the nominee.

TAPPER: John, according to the Sunlight Foundation and "Intercept", you're hosting a fund-raiser for Secretary Clinton in Washington, along with several lobbyists who work for firms that lobby on behalf of Goldman Sachs, the NRA. Isn't this fund-raiser exactly the kind of thing that drives supporters to Bernie Sanders?

PODESTA: Well, look, I think we're trying to raise the resources that are necessary with respect to her positions. For example, there's no one stronger, louder, in taking on the gun lobby than Hillary Clinton.

She has a record in sharp contrast to Senator Sanders who voted five times against the Brady bill. He shifted, to some extent -- we welcome that -- in the course of this campaign. But she's going to take on the gun lobby, take on Wall Street with comprehensive plan.

TAPPER: But aren't you afraid -- aren't you afraid that it undermines her pitch on Wall Street and the gun lobby when she takes money from federal lobbyists who lobby on behalf of Wall Street and the gun lobby?

PODESTA: I understand your reference to the gun lobbies. The person no longer does that. And we -- that's a good thing for the country because we need to beat back the gun lobby. I think what's important is that she can stand up, as she always has, to special interests, to the people who are taking our country in the wrong direction, and she'll do that.

But as you know, there's a lot of money coming at us from the other side and we're going to raise resources that we need to raise to compete both in these primaries and then if we're -- if we become the nominee, as I think we will in the general election. Super PACs are already advertising against her and they have been since Iowa. And we're going to raise money that we need to compete.

TAPPER: All right. John Podesta, the chairman for the Clinton campaign, thanks so much. Good luck today.

We're just minutes away from the first exit polls that we can report, a major sign of what we can expect tonight.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:52:33] TAPPER: Welcome back to a very special edition of THE LEAD. Just about two hours away from when polls start to close for Super Tuesday.

Let's get some quick closing thoughts from our illustrious panel.

David, let me start with you. Give us historical perspective on what might happen this evening.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. I think you started the show by asking if we were going to see surprises tonight. I think most of us think probably not.

But I do think we may see history. This could be the first time in American history that a woman virtually wraps up the nomination of a major political party in this country. Two hundred years, first woman, and this is a night when she can virtually wrap it up.

Now, on the other side, this is first time in American history that a total renegade is about to wrap up the nomination of the opposing party. Really, really important stuff.

TAPPER: That is pretty interesting. And I guess we'll see if it happens.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we'll see if it happens.

TAPPER: But we're all thinking it might.

Bill, to you, what do you think? What do you make of John Podesta's response when I asked about the lobbyists giving money in the fund- raiser for the Clinton campaign?

BILL PRESS, AUTHOR: First of all, I do think that for the Clinton campaign to continue to go after Goldman Sachs lobbyists, and the lobbyists, I think there's nothing wrong with that, it's a tin ear. I really think it's a problem with the money she's raising, Goldman Sachs, the speeches, the transcripts, the continued interrupting the campaign, either her or the chair, to have some -- to raise money from lobbyists as opposed to Bernie who is raising money from grassroots supporters.

But I got to respond to David. The surprise tonight is Hillary's not going to be crowned the nominee of the Democratic Party. I mean I've got to say that. I feel super optimistic. Number one, he's got all of the money.

TAPPER: Yes.

PRESS: He is -- this is not the end of the road for Bernie. He does not have to win necessarily all of states but I think he'll definitely win Vermont. Look at Minnesota, look at Colorado, maybe even Massachusetts. TAPPER: OK, we'll see what happens.

I want to give Bakari --

PRESS: I'm just saying it's not the end of the road.

TAPPER: Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough. The election results have not come in yet.

Bakari, what did you me of Mr. Podesta?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I thought he was honest and accurate. Bernie Sanders raised $42 million last month. And not only does Bernie Sanders have that amount of money that he's bringing in daily, $6 million yesterday. I mean, that's a heck of a haul.

But he also has Republican PACs that are prompting him up. Fortune 45, Karl Rove PACs are literally running ads targeted against Hillary Clinton right now. So, she has a full frontal assault coming towards her and Senator Sanders hasn't repudiated those super PACs, and I don't think he will.

But the fact of the matter is that tonight is going to be a very important night. And if Hillary Clinton is able to chip away at Bernie Sanders victory states like Massachusetts, if she does well in Colorado, or Minnesota, it's a very, very hard road for Bernie Sanders.

[16:55:08] And I look forward to Hillary Clinton having a good night.

TAPPER: We've got a lot to digest. Thank you one and all for being here. Welcome to you two, our newest -- especially you Mary Katharine, this is your debut on the show.

We are moments away from reporting the first exit polls, and just two hours from when the polls actually start to close. Don't go away. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: So, thanks for joining us. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll be back at just an hour, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern with our special coverage of Super Tuesday.

I turn you over to my colleagues, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper. They are in "THE SITUATION ROOM."