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Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Russian Rollback; Ohio Battle; Clinton, Sanders Rally Support Ahead of Tuesday Votes; Putin Orders Drawdown of Russian Forces in Syria; Concern Growing Over Violence at Trump Events. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 14, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Buckeye battle -- Bernie Sanders fighting aggressively to win tomorrow's Ohio primary, hoping for a repeat of his upset over Hillary Clinton in Michigan, both Democratic candidates betting big on tomorrow's five major contests. Can Bernie Sanders close his delegate gap with Hillary Clinton?

And Russian rollback. Vladimir Putin shocks the world, pulling his troops out of Syria, at least starting to, after a controversial six- month campaign that's strengthened the hand of Bashar al-Assad. But with ISIS still controlling large chunks of Syria, why is Putin calling it quits now?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump holding a campaign rally this hour amid growing controversy and concern over violence at his events.

Trump and his rivals campaigning fiercely tonight ahead of five major primaries tomorrow that could reshape the Republican race for the White House.

Also, President Obama speaking out in the 2016 race in an exclusive new interview with CNN en Espanol, the president talking about immigration and the Republican Party and indirectly about Donald Trump.

And there's breaking news from Moscow, where the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is ordering Russian forces to begin withdrawing from Syria, saying Russia has achieved its goal there.

We have just learned that President Obama spoke with Putin by phone just a little while ago. We're learning detail of that conversation.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He is backing Marco Rubio for president.

Our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

Let's begin with the Republican race for the White House.

CNN's Jim Acosta is at the Trump campaign rally happening right now near Youngstown, Ohio.

Jim, Trump is facing growing criticism over violence at his rallies. What's the latest?


Donald Trump is closing in on perhaps the most critical moment of this campaign tomorrow, as he's looking to drive more of his rivals out of the race and ease his path to the nomination. But Trump also is defending himself, as you said, against mounting criticism that his events are simply out of control.


ACOSTA (voice-over): One day before what's likely to be the biggest Super Tuesday yet, Donald Trump just wants his critics to feel the love.


ACOSTA: As more protesters were removed from another Trump rally, this time in North Carolina, the GOP front-runner blamed Democrats for the chaos at his events.

TRUMP: The Democrats are seeing what's happening and they try and disrupt what's happening, but it's not a big deal. They stand up, they shout for a couple of seconds. Then they get whisked out.

ACOSTA: And Trump told Wolf Blitzer the media is also at fault for hyping the protests.

TRUMP: There's not much violence. Let's not even use the word violence. There's very little disruption, generally speaking.

ACOSTA: Sarah Palin had some choice words for the demonstrators, labeling them as thugs at a Trump rally in Tampa.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: What we don't have time for is all that petty, punk-ass little thuggery stuff.

ACOSTA: But after a near riot when Trump canceled his rally in Chicago, that protester who tried to confront Trump in Ohio and the police pepper-spraying demonstrators in Kansas City, the other Republican candidates are warning their party could face a grim future.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Donald Trump is our nominee, we're going to lose. A lot of Republicans won't support him. And every day that he behaves like he's behaving now, inciting anger and frustration, he's making it harder and harder. ACOSTA: But Republicans may not have a choice if Trump sweeps the

five big states up for grabs Tuesday. Slowing Trump's momentum in Florida won't be easy for Marco Rubio, who's predicting an upset win.

RUBIO: Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow is the day where we're going to shock the country.

ACOSTA: Looking better in his home state is Ohio Governor John Kasich, who's also railing against Trump with the help of former GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Leadership is not encouraging a toxic environment where we blame one group because of the failure of another. This country is not about us tearing one another down or having fist fights at a campaign rally.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Real quotes about women from Donald Trump about women.

ACOSTA: An anti-Trump super PAC is piling on with this new ad portraying the real estate tycoon as offensive to women voters.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Donald Trump is the nominee, he is a disaster.

ACOSTA: Ted Cruz is in agreement on the Trump effect on the GOP. He just differs on how to stop him, arguing Kasich and Rubio just don't have a shot at the nomination.

CRUZ: With John Kasich, it's real simple. It's mathematically impossible for him to become the nominee. He cannot beat Donald Trump. So a vote for John Kasich or a vote for Marco Rubio is a vote that's thrown away.



ACOSTA: Now, the stakes are enormous tomorrow.

A Rubio win in Florida and a Kasich victory here in Ohio would rewrite the narrative this campaign, signaling for the first time that Trump may not have the delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.

But a clean sweep tomorrow for Trump would clear away much of the field, leaving a wounded Ted Cruz in the race as the last anti-Trump standing. And, Wolf, Donald Trump canceled a rally in Florida today so he could have this rally here in Ohio that is going to get started just about an hour from now.

That shows you just how important Ohio is. It seems like every election, Wolf, it's Ohio, Ohio, Ohio -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Let's get some more now on Marco Rubio. He's in his home state of Florida, also holding a rally this hour.

Our political reporter, Sara Murray, is in West Palm Beach for us tonight.

Sara, if Rubio loses to Donald Trump in tomorrow's Florida primary, he will face enormous pressure to end his presidential campaign.


He is going into his home state. This is an enormous high-stakes game for him, because it's also a winner-take-all state. It's 99 delegates. And not only would it be a huge boost to Marco Rubio's campaign, but it would be a huge boost to stopping Trump.

But Rubio has been running all over the state today essentially saying, we can pull out a surprise, we can pull out a shocker. That's what you will expect to hear from him in just a couple of minutes. But he's also been lamenting the tone of the campaign and the tone of the GOP front-runner.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do we really want to live in a country where everybody hates each other, where people are at each other's throat, and we can't even have a debate, a passionate debate, but a debate nonetheless, about our tax rate, our health care laws?

But if we become a country where everybody hated each other, we're in a lot of trouble. And we wouldn't have leaders that foster that.


MURRAY: And this gives you a sense not only is winning Florida of course vital to the future of Marco Rubio's campaign, but he and his supporters also see it as a bigger battle than that. They see it as a battle between right and wrong, almost as a battle between good and evil.

And they are very demoralized about the possibility that it could be Donald Trump who comes out on top rather than someone like Marco Rubio. So, even though they face an uphill climb in the polls, this is what's keeping the senator going. This is what is keeping his staff going in these final hours before we hit the Florida primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks like he has a nice crowd there behind you, Sara. Is it a big crowd in West Palm tonight?

MURRAY: Yes, it is a big crowd. And it's also a crowd that's very excited to see Senator Rubio. He actually just tried to sneak in a side entrance and run upstairs to do a couple quick things up there.

And the crowd noticed him. They immediately broke into a spontaneous applause. This is an area where his campaign feels pretty strong, but of course it's going to take more than just one region in Florida in order to be able to beat Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Sara, thanks very much, Sara Murray reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is joining us. He is supporting Marco Rubio.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: All right, as you know, Trump says there isn't much violence at his rallies, at his events. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, called the violence, though, very disturbing. How is all of this impacting your party, the Republican Party?

KINZINGER: Well, I think it's impacting us in a big way.

I mean, if you look at some of Trump's rallies, it looks like something you would expect to see in Bolivia or some country that's not the United States. And, look, all sides are to blame in this violence. But when you have the guy that's running for president that says things like punch him in the face, I will pay anybody's legal bills that do damage to protesters, this is not becoming of the office of the president.

Beyond reflecting people's anger -- and people are angry. We get that. The president of the United States needs to be the person that transcends that and shows people a way out, not shows your steaks and whine, brags about himself for an hour in stream-of-consciousness interviews, and then encourages violence.

I think it's very hurtful to our party, but more importantly than my party is the country.

BLITZER: Because Donald Trump told me -- he tells everybody he's not condoning violence. He says, if you look at all of his rallies over these many months, most of them have been very peaceful, very nice, a lovefest. He used that phrase earlier in the day.

You're laughing.

KINZINGER: Yes, because it's Donald Trump. He just says anything he wants, even in the face of every fact. Like, he basically takes his opinion and says these are facts.

We know that he's been encouraging violence. There's clips that can be played for probably the next hour of times he's encouraged violence. For him to say this is a lovefest is a joke. It may be a lovefest for his most ardent supporters, but for the country, this is a very devastating time.

BLITZER: So, if he were your party's Republican presidential nominee, there's no way you could support him?

KINZINGER: I can't see how I get to support him right now. I would never say never, but, look, it's just digressing into more and more violence. And I put my country above my party any day of the week. And so that would be my determination.

BLITZER: Because some Republicans -- some Republicans have said to me, longtime Republicans, they would even hold their nose and vote for Hillary Clinton rather than vote for Donald Trump. Would you be one of those?

KINZINGER: No, I couldn't vote for Hillary. But, look, at the end of the day, as a voter, you have a right to vote for people and you have a right to withhold your vote.

And if it's between Hillary and Donald Trump, I would have a hard time picking Donald Trump. I definitely wouldn't vote for Hillary. I don't agree with her policies, but Donald Trump, I don't even know what his policies are and his tone is nothing but violent rhetoric.


BLITZER: Why is he winning?

KINZINGER: Well, look, I think there's an anger in the electorate.

He's an entertainer. This is a guy that was in WWF wrestling. He knows how to entertain crowds. He has a reality show. He's good at entertaining. The problem is, though, right now, he's taken that fear people have, that kind of insecurity in people's hearts and exploding it on to the scene.

And people are reacting to that in a positive way. But the reality is, when you have to pick a president, you need somebody that transcends the darkness, and leads you to the light, leads you to what's right.

BLITZER: Is it too late, though, to stop him?

KINZINGER: No, it's not, absolutely not.

BLITZER: How do you see stopping him?

KINZINGER: Well, it may go to a brokered convention. I think -- let's see what the results are tomorrow. Illinois is voting, my home state.


BLITZER: Is he going to win Illinois, your...

KINZINGER: I hope so.

No, I hope Rubio wins Illinois. I don't think Trump will.

BLITZER: Is that realistic, though? He's got enough troubles carrying his home state of Florida, as you know.

KINZINGER: Yes. Well, look, I think it's probably between Trump and Cruz and Rubio right now in Illinois.

I think Cruz is in a good position. Trump is in a good position in Illinois. I just don't think at the end of the day he wins. Illinois are people -- it's filled with a lot of Republicans that understand what governing is, that are optimistic, even though they are in very difficult circumstances in Illinois.

BLITZER: If he captures Illinois tomorrow, you will be shocked?

KINZINGER: I won't be shocked, but I will be surprised.

BLITZER: If Rubio loses in Florida tomorrow, is it over for him?

KINZINGER: I think it is going to be tough for him to continue. He's said as much himself.

BLITZER: Same with Kasich in Ohio?

KINZINGER: Yes, absolutely.

But, look, I hope neither -- I hope Rubio doesn't lose. Obviously, I want him to win. But that optimistic message that Marco has, that idea of what America can be, the next generation of the Reagan revolution, is something that needs to be in this race and that needs to be in the presidency.

BLITZER: Congressman, we have more to discuss. Can you stick around?


BLITZER: All right, much more with Adam Kinzinger. We will take another quick break. We will be right back.



BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is holding a campaign rally this hour in his home state of Florida, which holds its winner-take-all primary tomorrow, along with four other states.

It's a must-win contest for Rubio, who is far behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the race for Republican delegates.

We're back now with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a Rubio supporter.

It's a tough, tough situation for him. He acknowledged to me last week after the debate that it was a mistake for him to get in the gutter, as he probably thought, to get those personal attacks against Donald Trump. He said it embarrassed his kids, his family. That was a mistake, right?

KINZINGER: Well, yes, if he thinks it was a mistake, it is. And maybe you see that in some of the numbers.

But I think somebody had to kind of expose Trump's ludicrous arguments that he makes. He called him little Marco because of his height. He says he has big ears. This is the kind of literally fourth grade discussion that this has sunk to.

What I think probably would be more effective and has been done -- probably should have been done in the fall -- I know should have been done in the fall -- is talk about the failures of Trump University, the people that invested a lot of money to try to better themselves that were taken advantage of.

And Trump goes out and brags that he's not going to settle with them. He's going to win these middle-class folks that invested all this. People need to see what Donald Trump is. And, by the way, if you think what's happening to him in the Republican primary is rough, wait until the Democrats get ahold of him and expose what he's done.

BLITZER: but all those things have been so widely reported. He still is number one among the Republican -- the four remaining Republican candidates.

KINZINGER: Well, he's in a good position, but keep in mind the Republican base obviously represents only a small part of the overall country.

You have independents and you have Democrats. These are people that Republicans, especially independents, have got to win. He's got high negatives. And among Hispanics, Donald Trump's negatives are higher than any other political figure that we have seen or at least most other political figures.

BLITZER: What happens if he gets the Republican presidential nomination?

KINZINGER: Well, all you have do is look at the CNN head-to-head poll. He loses to Hillary handily. He's the only candidate that we have running that loses handily to Hillary.

BLITZER: What happens to members of the Senate up for reelection, members of the House, like you, who are up for reelection? What happens down-ticket, as they say?

KINZINGER: That's right.

I think we could lose seats in the House. I think we could easily lose control of the Senate because people are going to be motivated to turn out, not to vote for Donald Trump. They are going to be motivated to turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton. And if they vote for Donald Trump, maybe they will say, fine, I will vote for Trump, but then I'm going to vote for my Democratic congressman or Democratic senator. This is very dangerous for control of the House and the Senate, but

ultimately, beyond that, Donald Trump is dangerous for the political rhetoric in this country.

BLITZER: Would you be worried about getting reelected in your congressional district in Illinois?

KINZINGER: Well, I work hard in my district to make sure I get reelected and to talk with folks, so I would hope I would win.

But, look, at the end of the day, I worry less about me than I worry about the country. And with Donald Trump bringing the politics discussion into the base level that he has and to the personal insults, his impacts have words -- around the globe. All you have to do is talk to our allies and they are saying, what's going on? And it's frightening.

BLITZER: You served in Iraq. You served in Afghanistan. You are a veteran.

When you heard today that Putin says they are going to start withdrawing Russian troops from Syria right now, you believe them? You think this is going to happen? Because for five years, that civil war has been horrendous.

KINZINGER: Well, I have two lines of thoughts.

First off, they said they'd keep the air base open and the naval base open. So, there's obviously still going to be a Russian presence. I wouldn't be surprised if they continue airstrikes. But the other thing is, Russia didn't go there to defeat ISIS. They didn't go there to defeat terrorists.

They went there to protect Bashar al-Assad, who has ruthlessly murdered hundreds of thousands of people. And they did that. He was about to fall by the rebels. They helped push the rebels, the good rebels back, and Assad looks like he's in power and will negotiate from a position of strength.


BLITZER: So, you think when Putin says mission accomplished, as far as Russia is concerned, he's right?

KINZINGER: Maybe. Maybe. If his goal was to prop up Assad, I think he's temporarily done that. And so maybe so.

BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger, thanks very much for coming in.

KINZINGER: You bet, Wolf. Any time.

BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger is the Republican congressman from Illinois, not mincing any words today.

Just ahead, my interview with Donald Trump. I ask him about the violence at his campaign events. What is his message to protesters? Plus, Bernie Sanders putting up a fierce fight for Ohio against Hillary Clinton. Can he pull off a repeat of his upset win in Michigan?



BLITZER: We're following Donald Trump's campaign rally in Ohio. It's under way right now, coming amid growing criticism of the violence that's erupted at Trump rallies in recent days.

All of this comes on the eve of five major primaries tomorrow, including the winner-take-all contest in Ohio, where Trump appears to be in a very tight race with the state's governor, John Kasich.

I talked with Trump about that and much more earlier today.


BLITZER: You're calling the Ohio governor, John Kasich, an absentee governor. You've added another Ohio rally to your schedule later today.

Are you concerned that Kasich will win in Ohio and keep on going?

TRUMP: Well, I don't think he'll keep on going.

He may win Ohio. It's right now a tie. According to most of the polls, we're literally tied. He may win in Ohio. I mean, who knows? He's the governor. But he has not done a good job. He's convinced people that he has. He hasn't.

They're losing industry tremendously. He voted for NAFTA, which is the reason they're losing industry. Now he wants TPP. He has -- he's raised real estate taxes in Ohio through the roof.

And, frankly, the only reason he's doing well in Ohio is because of the oil that they got lucky and they found. I mean, Ohio happened to be sitting on top of oil. So, you look at what's happened. It's the biggest budget increase in the entire United States. Their budget has increased more than any other state in the United States. And he's got, you know, a lot of problems.

BLITZER: What about Florida tomorrow, because the polls show you way ahead of the incumbent senator, Marco Rubio? Cruz is looking like there's a little fight going on for second place.

TRUMP: Well, Marco is not a very popular guy in Florida. He doesn't show up to vote. He's got the worst voting record of the United States Senate in 20 years. This guy doesn't vote.

They put him in. He really defrauded the people of Florida, Wolf, because they put him in and he was their senator, and from that point on, I mean, he started running for president. And he's failed very, very badly at that. And, you know, I mean they -- they elected him to be their senator, and even on important votes, he doesn't show up to vote. And you can't do that.

And I'm not just talking about the fact that he's running for office, because other people are running also and they -- they have a much better record than he has.

So, you know, Marco, frankly, I think made a big mistake. He should have stayed as a senator. He should have gone into those beautiful halls and he should have voted.

BLITZER: Your message to your supporters about keeping calm out there, protests are fine, but not violent protests, making sure this doesn't get ugly or dangerous, what's your message to your supporters out there?

TRUMP: Well, Wolf, my people are calm. They are -- they are amazing people. They -- you know, my theme is, make America great again. That's what they want to see, but every once in a while you'll have a disrupter come in.

Now, in Chicago, they had thousands of them standing on the streets, so I did something that I think was really called pretty wise by saying, let's not do it today.

But, you know, we really are -- they are calm. They are really calm. But you have these agitators and disrupters and protesters that every once in a while will stand up. It's very rude. They're taking away our First Amendment rights. They're taking away our freedom of speech, and it's very -- it's very sad that they're allowed to do it in a sense, but that's the system.

My people are calm. We have had essentially no injuries or anything. We've had very little disruption. I mean, the biggest disruption was in Chicago where we canceled it because we didn't want to have anybody get hurt. We didn't want to see anybody get hurt.

But the people that go to my rallies are amazing people. They love our country. And they really are very calm. They're very enthusiastic, I will say. They want to see something great happen for the country. But they are very, very great people. And they are not the cause of any problems, believe me.


BLITZER: Donald Trump speaking with me earlier.

Let's get some analysis.

Joining us, or chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN political commentator, our political director, David Chalian, and "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick.

Gloria ,what kind of impact do you think the violence at these Trump rallies will have on actual full voters in these five states tomorrow?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, Wolf, I think it's very hard to know. I think, if you are a Trump supporter, you will listen to what Donald

Trump says and you will agree with him, and you will be more inclined to blame it on the disrupters, as he calls them from, say, the Bernie Sanders camp. And that will be that.

I think, however, what you have to look at -- and it's going to be very difficult to figure this out -- is the kind of late-deciders. And, again, there are fewer late-deciders now than there were early on.

[18:30:08] But maybe there's a way to measure whether late deciders, instead of going to Trump, decided to go to, say, someone like a Kasich in Ohio. It's hard to measure whether that would be because of the violence or whether it would be because of all the negative ads that are -- that are running against Trump in these states tomorrow.

So it's, I think, overall, it's just going to be very hard to know.

BLITZER: David, as you know, the protests, the tensions, they've escalated in recent days at these Trump rallies. Cornell William Brooks, I spoke with him; he's the president and CEO of the NAACP. He sees a racial overtone in what's going on here. Do you see that?

SWERDLICK: Well, I think every case is different, but you definitely see it in some of the cases. The easiest case, I think, to evaluate, Wolf, is last Wednesday in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The video that a lot of voters have seen of a 78-year-old man, presumably white, sort of cold-cocking or elbowing a younger black man. It seemed to be unprovoked. The younger black man was being escorted out by law enforcement.

And it's hard to imagine in that situation if the races had been reversed, like say, if it had been a 78-year-old black man hitting a younger white man being escorted out by the police, that this would be viewed by Donald Trump or his supporters or, you know, the public at large in the same way. So at a minimum, I think you see maybe there's a little bit of a double standard in the way Trump is assessing -- self-assessing some of these.

BLITZER: I want to play a clip for you, Ana. This is Marco Rubio speaking off the cuff earlier in the day about all of this. Listen to this.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, look, a Bernie Sanders sign. Don't worry. You're not going to get beat up at my rally.


BLITZER: He's smiling. He's laughing. He's having a good time, but I guess he's trying to make a serious point.

NAVARRO: I think he is. You know, look, Marco Rubio is a guy with a sense of humor. I want to go back to the point and the question you asked Gloria.

As a Republican voter, I can tell you what the Trump rallies have meant to me. It has meant that I've become a strategic voter. I'm a person who usually votes with my heart. This time I'm voting strategically. I voted for Marco Rubio in Florida. I'm asking folks to vote for Kasich in Ohio, to vote for Ted Cruz where he can beat Trump. Why? Because right now, we are unifying behind the purpose of beating Trump.

Because for people like me, I think for people like Marco, it has dawned on us that this is not about us. This is about the fact that this man is a menace to our process, to our democracy, to the way we elect presidents to the office, to the respect that we connect with the presidents of the United States. And he must be stopped.

So it has had, I think, a dramatic, dramatic effect on many voters like me. And I think that's why you've seen Marco Rubio ask folks in Ohio to vote for Kasich, because it has become not only about heart. It's become about head and strategy.

BLITZER: Millions of Republicans disagree with you.

NAVARRO: Yes, look, if you like Donald Trump, you probably like him more. You think he's got completely clean hands on this. You think he's got absolutely no role in what's going on in his rallies. You think he is the victim, that he's the one being provoked.

Now, if you're not part of the Trump Kool-Aid-drinking army, you see it much differently.

CHALIAN: But I'll just say this: you know, looking for tea leaves anywhere that we can find them about how this weekend may impact, one place, you know, are these marketplaces, where people bet: place bets and wagers on who's going to win the nomination. The Pivit political prediction market, which CNN has a partnership with, in the last 24 hours, Trump's odds have gone up five points to 74 percent of winning the Republican nomination. So people are looking at this, and clearly, folks are assessing that he probably emboldened his own supporters this weekend.

BLITZER: Well, Gloria, if let's say Trump were to win tomorrow, both in Ohio and in Florida, and Kasich and Rubio drop out, then it becomes Trump versus Cruz. What happens then?

BORGER: Well, Cruz's people believe they then have the two-man race that they want. And they believe that they can find a path towards the convention, towards catching up and even perhaps overtaking Trump by, say, early June, June 7.

And, however, I think that they have to win huge numbers of delegates in order to do that. I mean, they have this all plotted out. And the states that come later on, I believe, are very much pro-Trump stakes, you know. When you have states like New Jersey and Connecticut and New York, et cetera, you know, I think Ted Cruz has a very hard time.

He's already organizing, though, in Arizona. He thinks he can do well in Utah. So they are -- they are trying to thread the needle here. I think the more interesting and more likely scenario would be that if you have Kasich, say, winning Ohio and then you go on to a contested convention in Cleveland, Wolf.

[18:35:08] BLITZER: Could be nobody gets the 1,237. That's the magic number to automatically get the Republican nomination.

NAVARRO: Of course -- and, of course, Kasich -- Kasich says that's a brokered convention in Cleveland would be great, because it's his hometown. So under that logic, we may end up with LeBron James as our nominee.

BLITZER: Because he's very popular in Cleveland.


BLITZER: Is that what you're saying?

Do you have any doubt that Rubio will drop out if he loses tomorrow in Florida?

CHALIAN: I think it will be...

BLITZER: Is it possible he could stay in?

CHALIAN: Sure, it's possible, but why do people drop out, Wolf? They drop out because the money dries up. And I think it's going to be really tough if Marco Rubio has a tough loss against Donald Trump in his home state. I'd imagine he's going to get a lot of calls from a lot of supporters who say, "Hey, there's going to be no life blood to this campaign going forward." That's going to be the tough decision.

Ana was just talking about this shared desire among a sect of the Republican Party to stop Trump. I'd imagine there may be some people in Marco Rubio's orbit that say -- that call him up and say, "Hey, just stay in to try to see if we can continue to prevent Trump from amassing 1,237."

NAVARRO: I have to tell you, I spent some time. I -- you know, I got over my hurt feelings yesterday, because I'm in such a panic about the idea of Donald Trump. I landed, and I went to Marco Rubio's headquarters and made phone calls; spent some time with his supporters, with his wife. I think that there is this commitment, this sense that we must do this. Right now it's not about Marco. It's about, you know, the greater good for the country.

BLITZER: I get the sense, David, that Donald -- Donald Trump is no longer all that worried about Marco Rubio. He's much more concerned about John Kasich, who might beat him in Ohio.

SWERDLICK: Right, Wolf. And polls show that that's the one state, Ohio, where Governor Kasich is the governor, as you said, David, where he is -- appears to be leading Donald Trump. Donald Trump has a pretty good lead in Florida. And I think that he's -- Donald Trump has been successful in this campaign turning his attention to the person who's most threatening him at the moment. And I don't think that's Rubio.

BLITZER: You see the Trump plane is now on the ground in Ohio. This is a late, a last-minute addition to his schedule. Apparently, he's a little nervous about winning Ohio. He's decided to show up there tonight. He's going to be speaking at this rally.

Gloria, as you know, Mitt Romney was campaigning today with Ohio Governor John Kasich in an effort to stop Trump. Is -- but is it really enough? Is it really enough, even if Kasich were to win Ohio, to stop Trump?

BORGER: Look, I think if Kasich wins Ohio, he becomes kind of a large speed bump -- right? -- in Donald Trump's way. And clearly, it's something Donald Trump can overcome.

But what that says to, as Ana was talking about, what that says to Rubio and what that says to Cruz is, "Perhaps you all ought to stay in." And particularly Cruz, OK, because Cruz believes he has a path, whether Kasich is there or not.

So, look, I think that it's not a game-changer, but it is -- it will make the race a little bit more difficult for Donald Trump. And I think, most likely, in that scenario, that you would end up at some kind of contested convention, which would make all of our heads explode, because nobody knows what would really come out of that.

BLITZER: Ana, I want you to listen. This is the president of the United States, President Obama. He spoke to CNN Espanol today. Spoke about the Republican race, immigration. I want you to listen to this quote.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My belief is that the next president is going to be somebody who wants to get immigration reform done, and I believe that the Republican Party itself is going to have to re-examine its position.

Because it may look like it is a useful thing in the short term to run against immigrants, but in the long term, that's not who the American people are; and I think it's going to be, over the long term, a losing political process.


NAVARRO: You know, it gives me a sense of nostalgia and a little bit of pain, I have to tell you, to see this white-haired President Obama talking about this, because he was the president who wanted to get comprehensive immigration reform passed. He was the president who vowed to do it in the first six months of his presidency. He was the president who had two years of Democrat Senate and Democrat House and could have done it.

And now here we are eight years later in the midst of this division, of this negative rhetoric, where immigrants are the punching bag over and over and over again. I think it's all -- it all depends on who ends up winning.

BLITZER: Don't Republicans deserve a lot of blame from your perspective, as well, because it's not just the president.

NAVARRO: After the first -- well, yes, after the first two years, a hell of a lot of blame. The House for -- you know, the House for not having acted. A hell of a lot of blame. John Boehner wanted to do it but never found the time, never found the actual opportunity to do it.

But the first two years, the blame goes to the Democrats.

CHALIAN: Just, I would say, listening to President Obama there, also, he sound like John Boehner sounded today after the 2012 election.

NAVARRO: A lot of remorse; a lot of regret.

CHALIAN: Reince Priebus' report out of the Republican Party that said they need to deal with this. It felt like a bit of a time warp there, because he's saying things that Republican leaders had said the party needed to address, and yet, it didn't happen.

[18:40:15] BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. We have more to discuss.

Once again, Donald Trump is at this rally. All the candidates right now on the eve of five critical elections tomorrow, primaries, they're all at their respective rallies. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[18:45:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Voters are heading to Democratic primaries in five states tomorrow awarding nearly 700 delegates to the two contenders. The Hillary Clinton campaign is feeling confident about her chances in Florida and North Carolina. But a trio of Midwestern states could give Bernie Sanders the lifeline he needs to stay afloat.

Our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is out there covering the campaign for us. He's joining us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

What's the latest there, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been a day of whirlwind for Bernie Sanders. He was in Ohio earlier today, headed to Illinois, just finished an appearance here in North Carolina near Charlotte, picking and choosing the locations where he's going to make his final arguments, including the one about trade deals that he says hurt American workers.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope very much that Ohio will be one of the states to lead this country forward toward a political revolution. JOHNS (voice-over): Bernie Sanders rallying supporters in three

states on the eve of the next Super Tuesday, hoping to recapture some of the magic that brought him a big victory in Michigan last week.

SANDERS: We have a good vote tomorrow. People, come out, we're going to win here in Ohio.

JOHNS: Hillary Clinton is hitting two states of her own, telling supporters the stakes of the election have her fired up.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am so worried and our country and what can happen if we don't band together.

JOHNS: Clinton is making her closing argument to voters in Illinois and four other states voting tomorrow.

CLINTON: If there's a phone you can make, if there's a door you can knock on, if there's a person you can convince -- please do everything you can in the next 24-plus hours to be able to start talking about not only unifying the Democratic Party, but unifying our country.

JOHNS: That talk of unity coming on the heels of violence erupting at recent Donald Trump rallies. Both Democratic candidates, blasting the GOP front-runner for what they call divisive rhetoric.

CLINTON: Love trumps hate.

SANDERS: At the end of the day, love always trumps hatred.

JOHNS: In fact, Trump was a major topic during Sunday night's CNN Democratic town hall.

CLINTON: It's clear that Donald Trump is running a very cynical campaign, pitting groups of Americans against one another. He is trafficking in hate and fear.

SANDERS: I hesitate to say this because I really don't like to disparage public officials, but Donald Trump is a pathological liar.

JOHNS: And in one of the night's most dramatic moments, Clinton fielded a question about ending capital punishment --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came perilously close to my own execution.

JOHNS: -- from a former death row inmate who spent nearly 40 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

CLINTON: I just can't even imagine what you went through and how terrible those days and nights must have been for all those years.


JOHNS: Sanders also got another important endorsement today from a public sector group inside organized labor, this time, the Amalgamated Transit Union. That's important because Hillary Clinton has been doing very well with those kinds of groups this cycle. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Joe, thank you. John Johns reporting.

Let's get some more analysis.

Gloria, you think Bernie Sanders can pull off another major upset tomorrow as he did the other day in Michigan?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you're going to look for a major upset, I think the state to take a look at is Missouri. We have polling that's pretty sparse in that state and the Sanders people believe that they have a shot at it. But they also believe they have a shot in Ohio and in Illinois.

Don't forget, Wolf. These are not winner-take-all states. So they believe if they do well, they pick up a whole bunch of delegates. And, obviously, it's the trade message that we saw in the state of Michigan that has such resonance with voters in the Rust Belt states. So, they're going all in in these states.

I think North Carolina, Florida, obviously, much more difficult, although Bernie Sanders has spent a chunk of change in North Carolina, not so much in Florida. But if you look at those three other states, Wolf, they believe he's competitive. I think less so in Illinois, if I had to guess, although they're trying to use Hillary Clinton's close relationship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel against her.

BLITZER: By all accounts, David, Florida, North Carolina, those seem to be pretty good for Hillary Clinton right now looking ahead to tomorrow.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, no doubt. You would expect Missouri would look pretty good for Bernie Sanders.

[18:50:01] It has the largest white share of vote of any of the five states tomorrow looking at the 2008 Democratic primaries. So, I would expect Bernie Sanders to do well there.

Listen, here's the deal: If Hillary Clinton wins four out of these five states tomorrow, we're going to revert back to where were before Michigan ,which is Bernie Sanders, how are you going to have a rationale to keep moving forward here? Even though they're committed and they said they will. If she wins three out of the five, we're probably where we were after Michigan, which is that Hillary Clinton, how are you going to continue to deal with this Democratic nomination? Two out of the five is going to be an earthquake.

BLITZER: Bernie Sanders aides have said, yes, she's probably going to have a clean sweep in the south, but the upcoming states are all states open to Bernie Sanders' kind of rhetoric, kind of stance, if you will, in the northeast. California, New York, big places like that, he still has a chance.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I think they'll stay in the race. I agree with everything that David said. I also think that the Sanders' campaign thinks they have a message and they're not going to have trouble still getting the small donations that have been propelling their campaign.

So, from their point of view, because they see themselves as quite distinct from Secretary Clinton, even though they're both Democrats and running in the Democratic primary, I don't think they see themselves as having reason to get out.

BLITZER: You're a Republican, Ana. Who scares the Republicans more, Bernie or Hillary?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who scares us more? Well, let me tell you, you know as somebody who fled the Sandinistas, the idea of the Sandernistas and having to flee them a second time around scares the bejesus out me.

Look, I think both of them are very different. You know, I think most people haven't yet really looked at Bernie Sanders as electable, but he's looking more and more electable. And it might be a very different narrative tomorrow.

So, right now, you see the Republican fire, the Republican focus, on Hillary Clinton. If Bernie Sanders manages to win two states tomorrow, if he wins one state, if he wins two states, certainly if he wins three states, I think you're going to hear a lot of that.

I agree with you. They're not getting out. They're raising 40-plus million dollars a month and they see themselves, they are a movement and that's how their followers see them.

BLITZER: Bernie Sanders has got a message he wants to get out there. He thinks he's doing a good job. So, even if the math doesn't add up, I think they'll stay/

NAVARRO: They're having fun.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by. I want to give an important note to our viewers right now.

Stay with CNN all day for live coverage of Super Tuesday, five states, hundreds of delegates on the line for candidates of both parties. We're going to bring you the results as they come in.

Just ahead, Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a stunning decision in rolling back his forces from Syria effectively immediately. We're going to have details of the phone call that just took place between Presidents Putin and Obama.


[18:57:16] BLITZER: We're following breaking news from the Middle East. The Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering an immediate drawdown of troops from Syria. The White House says President Obama spoke with Putin about the decision earlier this afternoon.

Let's get right to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are the details you're learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, the administration trying to assess what's really going on. If, in fact, Russia moves ahead and does withdraw its troops from Syria, the next question what will that mean for the ability of Bashar al Assad to hang on to power?


STARR (voice-over): A stunning from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): I believe our armed forces have fulfilled the goals we set. That's why I have ordered the Ministry of Defense starting tomorrow to begin the pull out of the main part of our military forces from Syria.

STARR: But there is more than meets the eye. Putin says two bases in Syria will continue to operate. The naval base at Tartus which provides the Russian navy access to the vital eastern Mediterranean, and the air base at Latakia.

The Russian dug underground fuel tanks signaling a long-term operation for both air strikes and resupplying the Assad regime. The announcement came after Putin spoke by phone with Bashir al Assad, the Syrian president now in a much stronger position after months of bombing opposition and civilian targets by Moscow to shore up his once teetering regime.

The regime able to participate in peace talks in Geneva now from a position of strength. Since the temporary cease-fire agreement two weeks ago, Russian airstrikes have diminished, but certainly not stopped, numbering now about 30 a day instead of 100.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Mathematically, it's beyond dispute that they have made an effort to abide by the cessation of hostilities.

STARR: But the Syrian regime still back by Russia continues dropping bombs on civilians and opposition groups. More than a quarter million Syrians have died in the last five years.


STARR: But tonight is the real message from Assad to Moscow, "OK, we're done, it's time to go"? And, of course, what is not affected right now is ISIS, which still controls a large piece of territory inside Syria -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A dramatic development indeed today. Let's see this how this works out in the coming days. Thanks very much, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @WolfBlitzer, you can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.