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ISIS Losing Ground?; New York Battle; Interview With Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus; Republican Chairman Pushing Back Against Trump Attack; Clinton, Sanders Hold Dueling Events on Eve of CNN Debate; Obama Says ISIS on the Defensive in Rare CIA Visit. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 13, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ashamed. Donald Trump calls out the chairman of the Republican Party, saying Reince Priebus should be ashamed of the party's delegate system, which Trump claims is stacked against him. Trump, now in an all-out war with the GOP, is he willing to blow it up? The chairman, Reince Priebus, will join us live.

Making peace? Trump holds secret talks at Trump Tower in New York with his nemesis, the TV anchor Megyn Kelly, the subject of some of his most scathing attacks and tweets. The unexpected meeting described as an on again/off again meeting allegedly set up by Kelly herself. What is she asking Trump to do?

Massive rally. Thousands of people expected to turn out to show their support for Bernie Sanders in New York tonight. Hillary Clinton holding a dueling event across town. All of this on the eve of the CNN Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn. Can Sanders overtake Hillary Clinton's shrinking lead among pledged delegates before next week's primary?

And bragging terrorists. ISIS losing ground in Iraq and Syria now launching a new propaganda offensive, putting out pictures of the Brussels and Paris attackers. The ISIS threat prompting a rare visit by President Obama to CIA headquarters. What's next in the U.S. war against the terrorist forces?

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 the breaking news in the extraordinary and escalating war between the Republican Party and its presidential front-runner, Donald Trump.

The billionaire businessman now saying GOP rules are "stacked against" him. And Trump is calling out the party chairman, Reince Priebus, by name saying Priebus should be ashamed. Priebus is about to join us live for his first interview since this unprecedented political clash.

And we're also standing by to hear from Donald Trump. He's about to hold a rally and possibly lob more verbal bombshells at his own party. We're also counting down to tonight's third and final CNN family town hall. Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, they are about to take questions from New York voters ahead of the state's critical primary now just six days away.

And there's more breaking news. President Obama making a very rare appearance over at CIA headquarters this hour to discuss ISIS. He's meeting there with top national security advisers. All this comes as the U.S. is weighing its next steps in the war against the terrorist forces.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, and our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

But let's begin with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, you have more on this latest development, this war, as it's being called, between Trump and the GOP establishment. This simmering disagreement, Sunlen, over delegates seems to be completely boiling over. What's the latest?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It absolutely has. As Donald Trump is increasing his outrage over the nominating process, the head of the RNC is intensifying his pushback of the front-runner. This feud and this battle between them now escalating tonight to new levels.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You're saying you don't think the RNC wants you to get the nomination?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't think so. I really don't.

SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, the feud between the GOP front-runner and the head of the Republican Party is erupting into an all-out war.

D. TRUMP: And because of all his shenanigans that goes on and this is...

COOPER: But you call them shenanigans. Those are the rules.

D. TRUMP: I do. I do.

COOPER: Didn't you know those rules?

D. TRUMP: You know why the rules -- I know the rules very well, but I know that it's stacked against me by the establishment. I fully understand it.

SERFATY: Donald Trump taking his criticism of the GOP nominating system's rules to new heights, now accusing the Republican of conspiring against him to prevent him from winning the nomination.

D. TRUMP: They changed the rules a number of months ago. The people in...

COOPER: About eight months ago.

D. TRUMP: Well, it's not very long ago.

COOPER: But you had a lot of time to prepare a better organization.

D. TRUMP: You know why they changed the rules? Because they saw how I was doing, and they didn't like it.

SERFATY: And Trump is now making it personal, calling RNC chair Reince Priebus out by name, telling a newspaper that Priebus should be ashamed of himself.

Priebus quickly firing back, saying that the Trump campaign should have known the rules, tweeting -- quote -- "Nomination process known for a year and beyond. It's the responsibility of the campaigns to understand it. Complaints now?" And taking a shot at the front- runner, quipping, "Give us all a break."

Senator Cruz on the trail in Pennsylvania today continuing to mock Trump's outrage over the nominating process.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Any time the people vote against Donald, he screams the voters are stealing the election.

SERFATY: And setting the expectations sky-high for Trump in New York's primary Tuesday.

CRUZ: Donald is looking pretty strong in New York. It's his home state. You would expect him to do well in his home state.


And if Donald doesn't get north of 50 percent in his home state, I think that's widely going to be seen as a crushing loss for him.

SERFATY: This as Trump today sat down with FOX News' Megyn Kelly, who he has taunted and antagonized. The two meeting face to face at Trump Tower in New York. Meantime, at CNN's town hall, the Trump family trying to soften his image.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD D. TRUMP: I'm incredibly proud of my father. I'm amazed and truly in awe of what he's accomplished and what he's accomplished throughout the course of his life.

SERFATY: Though admitting that they have tried to referee him at times.

MELANIA TRUMP, WIFE OF DONALD TRUMP: Anderson, if he would only listen. I did many times.


M. TRUMP: And I just say, OK, do whatever you want. He's an adult. He knows the consequences. SERFATY: Trump conceding that he's not ready to fully be presidential


D. TRUMP: I got two more people I have to take out. And when I take them out, I will be so presidential, you won't believe it.


SERFATY: All this as the Trump campaign does seem to take more pointed steps now at trying to play the insider game a little more, today tapping at GOP insider, Rick Wiley, to be their national political director and also are set to have a series of congressional outreach meetings tomorrow in Washington, D.C. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen, thanks very much, Sunlen Serfaty in Erie, Pennsylvania, for us.

Let's get some more on all of this. The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, is joining us now live.

Reince, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: All right, so Donald Trump says you should be ashamed of yourself for the Republican delegate selection process. He says it's rigged. What do you say to that allegation?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, it's clearly not.

You know, look, all the candidates have the rules of the game, and they have actually all been participating in the rules. So, in the case of Colorado, all of the candidates were participating. And let me just say in Colorado, it wasn't just a weekend state convention. The convention system which is used by some states, not a lot, actually started a month ago in precincts where 60,000 people participated.

Then it went to the county. Then it went to the congressional districts, Wolf, and then it went to a state convention and the candidates all participated at every single step of the way. There were no complaints about that system, at least in Colorado. The second thing I would say, Wolf, is that the RNC doesn't subscribe for the states what states individually want to do with how they allocate their delegates.

These are decisions that each of the states make. Under our rules, those decisions have to be submitted by October 1 of 2015, which they were. And, by the way, the consequence of not submitting a plan by October 1 of 2015 is that you would have to then use the same delegate plan that was used in 2012.


PRIEBUS: And it's all been out there. BLITZER: Let me just interrupt. But I understand all these rules. They are very complex and all the state, Republican parties in all the states, they have different rules.

But he specifically said you -- and you are the chairman of the Republican National Committee -- you should be ashamed of yourself for what's going on. How extraordinary is that?

PRIEBUS: You know, I have no idea historically how extraordinary that is.

Given the year we have, you know, I honestly don't take it all that personally. But I do have to respond, though, when a campaign says that the RNC is, you know, rigging the rules. It's just not the case. The rules have been set. They are in place. They're not going to change in these states.

And they are the same -- for the next state of New York, they're all out there. Everyone knows what the rules are. I have to respond, though, if the party of which I'm the chairman of is getting attacked, especially when it's not true.

BLITZER: Because he's clearly attacking not just you personally, but he's attacking the Republican Party, saying it's out to prevent him from getting the Republican nomination.

I know you met with him a couple of weeks ago in Washington. Have you reached out to him? Have you tried to call him? Because I know you're exchanging tweets with him. You're tweeting. He's tweeting. Why not just talk to each other and see if you can fix this?

PRIEBUS: Well, of course. And the campaign and the RNC, they are talking every day.


BLITZER: But why not you? Why not -- Reince Priebus, why don't you just pick up the phone and call Trump and say, you know what, Donald, this is getting out of control?

PRIEBUS: Right, and I do agree with that.

And so we will do that, I'm sure, because we talk a lot. I talk with all the candidates a lot. So, we will. Wolf, this is going to blow over. This is -- I believe this is some frustration that has bubbled up, and, look, the rules are there. I know people get frustrated and they're disappointed when things don't go exactly the right way.


I think when people are frustrated and upset, they say things that they regret. But certainly one thing that's true is that the rules are not being changed in order to injure or benefit anybody. They are what they are. They are in writing. They are available to anyone that wants to participate.

And actually state by state, they are not all that complicated.

BLITZER: As you know, so far, if you do all the math, add up all the votes that have actually occurred in the primaries and in the caucuses, he's about two million votes ahead of Ted Cruz right now. He's got a lot more pledged delegates at the same time.

Should that make a difference in this process right now? Because normally a front-runner like that, the party would sort of consolidate around the front-runner and move on.

PRIEBUS: Yes, but it does make a difference, Wolf, because Donald Trump has a lot more delegates. So, you're right. He got a lot more votes and he has a lot more delegates. So it does make a difference.

But at the end of the day, you do need a majority of delegates on the floor of the convention in order to be the nominee. In the case of 2012, Rick Santorum dropped out, and then and only then, when Mitt Romney was alone, and the only person that could actually get the majority, did we declare that Mitt Romney was the presumptive nominee.

So we might have a ways to go before that happens. And when we do, we're going to submit the nominee, whoever it is, 100 percent.

BLITZER: If he doesn't get that nomination on the first ballot, and it's possible he might not, and he loses on the second ballot, how worried are you that there will be millions of Republicans who voted for him who will be so angry, they will feel this was stolen from them?

PRIEBUS: Well, there were millions of people that voted for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in 2012. The point is you have to have a majority.

We have never had a nominee of our party that didn't have a majority. We have never had a president that didn't have a majority of the Electoral College. I don't know what's so complicated about a majority in the United States of America when our country was founded on the concept of a majority.

There's not going to be any bending whatsoever on that rule.

BLITZER: Because he says he has a majority of the actual votes. You are talking about a majority of the actual delegates that are needed to win the nomination.

PRIEBUS: He has a plurality of the votes, of the actual vote count, but you have to have a majority of the delegates.

And so that's what the rule is. You know, I'm sorry. I can't change the concept of a majority in the United States of America, nor would I want to.

BLITZER: Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Reince, lots going on. We will stay obviously in close touch with you. Thank you very much.

PRIEBUS: You bet. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, a key Trump supporter reacts to what we just heard from the Republican National Committee chairman.

Scottie Nell Hughes, she is standing by live to talk more about that, a whole lot more. Much more on the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, pushing back forcefully against Donald Trump. He just gave us his first interview since Trump called him out by name over the GOP delegate system, the Republican front- runner claiming the stakes are against him right now. The system is rigged, he says.

We're standing by to hear from Trump directly. He's about to hold a rally in Pittsburgh.

But, first, let's get some reaction from one of Donald Trump's key supporters. Scottie Nell Hughes of USA Radio Networks is joining us live.

Scottie, thanks very much.

Go ahead and respond to what we just heard from the Republican National Committee chairman.

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, USA RADIO NETWORKS: Listen, I think something we can all agree upon, including chairman Priebus is that voters and votes should matter.

And time and time again,we're seeing multiple examples of issues happening in the state primaries and these state caucuses that seem to show a little bit of reason why people and Mr. Trump is not trusting the process that's going on. Starting off at the very beginning with Iowa, we had one campaign publicly say that another campaign had dropped out. And we know that was false.

Go down to Louisiana. We're finding out where Mr. Trump received a majority of the popular vote and yet we're finding possibly more of the delegates are going to go to another campaign. On top of that, the rules committee, which is mainly appointed by that executive committee, that establishment party of Louisiana, is going to put five of the delegates on their rules committee representing the other campaign.

Let's go to Colorado, where we can sit there and talk about all the discrepancies on the ballot. But immediately afterwards, we actually saw something come out on the Colorado GOP Twitter feed that "We did it, #neverTrump." We have never found out who did that, who put that out. There was a blame game. But it's time and time again we're finding these episodes which said there's a reason we're having this idea of doubt happening amongst the different state political parties.

BLITZER: But, Scottie, you saw the Reince Priebus tweet when he said "Nomination process known for a year-plus, beyond. It's the responsibility of the campaigns to understand it. Complaints now? Give us all a break."

Did the Trump campaign fail to do its homework?

HUGHES: I don't know about failing to do their homework. They definitely have not beefed up their staff like the other campaigns.

Once again, that is actually consequence of not taking public PAC funds and having these bloated campaign dollars that they can buy and literally put 1,000 people on the ground. Yes, I will give a lot of credit to the Cruz campaign, Wolf. They did a phenomenal job of getting organized within Colorado.


They started a year ago knowing what the process was going to be. But in the end, when you're sitting here and you're looking at even here in Tennessee, when it comes down to picking these delegates, these superdelegates or these at-large delegates, you're finding Trump supporters, like I found it interesting, being replaced by anti-Trump people who have publicly said that they don't like Mr. Trump that will be going to the convention in Cleveland as Trump delegates.

That reasoning right there is why folks have a little suspicion of the process.

BLITZER: Is it appropriate for the Republican presidential front- runner, Scottie, to actually pick a fight with the chairman of the Republican National Committee, to say he should be ashamed of himself and that the RNC is rigging the system?

HUGHES: Well, I think, out of every controversy, there comes opportunity.

And right now, chairman Priebus has an excellent opportunity with Mr. Trump and all of these new supporters of the Republican Party that have come in with these -- this amazing voter turnout we're seeing, to sit here and say, OK, guys, we need to make sure that we include you in this process, that we don't feel like the same reasons that made you stay apart, stay at home in the past or maybe go over to the Democratic Party, keep you engaged in this process no matter who the nominee is, if it's Mr. Trump or somebody else.

So I think is it appropriate to go back and forth? That's called politics. I think now is how both of the men handle it. You heard chairman Priebus say that he does talk to Mr. Trump, like he talks to the rest of campaigns. And in the end, I think it's going to be unity that's going to bring this party together eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later.

BLITZER: But you also know that Senator Cruz is calling Donald Trump a whiner. Does it concern you that by complaining about the delegate process like this, Donald Trump could be seen as a sore loser?

HUGHES: Is it really whining when you are pointing out the truth, when you're pointing out these inconsistencies that are happening in the appointments of at-large delegates or is it just simply called the truth?

Listen, there's a reason we have had low voter turnout in the past, why the Republican Party and all politicians for that reason have very little trust up until now that they are going to do the right thing. Mr. Trump has literally opened the door, and the one great part about it that he's not a politician. He doesn't have all of these rules and orders.

And like we saw last night in Anderson Cooper's great town hall, his family said, we're not a political family. This is new to us.

And I think that's one of those appeals that a lot of people have about Mr. Trump and his campaign. They can relate to that. And so right now, chairman Priebus, if he's not going to sit here and put the pressure on these state parties to be doing the right thing, he should be sitting here saying trying to figure out a good plan to keep all of these folks engaged, so that in November they will still turn out to vote regardless of whatever the nominee is. Of course, I want it to be Mr. Trump.

BLITZER: I know you.

Scottie, thanks very much for joining us.

HUGHES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Ted Cruz, he's taking swipes, new ones, at Donald Trump as he prepares to take voters' questions along with his wife, Heidi, at CNN's family town hall later tonight.

Plus, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they are holding dueling events in New York City tonight, this on the eve of the CNN Democratic presidential debate.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the Republican Party and its presidential front-runner at war.

Tonight, the chairman, Reince Priebus, pushing back forcefully against Donald Trump in an interview here just a few moments ago, his first since Trump said Priebus should be ashamed of the process that Trump claims is rigged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRIEBUS: The rules have been set. They are in place. They're not going to change in these states.

And they are the same -- for the next state of New York, they're all out there. Everyone knows what the rules are. I have to respond, though, if the party of which I'm the chairman of is getting attacked, especially when it's not true.


BLITZER: Once again, this was his first interview, the chairman, the first interview he's given since Trump blasted the GOP rules in that CNN family town hall last night.


D. TRUMP: And because of all his shenanigans that goes on and this is...

COOPER: But you call them shenanigans. Those are the rules.

D. TRUMP: I do. I do.

COOPER: Didn't you know those rules?

D. TRUMP: You know why the rules -- I know the rules very well, but I know that it's stacked against me by the establishment. I fully understand it.


BLITZER: Our political reporter, Sara Murray, is in Pittsburgh for us tonight, where Trump is getting ready to hold a rally.

This is a pretty remarkable situation, Sara. What's the latest?


And a senior Republican strategist told me the reason that you're seeing Reince push back so hard is that he really felt like Trump overstepped when he called the party corrupt. Priebus has tried to run this transparent system. He's taken pride in that system.

And I think that's why he came out and defended it publicly on CNN. But the other thing I think was interesting that Priebus mentioned in your interview was saying that this is all going to blow over. And he has good reason to think that. It's because Donald Trump, if he is the nominee, is going to have to work very closely with the Republican Party. He's going to rely on them for a field organization.

He's going to have to work with them on fund-raising. And so there's very good reason for Republican officials to believe that this will soon pass. The question is whether Trump will let it go tonight or whether he's going to continue to hammer Republican officials and Reince Priebus here in Pittsburgh, Wolf. BLITZER: We will hear what he says. That's coming up.

All right, thanks, Sara.

Let's dig deeper into all of this.

Joining us, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp, and "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick.

Guys, thanks very much.

Mark, react to what we just heard from Reince Priebus. What do you make of his comments?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, look, Reince Priebus is being put in a terrible position right now.

As the head of the Republican Party, Wolf, or the Republican National Committee, more specifically, he has to defend the accusations that are being made against him, and specifically his organization.

[18:30:09] Now one thing about Reince Priebus right now -- and I've known him for many years -- he is an honest broker. And when he does talk about the rules being laid out well before this race was really into high gear, he's absolutely right.

Donald Trump clearly is upset at what is happening right now in Ted Cruz having built an organization that is able to go out and able to win over these delegates and Donald Trump hasn't done so.

Reince Priebus as well for all the criticism of Donald Trump, we should say this about him. He inherited the RNC in 2011 with a $23 million debt and has since turned it around. So while that is not favorable right now to Donald Trump, the facts are the facts.

BLITZER; Gloria, Trump sort of jokingly said last night that he doesn't mind the rules in the states that he's won but still argues the overall system is rigged. Does it hurt his legitimacy if he wins within a system he has basically accused of being crooked?

BORGER: Right. Look, you can't have it both ways, Wolf. If the system is illegitimate and you win, do you disqualify your own candidacy? I don't think so.

And I think what we're hearing from Trump is sort of a big wink, right? He says, "Look, the states that I win are OK. The states that I don't win and I don't get the delegates I think I deserve are not OK."

And listening to Trump at our town hall last night, you know, it seems to me that he understands that he's playing for big stakes here and that, when he says, "I talk to my family differently from my -- from the way I speak when I'm at a rally," like the rally you're picturing here, you know, he says, "This is a game, and I've got to eliminate my opponents, and then I'm going to be presidential." Right? So I think what Trump is trying to do is stir the pot, get his base

rallied and at some point, I think, particularly if he's well on his way to getting the nomination, he and Reince Priebus, the Republican Party, are all going to have to stand under the same banner. And I think he kind of gets that. But that's not the fight he's having right now.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

David, Trump's criticism of the rather complex rules governing delegate selection sort of -- I think it's fair to say it resonates with a lot of voters out there, the criticism that Trump is leveling. Is this really the issue the Republican National Committee wants to choose right now to push back against Trump?

SWERDLICK: Well, I think Trump has actually made it a little bit easy on Chairman Priebus to push back once Trump opened up with these accusations that Priebus should be ashamed of himself over the rules. Once he goes with the personal attack, Chairman Priebus has the option, as he just did on your air, of coming on, being relaxed and just saying, "Look, sorry, Donald Trump, but the rules are the rules."

This really is not about Colorado, the Ted Cruz campaign getting the best of the Trump campaign in Colorado or Tennessee or North Dakota. This is about conditioning Trump supporters for the fight ahead so that, if we get to July, get to the Republican convention and Donald Trump is short of the requisite number of delegates and he loses on a first ballot, his supporters will already sort of have in mind this idea that the deck was stacked against them, that the playing field wasn't level, and hopefully, he'll be able to put some pressure on the party establishment.

BLITZER: Because a lot of those pledged delegates who are pledged to him on the first round, they're going to be free agents on the second round. They can do whatever they want.

S.E., as you also know, the FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly, she visited Donald Trump today at Trump Tower in New York, possibly reaching out to discuss some sort of truce. Listen to what Trump told me about their feud back in March.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They want to have a primetime special on FOX network where Megyn Kelly interviews me. I say what's in it for me? What do I get out of that? You're going to get ratings. What do I get out of it? They want a primetime special. I said, "No, I won't do it." So don't tell me about obsession. She should do somebody else. And I'm telling you, if she didn't do me, watch what happens to her.


BLITZER: All right. They clearly both have a lot to gain by calling some sort of truce after months of rather bitter fighting. Why now? What do you sense is happening? CUPP: Well, I'm not sure that it was a truce that was reached. And

if it was, I don't know how long it would last. I mean, keep in mind, Donald Trump met with Reince Priebus just a couple of weeks ago, and they talked about coming together. And Chairman Priebus said, "Look, we're trying to help you, but it doesn't help when you attack us on a regular basis."

And Trump left that meeting, said it was great, and we're all going to come together. And now look where we are today.

So I'm not sure that truces really exist in Trump land. I think there's momentary detente when there might be something that's mutually beneficial for both parties. But I wouldn't -- I wouldn't be surprised if, at a later, date Trump unleashed on Megyn Kelly again.

[18:35:10] BLITZER: Gloria, what's your analysis of this meeting between Trump and Megyn Kelly?

BORGER: You know, I don't know, really, anything about how it came to be. I think, clearly, as S.E. points out, you know, this has been a problem in many ways for Donald Trump, more than for Megyn Kelly. And I think that it's in his interest to meet with her and probably in her interest, as well. I mean, you know, she is a nonpartisan journalist, and it doesn't do anybody any good to be having a running feud with a presidential candidate; and it doesn't do him any good either.

So I think it's in their mutual self-interest. But as S.E. says, let's see what transpires as a result.

BLITZER: Let me get your analysis, David Swerdlick. The Trump campaign hired yet another veteran insider today, Rick Wiley, to help coordinate delegate selection, if you will. It looks like they're trying to reach out. Is it too late, though, because it's sort of late in the game right now to get that ground game going?

SWERDLICK: Well, I don't think it's too late but it is a realize and a recognition on the part of the Trump camp that, where they've had advantages in other areas -- Donald Trump has 100 percent name I.D. He's been able to dominate a 17-man field. But now that's we're down to a three-man field and he doesn't have some of those same built-in advantages, they need infrastructure.

They've come to the realization, hiring Paul Manafort, hiring Wiley, that you know, they've been able to sort of run and gun, if you will, up to this point. And now they've got to, like, take a time out, get in a huddle, and draw up a pick and roll, draw up a real play -- a real game plan going into the convention.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. We have more to assess.

Also to our viewers, don't forget: CNN later tonight, please join us for the final in a series of remarkable family town hall meetings. Ted Cruz with his wife Heidi. They will take questions from New York voters ahead of that state's crucial primary next week. Anderson Cooper will host. It starts at 9 p.m. Eastern -- 9 p.m. Eastern -- only here on CNN. Much more coming up, including -- including the latest developments on

the Democratic side. What's going on between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton?


[18:42:07] BLITZER: The battle for New York raging tonight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. This on the eve of the CNN Democratic presidential debate and just six days ahead of the New York primary.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is covering the Democratic race for us. Joe, both Clinton and Sanders, they have campaign events in New York City tonight. What's the latest?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Hillary Clinton's event gathering here in the Bronx. Bernie Sanders' campaign planning for a huge event in Washington Square Park this evening. Long lines already gathering there.

Now all of this coming at the end of a day in which both of the candidates weighed in on a major labor disagreement between a union and an enormous telecom company.


JOHNS (voice-over): Hillary Clinton meeting with protesters outside a Verizon store today after Bernie Sanders visited a picket line this morning, where thousands of Verizon workers were striking over contract disputes.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is just another major American corporation trying to destroy the lives of working Americans.

JOHNS: Both competing to pull in last-minute endorsements to boost their support in New York.

SANDERS: I am honored. I am grateful to have the support of this fantastic union. Thank you so much.

JOHNS: Sanders earning an endorsement from the New York Transit Workers Union as well as an endorsement for the first time from one of his colleagues in the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley, Merkley telling CNN's Manu Raju...

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: It's Bernie that I'm endorsing, because he has been in the battlefield fighting clearly on these issues in a way that I think is the boldest, most powerful voice.

JOHNS: But Hillary Clinton is firing back with support of her own, winning the endorsement of "The New York Daily News" editorial board, which released a scathing interview with Bernie Sanders only last week that's made him look seemingly unprepared. "The Daily News" writing that Clinton's proposals "are shaped for the world in which we live" and called Sanders "utterly unprepared and a fantasist at passionate war with reality."

She also won the endorsement of two major immigration groups, announcing her plan to create an Office of Immigrant Affairs and once again hitting the Republican front-runner.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As I have said frequently about Donald Trump, basta. Enough prejudice and bluster and the bigotry.

JOHNS: Another key voting bloc for Clinton: African-Americans. In a recent poll, she's leading Sanders by 37 points among likely black voters and now trying to sidestep the New York landmines of race and politics. Clinton in a speech before Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network talking crime, playing it safe with wording she's used before.

CLINTON: Reforming our criminal justice system and ending the era of mass incarceration.

[18:45:03] JOHNS (voice-over): After "The New York Times" call on her to more fully explain her position on the controversial 1994 crime bill her husband, President Bill Clinton, signed while in office, and Clinton also renewing her commitment as an ally to the African- American community.

CLINTON: Throughout this campaign and then as president, I'm going to keep fighting to break down all the barriers, holding back every Americans. My door will always be open to you. You will always have a friend and a partner in the White House.


JOHNS: If the polls are right, the Sanders campaign is looking at a steep climb until Tuesday. However, the fact of the matter is the campaign has said even keeping it close would send a huge message and shake up the race.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Joe, thank you.

Gloria, Senator Sanders clearly having a pretty busy day out there on the campaign trail, meeting with striking Verizon workers on a picket line, about to hold a large rally in New York City, at Washington Square. Could this last-minute surge of enthusiasm actually help close his gap with Hillary Clinton?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN ANCHOR: Sure, look. This is -- he's behind by double digits. One of the most recent polls has him behind 13 points. This is about turnout, about mobilizing your supporters to get out there and vote in the primary.

And I think that's what these big rallies do. They get a lot of press. They're huge events, and I think, you know, if you are Bernie Sanders, this is exactly what you want to do. You want to hold these huge events to show potential voters, particularly those younger voters who may not go to the polls readily but say look at all these people standing out here supporting me and you might encourage them to actually get out and vote on Tuesday.

BLITZER: Mark, when you look at the cumulative votes, the raw votes in all the primaries and caucuses on the Democratic side so far, Hillary Clinton leads Senator Sanders by almost 2.5 million votes. You can see the numbers there. She has 9,300,000-plus. He has 6,900,000, almost 7 million votes.

So, does that mean -- what does that mean in terms of the momentum out there because the raw votes are important but the delegate count clearly even more important?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: No doubt. And she does lead in the delegate count by and large for two reasons. One, she did very well in the south earlier this year in the primary. And she also has support of a lot more superdelegates than Bernie Sanders does.

However, Bernie Sanders is able to put enough gasoline into his campaign to keep it going, that gasoline is the support that we'll see tonight in Washington square park where maybe 10,000 people will show up, Wolf, to show and rally around Bernie Sanders' candidacy. And also, the small dollar donations that he's getting right now. What Bernie Sanders is becoming to Hillary Clinton right now is a nag they can't seem to shake.

Yet for Bernie Sanders right now, he does feel empowered to continue on with this campaign because he is able to go out and get enough money to keep going and also when you look at pictures like we are right now on the screen where you have thousands of people showing up to hear your message, there's no reason to get out of the race.

BLITZER: Huge crowd gathering for Bernie Sanders right now in New York.

David, Hillary Clinton, she spoke before the National Action Network earlier today, laid out $125 billion initiative that she called breaking every barrier agenda on issues affecting communities of color.

How are these new policy details resonating out there with voters?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Wolf, as Joe reported, she's speaking to issues that are near and dear to African-American voters. She's trying to, you know, cling tightly to the established African-American leadership like Reverend Al, and she has that luxury right now because in New York, she's got a huge lead among African-American voters, and among all voters in New York she has this comfortable lead.

What strikes me, though, is how over the last couple of weeks we've seen the Sanders and Clinton campaign still sort of tied up in knots over how to address black voters. On the one hand, you've got the Clinton campaign that seems not to be able to talk themselves out of this idea that if you have the senior established old guard black leadership, then that should be enough to win the black vote, when you see missteps like President Clinton last week.

And then on the Sanders side, you've got an issue where Sanders -- his campaign seems to keep going along with this idea that as long as you are as far left as possible, as long as you are the most progressive in the race, then black votes will follow. That is also not the case. Both candidates are doing well among black voters, certainly compared to Republicans, but both candidates have to check the boxes with black voters just like every other constituency.

BLITZER: S.E., the African-American community really has helped Hillary Clinton a great deal in this contest so far.

[18:50:04] I assume that's probably going to continue in New York, Pennsylvania, down the road, at least here on the East Coast?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Probably. I expect New York to go Hillary Clinton's way with most -- you know, with most liberal constituents both upstate and downstate, but you can sense that she's a little worried probably for the reasons that David I think correctly laid out and she's really starting to go below the belt against Sanders on issues like race, suggesting somehow he cares less about the African-American community. He's just showing up now.

This is not new. She's also suggested that he's sexist, that he doesn't care about the victims of Sandy Hook's killings. These are real attacks on his character, and what I'll be looking for at tomorrow's CNN debate in Brooklyn is to see how he deals with some of those really nasty allegations against him.

BLITZER: We'll all be watching obviously very carefully.

All right, guys. Stand by. The stage now set for tomorrow night when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they will face off for the final time before the critical New York primary. This is the time lapsed, by the way, time lapse video of all the work that's been taking place ahead of CNN Democratic presidential debate. I'll be moderating. We'll be live from Brooklyn tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Just ahead, ISIS launches a new propaganda offensive, as President Obama says the terrorists are now on the defensive. What's the next step in the U.S. war against ISIS?


[18:56:14] BLITZER: There's breaking news out of CIA headquarters tonight. President Obama paying a rare visit there, talking with top national security advisers about the terrorist threat.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is working the story for us.

Jim, the president reaffirming the war against ISIS. What's the latest?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Also claiming new momentum in the fight against ISIS, confident words from the president, part of a broader, more muscular message from officials across the administration. Tonight, the president said ISIS core in Syria and Iraq is shrinking, its fighting force the smallest it's been in two years.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Iraqi security forces fight house to house, to retake the city of, northwest of Ramadi from ISIS control. As thousands of residents flee the violence, Iraqi forces will rid the city of the terror group within days.

One victory against ISIS, among many, the U.S.-led coalition is now claiming. Speaking tonight at the CIA, President Obama said that more and more ISIS fighters are realizing their cause is lost.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, on the ground in Syria and in Iraq, ISIL is on the defensive. Our 66 member coalition, including Arab partners, is on the offensive. We have momentum, and we intend to keep that momentum.

SCIUTTO: ISIS says the U.S. military has lost more than 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria and millions of dollars in money blown up by coalition air strikes. Pentagon also claims more than 26,000 fighters, including several senior leaders, have been killed. U.S. officials say that ISIS is fighting force is now at its smallest since monitoring began in 2014.

Still, the terror group remains active. In Syria Tuesday, ISIS fighters claimed control of a Palestinian refugee camp, and there are growing fears that as ISIS is pushed back in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the group will launch even more terror attacks abroad following their recent strikes in Brussels and Paris.

ANTONY BLINKEN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: We must work to prevent the spread of violent extremism in the first place, to stop the recruitment, the radicalization, and the mobilization of people, especially young people.

SCIUTTO: Attempting to rally its supporters, ISIS' propaganda magazine praising the cell responsible for the Brussels and Paris attacks. Mohamed Belkaid, the alleged European ringleader, is showcased in combat gear holding a bloody knife. The magazine says Najim Laachraoui who blew himself up at the Brussels airport built the bombs for both attacks, and gives credit to the El Bakraoui brothers for gathering the weapons and explosives, claims consistent with what investigators have told CNN.


SCIUTTO: There are concerns that by showering praise on the terrorists that have already been captured or killed, ISIS may be attempting to cover for other cell members who are still on the run. European authorities do believe they've are largely dismantled this cell, but as we've said before, many times, Wolf, they do know this -- that there are many more ISIS cells out there in Europe. BLITZER: Underscoring this war, the president making that rare visit

to CIA headquarters out in Langley, Virginia.

All right. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

An important programming note: remember, be sure to watch tonight's special town hall with Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and his family. You can join Anderson Cooper in New York City tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

And remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer, you can tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Be sure to join us right here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.