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THE SITUATION ROOM
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Face Off in New York Debate; Prosecutors Drop Charge Against Top Trump Aide. Aired 5:30-6p ET
Aired April 14, 2016 - 17:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:30:01] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's what we saw in that "Daily News" interview. And I think she's going to continue to go after him on that to make the case that she actually has the credibility on policy to become president of the United States.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If he does get specific and show us how he can provide the finances, for example, for all of his important ideas and they're very significant revolutionary, he would call it.
BLITZER: Would he ever get that through the Congress if there's a Republican majority, even if there's a Democratic majority, a lot of Democrats are not necessarily going to want to raise taxes as much as he wants to?
BORGER: Well, I think Hillary Clinton will make that exact point. She'll also try and press him on how much he's actually gotten through the Congress on a bipartisan basis. He has done a couple of things on veterans' affairs, for example. But she's going to make the point that if you want somebody who can work with both sides of the aisle, don't go with a Democratic socialist who hasn't actually been able to do it and by the way isn't even a real Democrat.
BLITZER: David, how do you think -- Hillary Clinton also is going to go after him because a lot of his ideas to the liberal base here in New York, they sound great to them. How is she going to be able to counter that?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. And she doesn't want to do anything to offend his base of supporters. This is the fuel of the Democratic Party, are the folks that showed up in the Washington Square Park last night. She doesn't want to do anything to push them away, which is why I don't think her mission tonight in talking to people in her campaign is to sort of knock him off at the knees and just try to end his candidacy.
She'll respond and she'll draw the contrast that Gloria is talking about, but I think she's -- my sense is that she's going to try to lower the temperature a little bit because it's been a little heated out there on the campaign trail. And that she's going to set her sights towards November a bit more than just next Tuesday's primary.
BLITZER: You know he's going to raise the issue of Wall Street. He's going to say she's beholden to Wall Street. How does she handle that?
CHALIAN: Listen, this is one of her vulnerabilities, and you've seen -- by the way, she's aware of that because look at her movement on it throughout the course of this campaign. She has embraced the Sanders rhetoric in many ways, the Elizabeth Warren rhetoric in many ways throughout the course of this campaign so she understands where the party is and she's adapted. What she is not going to do is sort of join his call, I would imagine, to instantly break up the banks because that would be against everything she's been saying all along. They still do have this contrast and this gets back to Gloria's point.
She believes her Wall Street plan is more politically achievable and more practical from a policy point of view. He says this is what the status quo is. This is what we need to break. I don't -- that is their divide and we're going to see that on display tonight.
BLITZER: You heard Brian Fallon just now, the campaign press secretary for the Hillary Clinton campaign, say they accept the apology about that use of that ugly phrase, corporate Democratic whores, at that Bernie Sanders rally at Washington Square Park last night. Is that issue over with now? Can both campaigns really move on or will that linger?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think in some ways they'll be able to move on. I think the Clinton campaign I think is going to argue, as they have been arguing for the last couple of weeks, that the Sanders candidate and the campaign is getting nastier and getting more negative, and this goes against the Sanders brand. So that's one of the things I think they'll continue to try to point to with this as an excuse.
I think one of the reasons that broke through was because you have had, I think, this kind of Bernie bro atmosphere around the Bernie Sanders campaign with a lot of his supporters, particularly online, going after Hillary Clinton supporters and some people have thought they're kind of sexist attacks. So I think that was just another example of some of the things that you've heard from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
BLITZER: It was a huge turnout at that Washington Square Park for Bernie.
BORGER: Yes. He's got a lot of passion.
BLITZER: Especially among younger people.
BORGER: Right. And there is a passion gap here as we keep talking about. He's got a lot of passionate younger supporters. As David points out, she doesn't want to turn them off. But Bernie Sanders wants to get them riled up and so that's why I think tonight if I had to bet who's going to go after somebody, it would be Bernie Sanders being more aggressive and we've started to see that obviously in their last debate, also on the campaign trail.
I remember the days when if you interviewed Bernie Sanders, as I did, and he'd say don't try to get me to argue with Hillary Clinton.
CHALIAN: Or don't even ask me about Hillary Clinton. Yes.
BORGER: All you in the media want us to do is get me to take on Hillary Clinton. Now we don't even have to ask. So it's a different -- it's a different Bernie Sanders we're seeing out there because he understands the stakes of New York.
BLITZER: And let's not forget this is a debate where they will debate and we want to know where they agree but we also want to know where they disagree, critically important issues for the voters out there. A lot of them still undecided.
All right. Guys, stand by. We have a lot more to assess. Much more from Brooklyn right after this.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they're just a couple -- three hours or so, a little bit more than three hours away from facing off at CNN's Democratic presidential debate here at the Duggal Greenhouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Our political experts, they are here to discuss. Joining us our CNN political director David Chalian is still with us, our CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston, and our CNN political commentator Donna Brazile, she's a Democratic strategist. Also joining us, our CNN political commentator Ana Navarro.
[17:40:02] Mark, the tone of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders really seems to have sharpened in the past few weeks. Do you expect that to continue tonight?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: You know, I can't imagine that we're not going to see some clashes on the stage behind us. It has gotten to the point now where I think there's a level of frustration from Hillary Clinton. She wants this primary race over with, she wants to get on to the general election. But at the same time, you have Bernie Sanders who at a rally last night has 27,000 people cheering him on. And he feels that he has a real shot at this.
And look, there's no reason for him to get out of the race right now at this point. And I think what we're going to see on stage tonight is perhaps Hillary Clinton try to turn the race towards Donald Trump, but I think that she's going to have to engage Bernie Sanders on some big issues, such as trade, such as minimum wage, and some of the other big issues that are facing -- dividing them up.
BLITZER: Senator Sanders, as you know, David, he's raised a lot of questions about her judgment on a whole bunch of issues, but he's deliberately avoided any raising of judgment issues as far as her e- mail server. That he's stayed away from. Do you think he'll continue that? CHALIAN: I do, because he's been asked about it time and again since
six months ago when we all were in Las Vegas for the first Democratic debate and sort of he removed it. He just took it off the table as an issue. You know, Donald Trump always criticizes him for doing so, it's not smart politics, but he removed that as an issue. But his judgment argument is one that he has been making throughout the course of this campaign, whether it's on trade or super PAC money that she receives or on the Iraq war vote.
He does stick with that argument. He just doesn't put the e-mail controversy in that. And I think that that was to great delight of many Democrats like Donna, who were not looking to have the general election vulnerability of Hillary Clinton be litigated throughout this long Democratic nomination process.
BLITZER: Donna, you're a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. Are you surprised that Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane Sanders, they're now raising issues about the entire Democratic presidential process? You heard them complaining that the southern states early on. You heard her complaining about the caucuses and the primaries. You know, she's not very happy with it. Do you think there will be an effort under way -- by the way, we hear similar stuff from Donald Trump on the Republican side. Will there be an effort after this election to revise, reform, change the process?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I first met Senator Sanders back in 1984, the Jackson campaign. I know I don't look a day over 12, but you know, that was 1984. And back then Reverend Jackson complained about the Democratic Party process. It was winner-take-all. We had primaries where people could not access the ballot. There are real issues that we take a look at after every election. We'll take a look at the caucuses, we'll take a look at these states where people stood in line for five hours. You probably heard the DNC is suing the state of Arizona because of the long lines.
So, yes, we will take a look at all of these issues. But all of these rules that are in place today, they were in place almost a year and a half ago. I sound like the chair of the Republican National Committee. And they were available online for everybody to look at them. So I am sad that Senator Sanders and Jane Sanders are not comfortable with the rules, but they're the best we could come up with at the time. We'll change them in the future if we have to, but they are the rules. You shouldn't change the rules in the middle of the game because that's called cheating.
BLITZER: Ana, you're a Republican. How are the Republicans going to be watching this important debate tonight?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, let me tell you, Wolf, I can't believe you left us here in THE SITUATION ROOM in Washington all alone and orphaned without adult supervision. The temptation to host a party here today, bring in a couple of kegs and invite all our friends is very, very big but we'll try to resist.
Now how are we going to be watching this? We're going to be watching this with a vat of popcorn and a little soda, maybe something in the soda. Look, you've got to watch the opponent teams debate for what mistakes they make, what could possibly harm them come a general election. Style, temperament, how do you get under their skin, what do they say, how do they --what do they do, how do they interact with each other? And we're going to, you know, watch it for entertainment. The truth is that, look, even though Donald Trump has sucked up all the oxygen in the room, the intensity of the Democratic race is almost equal to what's going on, on the Republican side.
And there's so many parallels between establishment versus base, super delegates versus elected delegates. I don't like to criticize super delegates because my super friend, Donna Brazile, is one and, yes, you know, I don't want her taking it out on me afterwards. But I --
BRAZILE: I will.
NAVARRO: But it's a great, great parallel.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a moment. Mark, you know, Senator Sanders right after the debate tonight he's getting on a plane, flying to Rome to attend a conference at the Vatican on income inequality. This is only a few days before Tuesday's primary. Politically speaking, is that smart?
[17:45:02] PRESTON: I mean, look, if I was Senator Sanders, I don't think I would get on the airplane and go over to the Vatican. While he has run basically a traditional campaign in many ways, he's not a traditional politician. I think it's an intellectual curiosity on this to go where they'll talk about the ills of capitalism. In the end will it hurt him in New York? No. But will he be better off had he stayed here? Perhaps, but we'll never know. We have seen Hillary Clinton leave the state and raise money elsewhere during this primary season, so we'll see what happens.
BLITZER: She's going to be spending this weekend, David, Hillary Clinton, out in California at a big George Clooney fundraiser for Democrats. Not only for her campaign but also for the DNC, the DCCC. She's leaving the campaign trail to head out west.
CHALIAN: She is, but she's double digit -- she's got a double-digit lead here. If I was the guy that was behind by double digits, I'd be scrapping for every single vote. Now listen, trip to Rome. He's going to get a ton of coverage, not just in New York but nationally and beyond. And so this will certainly align him with a very popular figure right now in the Democratic Party, the Pope's message has been something that the Democratic Party has really been embracing and talking about. So it will help him probably down the road. But he's probably not going to --
PRESTON: But he's not going to meet with the pontiff.
CHALIAN: No, I understand. But he's going to align himself with that messaging and he'll get a ton of coverage for it, Wolf. But right now he's locked in a battle. He doesn't -- the thing about the Sanders campaign and what Bernie Sanders -- he can't just keep doing what he's doing. He's having a very successful campaign. But if he keeps doing what he's doing and achieving the success at this rate, it's not enough. So he actually needs a trajectory-changing kind of big come- from-behind surprise victory here to really start altering the landscape of the Democratic --
BRAZILE: Senator Sanders will be back on Saturday morning.
BLITZER: Very quickly.
BRAZILE: He's going to the Vatican for 24 hours. I applaud what he's doing. I'm Catholic. The social justice principles of our church are very, very important. So God bless him. We'll see him back on Saturday morning.
BLITZER: All right. We will indeed. All right. Guys, stand by. Coming up, we're going to have much more news and analysis ahead of tonight's crucial Democratic presidential debate here in Brooklyn. Also there's breaking news on the Republican side we're watching. Prosecutors in Florida decide to drop the misdemeanor battery charge against Donald Trump's campaign manager. We'll have details on that and a whole lot more, right after this.
[17:51:52] BLITZER: We're inside the Duggal Greenhouse here at the Brooklyn Navy Yards, we're counting down to CNN's Democratic presidential debate. You are looking at live pictures from inside.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they're preparing to face off live from here in Brooklyn, 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Stand by for that.
We're also following important developments in the Republican race for the White House. Let's get an update now from our correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, there were some important developments today. What's the latest?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, first all three Republican candidates will be here across town in midtown Manhattan tonight at a black tie dinner hosted by the New York state Republican Party. There are some stop Trump protests that are starting to form here outside the event. This as Donald Trump keeps up his own protest of sorts railing against the Republican nominating system and the RNC.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just a rigged system, folks. The Republican system is a rigged system.
SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump versus the Republican National Committee. Both sides are digging in.
TRUMP: After I got in, they changed the rules. I joined and then they changed the rules.
SERFATY: As Trump shows more outrage over the GOP's nominating system, the head of the RNC intensifies his pushback on the GOP frontrunner, telling Wolf --
REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The rules are not being changed in order to injure or benefit anybody. They are what they are. They are in writing.
SERFATY: Senator Ted Cruz also rejecting Trump's complaints.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The rules are simple. The way you get elected is that you win a majority of the delegates in elections.
SERFATY: And at CNN's town hall accusing the Trump campaign of encouraging violence. And intimidating delegates.
CRUZ: That's behaving like Democrats in 1968 in Chicago. And we're not Democrats, we're not interested in behaving like union thugs and Donald Trump needs to learn that.
SERFATY: Doubling down on Trump's turf in New York today.
CRUZ: It's very simple. Violence is unacceptable. Threatening violence is unacceptable.
SERFATY: Meantime the Trump campaign is trying to hit the reset button signaling they are taking steps toward playing the inside game, beefing up their staff, taking on a veteran GOP operative as their political director and hitting Capitol Hill today for meetings to broaden support among lawmakers.
ED BROOKOVER, TRUMP AIDE: This meeting was sort of step one as we begin to transition from our primary focus to becoming the nominee toward the general election.
SERFATY: The Trump campaign also receiving a welcome break today. Florida prosecutors formally announcing they have decided not to prosecute Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski for battery charges.
DAVID ARONBERG, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY: While the evidence in this case is legally sufficient for the police to have charged Mr. Lewandowski, it is not strong enough to meet the legal burden of a reasonable likelihood.
SERFATY: Stemming from this incident where he allegedly grabs Breitbart reporter Melissa Fields.
ARONBERG: And I think that had an apology been given at the beginning of all this, we could have avoided it. The whole criminal justice process for this matter.
SERFATY: You know, on that matter the Trump campaign putting out a statement saying that Corey Lewandowski is gratified by this decision.
[17:55:05] And the Trump campaign making it very clear that they want to move on from this controversy and that statement that they put out this evening was a very curt message saying they think, quote, "The matter is now concluded." Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much.
Sunlen Serfaty in New York,
Coming up, the stakes are high. The stage is now set for the final face-off before the crucial New York primary. Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders. We're counting down to tonight's CNN Democratic presidential debate.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Big Apple brawl escalating attacks between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, leading up to tonight's CNN Brooklyn debate.