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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hillary vs. Bernie; Trump Math; Aired 18-18:30p ET

Aired April 14, 2016 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Big Apple brawl, escalating attacks between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders leading up to tonight's CNN Brooklyn debate, their civil campaign giving way to questioning each other's judgment and preparedness. Will they come out swinging tonight?

Going too far? Sanders condemning jaw-dropping remarks by a supporter who unleashed a blistering attack at Sanders' massive New York rally, the doctor and health care activist railing against what he called -- quote -- "corporate Democratic whores." Has the campaign rhetoric overheated?

Make or break. Clinton and Sanders needing to prove themselves tonight. Her challenge, clinch the nomination. His challenge, keep enough momentum to say in the race. Will tonight be a game-changer for either of them?

And campaign confidence. A top Donald Trump adviser telling House Republicans the billionaire businessman will lock up the party's presidential nomination by June, predicting Trump will have more than enough delegates before the Republican Convention. Will Trump's Capitol Hill outreach program win over skeptical lawmakers?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders trading sharp jabs ahead of tonight's CNN Democratic presidential debate here at Brooklyn's Navy Yard. And in less than three hours, they will take the stage for what could be their feistiest face-off yet.

Rhetoric between the two candidates and their campaigns has been heating up all week, Sanders questioning Hillary Clinton's judgment and credibility, while Clinton has painted him as inexperienced and unrealistic. And while Clinton leads in the polls here in New York, Sanders comes into tonight on a winning streak after the last several contests.

And now they are fighting for a state both of them have called home, the primary here just five days away. The 247 Democratic delegates at stake could push Clinton closer to locking up the Democratic presidential nomination, or they could help Sanders shrink that delegate gap.

While all of this unfolds here in New York, the Republican candidates will also be together across town. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, they are all speaking tonight at the annual New York state Republican gala in Manhattan.

We're covering all of this, much more this hour with our guests, including the former head of the NAACP, the Bernie Sanders supporter Ben Jealous. He's here with me. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also all standing by.

Let's begin with CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He's inside the debate hall.

Jeff, there's quite a night ahead for all of us.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, quite a night indeed.

And you can see behind me here the crowd is already filling in to watch this debate. We are less than three hours away here now. Senator Sanders is trying to build on his momentum that he's been capturing and carrying along, winning seven out of the last eight contests.

Hillary Clinton for her part is trying to keep her front-runner's position in this race. There have been debates before, of course, but never one quite like this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): The stage is set for a battle in Brooklyn tonight, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders face to face for their ninth Democratic debate. But their fight for New York makes this meeting unlike all others.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was honored to be your senator for eight years. And if you will give me the honor of your vote on Tuesday, we will continue to make life better.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jane and I left New York City when we were kids. It is great to be back.

ZELENY: Five days before the New York primary, Sanders is trying to shake up the race. Tonight is one of his last, best chances to make the case against Clinton on Wall Street, trade and maybe in politics.

SANDERS: You elect me president, you're going to have a president who is prepared to take on the billionaire class, not take their money.

ZELENY: And Clinton is trying to move on, but not before winning here. She spent all week raising questions about whether Sanders has a firm grasp on actually fixing problems, from financial reform to foreign policy.

CLINTON: Under the bright spotlight and scrutiny here in New York, Senator Sanders has had trouble answering questions.

ZELENY: Tonight, those dueling arguments will be made at close range.

Sanders is working to cut into Clinton's lead by expanding his appeal to a diverse coalition of voters, stopping by Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference earlier today.

SANDERS: What does it matter if you desegregate a lunch counter, but you don't have the money to buy the damn hamburger?

[18:05:05]

ZELENY: Sanders has been firing up voters, drawing one big crowd after another, including last night's massive rally in Washington Square Park. A Sanders supporter, Dr. Paul Song, sparked controversy as he warmed up the crowd.

DR. PAUL SONG, BERNIE SANDERS SUPPORTER: Medicare for all will never happen if we continue to elect corporate Democratic whores who are beholden to big pharma.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: He's married to Lisa Ling, a Clinton supporter and host of CNN's "THIS IS LIFE WITH LISA LING."

He later apologized for using the word whores. The Clinton campaign seized on the remark, calling on Sanders to denounce it, which he did, tweeting: "There's no room for language like that in our political discourse."

In 34 states that have already had their say, Clinton has won about 9.4 million votes, Sanders about seven million. Her lead is largely built on overwhelming victories across the South, which Sanders took issue with last night on Comedy Central.

SANDERS: I think that having so many Southern states go first distorts reality as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: But the political reality tonight is that this is a new moment. Yes, she has a lead in delegates.

But I'm told by one senior adviser to the Clinton campaign is that she's trying to approach this as the first debate, the most important debate, that she's still fighting to win this going forward.

Wolf, the reality here is tonight the burden is more on Senator Sanders to make his case to show his growth potential here. A lot of questions have been asked over these many, many months, but, again, a new moment, a new night here in New York -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff. Jeff Zeleny is with me here inside the Duggal Greenhouse in Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, getting ready for this debate.

High stakes, high expectations for both candidates tonight.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is with us as well as here in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Joe, it's a critical night in the Clinton/Sanders battle for New York. What else are you picking up?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's very true, Wolf.

Hillary Clinton spent most of the day in Chappaqua, New York, today preparing for this debate, while Bernie Sanders did one event. He was appearing before Reverend Al Sharpton's National Network.

Now, it's a very big night for him, as we just heard in the Jeff Zeleny piece, his last, best chance perhaps to try to change the dynamic of this race, because the mathematics of the primaries could, in fact, change as we begin the long, slow march out to the California primary.

Bernie Sanders has taken a number of calculated shots against Hillary Clinton, asking questions about her judgment, asking questions about her qualifications. She, for the most part, has been deflecting many of those claims and charges. She's tried to take the high road at the same time taking a few shots of her own about whether he has the policy chops to back up the promises he's made on the campaign trail.

So, you can expect a lot of that as we go forward tonight. Also very important to say both of these candidates, but especially Hillary Clinton, have been trying to speak to two audiences, the primary audience here in New York and some other states, as well as the general election audience, if they get past the primary.

So, look for some more of that tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe, thank you, Joe Johns reporting for us.

Let's get more on all of this.

Joining us, the NAACP -- former NAACP president Ben Jealous. He's a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Ben, thanks very much for coming in.

BEN JEALOUS, FORMER PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: Great to be here.

BLITZER: I know that Bernie Sanders, he was pushing for this debate for a long time.

JEALOUS: Yes. BLITZER: He's behind in New York state by double digits, if you

believe the polls. What's his strategy? How can he turn this around between now and Tuesday?

JEALOUS: What we know is that when we drive up turnout, we win.

And so you saw about 48,000 people turn out last night. There were 27,000 in the park, but when you look at photos, the cops say there were 21,000 more outside of the park. And that sort -- that suggests to us that we still have a real shot here.

BLITZER: But there was an ugly moment when Dr. Song, we just heard it mentioned, he said, "Medicare for all will never happen if we continue to elect corporate Democratic whores who are beholden to big pharma."

He said that a sentence or two right after he was talking -- he was criticizing Hillary Clinton. He has apologized. Bernie Sanders has apologized. But does that kind of rhetoric hurt the Sanders campaign?

JEALOUS: That type of rhetoric, frankly, hurts our politics and our party. And there's no place for it.

And I think it was right for Bernie to come out, do what he did, Dr. Song come out and do what he did. We also heard Bill de Blasio apologize this week for the C.P. time joke. We have not heard candidate Clinton step forward to apologize for her role in that.

And we need, quite frankly, to deal with all sorts of racial slights and gender-based slights seriously in our party if we're going to unite and be able to win next fall.

[18:10:05]

BLITZER: Yes, but that joke, that was at a -- that was sort of satire. They were making fun. It was scripted.

JEALOUS: It was scripted. It was vetted by the campaign. There's no place. Please don't try to tell me that there's a place for racial stereotypes in our campaigns. There just isn't.

BLITZER: But you are not suggesting that the mayor of New York is a racist or anything like that?

JEALOUS: I'm not suggesting he's a racist at all. I'm saying that he took a -- he made a poor choice and he apologized for it.

Candidate Clinton, whose campaign vetted that, also made a poor choice. She needs to apologize.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You want her to apologize publicly for participating in that little satire?

JEALOUS: She could just tweet it out. That would be fine.

BLITZER: Just a tweet from her.

All right, let's move on. He does amazingly with young people. We saw those huge crowds at Washington Square Park last night, as you correctly point out.

JEALOUS: Yes.

BLITZER: But look at the actual vote so far. We saw some numbers. Take a look. All of the races, the primaries, caucuses so far, she has 9,365,000. He has 6,974,000. She's up by almost 2.5 million, 2.4 million.

She's got 56 percent. He's got 42 percent. How do you explain that? Because he does generate enormous support and he has much bigger rallies than she does?

JEALOUS: Well, quite frankly, oftentimes, when we win, we win by much bigger margins. We have won eight of the last nine states. And we have won I think with an average of like 71 percent of the vote in those states.

This thing is front-loaded. And, frankly, it's hard for a challenger who is going up against the most powerful dynasty in our country to get traction until you get into some of the states that we're -- until this point.

As you know, it goes -- you bear down in Iowa and New Hampshire for a year. And you come out the gates and you have got a whole bunch of states right in front of you for Super Tuesday. What we have seen is, with more time, quite frankly, more focus on trade, that we have begun to get traction.

And let us not forget the biggest divide in who votes for whom isn't black and white. It's young vs. old. It's voters under 30, voters over 60. And what we need to really be asking ourselves is, voters who are over 30, is why do so many young people under 30 think he's the best hope for their future?

BLITZER: This is -- New York is going to be critical, a week later, your home state of Maryland, Pennsylvania. There's a lot of contests coming up that are really make or break in this contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

JEALOUS: Yes.

BLITZER: People are questioning why he's decided later tonight and tomorrow to go to Rome to participate in a Vatican conference. Is that politically smart?

JEALOUS: I think it's very smart. This is a very Catholic state. Huge number of Catholics in Pennsylvania as well. Maryland was our first -- was our only Catholic colony.

And the fact the Vatican wants him to come, has asked him to come is a big deal.

BLITZER: This is on income inequality and social justice.

But are you suggesting he's going there for political purposes to appeal to Catholic voters?

JEALOUS: What I'm saying is, in this very, you know -- in this context, I think any candidate who was invited by the pope would think very seriously about coming. You also have to think about, quite frankly, what would happen if you disrespected the pope said, no, I'm not going to come.

BLITZER: You think this is an important decision for him and he's going to go and he's going to obviously come back and resume his campaigning here in New York.

(CROSSTALK)

JEALOUS: And all of us who feel the Bern will be campaigning every single day.

BLITZER: You're out there for him. All right, he's lucky to have you.

Stand by, Ben Jealous. We have more to discuss.

Let's take a quick break. We're here in Brooklyn. We're getting ready for the Democratic presidential debate. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:17:44]

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they are getting ready. They're coming here to Brooklyn, the Duggal Greenhouse, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, for the CNN presidential debate.

In recent days, they have been taking some serious digs at each other. Will the growing negativity spill over into tonight's contest?

The former NAACP president Ben Jealous is still with us. He's a major Bernie Sanders supporter.

You think it will? Is it going to get tense up there tonight? Is it going to be laid back? What do you expect?

JEALOUS: This is a rough-and-tumble town for politics and both these candidates claim this is home.

I think that by itself could make tonight a very tense night. But the reality is that we have two big movements in some ways here. We have a historical push for the first female president and we have a burgeoning progressive movement responding to this moment in time, saying we have got to do something about the inequality in our country. And for our party, I think the trick is for all of us to frankly

stay together in this moment and not split.

BLITZER: You're really helping him in Maryland, which is a week after New York, April 26.

He's behind in the polls in Maryland as well. Why is that?

JEALOUS: We are the challenger here. And the reality is that we surge in the polls in each state as we get closer.

We saw about a month ago we were down 31 points. Last week, it said we were down 15 points.

BLITZER: Where, in Maryland?

JEALOUS: Yes. We have two weeks left. We feel very good. We can made that state extremely competitive.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... significant African-American Democrats out there, she does enormously well.

JEALOUS: The trick is the young people.

And what we saw in the University of Maryland poll last week was that we were polling up 38 percent amongst...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But will they show up to vote? Because young people tend not to necessarily show up as older people do.

JEALOUS: Sure. But amongst all black voters, we were polling 38 percent. We were ahead amongst young black voters.

BLITZER: Under what age?

JEALOUS: No, 38 percent was all black voters. So, we have gone from, if you will, the teens around Super Tuesday to the 30s in the Midwest and 38 south of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi.

And what you are seeing is, as black voters get more time, is they about issues of trade and criminal justice and frankly trust. They see this as a guy who they can trust to lead change.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It's sort of personal for Bernie Sanders. You know him. He was born here in Brooklyn, raised in Brooklyn. He's back in Brooklyn.

JEALOUS: Yes. And he sounds like it whenever he talks.

BLITZER: Yes, you can obviously tell he's still a Brooklynite, if you will.

[18:20:00]

JEALOUS: Yes.

BLITZER: Have you had a chance to talk to him about what it means to come back, if you will, to his roots and participate in a debate like this tonight for president of the United States?

JEALOUS: Absolutely. This has been a big deal.

When we were back in the Midwest, we were focused on making sure that this debate happened. What we also know is that the more people know about Bernie Sanders, the more people who support him. That's why the Clinton campaign and the kind of fierce negotiations always tried to push us out of prime time. What's even bigger than frankly we're in New York is that we're in New York in prime time. And that's going to be good for our campaign.

BLITZER: And 9:00 p.m. tonight certainly is prime time. I'm sure there will be a very large audience watching.

What was the single biggest reason you decided, as the former president of the NAACP, to go out there and work for Bernie Sanders?

JEALOUS: I decided to go out and to volunteer for him for the same reasons I did for Jesse Jackson.

If you look at that test of issues that Dr. King gave us, said the three big evils in our country are racism, militarism and greed. And by those three, he is the best candidate. He's very, very clear, long, consistent fighter for racial justice, long, consistent fighter against, frankly, wars like the war in Iraq that President Obama called our stupid war.

And I don't think there's anybody that the worst on Wall Street fear more being president than Sanders.

BLITZER: Ben Jealous, thanks very much for joining us.

JEALOUS: Thank you.

BLITZER: We had Brian Fallon from the Clinton campaign on the last hour. He's a good spokesman for the Clinton campaign. You are obviously a good spokesperson for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Appreciate it very much

JEALOUS: When this dies down, we should break bread back home.

BLITZER: We definitely will. All right, thank you very much. Don't leave left.

Just ahead, much more from inside the debate hall here at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Duggal Greenhouse, where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they are preparing to spar in the CNN debate tonight. People are beginning to arrive. And given this week's mutual attacks, everyone is wondering if

the heated rhetoric will boil over on stage later tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:26:30]

BLITZER: Guests are beginning to arrive here inside the Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York.

We're just a little bit more than 2.5 hours away from the start of this Democratic presidential debate. A once civil campaign is now turning increasingly, shall we say, uncivil ahead of tonight's CNN debate.

Bernie Sanders openly questioning Hillary Clinton's judgment and Hillary Clinton calling into question Bernie Sanders' preparedness to be president of the United States.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is here with us inside the debate hall.

Jeff, the question now is, will they come out swinging tonight? What are you hearing?

ZELENY: Wolf, both campaigns are definitely preparing for that moment. They know each other's lines as well as they know their own by this point after eight Democratic debates already, but a few different ways they are looking at tonight.

Let's start with judgment vs. tested. The Sanders campaign is going to raise questions, keep raising questions about Hillary Clinton's judgment, a lot of the votes she took in the Senate, some of her other positions that she held as secretary of state.

But, at the same time, the Clinton campaign is going to be raising questions about, is Bernie Sanders ready for the Oval Office? Is he tested for this? Do all of his ideas really make sense? Can they work?

A second thing is, New York matters. Wolf, in politics, like real estate, it's all about location. And, yes, this primary is being held in New York, but there are so many specific issues that will be playing on stage tonight, from fracking in Upstate to Wall Street to income inequality to immigration to criminal justice reform.

These are front-and-center issues on the minds of voters here, perhaps much more so than some other primary states and other debates we have seen. They both have such a strong connection to New York. Of course, she was twice elected here as a senator. And Bernie Sanders, as we have heard so many times, Wolf, he was born and raised right here in Brooklyn. And he's now coming back for a presidential debate.

And finally here, the growth of Sanders. Can he grow? Can he expand his appeal here? We know that he attracts large crowds. We saw that big rally last night in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. He attracts young and old supporters. But will they turn out and vote for him?

His advisers believe tonight in a prime-time debate from New York City is a key chance to make his argument, perhaps his last, best chance to make the argument that he has growth appeal, and he can -- in order to reach out some of those Democrats who frankly aren't sure about the Clinton campaign.

Those are just a few things we're watching tonight, Wolf, both campaigns preparing so aggressively for this all-important debate in just a few hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny reporting for us.

Let's dig deeper into all of this.

Joining us, our chief political another, Gloria Borger, our senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. He's the senior editor at "The Atlantic."

Ron, that was an impressive crowd at Washington Square Park near NYU last night; 27,000 people showed up.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It was.

BLITZER: You heard Ben Jealous say there were a lot of others not too far away. He's won eight of the last nine contests. Should Hillary Clinton going into this important debate tonight be worried?

BROWNSTEIN: It really was quite a crowd last night.

They were still feeling the Bern when I was no longer feeling my toes, OK, as the temperature dropped.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I think Hillary Clinton is ahead. She's ahead in the popular vote, as you pointed out to Ben Jealous . She's ahead in the pledged delegates. She's won almost all of the big states except for Michigan, but she hasn't been able to put him away.

And in many ways, Bernie Sanders has been getting stronger. He's now essentially even with her in national polling, which is almost unprecedented for the candidate trailing in delegates at this point in the race.

If you kind of look forward, though, the next immediate part of the race is tough for Bernie Sanders, because it's closed primaries, where only Democrats can vote, and they tend to be primaries not only closed, but with a lot of African-American voters.

And those two things have been the toughest for him.