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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer; Supreme Court Divided Over Obama Immigration Actions; U.S. Russian Jet Flew Within 50 Feet of U.S. Plane; Final Campaign Push on Eve of New York Primary; In North Korea, No Signs Sanctions Having an Impact. Aired 6- 7p ET
Aired April 18, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We are standing by for his final rallies before tomorrow's critical New York primary.
You're fired? Trump won't rule out dumping the Republican Party chairman, who Trump says should be ashamed of the GOP nominating process. Is Trump planning to place his allies on the Republican National Committee? I will talk to the party's chief strategist.
Understated. Bernie Sanders says polls don't reflect the true level of his support and the enthusiasm for his campaign. And now a new poll shows him neck and neck among Democrats with Hillary Clinton nationwide. Could the New York primary make or break his campaign?
And picking a fight. Once again, Russian jets aggressively harass the U.S. military, this time allegedly coming within 50 feet of U.S. Air Force planes just days after buzzing a Navy ship. It all comes amid a disturbing new deployment of stealth Marines. Is Vladimir Putin trying to provoke the U.S.?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We are following breaking political news on this, the eve of the New York primary. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump is about to hold a major campaign rally in Buffalo. Trump is escalating his war with the Republican National Committee, warning the party had better do something about the delegate system that he calls crooked and rigged.
Trump is even hinting he might fire the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, if Trump wins the nomination.
We are also following the growing tensions right now between the U.S. and Russia with their respective militaries, Russian jets coming once again disturbingly close to an American plane in a dangerous maneuver, the latest in a series of similar encounters the U.S. is calling reckless and provocative.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican National Committee chief strategist and communications director Sean Spicer, and our correspondent and expert analysts, they are also standing by.
Let's begin with CNN political reporter Sara Murray. Sara is in New York.
Sara, Donald Trump is on his home turf tonight. He's in New York state. What's the latest?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And, of course, the New York primary comes up tomorrow. There are 95 delegates at stake. Donald Trump wants to sweep them all. If he does so, he comes even closer to clinching the Republican nomination, but he is still not playing nice with the GOP.
MURRAY (voice-over): Here in the Big Apple, Donald Trump can almost taste victory.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We love this city. You look at the other folks that are running, they couldn't care less about New York.
MURRAY: Hours ahead of the New York primary, Trump appears poised for a big night.
TRUMP: The polls are what they are. They were beyond anything that anybody has seen.
MURRAY: But his rivals keep churning on and hammering the front- runner. Today, Ted Cruz already moving on to Maryland.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maryland is a battleground. Maryland is going to have an outsized voice as the nation is looking to Maryland to decide, do we nominate Donald Trump and hand the election to Hillary Clinton?
CRUZ: Or do we unite behind the Cruz campaign and beat Hillary Clinton?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MURRAY: While John Kasich stumped in New York, where he hopes to pick up a few delegates.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's what he does. He feeds into their anxieties and their fears. There's no question there. Does he have any solutions for how he's going to deal with it? I don't think so.
MURRAY: As the fight for the delegates rages on.
TRUMP: It's a rigged system. It's a crooked system. It's 100 percent crooked.
MURRAY: Trump says he's not interested in wooing supporters from behind the scenes.
TRUMP: Look, nobody has better toys than I do. I can put them in the best planes and bring them to best resorts anywhere in the world, Doral, Mar-a-Lago. That has nothing to do with democracy.
MURRAY: The GOP front-runner is issuing a sharp warning to the Republican National Committee to straighten out a process that has sometimes left him stumped.
TRUMP: They got to do something about it. The Republican National Committee, they better get going, because, I will tell you what, you're going to have a rough July at that convention.
MURRAY: And he's warning his supporters could be upset if a contested convention doesn't go his way.
TRUMP: I hope it doesn't involve violence, and I don't think it will. But I will say this. It's a rigged system.
MURRAY: But RNC Chair Reince Priebus is shrugging aside Trump's complaints.
REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I find it to be rhetoric and hyperbole.
MURRAY: And Trump already appears to be planning ahead, suggesting to "The Washington Post" that he may not keep Priebus around if he's the nominee and saying he wants to bring a little showbiz to the GOP convention.
With an eye on the general election, he even tested out a new nickname for Hillary Clinton.
TRUMP: Crooked Hillary. She's been crooked from the beginning.
MURRAY: Now, Wolf, Donald Trump did something else here in New York today that he is hoping will help him not just in the primary, but also in the general election. He held a meeting with his National Diversity Coalition.
This is not even officially part of his campaign, but it's a group of folks who represent the African-American community, the Hispanic community, Muslim communities and others. They're trying to gin up some grassroots support for him ahead of the primary and they hope into the general election -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Clearly, he's also looking ahead to the general election. Let's see if he gets there. All right, thanks very much for that, Sara. We are also standing by once again to hear from Donald Trump. He is
getting ready to address a huge campaign rally in Buffalo, New York. It's about to get under way at the First Niagara Center. That's where we find our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, we're expecting to hear from Trump fairly soon. Once again, thousands and thousands of Buffalonians, they're getting ready to hear him.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right, Wolf.
They're filling in this arena here in Buffalo, your hometown, of course. And we're seeing Donald Trump in just the last several minutes unleash some fresh attacks on Ted Cruz. He just put out a tweet in the last several minutes, we will put it up on screen, saying: "Lyin' Ted Cruz even voted against Superstorm Sandy aid and September 11 help. So many New Yorkers devastated. Cruz hates New York," that in a tweet from Donald Trump.
There, his strategy obviously for the Trump campaign in that tweet, they want to run out the score on Ted Cruz in this state, in the hopes of capturing all of the state's 95 delegates. And delegates, as my colleague Sara Murray was just mentioning, are certainly on Donald Trump's mind.
In the last several days, we have heard Donald Trump refer to the RNC system of awarding delegates as rigged, as a sham and so on. I talked to a Trump source earlier today, Wolf, who said that the RNC is running the risk of alienating millions of Trump voters, if somehow Trump gets very close to the magic number needed to clinch the nomination, but doesn't get the nod because of some sort of backroom negotiating that goes on at the RNC convention in Cleveland coming up in July.
We should point out, Wolf, Donald Trump is poised to do something he hasn't done in several weeks, and that is win a primary the old- fashioned way. The polls show him way ahead here in New York state, and it just gets better and better for Donald Trump. Those northeastern states like Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, they're all just coming up next week, in addition to Connecticut, and New Jersey also looms on the calendar as well.
And so Donald Trump, Wolf, is looking for some leverage to hold over the RNC in the coming weeks. He will certainly have it, as he is poised to rack up some pretty significant victories here in the weeks ahead, Wolf.
BLITZER: We will see how many of those 95 delegates in New York state he winds up getting tomorrow. I know he and his supporters would like to get all 95. We will see if that happens. All right, Jim Acosta over in Buffalo, New York.
As we await the start of Donald Trump's rally in Buffalo, New York, let's get some more on his war with the GOP establishment right now, the leadership of the GOP. The Republican National Committee's chief strategist and communications director, Sean Spicer, is with us.
Sean, thanks very much for joining us.
I want your reaction. Trump says he doesn't even know whether he will keep the RNC chairman, Reince Priebus, on as chairman if he gets the nomination. What's your reaction when you read that in his interview in "The Washington Post" today?
SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, first, I think he was asked a question. He said I don't know. Let's be clear about what he actually said.
Second of all, let's put this to rest. Reince Priebus was elected overwhelmingly by members of the Republican National Committee to a term that goes until January of 2017. He will be the chairman until 2017. And nobody can -- there's nothing that anybody can do that won't allow that -- that won't make that to continue.
He is the chairman. He will continue, the chairman. That's it. Secondly, and more importantly, he has probably been the most successful chairman in history. We have the best-equipped, best- resourced RNC in political history.
Any nominee worth their salt is going to want to embrace the RNC and run toward it, because we're the only organization that has been looking toward the general election, ensuring that we have got all of the field staff out there preparing, making voter contact, prepping the field, building the opposition research on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, making sure that the data and digital operation is top-notch.
So, if anything, a nominee is going to want to run toward us and embrace us big time, because Reince has been probably the most successful chairman.
BLITZER: But, Sean, when you read that article -- and I read it this morning in "The Washington Post" -- the article clearly says Trump demurred when asked whether he would retain current RNC chairman Reince Priebus and other officials -- quote -- "I don't know. I haven't made the determination," Trump said, clearly not a vote of confidence.
SPICER: Yes, but, Wolf, but -- right, but, Wolf, but the reality is it is not a decision that anybody makes. The decision was made already. The members of the RNC elected and reelected chairman Priebus last year. He serves a two-year term.
It is no one's decision but the members of the RNC and they made it, so it is end of story. It is frankly a silly story, because there's no one -- that's like asking whether you believe that Reince Priebus should stay on as chairman.
[18:10:05] Frankly, with all due respect to you, it doesn't matter. The members
of the RNC who are elected in each state made a decision. That is a two-year term. He will be chairman. And I think to future the discussion is frankly a silly proposition.
BLITZER: Reince Priebus knows this. Everyone knows that whoever emerges as the Republican presidential nominee for all practical purposes becomes the leader of the Republican Party, right?
SPICER: No, they become the nominee.
They are a leader in the party. They become the nominee of our party, and, of course, they're the most important Republican on the ballot. But they don't take over the party. The party has an apparatus. The RNC has been running fantastically, raising historic money, putting the best field operation on the ground.
I think it is quite the opposite. And what people should be asking is, are you excited that the RNC is as well-trained and well-equipped as they are? This is the saving grace, is that when you're going through the primary to know that the RNC, unlike the DNC, frankly, that's bankrupt, that doesn't have the staff and isn't as equipped and resourced for their nominee -- you saw stories about the Hillary Clinton team coming down to Washington because they're very disappointed with the DNC.
It's quite the opposite with the Republican National Committee. I think what gives our candidates great -- makes them put at ease is that they know that while they're duking it out in the primary, they have got an RNC that has got its eye on the prize, it's focused on the general election. It's raising a record amount of money. It's got the best field operation in history.
BLITZER: Sean, it is pretty amazing when you think about the possibility of a Republican nominee butting heads, if you will, with the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Why is this happening right now? Is there a strategy you see going on?
SPICER: Well, if there is, I think you're asking the wrong guy. Our job and our strategy is, like I said, to make sure that we are as best-equipped and best-prepared for a general election. That's what we are doing day in and day out.
We're going out, and explaining to people what the process is, why it is important that we continue to follow the process we have followed since 1856, how it's important and what we can do to bring more people into the party. That's what we are doing every day.
With respect to what some of the candidates are saying or doing, each one of them is running their own strategy. And it is up to them to answer for that.
BLITZER: Are you and Reince Priebus talking to Donald Trump at all? Do you have any conversations with him?
SPICER: Sure. We talk to their campaign almost on a daily basis, as we do with all the other campaigns.
BLITZER: I know the campaign, but what about him personally?
SPICER: I can't -- I know the chairman speaks to each of the candidates on a fairly regular basis. I am not sure what day he last spoke to Mr. Trump.
BLITZER: Because there's -- I have covered politics, as you know, for a long time. I don't remember a time when a Republican presidential front-runner has said what he said about the Republican leadership, rigged elections, crooked elections, all of this and refusing to give a vote of confidence to the RNC chairman.
Have you ever remembered anything like this happening before?
SPICER: Not that I am aware of.
But I would also point to you that on several occasions he said very positive things about the RNC and praised the job that the chairman has done. I know that right now, we all want to focus on that one little blip in "The Washington Post," but, if you actually go back -- and I know CNN has run the sound several times -- but he has also praised the chairman and praised the RNC for the job it's done.
In fact, after that meeting that they had a few weeks ago, I believe he sent a tweet out saying, had a great meeting with the RNC, looking forward to moving forward.
So you can kind of come up with a bunch of different quotes if you want.
BLITZER: Yes, I remember that tweet.
SPICER: ... that are positive.
BLITZER: After that meeting in Washington, he did put out some nice words about his meeting with the RNC and Reince Priebus. But then, a few days later, he said Reince Priebus should be ashamed of himself.
You heard that, too, right?
SPICER: I did.
Again, so we can go back and forth and do a whole timeline about how many times he said something nice and not. Look, we are focused on doing our job every day and making sure that we have got the best- trained and -equipped for the RNC and that we're ready to focus on the general election.
And whether or not Hillary Clinton falls short and Bernie Sanders becomes the nominee or she does, we are going to be ready to make sure that we have got the opposition research, the field, the data, and the digital operation to ensure our nominee has the ability to get a leg up coming out of Cleveland and win.
BLITZER: Sean Spicer, I want you to stand by.
We have more to discuss. There are other developments happening right now. We are going to take a quick break. Much more with the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee right after this.
BLITZER: Donald Trump about to speak at a major campaign rally in Buffalo, New York, First Niagara Center. That's the home of the Buffalo Sabres. Thousands and thousands of people will be inside.
Rex Ryan, the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, will introduce him.
Outside, take a look at this. You can see there are protesters that have gathered outside First Niagara Center. That's not unusual whenever Trump speaks at big rallies like this. Very often, at least in recent weeks, there have been protesters, similarly happening in Buffalo right now.
Trump, as you know, he's taking some new swipes at the GOP even as he seeks the party's presidential nomination.
We are back at the Republican National Committee chief strategist and communications director, Sean Spicer.
Sean, you're focused on the convention in July in Cleveland. Trump now says the last Republican Convention four years ago in Tampa in his words was the single most boring convention he's ever seen. He says you will put people to sleep without adding some "showbiz elements" to this convention.
Are you with him on that?
SPICER: I think the number one thing that we have to do at the convention is do the business of the party.
We have to enact rules, we have to pass a platform. We have got to nominate a president and a vice president that will go on and win in November. So, I think that we have got a great team in Cleveland. They're phenomenally talented individuals, some of the best in the business.
And I think they are going to continue to work with the different campaigns and get some input. But, look, there's no question in my mind that we're going to have an amazing convention in Cleveland. We're going to put on a show that the entire world frankly is going to watch and I think be impressed with Republican principles and solutions to move the country forward.
BLITZER: Is there any indication you're getting -- I have seen reports that you're losing corporate sponsors for the convention because some of these big companies, these big corporations don't want to be associated with Donald Trump. What's the latest on that?
SPICER: I think it is quite the opposite.
When you look at -- look, there was a walk-through a couple weeks ago. There was over 600 members of the media that came. The interest in Cleveland is phenomenal, because it such an amazing world event. I actually think it's quite the opposite. I read a report that the host committee is on track to already have over $54 million of the 60- something that they need.
This is a historic number of what they have read -- excuse me -- of what they have raised. It is quite the opposite. I know what I think people are confused and where I think a lot of times you see some of these stories is that they will say, well, so and so is not planning on having a party.
When it comes to actual funding of the convention, which is entirely being done with private funds this time, you look at where we are, we are actually ahead of where we have been historically. They have raised a record amount. We're doing just fine, thank you, and frankly it's the Democrats who are having a big problem when you look at their ability to fund what they did in Philadelphia.
That comes on the heels of their problems to fund their north Carolina convention last time. They had to take a big loan from a bank because they couldn't fund it. This time, I think, again, we are well ahead of where we have ever been. It is going to be a phenomenal convention.
And I think frankly you're seeing quite the opposite. Much more attention and much more demand for people and organizations who want to be part of what is going to be a historic convention.
BLITZER: Listen to Trump talk about what a lot of people fear could potentially happen, some disturbances at the Republican Convention. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I hope it doesn't involve violence. I hope it doesn't, and I'm not suggesting that. I hope it doesn't involve violence. And I don't think it will. But I will say this. It is a rigged system. It is a crooked system. It is 100 percent crooked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well, 100 percent crooked, those are his words. Often, he says 100 percent corrupt. Let's button it up. Your final reaction.
SPICER: I'm really not sure what he's talking about. The process has been out there. We had a Web site,
ConventionFacts.GOP, where we lay out how the system works. These campaigns have known about these rules.
Look, Mr. Trump has got 37 percent of the vote, and 45 percent of the delegates. He is doing pretty well under this system. When he went to a state like Florida that had 99 delegates, because he was the highest vote-getter, he got all of the delegates. I didn't hear too many complaints then.
If he does really well tomorrow night in New York, he could walk out with almost all of the delegates, because it is winner take all by congressional district for the majority of delegates. I don't know that he is going to think that that's a bad system. It seems that when he does well, it is a good system, and when he doesn't, it is a rigged system.
BLITZER: Sean Spicer of the RNC, thanks very much.
SPICER: You bet, sir.
BLITZER: And just ahead, once again, we are standing by. We will hear from Donald Trump. He is getting ready to address a lot of people in that rally in Buffalo. He will be speaking soon. Stand by.
Also, there's aggressive new moves under way right now by Russian military jets against American planes. Is Vladimir Putin trying to provoke the United States?
BLITZER: Donald Trump will be speaking soon at a campaign rally in Buffalo, New York, on this, the eve of the New York primary. You're looking at live pictures from inside First Niagara Center. That's where the Buffalo Sabres normally play hockey.
He has been taking new digs at the Republican Party, including calling the last convention four years ago as the most boring ever.
We are joined now by our experts, CNN political executive editor Mark Preston, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick. Also joining us, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
I want your reaction, Gloria, to what we just heard from Sean Spicer, the spokesman for the RNC, especially this notion that Trump wants the next convention in Cleveland in July to have a little bit more showbiz to it.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
I think Sean didn't sort of take too well to that. I think Sean's main job today in coming on the show was to defend his boss, Reince Priebus, and to say Reince Priebus is not going anywhere. We heard that until 2017, when his term is up, is that even if Donald Trump wanted to dethrone him, he could not do that, he doesn't have the power or the authority, he is not president of the United States.
And it is up to members of the RNC to decide who their next chairman should be. Even presidents when they try and pick their own chairmen of the parties, sometimes have a difficult time getting what they want. I think Sean was kind of on fire defending his boss.
BLITZER: And 95 Republican delegates at stake tomorrow night in New York state, how many of them does Trump really need to show that he has a spectacular success?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: I think he has to have an overwhelming victory tomorrow night, not only to help change the narrative that we have seen in his campaign, but also to propel him going into the following week.
When he talks about New York values, let's make no mistake. It is not just about New York he is talking about. He is trying to take Cruz in states such as Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Because if you look at this block of states from the mid-Atlantic all the way up the East Coast to Rhode Island, those voters are very, very similar.
[18:30:15] So Donald Trump needs a big win. What that number is, we don't know. But he needs a big win to help propel him into the following week.
BLITZER: We know, David, that John Kasich can't get, on the first ballot, that 1,237. Cruz still mathematically could, but it's looking increasingly unlikely, right?
DAVID SWERDLICK, "WASHINGTON POST": It's unlikely, and he's got a further ways to go, and as Mark said, right, he's got these string of states coming up -- Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland -- that all favor Trump heavily in the polls.
So I think what Cruz needs to do is survive. You know, continue to play the inside game well, and then hope that voters, conservative voters stick with him when it gets to...
BLITZER: Jeffrey, do you walk away? And go ahead.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I just wanted to go back to what Trump said, what -- the introduction to this about conventions being boring. He's completely right. These conventions haven't changed since the 1940s. It's a bunch of white men, for the most part, standing at a big, clumsy podium, talking at people for four days. That's boring, and he's right.
BORGER: Well, I remember the last Republican convention when Clint Eastwood surprised us all by talking to an empty chair. Remember that?
TOOBIN: That wasn't boring. BORGER: That wasn't boring at all, because it was an actual moment,
right? It was an actual real moment, in fact, which the Romney people had not planned for, which hardly ever occurs, right?
TOOBIN: Right. I mean, it was, I think, pretty disastrous.
TOOBIN: But it doesn't mean that everything that is not scrupulously sanitized of all interest is a bad idea. And I think Trump is onto something exactly right here. I think that underlines part of his appeal here, that he is not wedded to all of the boring traditions of politics, that he's calling out the emperor's new clothes.
BLITZER: But you know, Mark, if there's nobody that gets the nomination on the first ballot, it goes to round two, or three, or four, that's hardly boring.
PRESTON: No, it's hardly boring. Quite frankly, hardly boring the weeks leading into the convention when we don't know if there's a nominee if he doesn't get to 1,237.
If we look at the numbers right, he needs to win, he being Donald Trump, needs to win 62 percent of the remaining delegates. Ted Cruz, 89 percent. So of course, Cruz's strategy is to take it to a contested convention. Quite frankly, when you have people argue on the floor in Cleveland about who the nominee should be, God knows what's going on outside that building. It is not going to be very boring.
BORGER: And by the way, you ask about the importance of New York. After tomorrow night, if Trump wins overwhelmingly, which a lot of people, including myself, expect him to do, if the only game Cruz has is contested convention, it is nearly mathematically impossible for him to win any other way...
BORGER: Because it's nearly mathematically impossible for him to win any other way. It would be, like, 98 percent. He'd need to win 98 percent of the remaining delegates. So that's his -- that's his only game. I mean, Trump at least has a narrow path to get to 1,237 or close to it before the convention.
SWERDLICK: Yes. And Trump had a couple of bad weeks there, late March and April, but it may have happened too soon for Cruz. Right? Trump now has a chance to win some states, clean up his act, and Cruz has to fight through that to get to the convention.
BLITZER: See what happens tomorrow. Jeffrey, Hillary Clinton, they -- she called Trump the donkey of the decade in a radio interview. Trump, he now calls her, he's branded her, quote, "Crooked Hillary" in a bunch of tweets. Cruz is hawking Trumper Tantrum bibs, if you will. All of these attacks, they're continuing. It looks like this situation is getting a little crazy right now. TOOBIN: Well, you know, speaking of not boring, a race between
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I think, would be the definition of not boring.
But this is why we have politics. I mean, these people are really trying to win, and attacks work. And Trump and Hillary are trying, by attacking each other, to say, in essence, that their races are over; and they're moving to the general election.
BLITZER: Tomorrow night, Gloria, Trump, he's expected to speak from Trump at some point from Trump Tower.
BORGER: Of course, of course. Right. And I think what you're going to see, particularly if he has a large victory, is someone who's going to try and act as he always says his family wants him to act: more presidential. I mean, he hasn't been tweeting off the charts lately. He's got a new campaign team. He's added some people to his team. And they're trying to sort of keep him a little bit more under control, and I think that's what you might see tomorrow night, is a more presidential sounding Donald Trump.
BLITZER: We'll see. We'll have, of course, coverage tomorrow.
All right. Guys, stand by. Once again, we'll have complete coverage of the New York primary tomorrow throughout the day here on CNN. Tomorrow night I'll be joined by our entire election team for special coverage of this critical contest.
[18:40:11] We'll take another quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they are fighting for every vote in New York ahead of tomorrow's primary. And now a new national poll shows Sanders is closing the gap dramatically with Hillary Clinton among voters nationwide.
[18:40:07] Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us. He's got the latest.
Jeff, a critical contest tomorrow for these two Democratic presidential candidates.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It is critical, Wolf, because so many delegates at stake here in New York: 247 pledged delegates, the second biggest prize next to California in June.
Bernie Sanders is holding another big rally here tonight on the banks of the East River. You can see the crowd gathering behind me.
But Bernie Sanders needs to show that he can do more than raise big crowds. His big test tomorrow comes on election day to see if he can get more of these supporters out to the polls.
ZELENY (voice-over): One final pitch in the fight for New York.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Please, come out and vote tomorrow. I will work hard for you. Thank you all very much.
ZELENY: Hillary Clinton hoping to expand her lead and extinguish Bernie Sanders' momentum.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They don't consider us fringe anymore!
ZELENY: The New York primary and its 247 delegates is the biggest prize until California in June. The winner will shape the closing chapter of the race or ensure the contest goes on.
CLINTON: I never count any chickens before they hatch. We're going to work hard.
ZELENY: And campaign hard she did. After losing seven straight contests to Sanders, Clinton took a page from her two winning Senate elections. She danced, preached.
CLINTON: I feel blessed, and grace is all around us in the sanctuary. I am your neighbor, which makes me very happy.
ZELENY: And she dispatched her husband to cover twice as much ground.
On the eve of the primary, Sanders hit the streets of New York, starting with the picket line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bernie, Bernie!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bernie, Bernie!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bernie, Bernie!
ZELENY: After drawing another big crowd Sunday in the familiar blocks of his Brooklyn childhood.
SANDERS: Our parents would take us to Prospect Park, but I was never here speaking to 20,000 people, so thank you all very much for being here.
ZELENY: But Sanders needs more than big crowds. Clinton leads by 229 pledged delegates, but he has closed the gap with Clinton in the latest national poll, trailing her now by just two points.
Sanders is vowing to fight until the convention in July, an alarming prospect for party leaders eager to unify party Democrats. On CNN NEW DAY, Sanders said the burden of bringing the party together isn't his alone.
SANDERS: It's a two-way street. The Clinton people also are going to have to listen to what these people are fighting for.
ZELENY: The ultimate unifier may be Donald Trump, whom Clinton targeted during a radio interview, calling him the donkey of the decade.
CLINTON: You don't let the cancer grow bigger and bigger and bigger, and then all of a sudden, we wake up and we say what the heck has happened to our country?
ZELENY: But for now, the contest facing Clinton is with Sanders, his supporters mocking her during a weekend fundraising visit to California, showering her motorcade with wads of one-dollar bills.
The protesters were standing near George and Amal Clooney's home, the site of the fundraiser, where the highest ticket was $350,000 per couple.
Back in New York, the rough-and-tumble primary, playing out on a debate stage last week in Brooklyn, got downright physical on "Saturday Night Live." (KATE MCKINNON AS HILLARY CLINTON GIVING NOOGIES TO LARRY DAVID AS BERNIE SANDERS)
ZELENY: Now of course, it's not physical between these two candidates, but that was a pretty close interpretation of reality here.
And Wolf, tonight, another new fight has broken out between these two campaigns, the Sanders campaign accusing the Clinton campaign of inappropriately fundraising that big George Clooney fund-raiser over the weekend. They say that it should not have been that big. Right now, the Clinton campaign pushing back, believing Sanders is trying to blow up this process, that he's not trying to raise money for other Democratic candidates.
So Wolf, an intense contest here. The outcome of tomorrow, though, will shape the future of how long this race goes on in its intensity -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly will. All right, Jeff, thank you.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court here in Washington is taking up a very high-profile case with huge implications for President Obama and millions of undocumented people living here in the United States. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has details.
Pamela, this is over the president's executive actions on immigration?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And Wolf, the justices seem closely divided on this immigration issue. And if it does end up being a 4-4 split following the death of Scalia, that would be bad news for the president and millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., because the president's programs would remain blocked.
(PROTESTERS CHANTING) PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even before the justices heard the first argument today, the debate over immigration played out on the steps of the Supreme Court. Hundreds of protesters facing off over one of President Obama's signature decisions, an executive action to shield more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
[18:45:05] A case brought by Texas and 25 other states, most Republican, test the president's authority to make such a sweeping decision without congressional input, and to grant undocumented workers the right to receive benefits like Social Security and Medicare.
The case is also a watershed moment, one of the most controversial to be heard by the court's now eight justices, split evenly by ideology, 4-4, after the death of Antonin Scalia. In court, that split became more obvious as justices questioned attorneys on both sides.
The conservative justices seeming to side with the states suing the administration for what they consider to be executive overreach. Justice Anthony Kennedy says, "It's as if the president is setting policy and Congress is executing it. That's just upside down."
A sentiment the Texas solicitor general agreed with at the court.
SCOTT KELLER, TEXAS SOLICITOR GENERAL: It transforms unlawful conduct into lawful conduct. I think if the executive, the president has the power to do that, I think that should trouble every American.
BROWN: Back inside, the court's more liberal justices seem sympathetic to the administration's arguments. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg nothing there are 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., saying inevitably, priorities have to be set.
Antonio Campos says he is one of the undocumented immigrants the president is trying to help. He says he came to the U.S. from Mexico illegally in 1995. He had two children in the United States who are citizens, and says he spent many years as community volunteer in Sacramento.
ANTONIO CAMPOS, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: When I came here, I came with my uncle and that was it and the hopes I can bring a better life to my family. As a man of faith, I have the illusion that this is going to be the beginning of a better society.
BROWN: If the administration loses this case, Campos and million other immigrants will remain in legal limbo.
BROWN: And another key issue is whether the states even have the legal grounds to sue. Texas says it would be financially injured, because it would cost millions of dollars to issue driver's licenses to these protected immigrants. The administration disagreed, saying Texas doesn't have to subsidize these licenses. If the justices decide the states do not have standing, the president's programs would go into effect -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Critically important case before the U.S. Supreme Court right now. Thank you, Pamela.
Let's dig deeper into this whole issue. Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with us, along with our CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro.
Jeffrey, what exactly from your perspective is at stake for the Obama administration in this case?
TOOBIN: Well, and for the almost 5 million people this order would effect, even more than the president. I mean, what is at stake here is whether the president can leave as his legacy relative certainty that these 5 million people will not be deported. That's really what this case is all about.
If he wins, this process will begin where these 5 million people, most of whom have American citizen children, and they will go through a background check, they will pay a certain amount of money, and then they will get in effect legal status. If he loses this case, if the Obama administration loses, those four or five million people are in limbo. And if a Republican like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is elected, they have promised to try to deport all 11 million of those people from this country.
BLIZER: Ana, if the president's executive actions are deemed constitutional, what will be the impact on the undocumented community?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Huge impact. It means that almost 5 million people won't be able to stay here. It means that there will be young people that will be able to study, that they will be out of the shadows, that they will be part of the system.
You know, this is so frustrating. We should never be where we are now. We should not be in front of the Supreme Court with this issue.
This is an issue that the president should have followed up and just been able to -- he gave his word to the Hispanic community when he run in 2008 that he would do immigration reform the first two years. He did not keep that promise. And Congress did not do its job of passing immigration reform.
And I think that if we are seeing anything today, it is that the immigration problem is not going away. You can't sweep it under the rug, an executive action is nothing but a band-aid. It needs to be legislated, there needs to be compromise, there needs to be pragmatic immigration reform that includes both sides of the aisle.
And until that happens, we are going to continue to see so many people suffering and so many people with their lives in limbo and these very heated, controversial arguments.
BLITZER: They tried it several times. Unfortunately, both parties couldn't get along and reach an agreement on that issue.
All right. Thanks very much, guys. We will stay on top of this story.
We're also standing by once again. We'll hear from Donald Trump. He is about to speak in Buffalo, New York, on this, the eve of the New York primary.
[18:50:00] But up next, are United Nations sanctions having any impact at all on North Korea and it's aggressive weapons program. We're going to get an exclusive look inside one of the world's most isolated countries.
BLITZER: Tension between the United States and Russia growing tonight after a series of close encounters between their militaries. The latest incident, a Russian jet that came dangerously close to a U.S. Air Force plane over the Baltic Sea.
Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is with us right now.
Jim, Russia is denying its planes are doing anything wrong. What's the latest?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S. navy has a different point of view.
[18:55:01] These close fly-bys have been happening with increasing frequency for months and now, some Russian pilots getting even closer, even more aggressive as they intercept both U.S. aircraft and ships.
And as they do, the close encounters are getting even more dangerous. Increasing the risk, U.S. commanders say, of misunderstanding or possibly even confrontation.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The latest provocation came Thursday when a Russian jet barrel rolled a U.S. reconnaissance plane during a routine flight over the Baltic Sea, performing, quote, "erratic and aggressive maneuvers."
It's a second time this month the Russians have played cat and mouse with the U.S. over international waters. And the Russian defense ministry is defending its actions. The Russian embassy in Washington tweeting to CNN and others, "Keep calm when Russian jets are around. These aces know how to fly," along with a link to a series of videos showing Russian fighter jets performing aerial stunts.
Just last week, two Russian fighter jets sped by the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea, within yards of the destroyer's bridge, ignoring, the Pentagon says repeated radio calls from the Cook in English and Russian.
The commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe told CNN, the incident was unprecedented. ADM. MARK FERGUSON, COMMANDER, U.S. NAVAL FORCES EUROPE: The behavior
we saw from the pilots engaged in this operation was very different in its aggressiveness, lack of communication and proximity to the ship.
SCIUTTO: So close, that Secretary of State John Kerry warned publicly that the Cook could have shot the Russian jet down.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is reckless. It is provocative. It is dangerous. It is unprofessional. And under the rules of engagement, that could have been a shoot-down.
SCIUTTO: The fly-bys follow increased tension between the U.S. and Russia over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. And it is not the first.
In June, a Russian SU-24 jet flew within about 1,600 feet of a U.S.- guided missile destroyer in the Black Sea. That was followed by similar fly-bys of U.S. aircraft carriers and jets.
In all, there have been hundreds of intercepts between Russian and U.S. aircraft in the past couple of years. In the case of the Cook, U.S. Navy officials tell CNN, commanders on board quickly determined the Russian jets were not a threat. The ship's instruments indicating they were not armed, and did not employ targeting radar to lock on or light up the ship.
CAPT. RICK HOFFMAN (RET.), PRESIDENT, ORION SOLUTIONS LLC: Those ships are very sophisticated. We can make decisions about whether they live or die from great distances with great speed. But we don't want to do that unless it's absolutely necessary.
SCIUTTO: I asked the U.S. Navy if its rules of engagement allow U.S. ships to shoot down Russian aircraft in incidents like this, and a navy official told me while the rules of engagement are classified, every ship's commander is empowered to act to defend the ship and its crew. In the case of the Cook, the Navy says the captain determined that the flights -- they were unsafe, unprofessional, but not a threat to the ship's safety, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks for that report.
I want to get to a CNN exclusive right now, a look at life inside North Korea under new United Nations sanctions imposed in response to Kim Jong-Un's aggressive weapons program.
CNN's Will Ripley talked to residents of the country's capital. They say they're not feeling the sanction's impact, yet.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tough U.N. sanctions intended to stop North Korea from developing dangerous weapons seem to be having little if any effect on life in Pyongyang. At least the parts we're allowed to see. The sanctions follow this year's satellite launch, and claimed H-bomb
test. Actions condemned even by North Korea's most powerful friend and trading partner, China. The Chinese state media says the sanctions will begin to hurt within a year.
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And trying to see for ourselves --
RIPLEY: A CNN crew in this Chinese border city last month could not independently verify if cargo to North Korea is being inspected as the sanctions require. A long-time diplomat and former ambassador who now runs the Pyongyang think tank believes sanctions won't hinder North Korea's military or economy.
"We built a socialist country under U.S. sanctions ever since our liberation," says Ri Jong Ryul, "under our beloved comrade Kim Jong- un's need, everyone is working hard." He is ordering more weapons tests, including a recent apparent failed missile launch.
"We assert the U.S. is the real culprit of the aggravated situation in the Korean peninsula," Ri says, referring to eight weeks of U.S. and South Korea military exercises.
"We must defend our supreme leader's dignity, our republic's sovereignty and our people's right to live," he says, "at any cost."
The U.S. calls it a path to further isolation and hardship. North Korea calls it the only way to survive.
Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.