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RNC Meeting on National Convention Rules, Delegates; Lindsey Graham Talks GOP Race, Meeting Obama's Supreme Court Nominee. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2016 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:37] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

The Donald Trump charm offensive deploying top aides to court the RNC. Party leaders are meeting for the last time before their national convention and Trump's team is jumping into the game that he loves to rail against, making the case for Trump before the same group that Trump has hit on the stump as being part of a rigged and crooked delegate system.

BERMAN: In a not-so-secret memo, Team Trump predicts he will clinch the nomination by winning 1,400 delegates, well over the 1,237 need to avoid a contested convention. If Trump falls short, his lifeline could come from this group of Republican delegates. Republican officials meeting in Hollywood, Florida, as we speak.

Let's go live to where it's all happening. Our Phil Mattingly in the middle of it all.

Good morning, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You got a bit of a dual-track strategy by the Trump campaign. Donald Trump showing no sign of stopping his attacks on the Republican National Committee and the delegate system broiling the Republican race at the moment, but his team is down here in full force and it's all of the new people that have more or less taken over the top tier of his campaign. Paul Manafort, his convention manager, Rick Wiley, his national political director, already walking through the hotel this morning for one-on- one meetings.

The reason why this is meeting is important, the RNC members, all 168 are delegates. There's a great opportunity to sit down with the people who will be voting on the convention floor.

But another side aspect, a lot of these members will also be playing a role in the rules of the convention, how the rules end up and whether or not they favor one candidate or another. That is why the Trump team is down here in full force, and they're following John Kasich who is down here in person, and Ted Cruz who also made a personal appearance yesterday.

So all three campaigns recognizing the importance of this meeting and really doing a full-court press, guys.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. We'll see what come from that full-court press.

Phil Mattingly there for us. Thanks so much.

Let's get some more insight into Donald Trump's campaign at this moment. His senior adviser, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is joining us live right now.

Hi, Sarah. Thank you so much for joining us.


BOLDUAN: Good morning.

So Donald Trump -- he was asked this morning, he was asked this morning about the fight over transgender bathroom policies. This is something that obviously has definitely -- is coming from a fight happening in North Carolina, and when asked about it, Donald Trump says that he feels they should use whichever bathroom they feel is appropriate. Do you agree?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think that the big question here is that this is just another big distraction taking away from the issues that keep Americans up at night that Donald Trump has been talking about all over the country, and the issues he's been winning on, whether it's bringing jobs back to America, rebuilding our economy, securing the border, and focusing on national security. At the end of the day, that's what Americans are focused on. That's what I think this campaign should be focused on, and when you contrast where Donald Trump is on those issues versus where Hillary Clinton is, he wins every single time.

BERMAN: Well, at the beginning and end of the day, this is an issue in North Carolina and it's an issue being discussed by other states as well, and it's an issue now being taken up by Ted Cruz, obviously running against Donald Trump. Reacting to Donald Trump's statement today, Ted Cruz put out this tweet -- we shouldn't be facilitating putting little girls alone in a bathroom with grown men. That's just a bad, bad idea. Look, you helped run your father's campaign, and I have a sense that your father probably feels the same way that Ted Cruz does on this issue, so we're asking you, where do you come down?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I don't disagree. I have a daughter. I don't want her in a bathroom with somebody that just decided to go in there because they think that there are little girls in there and that's appropriate. I think the big question here is what, for a presidential campaign, or what are the issues that Americans are focused on, and this, I think, is just a big distraction, and of course, Ted Cruz is going to come out and try to draw a distinction --

BOLDUAN: Why is this one a distraction, though, Sarah? HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, again, I think it's because they can't beat Donald Trump on the issues that voters are going to the ballot box focused on, so they're looking --


BOLDUAN: But this is something that voters in North Carolina care very much about. Do you think Donald Trump needs to correct the statement, then?

[11:04:56] HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think it's certainly something that he needs to address over the coming days, but personally, I think that this issue in North Carolina is a very difficult issue. It's a very nuanced issue, and there are going to be a lot of people on different sides -- the completely and extremely complex thing that comes down to, and I think it's something that North Carolina needs to decide for themselves and where they come down on that.

BERMAN: All right. Let's move on to this meeting that's happening in Florida right now. You have big officials at your campaign, Paul Manafort now essentially running the entire operation, Rick Wiley running the political operation. They're down there in Florida -- are they trying to blow up the game, are they trying to play the game now with the players in the game? Which way is it?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think it's both. I think that we're looking to get votes from every single American, including delegates to the convention, and this is part of the process and Paul Manafort is very good at his job and focusing on -- he was brought on specifically to focus on the delegate math and he's doing that and therefore will be there to make sure that one, the rules are as fair as can be at this point and that we can win with whatever rules are out there.

BOLDUAN: Sarah, on the delegate math, talking about more tweets -- there's now a Twitter feud going on right now between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Trump saying that Cruz should get out because it's mathematically impossible, he cannot get to the magic number. Cruz quickly responding earlier today saying that Donald will be mathematically eliminated on June 7, so wondering if he should drop out and then forfeit it to Hillary Clinton, ending it with, let's debate. The debate question is an interesting one. It's something that Ted Cruz has clearly been pushing. I think Indiana would be a perfect opportunity in that key state for you guys to debate. Why not debate? What's the downside for you guys?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, we've debated Ted Cruz many times, and after every debate, Donald Trump's gone on to win several states after, so I don't understand Ted Cruz's obsession with debating, because he certainly doesn't seem to win any states after they take place.

BERMAN: But, Sarah, you could say then, I don't understand Donald Trump's resistance to it since Donald Trump thinks he wins every debate that he does. If it's only good for Donald Trump to debate, then why not do it?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, I think at this point, it's become just, for him to be seen on stage and be attacked, not just by the candidates in the race, but often times the media as well, and right now he's focused on taking his message directly to the voters. He takes questions. He did a town hall just this morning. He'll continue to do things like that, so to act like he's afraid to answer questions or afraid of Ted Cruz is just ridiculous. At this point, he's the only candidate that has any path to 1,237. He's the presumptive nominee, and he's turning his sights on Hillary Clinton and not on Ted Cruz, and so I think that we're turning a corner and Ted Cruz is still living in the past.

BERMAN: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, thanks so much for being with us. Always great talking to you. Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Sarah.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Thank you, guys.

BERMAN: Joining us now is South Carolina Senator, former Republican presidential candidate, current supporter of Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham.

Senator Graham, thank you so much for being with us.

I want to start with this issue that just came up this morning in the presidential race. Donald Trump says he thinks that transgender people should be able to use whatever bathroom they're comfortable in. Ted Cruz, the candidate that you're now supporting for president, again, I'll remind you what he just said this morning, he put out a tweet, he said, "We shouldn't be facilitating putting little girls alone in a bathroom with grown men. That's just a bad, bad, bad idea."

What's your opinion?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think it would be a bad idea to put little girls in a bathroom with grown men. That's different than transgender issue, I guess. All I can say is that the only bathroom I can control is in my office and you can use the bathroom in my office without bringing your birth certificate.

BOLDUAN: Senator, though, on this issue, it's going to become, it's already become part of the conversation, it's a big issue in North Carolina. The governor has obviously gotten involved. Who is right on this issue between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump?

GRAHAM: I really don't -- all I can tell you is that I'm not going to impose bathroom rules at the federal government level. If North Carolina wants to go one way on bathrooms, that's up to them.

BERMAN: It's up to them, but it sounds like you think it's a bad decision, correct? I just want to be clear, again, because Ted Cruz, who you're supporting, I think he supports the North Carolina decision. You're saying, you don't?

GRAHAM: Well, here's what I'm saying. This is the last thing on my mind today, and I know it's important to some, but ISIL will kill us all. We're talking about access to bathrooms in North Carolina, nothing I can do about.

BOLDUAN: So let's talk about some of the issues of today.



BOLDUAN: Sound like a plan? Sounds like a plan.


[11:10:00] BOLDUAN: What is going to happen from here? Where we are in the race -- we haven't talked to, since the -- we haven't talked to you in a little while, and since the New York primary. Ted Cruz, he ended up in third. He's running, polling in third in many of the states, at least, that are going to be coming up next week. You've got Donald Trump supporters calling him Mr. -- what do they call him?

BERMAN: Mr. Third Place.


BOLDUAN: What's going to happen? What's going on here?

GRAHAM: Abe Lincoln finished second and still won, so all I can tell you is, Donald Trump says he's going to get 1,400 delegates. Mr. Trump, you better get 1,237, because if you get 1,236, you're in trouble.

BERMAN: You're in trouble. So you think that he does -- if he's within 20 before the convention, you don't --


GRAHAM: If he's in one. If he's within one.

BERMAN: You don't think he can get enough unbound delegates, one unbound delegate from Pennsylvania, one unbound delegate from the Virgin Islands, to support him?

GRAHAM: Maybe so, but I'm telling you this, there will be people like me and others trying to say, you fell short, let's re-vote on the second ballot. And I'd like to help make the argument that if you make Donald Trump the nominee of the party, it will be the disaster of all disasters for the Republican Party. Again, Abe Lincoln finished second, and it worked out pretty well for him to have won.

BOLDUAN: Are you definitely going to the convention? I only ask because John McCain has decided not to --


GRAHAM: I don't know.

BOLDUAN: You don't know yet? GRAHAM: I don't know how crazy it's going to be. You know, if Trump gets 1,237, then he's done his job, he won, he's the nominee, I don't know if I'd go. But if I get to be a delegate from South Carolina, I can tell you this, that if Donald Trump doesn't win on the first ballot, most of the South Carolina delegates are going to vote for Ted Cruz. Stop whining about it. That's just the way the rules are. I'm telling you, if I'm a delegate, I'll vote for Donald Trump the first ballot if I go, because I have to, and on the second ballot, I'm going to vote for Ted Cruz, because I can.

BERMAN: You know, Paul Ryan has said that the only people who should be able to have their names put into the hat are people who were running for president at one point. You actually are one of those people, so do you think it might be an idea? Would you be willing to have your name placed in the nomination?


BERMAN: Not at all?

GRAHAM: No. I think the three people left are the ones that deserve to be nominated, quite frankly. This is an outsider year. Sixty percent of exit polls -- 60 percent of Republican primary voters want somebody outside the system. I disagree with Ted Cruz on many issues, tactically, but we're in the same party. He represents an outsider much more than I do. I'm respectful of this movement within the Republican Party, even though I don't agree with it. So John Kasich is probably the most electable person left in the race. Whether or not he can make the case has yet to be determined, but I'm going with Ted Cruz because I think he represents a Republican who's an outsider but truly a Republican.

BERMAN: He just dropped out of the race for a second time, by the way. I gave him a chance to get back in, he said no.


BOLDUAN: A second time, Senator, giving you the shot.

So you talk about John Kasich there. I do want to get your take -- while you do support Ted Cruz, do you support what Ted Cruz is saying right now about John Kasich, what his campaign is saying right now about John Kasich? They call him a spoiler. They say he has to get out. Yesterday on our show, his campaign called John Kasich insufferable. Do you agree?

GRAHAM: No. I like John Kasich.

BOLDUAN: Then what do you say to the Ted Cruz campaign in what they're trying to do?

GRAHAM: John Kasich's not going to get out. You're not going to get out. Donald Trump's not going to get out. Does John Kasich hurt Ted Cruz? In some states, yes. Does Ted Cruz hurt John Kasich? In some states, yes. Here's my advice to Ted Cruz. Work with John Kasich in a strategic

fashion to deny Donald Trump 1,237. I think Ted's got the best argument at the convention to win the nomination on the second ballot because he's performed well in the primary. He represents that outsider movement. I'm not so much worried about 2016 as I am the future of the party. If we jump over Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and pick an insider, that's probably the end of the Republican Party as we know it.

BOLDUAN: All right. Senator, stick around.

We've got a lot more to discuss because we do want to know the very inside scoop on your meeting with President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Every detail.

GRAHAM: Stay tuned.

BOLDUAN: The Senator is going to show us the transcript from that meeting. Maybe not. But we're going to have much more with that next.

[11:15:29] BERMAN: And when he's done spilling all the beans, we'll discuss some other events of the day. He is vowing to fight to the bitter end but a key group that endorsed Bernie Sanders says don't. Are we starting to see a shift in the Bernie Sanders support, the wave, the movement, that's been backing his campaign?


BOLDUAN: We're back now with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Senator, thank you for sticking around. I was nervous you were going to run away, but you're here.

GRAHAM: I didn't have to use the bathroom, so --


BOLDUAN: Oh good.



BOLDUAN: I don't actually know if I should have a reaction to your bathroom habits.


Let's talk about the Supreme Court. You had a meeting yesterday with the president's nominee, Merrick Garland. Fifteen minutes. What did you cover in those 15 minutes, Senator?

GRAHAM: I said I thought he was a good man, I respect him, he's honest, not one blemish on his record, from anybody that I know, that we would not replace Justice Scalia this year, in an election year, that the next president would pick, and if he's chosen by the next president, then I think I'd be glad to talk to him about his philosophy and whether or not I think he's qualified.

BERMAN: You voted to confirm Elena Kagan, you voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor -- I know what your issues are with the timing of this, but on balance, are you saying, you think he would make a worse Supreme Court justice than either of those nominees you voted to confirm?

[11:20:47] GRAHAM: No, I think a Democratic president would be well served picking Judge Garland. No Republican would pick him, but he's a fine man, a good judge, well qualified, and if Hillary Clinton wins and she picks Judge Garland, I think he'd have a very good chance of getting confirmed. We're going to let the next president pick, and when my Democratic colleagues lecture me and others about how the process should work, well, they give hypocrisy a bad name. They're the ones that changed the rules in 2013 to do away with the 60 vote requirement to pack the court for President Obama. They're the ones that filibustered all of the Bush's judges. I tried to be fair. I voted for both of Obama's Supreme Court nominees, but we're not going to confirm this person in an election year when we're inside the ten yard line of picking the next president. We're going to let the next president pick the replacement for Justice Scalia, and if it's a Democrat president and they pick a well qualified person, I'm going to vote for them, even though I wouldn't have picked them myself.

BOLDUAN: Senator, Merrick Garland, of course, knows your position going into this meeting. Is that at all awkward? The door is closed, you're both sitting there in your office and he knows going in that you're not going to let any hearings happen?

GRAHAM: No, it wasn't awkward for me. I don't think it was awkward for him. He said, you know, that's not my job. My job is to tell you why I'd be a good Supreme Court justice. I said, yes, that would be your job. If we had a hearing, we would do that, but I'm not going to put you through a hearing and beat you up knowing you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting confirmed, not saying that I would beat him up. So it was an honest discussion.

BOLDUAN: You really think it is a snowball's chance in hell, at this point? You think those are the chances that he has of getting a hearing?

GRAHAM: No, it's less than that.

BERMAN: Yes, I was going to say, that would actually be -- (laughter)

GRAHAM: So you're telling me I've got a chance?

BOLDUAN: Don't steal my line.

BERMAN: So, Senator, let's go back to this presidential election that we've been watching every day here for some time. Peter King, who, at one point, had toyed with running for president -- you know what I was going to say, right? Peter King says, if Ted Cruz is the Republican nominee, he will take cyanide. That is what Peter King said. You, of course, said before, the choice between Trump and Cruz was like being shot or taking poison, so you may have been where he was before, so --


BOLDUAN: You started this.

BERMAN: So what's your message to Peter King to perhaps keep him alive?

GRAHAM: Well, one, we would miss Peter, because he's a good man. Don't do that, Peter. The bottom line is, I think Ted Cruz is a reliable Republican when it comes to judges. I have no idea what Trump's judicial philosophy is. I think Ted Cruz is a good friend of Israel. I know that Donald Trump is not. I think he would repeal and replace Obamacare using private sector replacement policies. Trump is all over the board. Ted Cruz is not my first choice. I think he will be competitive. I think Donald Trump will be a nightmare for the party for generations to come, so I would tell Peter, if I can get there with Ted, give it a shot.

BOLDUAN: Senator, real quick, I know you just said, if Trump gets 1,236, if he's 1 short of the majority on the delegate count, then he's got problems. What do you think, honestly, of the delegate system? You've got Trump saying it's rigged, it's crooked, it's got to be changed -- it seems that most everyone things it is the game to be played now, it might not be one that you like. Do you like this game?

GRAHAM: Well, let's put it this way. There are checks and balances in any system. I think Ronald Reagan got more popular votes than Gerald Ford, and Gerald Ford wound up winning. Any system that can give Abraham Lincoln a chance to be president is not all bad. Abraham Lincoln finished second.

BERMAN: But Senator Graham, Abraham Lincoln didn't run in the New Hampshire primary. Abraham Lincoln didn't face 50 nominating contests, whether they be caucuses or primaries or conventions -- it's so different now. I keep hearing the Abraham Lincoln comparison, but it's not really apt, is it?

GRAHAM: Well, I mean, you had a process in Colorado that Trump complained about, Cruz won. There's different ways -- each state handles how to pick a delegate different ways, but here's the rule. If you don't get to 1,237, the delegates vote until they get to 1,237. After the first ballot, most delegates become free agents. I like that system. That's fine with me. Is it the most Democratic system? No. Is it good for parties? Probably, yes. I think a lot of people think the super delegates are bad for the Democrats. It's just whatever you think is best for the party in terms of nominating somebody. If we can have a second ballot that denies Donald Trump the nomination, then we will have served conservatism well, in my opinion.

BERMAN: Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it, Senator.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Senator.

GRAHAM: Thanks.

BERMAN: So Bernie Sanders has zero chance of winning the nomination. That is what President Obama's former campaign manager says. So should Sanders call it quits?

[11:24:50] BOLDUAN: Teleprompters, speech writers, a traditional campaign? Not how anyone would describe Donald Trump's campaign strategy to this point. But the GOP front runner says changes are acoming. What does that mean? And why now?


BOLDUAN: The Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, is holding two town halls and a rally in Pennsylvania.

BERMAN: One key strategist yesterday told us they lost more delegates in New York than they thought they would. Sanders' campaign manager suggests if he's still trailing Hillary Clinton in the delegate race after all the primaries, they'll try to flip super delegates before and during the convention.

Let's bring in CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston.

Mark, that's Jeff Weaver's plan. The problem is some of the Bernie Sanders' key supporters say they don't like that plan.'s Ben Wickler says the Democratic nominee should be the person who wins the primaries and caucuses. Don't try to flip super delegates. It seems like that's a little bit of a --