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Clinton Fending Off Sanders, Setting Sights on Trump; Pro Clinton Super PAC Ad Go After Trump; Rep. Mark Meadows Talks Presidential Race. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2016 - 11:00   ET


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

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

Kentucky, Oregon, you, my friends, are on the clock.

BERMAN: Democrats in the Bluegrass State and both parties in the Beaver State are at the polls this is morning. With Donald Trump now running first in a one-man race, all the drama is on the Democratic side. Bernie Sanders hoping to keep his two-state winning streak alive and chip away at Hillary Clinton's delegate lead.

BERMAN: At the very same time, Clinton is fending off Bernie Sanders, she is also trying to shift into full general election mode with her sights first set on Donald Trump. But first, before that, she's got to get past Kentucky.

Let's get over to CNN's Brynn Gingras. She's in Louisville, Kentucky, right now where the polls are open.

What are you seeing, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Kate. It's wet, it's soggy outside here in Louisville, but it's really not stopping voters from coming to this particular poling precinct to cast their ballot. We've seen a significant amount of people coming. As you can see here the line behind me, we've got about 100 people per hour casting their ballots. Those are pretty good numbers and here in Kentucky this is a state that Hillary Clinton really wants to win.

She's put in a lot of work, a lot of dollars campaigning at 11 different locations in the state just within the last two weeks trying to fend off Bernie Sanders who, of course, is on a recent winning streak and who is spending much of his time right now in Oregon and then California, but overall in the state of Kentucky, the secretary of state is saying about 20 percent turnout. We'll see certainly later tonight how those numbers fare out for both candidates. But talking to voters, I got to tell you, a little undecided. A lot of people really weren't sure who they were going to vote for when they walked through those doors this morning. But certainly a lot of people we've been talking to favoring Hillary Clinton at this point -- John and Kate?

BOLDUAN: Brynn, thank you so much. She's on the ground in Kentucky.

Right now, voters are heading to the polls in Kentucky and Oregon as we speak, but if you are in the battleground state, like let's say Ohio, the general election is on. Do you need proof? Look no further than the big ad buy coming out right now from a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. Take a look at this.


DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: You know, could you see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.

Does she have a good body? No. Does she have a fat ass? Absolutely.

Do you like girls who are 5'1"? They come up to you, you know where.

If Ivanka weren't my daughter perhaps I would be dating her.

A person who is flat-chested, it's very hard to be a 10.

And you can tell them to go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) themselves.


BERMAN: Then for that last part becomes an issue --


BOLDUAN: Becomes a thing in a few minutes.

BERMAN: These ads go up in four states, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada, starting tomorrow. This promises to be the beginning of a more than $100 million ad buy, ad assault on Donald Trump all the way up to November.

Guy Cecil is the man behind this. He's the chief strategist for Priorities USA, the pro-Clinton super PAC. He joins us now.

$6 million, four states, directed toward the general election and middle of the primaries. Why now?

GUY CECIL, CHIEF STRATEGIST, PRIORITIES USA SUPER PAC: One of the things that Republicans taught us is that they started advertising against Donald Trump too little and too late and they spent most of r their primary trying to appeal to him and to his voters, and so we think it's important to start prosecuting this case right away, and, frankly, there's a lot of material to work with so there's no reason not to get an early start.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about some of that material. As John was saying, that last bit, the bleeped out part --


BERMAN: What did she say? BOLDUAN: You know. She said that. He said that actually.

Donald Trump taking you guys on saying you took him out of context. He tweeted this, "The pathetic new hit against me misrepresents the final line. 'You can tell them to blank themselves,' was about China, not women."

CECIL: I think it's pretty hilarious. We released 60 seconds of advertising and he only disputed 30 seconds of it. This ad just isn't about women. It's about the demeaning, nasty way he treats people, Hispanics, Muslims, women, young people. This is a guy who said men should not change diapers because it feminizes them. There's plenty of material there.

BOLDUAN: But the connotation of the entirety of the ad is that he's anti-women except for this one bit.

CECIL: Sure. Well, the irony is also that Donald Trump's tweet is actually factually wrong. When he said that line or at least one of the times he said that thing, he was actually talking about outsourcing, which is ironic because Donald Trump outsources almost everything he produces and, in fact, bragged about hiring people in Bangladesh. On a host of issues, whether it's his demeaning comments or whether, frankly, it's the con he's been trying to pull over on his businesses and the economy, we think the ad is 100 percent accurate.

BERMAN: So just because you used word "con" there I want to ask you this. The language is the exact same language as used in one of the Never Trump ads, super PAC ads against Trump during the primaries. You want us to talk about the themes you say Donald Trump as a divisive character, he's too dangerous to vote for, and you say he is a con man, which again the exact words that Marco Rubio used. If it didn't work for them, why is it going to work for you?

[11:05:12] CECIL: First of all, it didn't work in a Republican primary, which is a very small part of the electorate. Our research shows that most Americans are actually just tuning into this election, and more diverse than the Republican party, and so whether you're talking about Hispanics, African-Americans, young people, women, we know because several studies have shown these messages work with a general election audience, and that's what we're focused on, not a small subset of the Republican primary.

BOLDUAN: He's also firing back, Trump, and he's made no secret this is going to be one of his lines of attack. He fires back on Twitter with this, "Amazing Crooked Hillary can do a hit ad on me concerning women when her husband was the worst abuser of women in U.S. political history."

How are you going to combat that? He's made no secret this is going to be where he's going to go.

CECIL: We don't have to guess what the impact of those types of attacks are going to be. Republicans tried them throughout the '90s. Bill Clinton had one of the highest approval ratings of any president in modern times. Ultimately, I think this entire argument is going to backfire against him.

BOLDUAN: Do you think he can gain no ground?

CECIL: I think the people that will find that type of rhetoric appealing are the people that already are voting for Donald Trump.

BERMAN: He's going to keep up with it. You know that.

CECIL: I imagine that that's the case. My Twitter feed says so.


BOLDUAN: Twitter is definitely --


CECIL: The only way to gauge everything, yes.

BERMAN: This is a general election ad. Hillary Clinton is actually running in a presidential primary, so your pro-Hillary, she's still running against Bernie Sanders hard in Kentucky today. Do you risk alienating Sanders' voters by going up on the air right now?

CECIL: I don't think so. The fact of the matter is I worked for Hillary in 2008. She went all the way through the end. I expect Bernie Sanders to go all the way through the end. And we're not focused on Bernie Sanders. We know, however that --


BERMAN: Is that being a little cocky?

CECIL: No, because I think regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, we know Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee and it's our responsibility to take him on and not let happen what the Republicans what happened, which is to let him run away with a message that frankly is fraudulent.

BOLDUAN: Why not put money in places like California? Why go -- why move all the way to the general election when she's still -- yes, the math is on her side, but she's still in a primary.

CECIL: Well, I think because our focus is on the general election. We're going to let the get campaign and the Sanders campaign hash out the primary and we're going to focus on the four states we're advertising in tomorrow and then looking at significantly expanding the map into places like North Carolina which we think is going to be competitive this election.

BERMAN: Once you go up, are you never going off until November?

CECIL: We are staying up until Election Day.

BERMAN: How much money?

CECIL: Right now, about $130 million, which will include not only television but more importantly a lot of digital advertising, which, frankly, is how we're going to reach in particular young voters who we want to make sure turn out in this election.

BOLDUAN: I did read it, you were originally going to start this after California, your ad buys, but you pushed it up. What was the one reason?

CECIL: Honestly, we think it's important to start the campaign as early as possible, and, frankly, once Donald Trump became the nominee, our fund-raising improved because people know what is at stake with him as the Republican nominee.

BERMAN: Guy Cecil, thanks for coming in. Come back soon.

CECIL: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Guy. Thanks very much.

All right. I'm getting a little emotional. I have something in my throat.

Let's continue this conversation right now with our panel, CNN political commentators, Dan Pfeiffer and Kayleigh McEnany. Also with us right now is Republican strategist and former chief of staff to the GOP Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, Josh Holmes.

Guys, it's great to have you.

Kayleigh will be joining us in a hot second.

Dan, John Berman put it this way and I'm going to steal it from him. When you see these ads going up, you hear from Guy Cecil right there talking about they're all focused on the general, it sure sounds like the general election is on.

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is. I think -- I mean, the primary is going to continue, there are elections tonight. Senator Sanders is going to stay in this rate until the end as I think he should, but the general election is here. Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee, and I think guy and priority is making the right decision to waste no time to begin prosecuting the case against Donald Trump. There's no time like the present.

BERMAN: You know, Josh, it was really interesting because obviously these ads are directed squarely at women.


BERMAN: John Kasich last night did an interview with Anderson, his first real public appearance since he dropped out of the race, and he talked about one of the reasons why he doesn't feel like he can endorse. Listen to who he cites as the reasons here. Listen to this.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, A.C. 360: So just for the record, you're undecided about whether or not you would endorse Donald Trump.


COOPER: Are you undecided about whether you'd actually vote for him?

KASICH: At the end of the day, endorsing is going to mean a lot. And frankly, my wife and my daughters have watched this, and if I were to turn around today and endorse him, they'd be like, why, dad? And that matters to me.


[11:10:12] BERMAN: So, Josh, it doesn't seem like an accident that John Kasich cited his wife and daughters, presumably Republican women. How big of a problem, Josh, is the issue of women for Donald Trump right now?

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, it's a big problem, and I don't think it's any secret. We've seen polls here for the last 60, 90 days indicating that ratings amongst women as high as 70 and above. That's virtually unprecedented as you go into a general election. It's certainly not something we've seen out of a presidential candidate in modern history from either side. The only thing he's got going for him is the unfavorability of Hillary Clinton is nearly as high in almost every other category so he' competitive on his general election ballot but I don't thin it's any secret they're going after this hard with a super PAC. They want to solidify where the ratings sit. We'll see if that ultimately needs solidifying. I would argue it's been pretty solid over the last few weeks and their candidate itself has not been able to a past that. Maybe that's because she's litigating a primary.

BOLDUAN: Kayleigh, I want you to get in on this. When you talk about obviously a problem with women, Josh says it's no secret Donald Trump has a problem with women in general. But Guy Cecil, who was just on, he said an important thing that I want you to get a chance to respond to. He said of the 60-second ad, the messages that Donald Trump is anti-women, Donald Trump is only disputing three seconds of it saying that that bit was about China, not about women.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, that's right. That's why I think that he does need to come out and distance himself from some of the statements he made in the early 1990s on "The Howard Stern Show." He needs to say I'm not the same person today. I think that would help him a lot.


BOLDUAN: I feel like I have been hearing you say that for a while though, and they're not taking your advice.

MCENANY: They're not but they should. That is his weakness. His Achilles' heel is women. Hillary Clinton's Achilles' heel is honesty. They need to effectively counter personalizing her failures. It means getting on maybe some of the sexual assault accusers who say, hey, I was a victim of Hillary Clinton demonizing me. Personalize her weaknesses the way that the super PAC is effectively doing.

BERMAN: Kayleigh, I think it's interesting because you come on and you continue to work for the campaign. You are a supporter --


BERMAN: -- of Donald Trump but you come on here and you defend most of what Donald Trump says and does. That's just factually true. This is a case where you have been quite clear for some time he's not doing what you would like him to do. What do you want him to come out and say when it comes to women?

MCENANY: What I would like to hear him say is the statements I made in the 1990s are not me today. Today I am a father of many children. I have a beautiful wife. I'm a changed person. I'm not the same person. I would not make those same statements today now that I'm older, now that I'm wiser. That was 25 years ago. Here is who I am today and it doesn't mean he needs to change completely. He can still be his candid self. He can still be the funny, comedic Donald Trump that we all like or at least the supporters like, but that means distancing himself from some of the things he said on "The Howard Stern Show" that are different categorically than the things he said today.

BERMAN: Do you think saying he's wrong is part of his character? Do you think he would ever come out and do that?

MCENANY: I don't know. Maybe he thinks it would portray weakness. It would give the media fodder, saying Donald Trump was wrong. I'd like to see it.

BOLDUAN: Let's take a quick turn to what is happening today.

Dan, Kentucky and Oregon voting now. Hillary Clinton is working very hard in Kentucky to make it work. What is she going to say if she wins Kentucky, game, set, match? And what is she going to say if she loses?

PFEIFFER: I think you will hear almost the exact same message either way. I think it's important for her to not have Bernie Sanders supporters feel like she's trying to push him out of the race. I think she will be very complimentary Senator Sanders either say this and begin to, you know, as we talked about, focus her message on Donald Trump.

Focus on the general election. Begin trying out the messages she'll be using in the fall. I think it would be -- winning is always better than losing but ultimately the die is cast here and it's a question of, you know, we got to play this thing out until June in California, but, you know, I think that she will -- the message will be the same either way, but, you know, I guarantee you that in Brooklyn they'd much rather win than lose tonight.

BERMAN: Josh, you hear from some Democrats, Hillary Clinton supporters, who say in 2008 John McCain had the Republican race locked up in early march. Clinton and Obama were fighting it out until the end. He had a clear field. From where you're sitting on the Republican side, Josh, do you think it's an advantage or a disadvantage right now? A disadvantage is it for Hillary Clinton to have to be worried about Kentucky at all?

HOLMES: Well, it's clearly not good. They would not want to do that, but I think the bigger problem is it's getting worse as this progresses. We looked like maybe a month and a half ago as though she was going to be able to consolidate the Democratic Party and get to where she needed to go. Now here we are. It's hard to overstate what a catastrophe it would be if she actually lost Kentucky. this is a state other than New York, California, and maybe Florida, a state that she's visited more over the last four years than any other state in the union. They have spent a considerable amount of time and effort to try to try win that vote. It's something Bill Clinton carried twice in the '90s. She won very big in 2008 against President Obama. If they lose tonight, this is a really huge problem for them to try to get the momentum going again for the general election.

[11:15:42] BERMAN: All right, Josh.

BOLDUAN: Momentum and math. That's what we keep hearing.


BERMAN: Guys, stick around. We're going to come back and talk to you in a little bit. We have a lot more to ask.

In the meantime, if you are a Republican member of Congress who endorsed one of Donald Trump's opponents and is on the fence about Donald Trump, what do you make this, the women ads, John Miller and the like? We're going to speak to a Republican member of Congress and ask these very questions, next.

BOLDUAN: Plus, death threats over delegates. Bernie Sanders supporters are furious over what they call a rigged system. Look at this. One state official even says she's received death threats from Sanders' supporters. We have the recordings.

We'll be right back.


[11:20:09] BOLDUAN: So Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, they're working on it, as they can say. There are meetings set up for this week among their aides, but how much ground is there left to cover to make up to reach that elusive unity for the party?

BERMAN: Joining us now, one member of Congress who was a big supporter of Ted Cruz back during the Ted Cruz still running for president era, North Carolina representative Mark Meadows.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: It's great to be with you. Thank you so much, John.

BERMAN: You were a big Ted Cruz supporter. Where are you right now on Donald Trump? Full endorsement?

MEADOWS: One endorsement a presidential cycle is enough. My position hasn't changed. I said I would support the Republican nominee. That hasn't changed so obviously I'll be voting for Donald Trump in November, but, you know, when we made the endorsement, it was more that I had worked with Senator Cruz, knew him well, knew what he stood for. I don't know as much about Donald Trump, but obviously we're taking the time to get to know him now and what he will do for the American public.

BOLDUAN: When you endorsed Senator Cruz -- I was looking back at that statement that you put out along with the Cruz campaign, and in part you wrote, "On issue after issue Cruz has told the truth and done what he said he was going to do."

Can you say the same about Donald Trump right now, Congressman?

MEADOWS: You know, really I don't know Donald Trump as well. I can tell you what he has tapped into is one of the same things that Senator Cruz had, and that is that Washington, D.C., is broken. It doesn't work for the average American. They are ready to embrace someone who is willing to turn Washington, D.C., upside down and say it needs to work for moms and dads on Main Street again, and that's what Donald Trump has tapped into. The verdict is in. You know, it's just like a jury, when the verdict comes in, the voice of the people have spoken. Donald Trump is our nominee, and look at those conservative solutions that hopefully will affect the pocketbooks and job security of Americans in the time to come.

BERMAN: But, you know, you said of Ted Cruz, Cruz has told the truth. At this point, you said you're going to vote for Donald Trump. Are you convinced that this man, who you say you're going to vote for, are you convinced that Donald Trump has told the truth?

MEADOWS: Well, I think he has. I think one of the criticisms that so many people have is the fact that he says things that people don't agree with, and whether you like it or not, when he comes out with a position, people believe that he'll tell it is. And I think that that's one of the interesting aspects of the difference between Hillary and Donald Trump is the credibility from a truthfulness standpoint is weighing on her campaign, where perhaps he has other issues that weigh on his campaign.

BOLDUAN: You are going to support the Republican nominee. Do you think the Republican nominee should release his tax returns, Congressman?

MEADOWS: You know, I do, but most Americans don't really want to pay attention a whole lot to tax returns and weeding through those and, as a business guy, I can tell you just the sheer $ volume of what Donald Trump would have to file with the IRS would be so the laborious to go through that you would only get talking points. It really points to another fact, we need to simplify the tax code and on that I know he and I agree with most Americans that it's time that we simplify that and get it out of --


BOLDUAN: But what does it say, Congressman, that he says he's not going to release them until the audit is over and that's not likely to happen before November?

MEADOWS: Well, it's not likely, and actually I can tell you when I talk to people back home, Kate, that is not one of the big issues that they're trying to decide who end up at 1600 pennsylvania on is a release of tax returns. Obviously it's an issue. I would handle it differently, but he's the nominee. I'm not. And really I think that that will be just a footnote in this rate when it's all said and done.

BERMAN: It is notable though that you do wish he would release them so must be clear on that. I understand that is your position there.

You're a leader of the Freedom Caucus. I think Trump's people, you've asked for a meeting with Trump. I know Trump's people are headed to Capitol Hill. Where do you want to see -- where do you feel like you need to see the most movement from Donald Trump? What do you personally need the most selling on right now when it comes to Trump?

MEADOWS: Well, I didn't know that I need to see movement. It's more a confirmation on a couple of key points, John, and one of those is the role of the executive branch. Certainly the role of Congress and the role of the executive branch need to be separate, but they also need to be equal, and what we've seen is an overreach of the executive branch not just during this administration but it has been historically growing and growing. And so a rebalancing of that is key, and as we look at that is redefining the regulatory process to allow businesses to once again prosper where we're not putting a stranglehold on American businesses and indirectly putting a stranglehold on wages.

[11:25:22] BERMAN: Congressman Mark Meadows, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate you time sir. Come back, soon.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Senator.

MEADOWS: Thank you, John.

Thank you, Kate.

BERMAN: Marco Rubio goes on an amazing late-night Twitter rant. This, folks, is why Twitter exists. Slamming the media, but more importantly, revealing his future gym plans.

BOLDUAN: This is why Twitter exists. Sure, John.

Also ahead, stocks would tank under Donald Trump. That is what Billionaire Mark Cuban says would happen if Donald Trump becomes president. Listen.


MARK CUBAN, BILLIONAIRE INVESTOR: Now, when you have that amount of uncertainty, when you're flip-flopping, when you're not sure what the candidate is going to say from one thing to another, that's the last thing Wall Street wants to hear.