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Republican Rift; President Obama Endorses Hillary Clinton; GOP Establishment, Again, Wary of Trump's Trajectory; Interview with Ben Carson. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 9, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, breaking news: President Obama says -- quote -- "I'm with her."

THE LEAD starts right now.

The big endorsement is finally in. After meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders, President Obama turns right around and says he wants to hand over the keys to Hillary Clinton.

How does one say that someone is being racist and then back them for the highest office in the land in the same breath? The Republican Party as shaky as a Jenga tower right now with new calls to take the nomination away from Donald Trump. Can they even do that?

Plus, "Your bravery is breathtaking," the vice president of the United States responding to a rape survivor's powerful letter, a letter that has inspired millions and sparked a serious national debate.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin today with some breaking news in our politics lead.

Senator Bernie Sanders is still in the presidential race and yet, after President Obama met with him this morning, the president turned around and immediately endorsed Hillary Clinton.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I know how hard this job can be. That's why I know Hillary will be so good at it. In fact, I don't think there's ever been someone so qualified to hold this office.


TAPPER: The Clinton campaign releasing that endorsement video just a short time ago, but the president taped it on Tuesday afternoon, before Hillary Clinton had earned a majority of pledged delegates.

President Obama now appears to be trying to bring Clinton and Sanders together, trying to unify Democrats. During an hour-long meeting with Sanders, sources tell CNN, President Obama praised the Vermont senator's campaign and pushed for a unified path forward.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now live.

Jeff, I'm told that Clinton is also expecting another major endorsement this evening.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: She is indeed, Jake. And that endorsement is going to come with Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, of course, one of the few Democratic holdouts here who has not yet weighed in.

But, Jake, this rush to endorse Hillary Clinton today, the Clinton campaign today, is really unlike everything that we have seen just in terms of the number of hours in Washington. It speaks to the point that Democrats want to unite against Donald Trump. Now, the question is, will all of these Bernie Sanders supporters join them?


OBAMA: I want to congratulate Hillary Clinton on making history.

ZELENY (voice-over): On the sidelines no more, President Obama offering a full-throated endorsement tonight of Hillary Clinton.

OBAMA: In fact, I don't think there's ever been someone so qualified to hold this office. And I'm with her. I am fired up and I cannot wait to get out there and campaign for Hillary.

ZELENY: And Clinton welcoming the news on Twitter, writing: "Honored to have you with me, POTUS. I'm fired up and ready to go."

Democrats falling in line quickly, united around the idea of stopping Donald Trump. The president's blessing coming just hours after meeting with Bernie Sanders today in Oval Office. The visit included a walk along the White House Colonnade, a courtesy normally afforded to visiting heads of state.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me begin by thanking President Obama and thanking Vice President Biden for the degree of impartiality they established during the course of this entire process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, welcome back.

ZELENY: Sanders also returning to place Democratic leaders want him, back on Capitol Hill, a sign of respect and leverage after winning 22 states and aggressively challenging Clinton. Sanders didn't directly address plans to suspend his campaign, but did signal he's ready to unite Democrats against the presumptive Republican nominee.

SANDERS: Needless to say, I am going to do everything in my power and I will work as hard as I can to make sure that Donald Trump doesn't become president of the United States.

ZELENY: Trump also taking it all in, tweeting: "Obama just endorsed crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama, but nobody else does."

Clinton firing back, "Delete your account."

Rivals for a year, Sanders and Clinton will soon come together.

SANDERS: I look forward to meeting with her in the near future.

ZELENY: And Clinton wants and needs his help, particularly firing up voters as he did across the country.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm looking forward to working with him to achieve our common goal, which is to defeat Donald Trump. And Senator Sanders has said he will work every day, every week to see that happen.


ZELENY: Now, Senator Sanders at this hour, Jake, is meeting with the vice president at his residence, sort of another stop along the way here of unifying this Democratic Party.


Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will also meet at some point. We don't yet know exactly when that will be. Important to note, Bernie Sanders is still fighting for the District of Columbia primary, which is next Tuesday.

But, Jake, what's really extraordinary about this fast turn of events today is he had a smile on his face today as he walked through the halls of the Capitol. He leaves this presidential campaign in a much different place than he started from. So many senators sort of snickered when he first decided to jump into this race a year ago.

Well, he leaves it winning 22 states and also with a fair amount of leverage here. He's likely to become the chairman of the Budget Committee here on Capitol Hill if Democrats win control of the Senate -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes. He's the leader of the progressive movement in this country, I think it's fair to say. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Let's talk about the milestone in this 2016 race.

Joining me now, Clinton supporter Mitch Stewart. He was with President Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. Nomi Konst is a Sanders supporter and executive director of the Accountability Project, also with me, Alex Conant, who was communications director for Marco Rubio's campaign, is now a partner at Firehouse Strategies, P.R. firm, and last but certainly not least, Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson.

Thanks, one and all, for joining me.

Nomi, I'm very interested in hearing what you think, because you're a Sanders supporter and Hillary needs you if she's going to win. Are you -- where are you? Where is your head? Where is your heart?

NOMIKI KONST, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: My heart is with the majority of those under the age of 45 who have been part of this movement. That includes Democrats, that includes independents, that includes first- time voters.

You know, the country that we see moving forward is going to be a much more progressive country, a much more unified country. That's where my heart is right now. My head is, I'm a Democrat. And so I, like Senator Sanders, want to take on Donald Trump, and I think that we have to focus our energy on preventing this man from entering office.

And most likely he won't win, based on what we're looking at today. But if we think about moving forward where we are going as a movement, we have to understand that Senator Sanders entered this race to change the party, to change the status quo, and he has done that. And so with those 23 contests that he's won, 22 states and a broad -- Democrats abroad, we see a different type of party.

And I think it's really important to take that message to the convention, to get money out of the politics, to get the lobbyists out of the Democratic Party, to make the Democratic Party more transparent and to focus on the grassroots and bring the money back to the states, so that we can get candidates that aren't just great fund-raisers, but great leaders, who represent ideas, who can work with the other side.

And I think that's the future of the Democratic Party, a party much more like the FDR party, the Jacksonian party that we were taught to be a part of. The Democratic Party lost its way.

TAPPER: All right. Interesting, Nomi.

Mitch, let me ask you. Nomi has a lot of thoughts there and a lot of passion, although it does sound like she is willing to work hard for whoever the Democratic nominee. And it looks like it's going to be Hillary Clinton.

There are a lot of Sanders supporters who are still Bernie or bust Sanders supporters. One of my cousins, in fact, who just voted in California, is a Bernie or buster, I have to say, just in the name of full disclosure. One of my cousins. I got -- I have family members who support everybody.

But what do you do for my cousin Joey? What are you going to do to tell him you need to come on board?


And I was part of the 2008 primary, which, frankly, was much nastier than this one and was much closer. And so we were very purposeful about reaching out to former Clinton supporters at that point to invite them into the campaign.

And I think it's going to start both with -- in that case in 2008, it was Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. It's going to have to come from Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton. If his supporters see him actively participating in this campaign, understanding the importance of what is at stake here, I think you will see a lot of those Bernie Sanders supporters come on board.

TAPPER: Katrina, I know that you have said before that Sanders supporters, a lot of them, in your view, are going to go to Donald Trump. It doesn't sound like Nomi is headed in that direction. How many Sanders supporters do you think that truly you are going to be able to get?

KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Well, I think the polls are showing one in four, maybe. I think it's probably going to be half at some point.

But Nomi is right. There is a transition happening not just in this country, but globally. The consciousness is definitely changing and younger voters want to see the status quo busted up. And for those voters, those are going to be trigger voters. They are not really concerned about all of the other things and it really transcends party.

And right now, in a race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Donald Trump is the only option to break up that system, particularly with policies like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could ultimately end the ability for people to change anything moving forward.

TAPPER: Interesting.

And, Alex, what do you make of it all? Do you think that Sanders supporters, a sizable number of them, are so upset with the status quo, so upset with big money in politics, so upset with the trade deals that they might actually take a serious look at Donald Trump?


ALEX CONANT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, we haven't seen much evidence of that yet.

I think Katrina's message that she just laid out is the right one to win over Sanders voters. But just look at what has happened in the last 48 hours. We have seen the sort of uniting on the Democratic side that we haven't seen on the Republican side in the six weeks since Donald Trump -- or Donald Trump has been our presumptive nominee.

If Trump is going to win this fall, he has to unite Republicans. The fact that he's been unable to do that over the last six weeks, while Hillary Clinton has been able to unite Democrats in just 48 hours, sends shivers down the spines of Republican operatives.

TAPPER: And, Mitch, this is your day as the one Hillary supporter here.

So, let me ask you, do you think that there is evidence that the Sanders supporters are going to go to Trump? Are you concerned about -- even 20 percent would be horrible for her?

STEWART: Yes, no, I'm not concerned about it.

I'm really not. And I think what you're going to find with both President Obama, President Clinton, Senator Warren and Senator Sanders all out on the stump crisscrossing the country talking about why Secretary Clinton is the best candidate, I think you're going to see a mass movement, a unification of not just Democrats, but people who support the left, progressives, center-left voters, moderates, because they're going to understand what is at stake here.

And, literally, there's no one doing this for Trump. There's no one. None of the former candidates are out there talking on behalf of Donald Trump right now. And I think that's a pretty...


TAPPER: Not entirely true. We're going to have Ben Carson on this very show in just a few minutes talking in favor of Mr. Trump, so with one exception, one exception, if you will.


PIERSON: And Chris Christie.

TAPPER: Nomi, Katrina, Alex, Mitch Stewart, thanks, one and all.

PIERSON: Thanks.

TAPPER: Really appreciate it.

Donald Trump attending some meetings of his own, sitting down with nervous Republican donors. Did he calm their nerves or did he just deepen the rift in the GOP? That story is next.



[16:15:29] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: He needs to quit this gratuitous attacks on various Americans.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: It's at odds not just as a party. It's at odds with who we are as Republicans.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I feel like a broken record because I say this all the time, but I continue to be disappointed.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It's kind of a moot point whether you have a Trump presidency because he won't be in the White House if he continues to make these kind of statements.

TV INTERVIEWER: Are you saying it's possible that you can walk in that arena in Ohio and not endorse?

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Absolutely. Of course. (END VIDEO CLIPS)


Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The state of the Republican Party, the state of Republican unity is not so strong, as you heard here. But can Donald Trump course correct in time before the Cleveland convention to get all those skeptics behind his bid to stop Hillary Clinton? Or will the latest kerfuffle over Trump's attacks on a judge revive the Never Trump movement and fuel what seems very possible two months ago, denying Trump the nomination on convention floor?

CNN's Phil Mattingly is in New York.

Phil, we definitely saw a more tempered Donald Trump Tuesday night. That's the Donald Trump that Republican leaders say they want more of.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Jake. It's the real tension not just within the Republican Party, but also within the Trump campaign. How do you get Donald Trump to ratchet back the rhetoric a little bit, maybe refocus the attacks on Hillary Clinton but not lose the candidate that appealed to so many millions during the course of the primary?

One thing remains clear though, Donald Trump is no longer in a Republican primary and that, more than anything else, looking at the sliver of the general electorate he now has to target is why Republican leaders want change and fast.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Today, Donald Trump meeting with top donors and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus as part of his effort to quell growing unease inside the GOP.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle.

MATTINGLY: Even as some top Republicans remain on the fence in the wake of Trump's attacks over the ethnicity of judge presiding over a class action lawsuit related to the now defunct Trump University.

WALKER: I hope he renounces what he says. I'll be watching as others are closely. We'll wait and see what happens going forward.

MATTINGLY: Ohio Governor John Kasich still wary of throwing his support behind Trump.

INTERVIEWER: You don't even sound like you're on the fence.

KASICH: No. I'm giving him a chance.

INTERVIEWER: You are? It doesn't sound like it.

KASICH: He's trending the wrong way with me.

MATTINGLY: House Speaker Paul Ryan again voicing frustration with Trump's actions, even as he sticks by the presumptive GOP nominee.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Do I think that these kind of antics are distracting and give us a campaign that we cannot be proud of? Yes. I've spoken very clearly about it, but I think and hope and believe that he can fix it to the point where he can hopefully run a campaign that we can all be proud of.

MATTINGLY: Trump facing very real concern over his ability to launch an effective general election campaign and whether he can unite the party.

REP. LUKE MESSER (R), INDIANA: Our party is united that we're not for Hillary Clinton. The question is, can folks put on a Donald Trump t- shirt and the reality is, it's hard to do that given this current rhetoric?

MATTINGLY: Once again, leading some to consider whether avenues exist for a Trump alternative.

The latest iteration? Unbinding delegates on the convention floor in July and unlikely and yet discussed possibility. That talk only expected to escalate in the coming days to top GOP lawmakers and donors that meet at a finance retreat organized by 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, a vocal Trump critic.

MITT ROMNEY (R), 2012 PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: There's plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake.

MATTINGLY: Trump allies briefing supporters on Capitol Hill today as the billionaire attempts to steady his campaign after a rocky last few days.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Trump is learning how to be a candidate. He beat 16 pretty competent people, and now, he's having to learn how to be a general election candidate.

MATTINGLY: All as Republican donors long spurned by Trump in the primary are now voicing concerns of financial shortfall that will be, at least according to one prominent donor, in the, quote, "hundreds of millions of dollars" when compared to Hillary Clinton's operation.

Trump moving to calm those anxieties in New York today, meeting with more than 60 top donors, his team laying out an aggressive fund raising and finance strategy aides say all for the weeks ahead.


MATTINGLY: And, Jake, that's increasingly important.

Obviously, you look at what Hillary Clinton has in the bank, more than $30 million, her super PAC, Priorities USA, has already raised more than $75 million and donors that I've spoken to, including some who are at the meeting today saying as far as they know, Donald Trump doesn't even have finance directors in the vast majority of the 50 states.

[16:20:09] There are problems that need to be addressed but Paul Manafort, the chief strategist and campaign manager, walked out of that meeting today and just said one phrase to the media. We will have enough to win this race -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

And joining me now, former Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump supporter, retired pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson.

So good to see you. Thanks for being here.


TAPPER: So, Mr. Trump held a conference call with surrogates on Monday in which he told people to keep going after the judge, don't back down, don't listen to the media. Were you on the call?

CARSON: I was.

TAPPER: And is that what Mr. Trump said?

CARSON: Part of it. He didn't ask people to keep going after the judge.

TAPPER: What did he say?

CARSON: But he did say the facts are on our side, and we don't need to be timid about this because there have been some information disseminated that you shouldn't say anything and just say that this is being litigated. We don't want to talk about it.

He was saying, no, that's not the right way to go because the facts are on our side and we should fight back.

TAPPER: All right. Ask how Donald Trump could make the Republican Party proud and with his tendency to always hit back. You said yesterday on Fox Business News that you should, quote, "not allow everybody to get under your skin."

Do you think that he let's people get under his skin and it's to his detriment?

CARSON: I think he knows that -- I think a lot of people do that. I used to do that. I used to get in trouble a lot.

TAPPER: When you were young?

CARSON: Yes. I couldn't let anything go by.

Once I learned that strength was actually being able to ignore things and move forward as opposed to responding to everything, it made a huge difference in my life.

TAPPER: Have you given that advice to Mr. Trump?

CARSON: I think you're already starting to see the fruits. I think he's come to the conclusion himself that self-inflicted wounds just impede your progress.

TAPPER: I want you to watch Donald Trump answer the questions I asked about Judge Gonzalo Curiel a few days ago. Take a listen.


TRUMP: This judge is of Mexican heritage. I'm building a wall, OK? I'm building a wall. I'm going to do very well with the Hispanics, the Mexicans --

TAPPER: So, no Mexican judge could ever be involved in a case that involves you?

TRUMP: Well, he's a member of a society where, you know, very pro- Mexico and that's fine. It's all fine. But I think --

TAPPER: You're calling into question his heritage.

TRUMP: -- he should recuse himself.

TAPPER: You're invoking his race when talking about whether or not he can do his job.

TRUMP: Jake, I'm building a wall, OK? I'm building a wall.

TAPPER: If you are saying he can't do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?

TRUMP: No, I don't think so at all.


TRUMP: No. He's proud of his heritage. I respect him for that.

TAPPER: But you're saying he can't do his job because of it.

TRUMP: Look, he's proud of his heritage. I'm building a wall. This judge is giving us unfair rulings. Now I say why.

Well, I'm building a wall, OK? And it's a wall between Mexico. Not other country. In my opinion --

TAPPER: He's not from Mexico. He's from Indiana.

TRUMP: His Mexican heritage and he's very proud of it.


TAPPER: All right. So that's some of it.

Paul Ryan, speaker of the house, said that Mr. Trump's view and comments about Judge Curiel are textbook racism. That's Speaker Ryan's words, not mine.

What do you think? Is the position that the judge cannot do his job and be fair because he is of Mexican heritage and Donald Trump wants to build a wall, those facts, not other ones that have since been added but those facts, is that racism?

CARSON: I think what you have to do is ask Donald Trump specifically that question. It's --

TAPPER: Ideas (ph)?

CARSON: No, ask him this question. Is a person who is of Hispanic heritage able to make a fair judgment in any situation that deals with Hispanics? And the answer to that should be the same if you asked that question about a person of African-American heritage, of Irish- American heritage, of any heritage. And if the answer to that is no, they cannot make a fair judgment, then, yes, that would be racist.

TAPPER: Of course, the subject that the judge is nothing to do with race or racism or Mexico. It has to do with Trump University. I think that's one of the things that people are so confused about.

CARSON: But I think what people will see that Donald Trump will really start answering questions like that and really refocus on what's important because right now our nation is in incredible economic trouble. We have issues with people who want to destroy us, educational issues, 71 percent of people between the ages of7 and 24 who apply to the military are rejected principally for educational reasons. These things have huge implications.

TAPPER: They are important issues but Mr. Trump is the one who keeps bringing up Judge Curiel's heritage.

[16:25:01] CARSON: And that's what I just said. He's probably going to stop doing that.

TAPPER: I want you to listen to Hugh Hewitt talking about the Republican convention.


HUGH HEWITT: It's like ignoring stage four cancer. You can't do it. You've got to do it. You have got to attack it. And right now, the Republican Party is facing -- the plane is headed towards the mountain after the last 72 hours. I want to support the nominee of the party, but I think the party ought to change the nominee, because we're going to get killed with this nominee. The Republican National Committee needs to step in and step up and go see Donald Trump and talk him about getting out of the race.


TAPPER: This is not Michael Moore. This is not Mark Ruffalo. This is not some liberal or some progressive. This is Hugh Hewitt.

CARSON: But he is a pundit. TAPPER: He's a pundit but he's a -- he wants Hillary Clinton to lose

very, very much. He wrote a whole book about it.

CARSON: You know what would be a fascinating program, maybe you could be the host.

TAPPER: All right. Let's hear it. Let's hear the pitch.

CARSON: Look at all of the pundits over the last two years and what they have predicted and let's see what's happened. Wouldn't that be fascinating?


TAPPER: All right. Fair enough.

Dr. Ben Carson, it's always good to see you.

CARSON: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. Our best to your family.

CARSON: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton supporters are celebrating President Obama's endorsement this afternoon. But will it be enough to convince Bernie Sanders supporters? Those who think the system is rigged.

And then, a single letter changing the conversation across the country and now even Vice President Biden weighing in on the Stanford rape case sentencing.