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Bloomberg Campaign Manager, Kevin Sheekey, Discusses Bloomberg Saying Early Primary States Hurting Democrats, Booker Dropping Out, Beating Trump, Trump Responding to Health Care Ad; U.S. Troops Talk Chaos, Confusion During Iran Attack on Al-Asad Airbase; Royal Family Meets Today over Harry & Meghan's Future. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 13, 2020 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR Three weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, one Democratic candidate is not only skipping that contest, but now argues that the party should essentially bag the whole thing.

Mike Bloomberg writing a new opinion piece on that the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire not only don't reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party, but their prominence in the primary is hurting Democrats' chances in defeating Donald Trump.

Here is what Bloomberg says in part in the opinion piece, he writes, "Our own party system of nominating a presidential candidate is both undemocratic and harms our ability to prepare for and win the general election."

An important note here, Bloomberg's campaign strategy is centered around skipping the first four states, putting his whole focus on Super Tuesday, and beyond.

Joining me now, campaign manager for the Bloomberg campaign, Kevin Sheekey.

Thank you for coming in, Kevin.


BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. You, too.

Lots to talk about with this op-ed. The breaking news at the top of the hour, I want your reaction to the fact that Cory Booker has dropped out of the primary.

SHEEKEY: Well, I'm a big fan of Cory. I've known Cory, Senator Booker since he first ran for mayor. Mike Bloomberg was very supportive of his mayoralty and campaign for Senate. I think his campaign didn't get legs. There's not always a great reason for that. He's been a terrific Senator and was a great mayor. BOLDUAN: To the opinion piece that Bloomberg published this morning,

you're trying to win over Democratic voters, of course, and saying here, and what I just read that the process that Democrats have set up is undemocratic. How is that winning people over?

SHEEKEY: Well, let's talk about that we're trying to do. We're trying to remove Donald Trump from office. You're right, we should throw the whole thing out.

We, as Democrats, spend a year living in Iowa, raising money around the country, moving people to Iowa, knocking on doors, getting to know those voters and investing every single dollar we can raise around the country in Iowa.

The one thing that Democrat and Republican pollsters agree on is Donald Trump is going to win Iowa. We have thrown out a year of investment in a state that isn't going to make a difference in November.

There are six states that are critical in November. And they're Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona and Pennsylvania. Those are states that Donald Trump is campaigning in every single day.

Brad Parscale put out a tweet out last week where he talked about their efforts and the voters they have been reaching out to. And 80 percent of the voters they brought online, they're targeting, are in those states.

We put ourselves at an enormous disadvantage to invest every dollar we can over a year in a state that won't make a difference in November. That should be an enormous concern to any Democrat.

BOLDUAN: Have you heard anything from the Democratic Party chairman, Tom Perez, of the DNC, on this morning?

SHEEKEY: I expect to hear some comments from my friends in Iowa. And I do have friends in Iowa, or at least I suppose I used to have friends in Iowa.

BOLDUAN: Use to.

SHEEKEY: Listen, this is too important. We have to come together as a party and nationally to fight the fight that needs to be fought to remove Donald Trump from office. And we've put ourselves at a disadvantage.

What Mike Bloomberg said in an op-ed on CNN today that if he was president of the United States and the, you know, the head of the Democratic Party, he would reorder the primaries to reflect where the battleground states are.

What you would do this year is you would lead with Wisconsin, with Michigan, with Pennsylvania, and then with North Carolina or Florida.

Imagine the difference that we would be seeing today if, for a year, Democrats, 18, 24 different presidential candidates were knocking on doors in those states. We would be poised to win those states in November.

Right now, if the elections were held in Wisconsin today, any Democrat loses to Donald Trump, according to the polls. That's something that this campaign is very focused on changing.

BOLDUAN: So I hear that Bloomberg is saying that today. But last week, asked if Iowa should stay the first state to vote, Bloomberg said yes. Let me play this, what he told reporters.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we've got a tradition here of four states, two with caucuses, two with elections. They work very hard. They love the attention. The system has gotten used to it. And I guess the Democratic Party probably shouldn't take it away.


BOLDUAN: Shouldn't take it away. So what changed in a week, Kevin?

SHEEKEY: I think, listen, Mike was trying to be respectful to friends of his as well in Iowa when asked on the road.


I think, today, what he's saying is, I think any American should see and does see, which is we are faced with an existential threat and we can't be tied down by the rules of the past. We have to change the rules to win elections going forward.

And we have to get into states where the battle is going to be fought. There's one campaign today that is fighting in those states and it is Mike Bloomberg.

BOLDUAN: Bloomberg is also saying now, even if he loses the primary, he's going to keep the offices open, up and running to defeat Trump and campaign for whoever is the nominee.

Even if the nominee is campaigning on something like Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax, that Bloomberg has called unconstitutional, he'll put money towards that?

SHEEKEY: It is a remarkable pledge. I think it tells you everything about who Mike Bloomberg is.

Listen, before he got into this race, you know, he was asked, repeatedly, about whether he would support Elizabeth Warren if she was the nominee, and the answer was simple for him, which is, hey, if Elizabeth Warren is running against Donald Trump, I'm supporting Elizabeth Warren.

BOLDUAN: We'll see. First and foremost, let's see what happens with the primary. President Trump today is responding already to your newest health care

ad that is out. In the tweet, he's name-calling Bloomberg and making a surprising promise that he says that the Trump administration is working to protect health care coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. The administration's efforts to date prove otherwise.

Regardless of the inconsistency there, what do you say to President Trump because you're getting his attention.

SHEEKEY: Well, listen, two things to say there. Part of this campaign in places like Wisconsin and Michigan and other battleground states, it is important to reach out and say that President Trump lied to them. A lot of folks don't understand how much the president acted against their interest and the interest of all Americans.

The second part is Michael Bloomberg is getting under the president's skin. Mike will build the largest, most diverse, broadest campaign in American history and the campaign that I think is best poised to take Donald Trump from office. And I think they're figuring it out.

Steve Bannon was quoted yesterday saying that Mike Bloomberg was responsible for impeachment. His argument there was -- and I think he said it on your network -- that Mike Bloomberg worked last cycle to support 21 Democrats running for office in Republican-held congressional seats. He elected 18 of them and 15 women.

Steve Bannon's view was, hey, you've got to watch out for Mike Bloomberg and the atomic bomb -- his words, not mine -- about to go off on March 3rd. That's a warning shot for the president that Steve Bannon sees and I think the president sees now, too.

BOLDUAN: Kevin, thank you very much for coming in. Appreciate your time.

SHEEKEY: Kate, always a pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, a CNN exclusive. CNN goes inside Al-Asad Airbase and talks to U.S. troops about the chaos and confusion on the night Iran launched a missile attack.

Stay with us.



BOLDUAN: In retaliation for the killing of Iran's top general, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases that housed U.S. troops.

CNN's Arwa Damon is the first journalist to tour one of the bases.

A warning, some profanity can be heard as the troops came under fire.



ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): American forces are not used to being on the receiving end of this kind of fire power.


DAMON: They are usually the ones delivering it.

RICHARD SWEETING (ph), JUNIOR AIRMAN, U.S. AIR FORCE: I mean, I'm not going to lie, I was scared at the moment. But it happened. It was something that we were ready for. Ready as can be.

DAMON: Ready for some sort of ground attack by Iran's proxies, ready for mortars and rockets, but this base is not equipped to defend against ballistic missiles.

On any other night, some of the two and a half thousand troops and contractors would have been in the areas hit.

LT. COL. TIM GARLAND, U.S. ARMY: The ballistic missile reporting started to come in a couple hours before the event. And so, at that point we were, we were really scrambling on, you know, how to protect against that. And so, it really came down to dispersion, you know, putting space between people, and then also getting them into hardened bunkers just to provide that protection.

DAMON: At 11 p.m., those who could started to hunker down in bunkers built by their former enemy.

(on camera): This is a Saddam Hussein-era bunker.

LT. COL. STACI COLEMAN, U.S. AIR FORCE: It is. So, we felt we'd be somewhat safe in here because it was designed to take, you know, some kind of hit or it was built for, you know, ballistic missiles.

DAMON (voice-over): At 1.34 a.m., the first missiles hit.

COLEMAN: And these doors, every time one of the missiles hit, the doors would kind of sink in.

DAMON: Dozens of troops were still out in the open, holding their positions to protect the base. There was still the threat of incoming rockets, mortars and a ground assault. Pilots were still at their stations operating drones.

MIKE PRIDGEON, CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER, U.S. ARMY: As I was going across the gravel, I could look out to like the eastern sky and I see just this orange streak. So started springing and yelling and coming giving everybody kind of warning, and then it hit. So, yes.

DAMON: Flames swallowed up the drone team's living quarters. Some 30 troops would have been sleeping here had they not been ready.


Others rushed around the base as missiles came down looking for anyone who may have been injured, checking on the base's defenses.

Along the base perimeter, young soldiers on their first tour fought the instinct to flee and stayed, manning the guard towers.

ERIC KNOWLES, SPECIALIST, U.S. ARMY: It was definitely scary at first, but we both knew we had a job to do manning the tower, keeping eyes front. So, we had to do that more than anything, focused on that, trying not to focus on everything behind us.

DAMON: When one strike hit too close, they vaulted into the back of a truck and held their position there. It was a night unlike any here had experienced. Hunkered down for about two hours, unable to fight back. Some crammed into bunkers that weren't built to withstand missiles like these.

(on camera): These kinds of small bunkers exist throughout the base. But they're meant to protect against rockets and mortars. The ballistic missiles that were fired are about 3,000 times more powerful than that. The blast from this one knocked over a four-ton T-wall. But if that hadn't happened, those who were sheltering here probably would not have survived.

(voice-over): Come daybreak, fear of finding out who was killed or wounded was eclipsed by the joyous shock that no one was.

(on camera): Like what are those reunions like when you kind of see someone who you're close to and you realize you're both OK?

DAN KVASAGER, SERGEANT FIRST CLASS, U.S. ARMY: It's a warm feeling deep in the heart that all your friends, your family here is OK.

It just felt like forever since I had seen my guys and, you know, there's a lot of hugging and a lot of tears and a lot of just -- it's just a great feeling knowing that all your people are OK.

DAMON: And this is where you used to --

KVASAGER: Yes, this is my room. A little bit more open floor plan now. But, yes, my bunk was right in the corner right there. This is my neighbor up here. Everything's obviously gone. It's just -- happy no one was inside, you know?

DAMON: It's kind of freaky looking at it like this, isn't it?

KVASAGER: Yes. It's surreal. I'm not bothered looking at it. It's just a reminder, threat still exists.

KIMO KELTZ (ph), SPECIALIST, U.S. ARMY: You know, we have each other. We had each other that night and we'll always -- it's a brotherhood that will never break because of it.

DAMON: Does it change your perspective on life?

COLEMAN: It does, it does. It could -- you know, it could be over in, you know, in an instant. It really does. And it really makes me value -- value mostly my team.

DAMON (voice-over): The base is still on high alert. The dining facility is open, but people eat elsewhere to avoid a large crowd gathering.

COLEMAN: We have a little bit of notification.

DAMON: The military says they are ready for what may come next. Iran's proxies on the ground continue to vow revenge.

Even for those who have seen war before, this was unlike any other battlefield experience.

The overwhelming feeling of helplessness that comes with being under ballistic missile attack, to be at the mercy of the enemy, one that could strike again, even if it's not like this.


DAMON: And, Kate, they are still saying that the mission, even though at the moment anti-ISIS operations have paused, does remain their priority.

And you'll remember that after this missile strike, there was a lot of speculation as to whether or not Iran was somehow trying to avoid causing U.S. casualties. Well, everyone who we spoke to at Al-Asad airbase says they have no doubt in their mind that that was not among Iran's priorities.

BOLDUAN: Arwa, amazing reporting. Thank you so much for being there. Really appreciate it.


We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: Today, a meeting of the royal family. The queen and other senior members gathering after the stunning announcement from Harry and Meghan that they plan to step back from their roles.

CNN's Max Foster is outside the Sandringham estate where the family is expected to be meeting.

Max, what is going on here?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we think the meeting has been taking place or has taken place. It does seem as though there's been some action here.

What they have effectively done is all sit around the table, the senior royals. They have a series of options on the table put together by palace aides and government aides, a series of roles, effectively that the queen, Charles and William feel are possible for the Sussexes.

So the question is whether the Sussexes will sign up to any of the roles being presented to them. They've been pretty clear about what they want. But there has to be some compromise here. So a big sort of showdown really within the family, which ha repercussions to the family, not necessarily to the family.

It will be interesting to see how the core monarchy stuck together on this. But for the family, it's a big moment, a crisis. But they're hoping, everybody is hoping, I think, to find some sort of resolution to keep Meghan and Harry happy, and not unhappy where they could go out and cause some issues for the royal family.

BOLDUAN: Is it clear, Max, where there's a series of options what the sticking points are here?


FOSTER: We're not clear on what's in them. All we know is that Meghan and Harry want to spend their time between the U.K. and Canada, for example. That brings with it many complications around residency, around tax, for example. And I think that William, the queen and Charles feel that the Sussexes hasn't really considered those options, probably, and thought about all the things involved here.

So we'll wait to see what comes out. But I'm expecting something pretty soon -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: A lot to learn here.

Thank you so much, Max. I really appreciate it.

We'll be back.