Return to Transcripts main page


Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Is Interviewed On Upcoming Iowa Caucuses; Voting Begins In Iowa Caucuses For Democratic Presidential Candidates; Iowa Voters Caucus In First-In- The-Nation Contest. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 3, 2020 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your New Day. It is Monday, February 3rd. It's 8:00 in the east where Alisyn is. It's 7:00 here in Iowa. Live from the campus of Drake University in Des Moines we are now just 12 hours from the first contest of the 2020 presidential race.

Tonight, finally, voters will cast actual votes for president. And there are so many possible outcomes. Any of the top tier candidates could come out tonight with a victory or, frankly, face questions about whether they can stay in the race. More than one candidate might actually be able to declare victory tonight the way the results will be reported. The top candidates all here making the final pitch, and we have, of course, some last-minute drama to tell you about in just a moment.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Of course you do. Meanwhile, President Trump appears fixated on one candidate who is not even competing in Iowa, and that's Mike Bloomberg. The president is calling the former New York City mayor names on Twitter, and Bloomberg's campaign is fighting back. All of this comes as President Trump's impeachment trial wraps up this week. Closing arguments begin today with the final vote expected to acquit the president on Wednesday.

More Senate Republicans, though, are conceding that President Trump's actions were bad and wrong, but not enough to be convicted and removed from office, John.

BERMAN: So joining me is one of the candidates who might walk out of Des Moines tonight as the winner of the Iowa caucuses, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. Mayor, thank you so much for being here at lovely Drake University. You have been asked this repeatedly over the last few days, but as you sit here this morning, what do you need out of the caucuses tonight?

FORMER MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Clearly we need a strong finish because for the last year each of us has been competing, saying that we are the campaign to beat Donald Trump. And part of that is demonstrating that you can turn people out, that you can get actual voters to support you. The process of proving that begins right here in Iowa. BERMAN: Amy Klobuchar says something in her rallies. She says we

better not screw this up. In talking to voters, I do get the sense that the people who are going to go caucus for Democrats tonight, that is the feeling they are going in with. It's a sense of fear almost.

BUTTIGIEG: There's so much at stake. I think there's a sense that is not just among Democrats but a lot of independents and some disaffected Republicans I'm talking to that we absolutely cannot endure another term under this president. And it's very clear if you look at the Senate, that the signal GOP is not going to hold this president accountable.

But as I always remind voters, the Senate is the jury today, but we are the jury tomorrow. That's why it's so important we get this right, that we nominate the candidate who can defeat Donald Trump and that we put together the campaign organization to do that.

Now, in order to win, I think the biggest thing we've got to do is to turn the page because every time my party has won the White House, without exception, in the last half century, every time we've won, it's been with a candidate who is focused on the future, doesn't work in Washington or hadn't been there for very long, and is opening the door to a new generation. And that's what I'm offering in this campaign.

BERMAN: This is slightly new emphasis for you and your campaign the last few days. You came out with this line three or four days ago and really lean into it in your rallies. Why wait? Ron Brownstein wrote an article this morning, 2020 Democrats are bringing butter knives to a gunfight. He was suggesting that you waited too long, perhaps, to differentiate each other.

BUTTIGIEG: I've been talking about this for a long time, and we've differentiated on policy throughout this campaign. This is not a sport. This is not about seeing who can punch who in the nose. This is about everybody making our case for why we would be best.

But of course, competing with the others, and I've been very specific about the difference in approaches on policy with Senator Sanders and Warren, on how we're planning to win with Senator Sanders and with the vice president. It's a meaningful, respectful, honest, but very real difference in what kind of campaign we're running and what kind of presidency we're seeking to build.

BERMAN: You said you need a strong finish tonight. Do you care to define what a strong finish would be?



BUTTIGIEG: Look, I think pundits are analyzing rankings and alignments and percentages. My focus is making sure that we have a big night that demonstrates not only the strength of my message but the strength of my campaign. A lot of this is about organization. And that's true for being ready to defeat Donald Trump in the fall, too. Again, this is the first chance to prove it.

So what we've got to do is get the supporters out in rural areas as well as in college towns and cities and demonstrate that breadth of support. It's why I've been campaigning not just in population centers but some of those counties that famously flipped from President Obama to voting for Trump, sometimes by 20 points or more. We've been in those counties campaigning hard, and I think we're going to do well there. And that will help show the playbook that is going to finally defeat this president in the fall.

BERMAN: We talked about the fear that Democratic voters, or some voters have when they are going to the caucus tonight. Do you feel that there is a type of candidate who could win here in Iowa or win the nomination that would have a harder time beating Donald Trump?


BUTTIGIEG: Of course, I think my approach is the best. Let me explain why. First of all, as I said, history has shown us that we succeed in elections when we are offering a new approach and turning the page, opening the door to a new generation. But also, we've got to make sure that we are ready to galvanize and not polarize an American majority that is actually strikingly aligned, not just on being against Donald Trump but on what we're for.

Most Americans, even in conservative states right now, want to see higher wages, want to see corporations paying their fair share in taxes. Even issues that have been very divisive in the past and tough for our party, like immigration and guns, most Americans are with us.

BERMAN: What's polarizing?

BUTTIGIEG: There's an approach. Certainly, Senator Sanders message is more along the lines of hey, it's either status quo or revolution. And what I'm offering is something that I think more people can see where they fit, from dyed if the wool Democrats to independents to these, I like to call them future former Republicans who come to my events.

I'm not trying to trick them. I'm not telling them that I'm any more conservative than I plan to govern, I'm clear about policies. But we understand that even if we're not going to agree on everything, we can agree on the need for change and we can agree on the sense of belonging that we could be creating in our general election campaign and in the White House.

BERMAN: So we were just talking before we came on that in 2008 you were working for the Obama campaign and you were working a caucus, 12 years ago tonight, roughly, in Murray, a town called Murray. What if I had told I guess it would have been 25-year-old Pete Buttigieg at that point that 12 years from tonight you will have a chance of actually winning the Iowa caucuses, what would you have told me?

BUTTIGIEG: I probably would have looked at you funny and gone back to knocking on doors. This is not where I thought that things would go. When you run for mayor, you don't think two terms and then I'm going to seek the White House. But what happened is our country has come to this point where -- and

my party has come to this point where we need to reconnect in the middle of the country. We need to be engaging new faces, new voters. And it turns out that the fact that I'm not somebody who fits the profile of somebody who has been in Washington for a long time that you might expect to run for president is exactly part of why I'm the candidate to beat Donald Trump.

BERMAN: I guess I'm asking, though, have you had any wholly blank moments when you're walking through Iowa or you're at a rally with 1,000 people cheering for you.

BUTTIGIEG: This whole campaign is kind of a moment like that. When you see organizers turning their lives upside down to come out to a town they have never been to and work for you these ridiculously long hours, and then you see those communities and those organizers adopting each other. When you see people with tears in their eyes telling you they expect you to keep their child safe in school or help make sure that their niece in the military is going to be well looked after, it is humbling, it's daunting, it's energizing all at once.

BERMAN: One of the things that you earn when you run for president is you get newspapers profiling you and analyzing you in ways that you never quite imagine. "The New York Times" had a story that made me chuckle the other day when it was talking about -- let me read you a quote here. It says Pete Buttigieg, "he is the perhaps only candidate who can look as if he's weaponizing awkwardness as a conscious choice."

BUTTIGIEG: I hadn't seen that.


BUTTIGIEG: But that's awkward to discuss on national television. I think politics has become such a show, with game, a blood sport. And one of the things I think we're looking for right now in a leader is a person, a human being, hopefully a very capable human being. But I guess to the extent that that's part of who I am, then why pretend.

BERMAN: You're just going to own it.

BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely.

BERMAN: All right, mayor, I appreciate you being with us the morning of the Iowa caucus. As we say to every candidate we see on the trail, good luck tonight. We look forward to seeing you in the next few days.

BUTTIGIEG: Thanks very much.

BERMAN: As we were saying, the caucuses kick off tonight and the primary season begins in force as Democratic voters decide the future of the party and the country. How some candidates are turning their sights on the future and in in some cases on each other. We'll discuss next.


BERMAN: So it's finally here, actual voters casting actual votes tonight here in Iowa. The caucuses begin at 7:00 p.m. central time. Who will emerge the winner, how many people will declare victory? Those two answers might actually be different.

Joining me here in Des Moines, CNN Washington correspondent Ryan Nobles, CNN political analyst Jonathan Martin, sitting beside me soon CNN political Margaret Talev will be beside me. And we're also joined by Democratic Iowa state auditor Rob Sand. I'm going to start with you since people actually voted for you.


BERMAN: Thanks for being with us. You've been through these caucuses before. You have seen this before. What is different this time?

ROB SAND (D), IOWA STATE AUDITOR: Sure. I think this is a couple of things. Number one, huge number of candidates, right? If you look at behavioral science, one big things there is paradox of choice. The more choices you have, the harder it is to make a choice. And I think Iowa Democrats are really feeling that this cycle.

They are feeling it not just because there's a lot of candidates but also because of who is in the White House. We have an extraordinarily divisive president. People are more concerned about that than compared to, say, 08 where it was open. There wasn't any one specific challenge that we were trying to -- personally were trying to get out. It was just who do we want to nominate and Republicans will figure out who they want to nominate. Very different feel this cycle.

BERMAN: I should know that as one of the few statewide elected Democrats here, you're phone has been ringing off the hook for months to endorse. You've chosen not to, which is why you have so many friends in Iowa.


BERMAN: Jonathan Martin, I am struck by the fact that there are so many possible outcomes tonight.


BERMAN: Not just who is going to win and who is not going to win. I think there's agreement that Bernie Sanders has momentum. Whether or not that will lead to a victory, I don't know. But what I mean is that there are candidates who could conceivably win or face very real questions about dropping out as soon as tomorrow.

MARTIN: Yes, it's remarkable the uncertainty going in when you've got four candidates all sort of bunched up, entirely plausible scenarios with one being first or one being fourth.

[08:15:00] I actually think that Iowa, this time around, may not call the field like it has in past years. You've had so many candidates drop out in the lead up to Iowa.

But I think Iowa could actually really damage some candidates who do not do well here with New Hampshire delivering the final blow. I think mostly, it's going to turn and will try to go to New Hampshire, John, because think about it.

You have a debate on Friday and the vote on Tuesday, so why don't I give it one more go? But if they don't show up in New Hampshire, I think, financially, their fate will probably be sealed after that.

BERMAN: I just said Mayor Pete Buttigieg sitting in the very seat where you're at right now.

MARTIN: Great example. Yes.

BERMAN: And the Mayor said he needs a strong performance out of tonight.

MARTIN: Right.

BERMAN: I asked him, do you care to define what strong is? He said, nope. Nope. He is going to define it after, whatever they come out with will be defined as strong.

MARTIN: Because third place sounds bad on paper for Pete, but if he is bunched up at you know, 19 or 20, and the person in second is it 21,22 -- third ain't that bad actually for him, right?

BERMAN: So Ryan Nobles, you cover the Bernie Sanders campaign and have four months, and it's been interesting listening to them in the last 48 hours because generally speaking, you want to lower expectations going into caucus night. They're not. They're not.


BERMAN: They are flat out saying the wind is at our back. We think we're going to win. We think we're going to do well. What do they see 12 hours from caucus day?

NOBLES: Well, I think fundamentally, they believe there are more available Democratic caucus goers for their campaign than there are for any other campaign.

The question is, can they get those people to the caucus sites tonight? And what the Sanders -- kind of the variable to their campaign right now is that they're really relying on an unreliable set of caucus goers.

You're talking about first time caucus goers, a lot of young people, minority caucus goers that traditionally, just do not participate in this process.

Now, the Sanders campaign has made a concerted effort to reach out to those folks, explain to them the process, give them the opportunity to get to these caucus locations and make it as easy as possible.

But at the end of the day, they do not know if they're going to come out until they see the lines, and what Bernie Sanders said over and over again on the campaign trail yesterday was, if there is big voter turnout tonight, we're going to win. If there's low voter turnout, we're going to lose, and they're really hinging it on.

BERMAN: 240,000 -- the high watermark for Democrats in 2008. Who knows if they will reach out? On your point about Bernie Sanders voters, there were 3,000 people at this rally the other night, but Vampire Weekend was there. So it's hard to know -- well, you had Vampire Weekend.

NOBLES: I should say, this is interesting because I've been to quite a few of these Sanders rallies that involve musical acts, and you can tell the difference between the people who are there as a musical act there for the candidate.

Bernie spoke first before Vampire Weekend performed. I'm not saying a lot of people left, but you would not believe the volume of people that actually left after Bernie was done speaking.

BERMAN: Before Vampire Weekend?

NOBLES: Before Vampire Weekend started performing. I mean, most of the crowd was still there, but I was struck by the number of people that were actually there to see the candidate and not necessarily the candidate.

BERMAN: I didn't know that Bernie Sanders had such a great singing voice. I do want to give people a flavor for what the candidates have been saying making their closing arguments in the last 24 hours, so listen to this.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can be timid or we can fight back. Me, I'm fighting back. That's why I'm here.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We choose unity over division and we choose truth over lies.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I certainly think that I am better positioned to beat Donald Trump than any of my competitors.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that our campaign is the campaign that can bring millions of people into the political process, who normally do not vote.


BERMAN: It's all a varying message, Margaret, on electability, and when you talk to voters here at these rallies, they will tell you, they're just desperate to beat Donald Trump. Really. It's practically desperation for Democratic voters. MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's true. That's part of the

reason that you still see such a high undecided number, especially when you ask the question of, if it's not going to be your person, who's your next choice?

I think this contest today is going to be really, really crucial and instructive for two candidates in particular for Joe Biden and for Elizabeth Warren. So far, Elizabeth Warren, because of her earlier rise, ended up taking a lot of the flak over Medicare-for-All, a lot of the scrutiny. It enabled Bernie Sanders to move ahead without that same scrutiny. That's probably about to change after tonight.

But what's her path in New Hampshire? Depending on tonight, for former Vice President Biden, the wind has not been at his sails in the last few days. His campaign is going in today with a different feeling, and it's a different expectations game with him.

What happens both for Biden and for Warren is going to be incredibly important in terms of the momentum of the strategy going forward.

BERMAN: You know, you, I think, consider yourself to be part of the future of the Democratic Party here in Iowa, also the now, but I think you would like to be part of the long term --

SAND: I am 37, so I hope I'm around for a while with you guys.

BERMAN: The long term future -- and voters face questions and these candidates face questions about what the future should be for the Democratic Party. What do you see the choices as being?

SAND: To me the future of the Democratic Party has got to be one where we have no choice. We have to have a big tent, right?


SAND: I think we saw between 2008 and 2016 that we can't say, no, we have to go one direction or we have to go another direction. There seems to be this sort of ideological divide, right?

You've got -- if we look at the top four, you know, Warren and Sanders over here. Buttigieg, and Biden over here. We can have all of these people in the same party. It is not so hard to imagine that we can find ways to take voters and supporters of different camps and find ways to cobble something together that makes everyone happier than what they would have with the alternative.

BERMAN: Can the Democrats though? Margaret, that is a question. Is each of those top four candidates as big tent-y as the other?

TALEV: No, no. And there are huge questions about whether this party at this moment this year can be unified, whether the shared desire to defeat Donald Trump is enough to bring together these major divisions in the party both in terms of what's the role of government? What's the right amount of taxation? Is compromise -- should compromise be the word of the day or should galvanizing the base to maximize turnout be the word of the day? The interpersonal relationships? There are a lot of fundamental

questions that I think are unanswered.

MARTIN: The gift of Donald Trump is that he has created -- he has been a singular turnover that the Democrats have not had since Barack Obama was on the political stage.

It's mixed blessing though, because the other side of this is that Trump has expanded the Democratic coalition so wide that it now absorbs everything from literal socialists on the left to basically moderate Republicans who have no home anymore and are sort of temporary Democrats. John, that's a pretty wide coalition.

BERMAN: It is. It is.

MARTIN: It's damn tough for them to figure out a candidate to get behind when their coalition is that vast and I think that's where we're seeing play out here.

You see it ideologically. You see it generationally. The gap between Sanders and Biden among old voters and younger voters is astonishing.

BERMAN: It is, especially considering that they are both the same age roughly. Ryan, Bernie Sanders, if he wins tonight, you can cue the backlash, and they know this.

The Sanders campaign knows that tomorrow, we could all wake up with certain members of the Democratic Party; certainly, people in the media saying, oh my gosh.

NOBLES: Right.

BERMAN: What happens if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination? How are they prepared for that?

NOBLES: Well, to a certain extent, that backlash has fueled his campaign, to a large extent. His supporters rally around the idea that he is the underdog, and that people are coming out to get him.

But you're right, when he gets into -- if he wins tonight or even if you finish strong and he gets into a front runner position, it's going to be a lot harder for him to make that argument that he is the underdog.

Basically, he is going to track back to the fact that he firmly believes that the energy and the enthusiasm in the Democratic Party is in the progressive wing that the future of the Democratic Party is there.

It's an argument he has been making for 40 years, but never really got the attention it did until he ran for President in 2016.

He thinks that's where the future is, and he is basically, to a certain extent making the same argument that Donald Trump is making with Republicans is that if you want to be a part of the Democratic Party going forward, this is the place that you need to be in. Now, whether or not he's right about that will obviously be played out

as we get further down the political calendar and the field is much smaller and he is, you know, forced to win over more than half of those delegates.

But at this point, they feel that that's a winning argument for them. The one thing I know for sure, John, is Bernie is not going to change his message.


NOBLES: It's been the way it's always been, and it will continue regardless of how things go tonight.

BERMAN: I expect he might have a different feeling Friday night in a debate in New Hampshire that he has had up until this point in Iowa.

MARTIN: Different sensation.

BERMAN: Right. Ryan, Jonathan, Margaret, Rob, it is great to meet you. Thanks so much for joining us here today.

Alisyn, let's go back to you in New York.

CAMEROTA: Hey, John, great conversation, but we do have some new reporting that we want to bring you on the relationship between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Here's a hint. It's not good. That's next.



CAMEROTA: The State of the Union Address is tomorrow night and that's where President Trump will come face to face with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the first time in apparently months.

CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins has some new reporting for us. What have you just learned, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alysin, it's going to be notable when the President walks into the House chamber to deliver this address, and that is one reason because it is going to be the first time that he and Pelosi have come face-to-face since October.

According to her spokesperson who is telling my colleague, Manu Raju, the two of them have not spoken since that October 16th meeting at the White House.

Remember the one that was used to be about Syria, but essentially went off the rails where the President stormed out of the room, and then Democrats stormed out of the White House, came out and told reporters essentially what had happened where the President started off saying I didn't want to have this meeting. You wanted this meeting. That was that briefing that the Democratic Congressional leadership

had requested on Syria, and it ended so poorly that essentially they could not agree on which insult the President had called Pelosi.

One of them was saying third grade, the other was saying it was third rate. They have not spoken since then.

Now of course during impeachment, you would not expect the two of them to be calling each other up and chit-chatting late at night on the phone.

But it is notable that they haven't spoken because there have been a lot of high profile events that would typically have the President and the House Speaker communicating including the shooting down or the strike that killed that top Iranian commander. That was a big point of contention over Democrats not being informed until after it had already been carried out.

But yes, President Trump and House Speaker Pelosi have not spoken since October the 16th, so tomorrow will be the first time. A lot of eyes will be watching, Alisyn, to see what that interaction between the two of them is like.

CAMEROTA: Can you say awkward? Kaitlan, thank you. I don't think anybody knew quite how bad it was until now. Thank you very much for all that.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Good morning. Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Can we just start with that? I mean, I was sort of joking that it's going to be very awkward State of the Union between Speaker Pelosi and President Trump. But do you think that just for the sake of the people's business, I know that impeachment has obviously caused a huge chiasm, but should they have been in touch about some things?

HIRONO: Well, it takes two to be in touch.