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Pete Buttigieg Talks To CNN Ahead Of New Hampshire Primary; Candidates Clash Over Who Can Unite The Democratic Party; Joe Biden Tempers Expectations As New Hampshire Voters Head To The Polls. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 11, 2020 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But, you know, New Hampshire is a state that thinks for itself. Voters don't like to be told what to do by other states or really, anybody. And so, we know that we need to earn every single vote. That's why we've been working so hard doing events across the state, making sure we speak to those voters who, even now, are still going through their options and making up their mind.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: How does it feel different than it did before?

BUTTIGIEG: You know, it's -- every state has a kind of different feel to it. Here, I think the fact that folks will go in and cast a ballot is just a different system from the caucus, of course. But the other thing is I think there is a greater than ever sense of urgency.

You know, as we speak, Donald Trump is in this state, too, rallying his supporters and reminding us all why we need a new president. He's just rolled out a budget that will make savage cuts to education and environmental protection. He said that Social Security, even, is on the table and Medicaid is up for cuts.

We know what would happen if this presidency continues and you can feel even more than before, I think, that voters are focused on the campaign that can go out there and beat Donald Trump.

BERMAN: I think the candidates and the campaigns, perhaps, feel a little more urgent also. And one of the ways you can tell that is the way that you all talk about each other.

I spoke with Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, and I asked her outright. I said -- because Joe Biden has been talking about your experience, and I asked Symone Sanders -- I said do you think that Mayor Pete Buttigieg is ready to serve as president on day one. And she told me no.

Now --

BUTTIGIEG: I respectfully disagree and so do a lot of voters.

Look, at the end of the day, this is about making sure that we bring the perspective that will be needed into the Oval Office. I'm no stranger to holding office, I'm no stranger to government, and I'm no stranger to service, both in uniform and in civilian roles.

I know my way around Washington and it's not that I don't accept or don't understand the way that Washington works, but we can't accept the division and the dysfunction that is going on. And I think our best shot to change it and, by the way, our best shot to beat Donald Trump is a focus on the future and a readiness to earn the (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you coming from where you come from if you are elected president on day one?

BUTTIGIEG: Well look, there's no office like the presidency and everybody, as they approach the Oval Office, has to surround themselves with people who can offer unvarnished, truthful insight.

I never want to be the smartest person in the room. And one thing I've learned from building an administration back home is the importance of surrounding yourself with truth-tellers -- a diverse group of people who are experts in their field and committed to the mission.

BERMAN: Iowa and New Hampshire, you had very strong campaigns and very strong organizations. There are some people who suggest they'd be two of your best states.

As you look at the map going forward -- and I know you want to compete everywhere -- where can you point and say this is a good state for me? This is where I know I'm going to do well.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, we're looking forward to competing in the states that come ahead. Obviously, every state has a different perspective and its own dynamics going on.

But as we move into Nevada, I think it's a great opportunity to engage voters who are very focused on the future.

And I'm looking forward to visiting the south, beginning with South Carolina, for an opportunity to engage -- in particular, a lot of African-American voters who feel even more, I think, laser-focused than a lot of other voters I talk to on the urgency -- the almost existential urgency of defeating Donald Trump.

BERMAN: You still have work to do with these African-American voters?

BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely, and we've got to go out there and earn every vote. I'm, not going to take any vote for granted and I'm not going to write off any vote, either. But the process begins with these early opportunities -- first, in Iowa and now in New Hampshire to prove that we really have put together the campaign that can not just talk about being able to win, but turn out voters and demonstrate the kind of strength it will take in November to put an end to the Trump presidency and win big enough that Trumpism goes into the history books, too.

BERMAN: Mayor, thanks for talking to us backstage. I really appreciate it.

BUTTIGIEG: Thanks.

BERMAN: Take care.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Alisyn, I don't know if you realize this but Pete Buttigieg is six-four, and I can tell that because he was almost as tall as I am there.

I do want to note Amy Klobuchar -- her bus just pulled up to a polling location in Manchester, New Hampshire. You're looking at live pictures of the Klobo shuttle as it will now be known as of this second, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar getting out -- off the bus to greet voters there.

And, Alisyn, again, you had a chance yesterday to be out on the road with her and she is relishing this New Hampshire moment.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I know that bus. I was on that bus. That is a very comfy bus that they're traveling around in.

And, Amy Klobuchar seemed yesterday to be built for this. I mean, she just was reveling in it.

You know, we were in Exeter, New Hampshire at the town hall there. It was beyond capacity. It could fit 500 people. The fire marshals wouldn't let people who were stretched down the block in.

And she was really sort of -- she seemed spontaneous. She was making a lot of jokes with the crowd. And there are some people who are built for campaigning. And she just -- she told us yesterday she gets about four hours of sleep a night and she feels that this is her moment and she's really diving into it.

[07:35:07]

So, Kyung Lah has been following her around as well. She is there in Manchester where Klobuchar is. So, Kyung, tell us what you're seeing.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Amy Klobuchar is working this polling station outside, she's trying to stop by and get a little more face time with some of the people before they come into this elementary school and vote.

And, Alisyn, you were talking about how she's sort of built for this. Remember, she came out of Iowa in fifth place. Her campaign is viewing her as an underdog and they're trying to turn her into a contender. So that is something that they are now looking at.

Where do they have to place? They still won't say where they need to place in order for her to turn into a contender. They just simply want to perform well here in New Hampshire before the calendar becomes much tougher.

So, as Klobuchar is walking around outside and saying hello to people, she is not going to be able to come inside. This is where voting is taking place inside this elementary school.

This is Webster School Elementary, the auditorium here, and people are just coming here. They're picking up their ballots. They're making sure that they are getting lined up according to their last names. And then, they're heading to the voting booths where they will punch in their ballots.

And I can tell you Alisyn that there has been a steady stream of people here. Just at 6:00 a.m. when the doors opened here, as Pete Buttigieg was outside saying hello to people, there was a line. And even though it's cold and slippery, people were still lined up out here -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Kyung, people take their responsibility as the first-in- the-nation primary very seriously in New Hampshire. Thank you very much for that.

LAH: Very.

CAMEROTA: So, the Democratic primary has already seen some sniping between the candidates. It is exposing divisions between the moderate lane and the progressive wing. Should the candidates be focused on unifying the party or winning for themselves? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:41:19]

CAMEROTA: After a near tie in Iowa, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have been sniping at each other in the lead-up to New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am running against a candidate, Pete Buttigieg -- among others -- who has raised contributions from more than 40 billionaires, including the CEOs of some of the largest drug companies in America.

BUTTIGIEG: He's proposed income over $29,000 being taxed to pay for health care plans. But on that, at least, let's give credit where credit is due because he's being honest about it.

But here's the problem, there's $50 trillion worth of spending. So about half of it is unaccounted for and there's no explanation for where the other $25 trillion is supposed to come for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Will this infighting hurt the Democrats?

Joining us now is CNN commentator and former Democratic South Carolina House member, Bakari Sellers. And, Krystal Ball, co-host of "RISING" on Hill T.V. Great to see both of you.

Bakari, is the infighting worrisome to you? Do you think it ends up doing lasting damage?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR, (D) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA HOUSE MEMBER: Not at all. In fact, this is a political primary. You know, Democrats -- every four years we go through this phase of being proverbial bed-wetters and it drives me insane.

Look, we have to have these arguments, we have to have these disagreements, we have to have these debates to see who the best candidate is going to be. And if you can't take Pete Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders hitting you on policy, then what are you going to do when Donald Trump just bludgeons you with lies?

And so, I think all Democrats just need to chill this morning, drink their coffee, relax, and enjoy the fact we have -- we have candidates who are more well-versed than the President of the United States and it will unify when that time comes.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that's right, Krystal, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? This is toughening up the candidates?

KRYSTAL BALL, CO-HOST, "RISING" ON HILL T.V., AUTHOR, "THE POPULIST'S GUIDE TO 2020": Yes. Honestly, I couldn't agree more with Bakari.

I mean, honestly, this has been probably the mildest Democratic primary that we've had in a long time. Go back and watch some of the ads between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and come back and talk to me.

There's also an indication that because it's been so relatively mild, that's part of why turnout was relatively low in Iowa. Because people felt like oh, all these candidates are fine, so I'll just vote for whoever the nominee ultimately is.

Creating those differences and distinctions and thinking about not just who is going to beat Donald Trump, which is essentially important, but who is actually going to be able to deliver a new vision for the country, I think that's essential to the future of the Democratic Party and the nation right now.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's very interesting that you both think that conflict is good and that conflict might even drive turnout because former President Barack Obama, I think, disagrees. Here he is talking about the circular firing squad. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And one of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives is a certain kind of rigidity where we say ah, I'm sorry, this is how it's going to be.

And then we start sometimes creating what's called a circular firing squad where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues. And when that happens, typically, the overall effort and movement weakens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Bakari, what about -- what about that school of thought that somehow it ends up weakening the ultimate -- the ultimate nominee because they've taken so many hits during this?

[07:45:08]

SELLERS: Yes, he -- he's not referring to what we're seeing right now between Pete and Bernie Sanders.

What he is talking about, though, is the litmus test that some of my friends in the party want to -- want to push forward that if you're not -- if you're not pure on this one issue you can't be a progressive. If you're not pure on this issue you can't be a progressive.

And what we have to do is we have to say that we are a big tent party. There are people who are on the left in this party and they come from all backgrounds and they have -- they have various versions of that left ideology that may not fit into a particular box.

Pete Buttigieg is a Democrat just as much as Bernie Sanders is a Democrats. And I know he identifies as a Democratic socialist but they are all a part of our tent. And I think that that's what we have to realize, especially when we get to June and July.

Right now, let them fight like hell. I mean, that's what they're supposed to do. Let them figure it out, let us sort through it, but we will unify because we're all on the same team at the end of the day with a similar common -- with a similar and common purpose.

CAMEROTA: Tell that to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I mean, I'm just not sure Krystal that they do all unify at the end of the day. There are hard feelings afterwards.

BALL: Well, I mean, if you look at the last cycle, 2016, in fact, it was -- there were some hard feelings there. But at the end of the day, more Bernie Sanders supporters unified behind Hillary Clinton than Hillary Clinton supporters had unified behind Barack Obama the time before.

But I also -- Alisyn, just think about this. Remember back in 2016, Democrats watched with delight as Republicans tore each other to pieces. Donald Trump leading the charge -- Lyin' Ted, Little Marco -- all that stuff. And look who's in the White House now, all right?

I would also say some people call these litmus tests. I would call it having principles. And the fact of the matter is that in a lot of ways, Barack Obama's legacy is on the line.

Joe Biden has been running, absolutely putting himself in the camp of continuing the Obama legacy. And right now, voters are essentially repudiating that. So there's no doubt that Obama has his own interests at stake here and I think that's part of why you see him making these comments.

SELLERS: That's not -- that's not --

CAMEROTA: But I think that's really interesting Bakari because -- I mean, if Krystal's saying they can go for the jugular and then everybody falls in line like they did for Donald Trump, I'm just not sure that it works that way on the Democratic side.

SELLERS: Yes, it -- well, we are an interesting party. I think everyone knows that Democrats like to fall in love and Republicans fall in line like they did with Donald Trump.

But, Barack Obama's legacy is not on the line. It's not on the line with Joe Biden or anyone else. I think that a lot of my friends -- this disagreement that Krystal and I are having now is because they sometimes underestimate the value of what Barack Obama's legacy truly is.

Barack Obama's legacy is the fact that you had young people of color throughout this country who looked up and now believe they can be leader of the free world. Barack Obama's legacy is making sure that 90 percent of all Americans have health care and insurance in this country. And so, his legacy is much larger than any partisan primary battle.

And I think that as we get to South Carolina, as we get to Super Tuesday where actual black folk are voting, not Iowa and New Hampshire, where the base of the party -- my momma and her friends are voting -- we will actually begin to understand and flush this out way more.

CAMEROTA: OK, guys, we're out of time. I really appreciate having this discussion with both of you. Bakari, Krystal, thank you very much.

BALL: Thank you, Alisyn.

SELLERS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Let's get back to John.

BERMAN: Yes, and to Bakari's last point there, here in New Hampshire, about one percent of the Democratic electorate will be African- American -- one percent today.

In South Carolina, where Bakari is, it will be 60 percent in more than 2 1/2 weeks, which is why Joe Biden -- that and some weak poll numbers here in New Hampshire -- it is why Joe Biden is looking south this morning.

We have an interview with the former vice president, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:53:17] BERMAN: This morning, the Biden campaign is trying to temper expectations here in New Hampshire. We heard from a key adviser who told us that no matter what happens here, Joe Biden is in the race to stay. And that is largely the message from the vice president, himself, in this new interview with CNN's Don Lemon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR, "TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON": You said Iowa was a gut punch. What are you expecting here?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think, as I told you, I think we -- it's an uphill race here because, you know, I'm running against two senators from neighboring states. It has never been a good thing to happen to any other candidate going into the race.

And -- but I'm anxious to get to South Carolina and Nevada. We -- and I've talked about this before -- I view this as a package of fours out of the gate.

LEMON: Yes.

BIDEN: And I don't know how you can judge who's going to be -- will likely be able to win the nomination until you have the African- American vote and the Latino vote, and that doesn't come until a little later.

LEMON: I want -- I want to talk about that, but let's -- you know the history. If you lose these two, the chances are you go on and you can't win the other ones. You don't believe that?

BIDEN: But you also know the history. The only people who have ever won are people who have overwhelming support in the African-American community.

LEMON: Yes.

BIDEN: So there's two pieces here. And the idea that you're going to -- anybody is going to be able to call a race between now and the end of -- and tomorrow -- and tomorrow night is just ridiculous. The idea that we're just going to get into the meat of things in the next three weeks.

So, I think it's just -- and I've honestly believed, Don, from the beginning -- I think we've talked about it -- you've got to look at the first four and see where you are after that.

LEMON: Yes, so let's talk about that. So you mentioned the support among African-Americans. You do have overwhelming support but in the last poll, it showed it's fallen like at 50 percent. So without that -- yes, in the Quinnipiac poll it's gone from 49 percent in January, now to 27 percent.

[07:55:08]

BIDEN: Well, that's the only poll that shows that. I don't think that's -- I think that's --

LEMON: You think that's an outlier?

BIDEN: I think it's an outlier.

LEMON: So that -- but if that -- if that, indeed, happens, what's your path to victory then?

BIDEN: My path to victory is Super Tuesday and whether or not I can -- look, the next person -- the next nominee is going to have to able to win in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Arizona, and in places that we haven't won in a while. And -- not a while -- we didn't win last time. And all the polling data, unless something's changed overnight, shows I win there. I'm the -- I'm the strongest candidate there.

For example, just since Iowa, the African -- the black caucus in Michigan spontaneously, in the Legislature, endorsed me. A whole lot of endorsements have come forward just since -- just since -- after New Hampshire. We're raising about 350,000 bucks a day this month online. So, I don't -- I don't get a sense that there's any of that kind of panic.

I was on the phone today with the South Carolina team. They feel good and I feel good.

LEMON: Bloomberg is gaining, it says, and your support among African- Americans is dropping.

BIDEN: Well, look, I'm looking forward to -- look, between Bloomberg and Steyer, they've already spent a half a billion dollars -- a half a billion dollars in advertising on-air, and Bloomberg, mostly in South Carolina and the states that come after the first two primaries -- the first two caucus -- caucus and primary.

And I'm looking forward to debating him on his position on the issues that are concerning the African-American community.

LEMON: Yes.

BIDEN: I'm ready to do that.

LEMON: There's a new ad that you talked about Mayor Buttigieg and compared his record to your record. Some people saw the ad or see it as mocking. What do you say to that because then you say you worked with mayors and mayors' jobs are important? So --

BIDEN: Yes, sure, they -- no, they're really important.

Look, first of all, it's not an ad. We went online with a -- with a -- with a video responding to the overwhelming criticism the mayor has made of me.

He says we inherited all our problems -- the problems didn't start with Trump -- we inherited them. Who'd you inherit it from? What was the previous eight years? Barack Obama and Joe Biden. What -- tell me. We saved the economy. We moved us in a direction that was

significantly different than we were before. And my whole plan is to build on what we've done, whether it's health care -- realistic health care -- getting everybody covered -- everybody able to be covered. Being able to pay for it.

Making sure that we can fundamentally increase the funding we have for schools and for Title 1 schools, in particular. Making sure that we spend the kind of money we need to spend to deal with global climate change and what we've done.

LEMON: Bernie Sanders is a self-described Democratic socialist. He embraces that. You are concerned about that because you think it's harder for downticket for governors and mayors and senators to be able to run with -- when the head of the party says that he's a Democratic socialist.

Shouldn't the voters decide that?

BIDEN: Sure, they will. But what do think -- and I know you can't answer me -- but what do you think? You think it's going -- we not only have to beat Trump, we have to win back the Senate like we did win back the House.

I went into 24 states, 65 candidates. They asked me to come in in red states and purples states, not blue states, and they won -- 41 of them won. The so-called -- the folks who won those races, they're on the line. They've come and asked me to campaign for them. Did anybody ask Bernie to campaign?

Bernie's a good guy. But you want to run -- you say you know Louisiana, you know Georgia. You want to run with the top of the ticket that defining the Democratic Party as a socialist? And he's not a bad -- Bernie's a great guy but it's his self- -- his self- definition.

So the question is who can help us win back the Senate most?

I know you know the south. You going to walk into any of those states we have to win, like Florida and other places -- that we're going to win in Georgia and North Carolina and say by the way, my president describes himself as a Democratic socialist? What do you think Trump will do with that?

LEMON: So, to the folks who are -- who are saying -- are saying OK, his campaign is over -- you know, folks -- people are out there saying he's going to drop out. There's no way he can do it. And to --

BIDEN: On me?

LEMON: Yes, you. And for the American people who are -- who may be skeptical, saying I don't know what's happening with Biden, what do you say to them?

BIDEN: Well, I say to them look what's happening just since Iowa. We've got -- we've been averaging $350,000 a day online contributions. We just got endorsed by the Michigan Black Caucus. I never spoke to them -- the State Legislative-backed caucus.

Two dozen people I didn't even -- I didn't even know in the state of New -- I mean, in the state of Rhode Island. Governors in Alabama and in Tennessee and so on.

I mean, I've gotten more -- four unions have come forward -- major unions -- since then and endorsed me.

LEMON: So you're not -- you're not having any money issues --

BIDEN: No, no.

LEMON: -- and you're not going anywhere?

BIDEN: I'm not going anywhere.

LEMON: You're in there.

BIDEN: I'm in this to the end and I believe I'm going to win this nomination -- I really do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Again, all the candidates and major campaigns on NEW DAY this morning.

Thank you to our international viewers.

END