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Former Secretary of State John Kerry is Interviewed About His Support for Biden; Democratic Presidential Candidates Hold Debate Ahead of Nevada Caucuses; Michael Bloomberg Joins Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate for First Time. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2020 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg.

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's easy. All the mayor has to do is say you are released from the non-disclosure agreement, period.

(APPLAUSE)

PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's put forward somebody who is actually a Democrat.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So it turns out Bloomberg was the top searched candidate on Google during the debate. I'm not so sure the Bloomberg campaign will be happy about the reasons he was the most searched. Who knows? He has already qualified for next week's debate in South Carolina, even though he's not on the ballot there either. His campaign has been focused on exclusively the motherlode of delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, we have CNN senior political analyst John avlon and CNN politics and business correspondent Cristina Alesci, who is vitally important this morning because she covers Bloomberg --

BERMAN: She's vitally important every morning.

CAMEROTA: That's a good point. She is.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: And CNN's senior political analyst David Axelrod. Cristina, I want to start with you? What were their debate preps like over at Bloomberg, and were they surprised by his performance?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question. Look, his team knew that he was going to have a tough night. They were telling reporters, including me, that he had -- reminding us that he hadn't debated in 11 years, that the other candidates had the benefits of honing their messages in eight other debates. But the bottom line is I think they didn't set the bar low enough. I think that they were prepared for a bad night. I'm not sure they were prepared for the beating that he got.

CAMEROTA: Just for example, the stop and frisk question. Of course, he was going to get that. Of course, he was going to get that. And his answer was sort of muddled and halting. It wasn't sharp. And so why not?

ALESCI: It was shocking. And if anybody had an indication, when I was watching the debate, I couldn't help think about the press conference, the last one that he gave reporters. I was sitting in it. I asked questions. And I was floored by how terrible his performance was at that moment. And that should have been a signal to everybody on his team, and he didn't have a good answer to that question in that press conference. So he should have been prepared.

He had two missions last night -- hit Sanders really hard and establish himself as the anti-Trump. He didn't deliver on anything, and he was not successful in deflecting these parallels that Elizabeth Warren and everyone else tried to make of him and Trump. In fact, it turned out the message at the end of the night was the opposite. People walked away thinking perhaps this guy is closer to Trump than the opposite, the anti-Trump. And that is not a good sign for the Bloomberg campaign. I hear that they're going to spend the weekend prepping, to your point. They kept his schedule purposely light. And I think that that's what the focus is going to be. But it's a major wake-up call.

BERMAN: So David Axelrod, the question is what impact will this have? It is clear there is a group of voters who have been shopping for months for a candidate that they think is best equipped to beat Donald Trump. And in the last week-and-a-half since Iowa, New Hampshire, there have been voters who settled on Bloomberg as a possibility. They're Bloom-curious, as I've been calling them all morning. So what is the feeling on the Bloom-curious voter this morning of a performance like that?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Obviously, not good. He spent a half million dollars building expectations, and then the rollout was a disaster. And that has consequences, but not great consequences necessarily. And I don't want to steel the reality check line from John, but here's one reality check. He's going to probably talk to more voters today via his advertising than he spoke to last night at the debate. And that's the great advantage that he has. But he can't keep failing as miserably as he did last night.

Now, he has reset the bar, and the bar is as low as you can go. And so if he comes out more strongly next week, he'll get some credit for that. But this was not an auspicious beginning for Bloomberg. You build anticipation, but you have to deliver on the promise. He didn't deliver on the promise last night. CAMEROTA: On the flipside, John Avlon, you talk to us so often about

moral equivalence and avoiding it, and situational morality and avoiding it. And do you think there was some danger just for the Democrats in general of Elizabeth Warren seeming to compare Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump in terms of the moral equivalence of, for instance, their derogatory comments about women?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I do. And that's the danger of this stage of the debate. But the person who benefits the most from all of that is Bernie Sanders, not just Donald Trump, because he's the one who is rising in national polls. This was the debate for folks to really take shots at him and his record. He's been relatively unscathed in many ways.

[08:05:03]

And instead they focused all their fire on the new guy, Mike Bloomberg, because he is a good foil for the progressive base. And he didn't do himself any favors by his own performance and pushback, which, obviously, all were imminently anticipatable and he didn't come loaded for bear.

But Bernie Sanders is in poll position right now, and typically that's the guy who would be taking the incoming. He didn't last night, not as much. Warren came out fiery out of the gate. I think Biden benefits, actually, from Bloomberg's weak performance. I think Buttigieg had a very good performance. So did Klobuchar. And I think particularly among the non-Twitterati set. But Bloomberg took the fire. That benefits Trump and it benefits Sanders.

BERMAN: I have to say, the two major questions out of last night were how would Bloomberg do and how will that be perceived? And Bernie Sanders is the front-runner. Bernie Sanders is the national front- runner in this campaign. That is crystal clear. Did anything happen last night to change that status? And it may be hard to see it. I will say, and Cristina, this gets to the Bloomberg campaign here, the most tweeted about moments in the entire debate that there were a lot of fireworks was this. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (D) FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: What a wonderful country we have. The best-known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What did I miss here?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So Twitter, which isn't representative, necessarily, of America, thinks that Bloomberg landed a blow on Bernie Sanders. What does the Bloomberg campaign think? How do they see this playing out with Bernie Sanders?

ALESCI: That was his mission. His mission was to deliver that line in the debate. But it was such a brief moment, and I know it was picked up on Twitter. But the mission was to do that over and over and over and over again on Bernie Sanders and point out, perhaps, the hypocrisy, or the way the Bloomberg camp thinks is the hypocrisy.

I think the challenge for Bloomberg is going to be what his team -- how his team decides to deal with the nondisclosure agreements and the tax return issue. Those are two things that tie him to your point, Alisyn, to your point, John, to Trump behavior, right? Like those are the things his opponents can use against him to really draw this parallel. So they're going to have to decide. If he can't even answer how many NDAs he has, that's a problem. That's a simple question. He said not many. And then when Warren went after him and said how many, he couldn't answer that question.

AVLON: Part of that, though, also, is Bernie Sanders' health records, which came up on the debate stage, here on the show, also an issue. Is this the Democrats playing by Trump rules, the standards being changed? That's not a good thing for the country or the Democratic Party.

CAMEROTA: OK. Then on the flip side you want Democrats to play by different rules, and they may not be able to win by those rules if President Trump plays --

AVLON: It's not about not bringing a knife to a gun fight. It's about saying clear contrast is a commitment to transparency, and that matters whether it's tax returns or health records, especially if you've had a heart attack this election cycle.

CAMEROTA: How do you see it, Axe?

AXELROD: First of all, let me say, I do think that some people took shots at Bernie Sanders, and we ought to acknowledge the fact that Bernie Sanders is a very deft debater. And when he did take incoming, he eluded that pretty easily, and that is something we always discount. People try to go after Bernie Sanders, and he's pretty, pretty good at avoiding the hit.

The second thing is that authenticity is a leading indicator in presidential races in particular. One of Michael Bloomberg's problems is, I don't know that he really feels that sense of remorse about stop and frisk that he expressed there, which he really introduced this notion right before he ran for president, I think because of the reason that John suggested in his Reality Check. He believes that it worked. He believed that he reduced homicides in the city dramatically. And he never really expressed great remorse over the years over the thing until now. I don't think he feels that comfortable with that line. I don't think he feels deep remorse about whatever transpired in his businesses relative to women.

And if you don't feel authentically about the things you're saying, it translates in these things and it translates on television. Bernie Sanders gets away with a lot because he authentically believes these things. You can make jokes about the fact he has three houses, but nobody believes that he is a greedy capitalist. They believe that he is what he says he is. And that goes a long way in this business.

And Trump was able to kind of Bogart his way through these things. I don't think that Bloomberg has that capacity, and that is a limiting -- that is a limiting quality for him.

BERMAN: He's got 60 times the money that Donald Trump has. And we'll see the impact of that money soon. Axe, can we put the calendar up on the screen just so people can see what we have coming up in the Democratic primaries.

[08:10:02]

We have Nevada on Saturday, South Carolina one week after that, and then on March 3rd, a mere three days after South Carolina, 40 percent of the delegates are up for grabs. So David, you political mastermind, as you look at that, what are the different ways this could play out?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think one of the reasons that this played to Sanders' benefit last night is his great threat is if that two-thirds of the party that doesn't support Bernie Sanders can coalesce behind one candidate. I think the Bloomberg campaign was hoping to be that candidate. They have positioned themselves by spending $400 million in those Super Tuesday states to be the alternative to Sanders.

But if Joe Biden succeeds in getting into that Super Tuesday round, if some of the others get into that Super Tuesday round, it dilutes the opposition and it puts Sanders in a better position. And only Bloomberg has the resources to compete across those 14 states with Sanders. And Sanders has momentum and money of his own.

So the calendar advantages Sanders. It would advantage Bloomberg, but not if he performs poorly and it encourages others to pour into that race. The one caveat to that is, I don't think Bernie Sanders was thrilled to see Elizabeth Warren have a great night last night because she is someone who drained some of his votes, and he would love to see her fall by the wayside.

CAMEROTA: Friends, thank you all very much. Great to get your reporting this morning.

Another big night on CNN tonight. Two back-to-back presidential town halls. Joe Biden at 8:00 p.m. and then Elizabeth Warren at 9:00 p.m. eastern live from Las Vegas.

BERMAN: We just talked a little bit about Joe Biden. He was under the radar for the most part at last night's debate. But some people thought he had one of his stronger debate performances after two disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire. What's his path forward? One of his biggest supporters, a former Democratic presidential nominee himself, will join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:15:38]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm ahead by eight points across the board. So in terms of being able to beat Donald Trump, I'm better positioned, according to your poll, than anybody else to beat Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So that was Joe Biden last night referring to a recent poll that has him leading President Trump in a general election matchup. That same poll, though, shows that Biden's standing in the Democratic contest has fallen sharply since January.

Joining me now is the former secretary of state and a Democratic presidential nominee himself, John Kerry. He is campaigning for Joe Biden this week in South Carolina.

Secretary Kerry, thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate your time.

JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Very happy to be with you. Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: So, I want to get to Joe Biden in a second. But first, you were the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, when one of the candidates who was on the debate stage last night endorsed your Republican opponent.

So, let's go back in the time machine to the moment where Michael Bloomberg endorsed George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, THEN-NYC MAYOR: The president deserves our support. We are here to support him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So I'm wondering, Secretary Kerry, what it was like for you last night to watch the guy who endorsed your opponent in 2004 campaigning for the Democratic nomination?

KERRY: I didn't think about it for one instant and it's not worth spend anything time on.

I know Mike Bloomberg. I like him. I think his position on climate change has been terrific. He's done a lot of good work.

He obviously had a very tough night last night. I thought the debate overall was something of a food fight among a lot of candidates, except Joe Biden. I think Joe Biden managed to stay above that fray.

He was the only one that I really heard talking about working people, about a plan for Americans who are struggling to get into the middle class and people who want to stay there who can't pay their bills. He had an infrastructure program for the nation. And he didn't put things on the table that are not possible to achieve. And I think Amy Klobuchar hit that.

You know, it doesn't make a lot of sense to be talking about a health care plan that's going to kick 150 million Americans off of their health insurance that doesn't even have the support of half the Democratic Caucus.

So, I thought the most important thing to focus on out of last night is that Joe Biden is the one candidate, according to the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll who wins the battleground states. You know, I know what it's like to win the nomination, and I won Wisconsin, I won Michigan, I won Pennsylvania. I know those states. And Joe Biden is best positioned to be able to win those states and win the presidency.

So, he also is the only candidate in the field who was invited by congressional candidates in very difficult districts in America to go campaign for them. He campaigned in 24 states for 65 candidates, and we won the House of Representatives.

I want a nominee who has coattails. A nominee that our other candidates are not going to run away from, and I think Joe Biden clearly is that candidate. Finally, you have a very divided vote right now. You know, the leading candidate is somewhere in the 20s in terms of percentage.

You have four candidates dividing up a block of votes. The majority of the people when you add that up do not believe we ought to be kicking 150 million Americans off of their health insurance. The majority do not believe we can afford a number of the programs that have been put on the table.

And I think as Nevada happens, South Carolina happens, you're going to begin to see a weaning out of this. And clearly last night, the majority of the candidates all believe you ought to live by the rules. Only one candidate suggested you shouldn't.

The rules are that a majority of the delegates choose who the nominee is. And if that takes more than one ballot, it takes more than one ballot. That's democracy. That's how democracy works.

BERMAN: All right. I got to take a breath. There was a lot in that. One of the things you said is that Joe Biden --

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: Well, It was meant to be. I was worried about -- you know, you never know how much time you get here.

BERMAN: I understand. I appreciate that.

You said that Joe Biden is the only candidate campaigning for the working people.

[08:20:00]

I will say that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, all the candidates up there --

KERRY: No, no --

BERMAN: -- are making the case that their plans are for the working people. All I will say is that you seem to disagree with the policy proposals

for the working people that Bernie Sanders has given. And to address another point there, you're suggesting that his policies don't have coattails for other Democrats around the country. Why not?

KERRY: Well, I didn't -- I didn't say he's the only candidate who -- I didn't say that Joe is the only candidate who is campaigning generally talking about working people. But he's the only one last night who didn't get involved in a much more personalized kind of food fight and who I think did address the concerns of working folks in Africa and I think he enjoys very strong --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: But why no coattails, why no coattails, why no coattails for Bernie Sanders? If Bernie Sanders is the one with the highest percentage of the vote right now in the polls, why don't you think that means coattails down the line?

KERRY: Well, I can't tell you. I think you have to ask -- I think you ask -- have to ask those members of Congress today who ran in very difficult districts who never asked Bernie Sanders had been out there four years later to campaign for them, who didn't want him in their district. I mean, you have to look at the results of that poll that show that Joe Biden is the person who wins those battleground states.

And if you don't win the battleground states, you don't win the presidency.

BERMAN: Can I -- you know, you know -- can I ask you a question?

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: Let me just finish on -- let me just finish one point.

BERMAN: You know that New Hampshire is a battleground state. It's a state that actually you won and George W. Bush lost in 2000.

What did Joe Biden just finish in New Hampshire? He finished fifth in New Hampshire.

KERRY: I know. And I think Joe Biden -- Joe Biden would be the -- Joe Biden would be the first person to tell you that organizationally, he didn't feel he did what he needed to do. And I think in his performance in one of the earlier debates, he wasn't happy with that.

I thought last night, Joe Biden was as -- was strong, very strong. And everybody has agreed he had one of the best debates that he's had, and he was there last night, and I think his game on is -- I think he's on, and people feel that.

But, you know, come back to the question you had about Bernie. I mean, the reality is, I'm not against any one of those candidates. I'm for a candidate that I am convinced has the best chance of beating Trump. And the best evidence of that is the fact that Donald Trump has spent months now throwing mud, dirt, made-up allegations at Joe Biden. Why has he spent so much time going after Joe Biden? Because he knows

that Joe Biden from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Joe Biden who has always been, you know, lunch pail Joe, Uncle Joe, the guy who has the ability to really relate to some of the people, that Trump mis -- you know, sort of faked it with last time, pretending he's representing them.

But he doesn't represent them. He's enlarged the swamp. He's breaking the law. He's made it harder for working folks to be able to --

BERMAN: Secretary --

KERRY: -- achieve their dream of getting into the working class. And I think Joe Biden understands that and articulates that better than anybody. I think what you'll see is as Nevada --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Hang on one second. Let me get a question in because we're going to run out of time. You brought up in your first answer --

KERRY: Sure.

BERMAN: -- unprompted the idea of what happens if you go into the convention without a majority of delegates. Bernie Sanders said that he thinks the candidate with the plurality, the most delegates going in, should get the nomination no matter what.

What would it do to the party in your mind if the candidate with the most delegates --

KERRY: First of all, first of all --

BERMAN: -- with the most delegates going in didn't get the nomination?

KERRY: But this is not a race for the most delegates going into the convention. And Bernie Sanders himself had a very different position four years ago. He was on the other side of that. So consistency is not unimportant.

But more importantly, the rules are what are important. The rules are you have to win a majority of the delegates. It doesn't matter if you go in with the most -- unless it's by, you know, 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 or something.

But if it's a close race, and one other candidate is staying in the race because they want to go to the convention and, yet they're not going to be the nominee, and their votes happen to be the votes that would go to another candidate, that's democracy. That's why you have multiple ballots.

I mean, go back in history. For years we've had conventions where there were successive ballots, and as one candidate didn't have enough to be viable, those votes chose to go somewhere else. That's their right. Those are the rules. That's exactly how democracy works.

And the notion that you go in with a plurality and you're automatic, that has never been the democracy that any of us have participated in.

BERMAN: It's been a --

KERRY: When you become a candidate for president of the United States, you know what the rules are. And if you're going to be a good president, you need to play by the rules, something that Donald Trump doesn't do.

[08:25:00]

BERMAN: Understood.

KERRY: Joe Biden is positioned to hold him accountable for that.

BERMAN: It's been since 1952, the last time there were multiple votes at a convention was 1952, which is a while ago, but I take your point.

Secretary Kerry --

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: Yes, because candidates lined up the majority before they got there.

BERMAN: I understand, understood.

KERRY: It's pretty simple equation, folks.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) Walter Mondale. But I take your point.

Secretary Kerry, it's a pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much for your time.

KERRY: Thank you.

BERMAN: We'll see you on the trail.

KERRY: Great to be with you. You bet.

BERMAN: All right. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Spirited. Very interesting to hear from him.

BERMAN: You know, he -- he's been through this before.

CAMEROTA: Yes, he has an experience with all of this.

BERMAN: And he's got some experience running and trying to get his message out.

CAMEROTA: Got a lot to say.

BERMAN: Yes. CAMEROTA: OK. Meanwhile, the Nevada caucuses are this weekend. Bernie Sanders is trying to mend fences with one of Nevada's largest labor unions. Which candidate do they support? Do they accept his -- what he said last night, his, first of all, apology. The union's president joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: The Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas does not like Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-All plan. And Bernie Sanders supporters are not taking that criticism lightly. The Culinary Union is part of a national organization that represents 300,000 basically hospitality workers across North America.

END