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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Surging Heading Into South Carolina And Super Tuesday; White House Targeting Disloyalty. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2020 - 07:00   ET

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


[07:00:07]

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Sotomayor said one other thing, which is interesting, is, she said, look, death row inmates often come to the Supreme Court with emergency relief. And they lose, but she's fearful here that the government often wins with this kind of request. She wrote, I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balance decision making process that this court must strive to protect.

No other liberal justice joined this opinion. She was all by herself. But it shows a lot of tensions going on behind the scenes, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: All right, Ariane de Vogue for us in Washington watching that very closely for us, thank you very much.

In the meantime, Bernie Sanders surging ahead, a convincing win in Nevada. Now, South Carolina is next. New Day continues right now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

Bernie Sanders is hoping South Carolina will help him turn the 2020 primary into a slam dunk. The Vermont senator is coming off a big victory in the Nevada caucuses over the weekend. CNN projects he will win that state with 47 percent of the vote. And that cements him as the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

But former Vice President Joe Biden still leads most polls in South Carolina ahead of this Saturday's primary there.

BERMAN: So there are some Democrat who are approaching at this point all-out panic. One tells Politico, quote, that was Sanders leading in 30-plus years of politics, I've never seen this level of doom. They raised questions about whether Sanders can beat President Trump and raised concerns about new quotes like this one to Anderson Cooper where Sanders defend some of the policies of the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba. But, you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing even though Fidel Castro did it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Meanwhile, inside the Trump administration, Axios is reporting that Trump White House and its allies over the past 18 months for the central detailed lists of government officials they consider somehow disloyal to the president and the pro-Trump people they want in the position. This is according to more than a dozen close sources to AXIOS. The White House is yet to comment. We're going to have much more on that later this hour.

Joining us now first on the Democratic race for president, CNN Political Correspondent Abby Phillip, Political Senior Washington Correspondent Anna Palmer, and CNN Political Commentator and co-Host of The Circus on SHOWTIME, Mark McKinnon.

Let's throw up the results from Nevada on Saturday, the Nevada caucuses where Bernie Sanders won nearly 47 percent of the vote, more than twice as much as Joe Biden in number two. And it wasn't just that he won, it's how he won. Look at Hispanic votes. 51 percent of Hispanic voters voted for Joe Biden, according to the entrance polls there. And among black voters, which was supposed to be Joe Biden's strength, Sanders is competitive, just 12 points behind, I think much closer than some people had projected.

So a convincing win in Nevada, putting him in a very good position, Anna Palmer, and putting many Democrats according to your newsletter, which went out a few minutes ago, putting some Democrats into near panic this morning. Why?

ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes. I mean, Democrats in the establishment are in clear freak-out mode right now. Everybody else I was talking over the weekend, this is not the candidate that they wanted to go forward. I think, in some ways, it's pretty surprising in the sense that there was a lot more contingency planning on an Elizabeth Warren, also another liberal Democrat, for a lot of these kinds of consultants in the establishment class.

But, clearly, right now, you know, it is going to be Bernie Sanders to lose, he is the frontrunner, and people are going to have to get their minds wrap around that and what does that mean for the future of the Democratic Party, and particularly, I think, important in terms on some of those down ballot races in the House where they won those suburban districts that are pretty conservative. It's going to be hard to figure out how those candidates are going to try to run with Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Mark. Maybe consultants and political analysts don't know anything, know best.

[07:05:00]

MARK MCKINNON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think a lot of them don't know anything, and I just put myself in that class. But with the suggestion, which is, I'm seeing a lot of -- I'm seeing and hearing a lot that reminds me of 2016 right or about this point, people saying the same things about Donald Trump, right?

I think we have such conventional wisdom to put these opinions and through to a traditional frame, because so much has changed and has changed. And I think we just have to acknowledge that the American electorate is a lot different today than it's ever been.

CAMEROTA: They are not using conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom that has guided all of the political races that you've been part of in 2016, it broke. And now we're not seeing it.

MCKINNON: I think it's breaking again. I think that there's a reasonable argument to say that Bernie Sanders, given the way that the coalition that he's putting together, may be the best candidate for Democrats. I mean, it's not traditional, but he maybe the best. And he may be getting passion out of these voters, he may be getting a new coalition voters. Of course, that's what they -- the playbook that they want to do is bring new voters. And at the end of the day, I think they believe they're going to bring some of those centrist voters over as well.

So I just -- you know, I'm not -- my hair is not on fire. I'm going to take a look at this. I think it's fascinating the way that Sanders has attracted this coalition. Listen, that train came out of the station out in Nevada with a lot of people on board. And it isn't slowing down.

BERMAN: No. With the idea is -- the question was did he have a ceiling? Well, the answer is no.

MCKINNON: You are right.

BERMAN: At least not in Nevada. He was able to attract a broad based coalition, not just liberals, but also moderates and conservatives, Hispanics, overwhelming victory there.

The question now, Abby, as we go to South Carolina, where you are, is, well, can Sanders land a knockout blow there. If he somehow he managed to win in South Carolina -- you know, that was Joe Biden's firewall. He is still leading in the most recent polls in South Carolina, 28-23 over Bernie Sanders. But, but that's the question Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But not by nearly as much, I think, frankly, as the Biden campaign would like at this point. I mean, you know, talking to Biden advisers, that they're pretty clear, they needed to come in second place in Nevada and they need to win in South Carolina. But they don't need to just eke it out. They have to win by a lot.

Because the whole argument for Joe Biden at this point is his base is the Democratic Party's base. It is African-American voters, the most loyal and reliable voting bloc in the Democratic coalition. And he is the one who can bring them out in large enough numbers that can help Democrats win in November. And if he can't proves that here in South Carolina and and that Bernie Sanders cuts into that narrative, I think it can be a real problem for him.

And Sanders right now is behind Biden, you know, by a decent amount. But he is doing the best among the Democratic contenders. It's Bernie Sanders and it's Tom Steyer here in South Carolina who are doing the most to cut into Biden's lead with black voters.

So that's what everyone is watching here tonight. And I think, you know, it's interesting to hear and I think not entirely surprising that some people in the Democratic establishment still are taken aback by Bernie Sanders. But in 2016 Bernie Sanders did really well with Democrats. I mean, he got a lot of Democratic support in the primary. So it should not be that much of a surprise that he is building on that in 2020.

And I think one of the things to kind of look at in the last several days is the Sanders campaign is the only campaign in this race to show kind of a sort of groundswell of support. If you look at the crowds that he's pulling everywhere he goes, it really shows us a kind of enthusiasm that you don't see with virtually any of the other candidates. And I think that's one of the reasons why Sanders seems to be kind of, you know, just -- he has that momentum that you need. If you are any of the candidates right now, you need that momentum going in.

And frankly, I think Joe Biden would like to have that, but it's not there. And so South Carolina is really going to be the big stand for Joe Biden as we go forward.

CAMEROTA: This morning, I'm going to be sitting down with our group of black South Carolina voters. You'll remember the last time we sat down with them. Their word was pragmatic. They were willing to vote for whoever the practical choice was that could beat Donald Trump.

And, Anna, I just don't know. Is Bernie Sanders the pragmatic choice? Is that what he is shaping up into or is he the kind of take a flier choice?

PALMER: Well, he certainly is the outlier in the sense of the traditional candidate, as we've already kind of said this morning. What's interesting to me is going to be when you talk to those voters is Jim Clyburn, House Majority Whip, is going to come out today supporting Joe Biden. Does that give him a boost here or do you see, you know, Bernie Sanders continue to try to kind of edge out some of his support in South Carolina?

[07:10:01]

If it's five points or less and Bernie is really up on the heels of Joe Biden going into Super Tuesday, it's hard to see whether or not that he's no longer the pragmatic choice, because he's going to have the most delegates. He's going to go in kind of campaigning into that convention very strong.

BERMAN: All right. We played, Mark, the bite of Bernie Sanders talking about Fidel Castro, saying that he improve literacy when he first came in the power in Cuba, that not all was necessarily bad about him.

CAMEROTA: I think about his policies. I mean, there's a way to interpret it differently there.

BERMAN: Even so, that was upsetting not to just some Republican but to some Democrat as well. Take Donna Shalala, who was a member of Congress now from Florida. She put out a statement last night where she said, quote, I'm hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro.

MCKINNON: Yes. There's going to be a long discussion and a framing about what socialism means, what Democratic socialism means, because we're going to hear a lot about that over the next few months. right? And it's incumbent on Bernie, obviously, to frame that in a way that's palatable to the American public.

And I think there's that opportunity, because he's framing it smartly to say, listen, there are a lot of good things that are happening in this Democratic socialist system that we've got and things we can improve on. Well, the problem is the billionaire socialism in America. All those subsidies and things we get to corporations and billionaires, and that's where the real problem is.

So the interesting thing that Sanders is doing smartly is not much unlike the president, which is they have a narrative which is very similar, which is the system is rigged and you're getting screwed. Bernie just has a different cause and a different prescription. But it's very smart and he's got a lot of smart people, as we're seeing from these results.

So I think it's going to be a different campaign than people imagine at this point.

CAMEROTA: Well, except, Mark, I guess I would just say that the one difference between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump that I can tell so far is that Sanders does deal in more nuance. You know, Democratic socialism, he make the distinction between socialism. President Trump very effectively deals in slogans and deals in kind of one word gut level slogan. And so I don't know that the Sanders -- do we have an appetite for nuance right now in this country?

MCKINNON: Well, what a lot of people have an appetite for, Alisyn, is they want something exactly different than Donald Trump too. So when we elect and replace presidents, we don't do it with a carbon copy. We do it with something completely different. And so if one of the things that people are looking for is some nuance and policy, and maybe a lot of people are compared to the president they have, that could be an advantage.

BERMAN: It's sound interesting because Mark brought up the sort of flash back to 2016 in the Republican race for president against Donald Trump. And one of the things you heard there was a call for some of the candidates to drop out, to clear the field so that opposition to Trump could coalesce around one candidate. You are hearing that now again in the Democratic race. There are people saying, someone has got to drop out. Why is, Amy --

and I'm just putting this out there. I'm not saying it again that I agree with this, but why is Amy Klobuchar still in the race? Pete Buttigieg can't win. he should drop out and clear the field for Joe Biden to stand up to Bernie Sanders.

So, Abby, this is a tough question for candidates. Candidates don't like to be asked day in and day out, why aren't you dropping out.

PHILLIP: Yes. And it's so funny to hear all the candidates saying, somebody should get out of the race but not me, I'm not going to be the one to do it. And I think that as long as that's the case, they're going to continue to have all of these candidates.

The Amy Klobuchar argument is essentially I'm the third highest vote- getter in this race. Why should I drop out when there are two billionaires out there spending millions of dollars and, you know, racking up all these television ads but not getting votes? So, you know, that's going to be what we're hearing for now.

But I do think that South Carolina is going to be very clarifying to people, and certainly Super Tuesday is going to be very clarifying to people.

There are some candidates who are not poised to do very well here in South Carolina. Amy Klobuchar is one of them. Pete Buttigieg is another. You're going to see those candidates having to explain what their path is going forward as the electorate getting more diverse.

We're heading into some Southern states where the black vote is going to continue to be strong and important. And then you have the addition of Michael Bloomberg, who is jumping into Super Tuesday, is going to suck up some of this, you know, supposed moderate lane and is going to make it even harder for the moderates to coalesce.

The problem though is that, yes, maybe you can add up all the moderates and you can get a high percentage. But the question is what really does happen when some of the moderates drop out of the race. I don't think anyone can be 100 percent sure that those votes are going to coalesce around one moderate. Maybe Bernie Sanders, he is starting to win and rack up wins. Democrats want a winner. It is possible that that is not necessarily just going to help a moderate but can only solidify the strength that Bernie Sanders has to go forward.

[07:15:00]

CAMEROTA: I know you spent some time, Mark, with Elizabeth Warren recently. And what can you share with her path, how she's feeling?

MCKINNON: Well, energized from this week. The outcome wasn't exactly what she wanted but she found a foil in Michael Bloomberg. And one of the great hall of fame debate performances reminded me of Christie taking down Rubio, of Benson taking down of Quayle, of Reagan and Mondale. I mean, it really was an epic performance.

And by the way, not only a great performance, but it occurred to me that had Michael Bloomberg been in the race much earlier, I think she'd have been doing a lot better, because that's who she's running against. And he became -- you can just see everything about her and why people like her. And she had such a clear and animated message about the billionaire class.

So it was great for Warren. It was terrible for Bloomberg. It would be interesting to see what happens this week. The Bloomberg folks have canceled, I believe, a --

BERMAN: Delayed. He's doing it Wednesday night.

MCKINNON: Okay, I'm sorry, glad to clarify. But, seriously, getting down to debate prep because we know how important those moments are, as we saw from the other night. And, you know, Bloomberg has got an opportunity for a good second look next week, I think.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Thank you all.

MCKINNON: And he needs one.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Great to get your take on all of this. And be sure to watch the first of a special two-night CNN town hall event, seven presidential candidates will take voter questions live from Charleston, South Carolina. This all starts tonight at 9:00 Eastern only on CNN.

Okay. There's also new reporting of the White House's compiling a blacklist of people who are not sufficiently loyal to the president. The reporter who broke that story joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:20:00]

BERMAN: So a new report in Axios this morning says that over the past 18 months, the Trump White House has been given these detailed lists of government officials who aren't sufficiently loyal to the president. Joining us now is the author of this piece, National Political Reporter of Axios, Jonathan Swan.

Jonathan, I'm going to read some of your own reporting here.

CAMEROTA: The brilliance of it.

BERMAN: You say the Trump White House and its allies over the past 18 month's assembled detailed lists of disloyal government officials to oust and trusted pro-Trump people to replace them, according to more than a dozen sources familiar with the effort who spoke to Axios. Do tell.

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: So we've all read and seen about the current desire of the president to purge his government of people who are, quote, unquote, never-Trump, Anti-Trump. He's used various phrases. He's told his new head of presidential personnel, which is his 29-year-old former body man that he wants to get rid of all the bad people.

But this is -- I've been doing a lot of reporting on this to sort of piece -- reconstruct how this came to be. And the president over the past 12 to 18 months has actually amassed a great deal of written material, memos, lists that have supported his suspicions.

Now, the memos have come from different corners, but a number of them have come from a group of conservative activists, very well connected called Groundswell headed by Ginni Thomas, who is the wife of the Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas. And another person in the group is Republican Senate staffer, Barbara Ledeen.

Now, they've been quite effective if you look behind the scenes at this. They led the campaign to get rid of H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser. President Trump, when he shocked his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin recently, and withdrew after nominating Mnuchin's pick for this top position, Trump withdrew her at the last minute.

That was based, I'm told, on a very detailed memo which laid out all the alleged misdeeds that Jessie Liu had committed in her former role as U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. The misdeeds included signing the sentencing filing for General Flynn, Michael Flynn, included the fact that she did not indict the former Deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe, obviously an enemy of President Trump's, and various other actions that she did or didn't take in her role as a U.S. Attorney.

CAMEROTA: Jonathan, any time we hear blacklist and purge, it sends a shiver up the spine. And I'm just trying to figure out right now if these are truly people on this list who were working at cross-purposes from the president so, therefore, there would be some justification to needing them all to be gone in order to accomplish the agenda or if these are people who don't sufficiently praise the president and are just questioning some of the things that are being done as people in every administration do.

SWAN: Well, it's interesting. There's no way to categorize all of them because they all fit different definitions of the term, never- Trump. The term never-Trump, as one senior White House said to me, the term has lost all meaning. It gets attributed to people that sometimes people have a personal animus against. Sometimes they genuinely do oppose the president.

But other striking thing about this, we're three years into the presidency and many of these people are people that President Trump appointed himself or that his cabinet secretaries appointed or that his own personnel office appointed.

So when he cause -- you know, he uses the term deep state in a very wide blanket way. But when he says deep state about a lot of these people, these are people that his own team appointed. So that's the other remarkable thing about this. And now, we're in a situation where they're drawing up lists of names of people who are political appointees, Trump appointees who are disloyal, never-Trump, anti- Trump, et cetera.

[07:25:07]

BERMAN: That's a great point. By and large, many, if not, most of these people are people appointed by the administration. You're handpicked by him or handpicked by the process that he put in place.

SWAN: Jessie Liu is not deep state. She is is a political appointee put up by the treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

BERMAN: Worked in the Justice Department, appointed by the Trump administration even before that.

SWAN: Yes.

BERMAN: The question is so what now? What will be done with these lists? And I'm asking because Steve Bannon, which is a quote I've read a few times on this show, mentioned to The Washington Post of Donald Trump. He said, now he understands how to use the full powers of the presidency. The pearl-clutchers better get used to it. In other words, does this indicate that there will be some kind of purge? The president sees no boundaries to this anymore.

SWAN: Well, we've already seen people get marched out and fired and nominations withdrawn. The question is the scale of it. The ambition is there. I mean, John McEntee has been given the purview to clean house, quote, unquote. And this is not just one agency. This is not just clearing out the FBI. We know Trump has had problems with the DOJ. This is across government.

So President Trump has talked about snakes, again, quote, unquote, at departments including the State Department, the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon. They recently fired the number three there when -- and he was someone who -- a conservative activist, including members of Groundswell were campaigning against. So, obviously, they're fired -- they're reassigned, sorry. I think upwards of 50 people on the NSC, they're doing a dramatic downsizing there.

So this is not -- when you say, will it happen, it's already happening. The question is the scale to which they can execute it.

One thing I'll just add is when the president's personnel, head of personnel office, met with cabinet White House liaisons from the cabinet agencies on Thursday last week, he did tell them that some of the dramatic changes may have to wait until after the election. So there's a question about timing here too.

CAMEROTA: Well, everyone should read your reporting to understand what is coming down the pipeline, because some of this is just chilling stuff.

SWAN: Well, I liked your dramatic reading. I thought that was very good.

BERMAN: I appreciate that.

CAMEROTA: We specialize in that. BERMAN: Reading out loud, something we do well. Jonathan Swan, thank you very much for your time this morning.

SWAN: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: So the Democratic frontrunner, Bernie Sanders, out just this morning with a plan for free child care and early education for all. The details, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:30:00]