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Rivals Turn Up Heat on Sanders Ahead of Debate Tonight; Trump Says Sotomayor And Ginsburg Should Recuse Themselves from His Cases; Vanessa Bryant And Jordan Give Emotional Farewells to Kobe. Player Hits Record Hours After Speaking at Kobe Memorial. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 25, 2020 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: As the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders can expect his rivals to take aim at him at tonight's Presidential debate in South Carolina. Senator Sanders will likely face even more criticism after he defended his remarks about the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro during a CNN Town Hall.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT) DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Fidel Castro first came to power, which was, when, '59? Does that sound right?


SANDERS: OK. Do you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. It was a lot of folks in Cuba at the point who were illiterate, and he formed the literacy brigade, you may read that. They went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing. The truth is the truth, and that's what happened on the first years of the Castro regime.


BALDWIN: Let's talk to Al Cardenas, he is the former chair of the Republican Party in Florida and a Cuban immigrant who came to the U.S. with his family at the age of 11. So, Al, welcome back, nice to have you on.

AL CARDENAS, FORMER CHAIR, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Good to be with you. Those comments were both personally disturbing and troubling to me as an American citizen.

BALDWIN: Talk to me about that. I mean, I read that you say Bernie Sanders is a no-go.

CARDENAS: Well, look, basically, you know, my personal history, a history of my family, the suffering, the property expropriation, the lack of safety, the fleeing to the United States, hearing that response is personally troubling, but even disturbing.

But even more troubling is the fact that our country's in the midst of a global competition between market forces and central governments, between human rights defenders and violators, between the free press and censorship. There's a world of good and there's a world of evil out there.

If you're going to be citing and saying the benefits of a Cuba, a Russia, a China, and North Korea, and can't say that this President shows me much more than that, then you're going to have two candidates competing to see who's going to be the leader of the most significant powerful country in the world who's supposed to be matching up against these evil forces.

It gives me no comfort to have these choices at our disposal, and frankly it's a lack of understanding of the values that we represent and are supposed to defend in our country.

BALDWIN: You just alluded to the parallels, right? I mean, you think back 2016 and Donald Trump did something similar just on a different political scale, and now you have Bernie Sanders. Al, what does it say just about American politics that in these past two elections we have had candidates on both the left and the right who defend autocrats in some form or fashion?

CARDENAS: It's eerily similar, right? You've got this angry base in our party that frankly represents about 30 or 35 percent of our electorate but given how we -- given how we have delegates selection, you had other candidates to the center right who split that vote and Donald Trump emerged victorious.

Here you've got Bernie Sanders at 27, 28 percent. You've got four or five candidates on the center left splitting that vote and Bernie Sanders has emerged victorious. Democrats have a rule, and that is if you don't get to 15 percent, you get no delegates. Those who get above 15 percent split it, and so right now Bernie Sanders looks like a runaway winner, in spite of what may happen in tonight's debate. And frankly, between South Carolina's results and three days later --

BALDWIN: Super Tuesday.

CARDENAS: Three days later Super Tuesday, it's hard to predict how he's going to be stopped. You can't have four candidates on the center right or center left, excuse me, competing against one guy in one lane representing the angry base of his party.

BALDWIN: So then let's finish the thought, playing it forward, and this is the what if game, if it comes down to Senator Sanders versus President Trump in the general election, Al, what do you do?

CARDENAS: Well, I'm not going to vote for either.

BALDWIN: You just won't vote. CARDENAS: I was hoping that there would be someone -- I was hoping

somebody in the center left would emerge in which case -- look, I'm looking for three things. I'm looking for a healer. I'm looking for somebody who can help restore civility in our governance, and I'm looking for somebody who's a problem solver. Somebody who can compromise and get something done in America.

Neither of those two candidates offer those choices to my personal comfort. I'm not going to vote for either of them, frankly, if those are the choices.

BALDWIN: And I have a feeling you may not be alone. Al Cardenas, thank you so much for your perspective. Always welcome here, appreciate it.

CARDENAS: Thank you.


BALDWIN: Coming up next. President Trump takes his attacks on judges all the way up to the justices on the Supreme Court. Why he says Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor should recuse themselves from cases involving him.


BALDWIN: Before heading home after wrapping up his state visit to India, President Trump told reporters that he wants two liberal Supreme Court Justices to recuse themselves from all cases involving him and his administration.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I always thought that frankly that Justice Ginsburg should do it because she went wild during the campaign when I was running. I don't know who she was for, perhaps she was for Hillary Clinton. And then Justice Sotomayor said what she said yesterday. You know very well what she said yesterday. It was a big story, and I just don't know how they cannot recuse themselves for anything having to do with Trump or Trump related.


BALDWIN: That statement from Justice Sonia Sotomayor was actually part of a dissenting opinion about the administration's controversial public charge rule which makes it tough for immigrants to obtain legal status if they use public benefits like food stamps.

So let's start our conversation here with me now, here in New York, Jennifer Rodgers, she's a former Federal Prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, and Caitlin Dickerson is a national immigration reporter for "The New York Times." And ladies, thank you for being here. To you first just on -- can you talk a little bit more about Justice Sotomayor's dissent. CAITLIN DICKERSON, NATIONAL IMMIGRATION REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Sure, her language was pretty scathing, and what she basically said is that the Trump administration is crying wolf. Because what's happened over and over again at this point in almost half a dozen cases is that the Trump administration introduces a controversial policy, and all of a sudden, it's challenged all over the country in state courts.

The administration gets a ruling it doesn't like and so they run to the Supreme Court and ask for an emergency ruling, an emergency stay. And Justice Sotomayor said that their cries for emergent help are ringing increasingly hollow as time goes on.

She said she thought that the courts in running to the administration's help and rescue were actually treating government lawyers better than they treat death row inmates because in each case over and over again, you know, this 5-4 conservative majority is siding with the administration and allowing these policies to come into effect.

BALDWIN: So Jen, I want your thoughts on this. And let me add to that, Sotomayor also wrote that granting emergency application often, quote, upends the normal appellate process while, quote, putting a thumb on the scale in favor of the party that won. What do you make of how the administration has continually appealed to the Supreme Court?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as Justice Sotomayor said it's unprecedented, the number of emergency stays that they've been seeking. And that's a matter that is fully appropriate for a justice to comment on.

The docket of the Supreme Court, they can only take so many cases a year. So for them to keep hearing over and over these, quote, unquote, emergency appeals really cuts into what they're able to do with the rest of their workload.

So commenting on that issue and treating one litigant one way or a class of litigants as opposed to a class of other litigants is really pretty run of a mill for a justice to say in a dissenting opinion, particularly.

BALDWIN: What do you make of how this President -- we remember, I mean, the recusal, he wants a recusal of Sotomayor and RBG but yet remember back in the day when he was furious over the recusal of the then Attorney General Jeff Sessions. So like he wants it one way one day but another --

RODGERS: As is often the case, I'm not sure the President really knows what the rules are with respect to recusals, when they should happen, when they shouldn't happen? I also will just note the notion of RBG going wild about anything is kind of a comical notion. But --

BALDWIN: She's a tough cookie, though, I will say. I saw her in person last week.

RODGERS: It's true. It's true. But recusals at the Supreme Court are up to that particular justice. There's no process for another person or another body to decide on recusal. So that person meaning Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor would have to say to themselves, I am so biased in this matter in a case by the way which Justice Sotomayor didn't say anything about Trump himself, any personal attacks at all. Even there weren't any attacks on the pro-Trump justices per se to say that she would recuse over that, that she couldn't be unbiased in a matter dealing with the entire Presidential administration is ludicrous.

BALDWIN: I appreciate the conversation. We're out of time, Caitlin and Jen, thank you both very much for coming on and talking about this.

Up next, this incredible moment in the wake of Kobe Bryant's death. A college basketball player who spoke at his memorial setting a record on the court just hours later.



BALDWIN: Reflecting on yesterday's emotional farewell to the Laker's great and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. 20,000 fans watched as Kobe's widow Vanessa and NBA legends like Michael Jordan in tears shared their loss.


VANESSA BRYANT, KOBE BRYANT'S WIDOW, GIANNA BRYANT'S MOTHER: Kobe and I have been together since I was 17 1/2 years old. I was his first girlfriend, his first love, his wife, his best friend, his confidant, and his protector.

He was the most amazing husband. Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words. He was the early bird, and I was the night owl. I was fire and he was ice and vice versa at times. We balanced each other out.

He would do anything for me. I have no idea how I deserved a man that loved and wanted me more than Kobe. He isn't going to be here to drop Bianca and Capri off at pre-K or kindergarten. He isn't going to be here to tell me to get a grip, V, when we have to leave the kindergarten classroom or show up to our daughter's doctors' visits for my own moral support.

He isn't going to be able to walk our girls down the aisle or spin me around on the dance floor while singing P.Y.T. to me, but I want my daughters to know and remember the amazing person, husband, and father he was, the kind of man that wanted to teach the future generations to be better.


And keep them from making his own mistakes.

Gianna Bryant is an amazingly sweet and gentle soul. She was always thoughtful. She always kissed me good night and kissed me good morning. There were a few occasions when I was absolutely tired from being up with Bianca and Capri. And I thought she had left the school without saying goodbye.

I texted and say, no kiss. And Gianna would reply with, mama, I kissed you, but you were asleep and I didn't want to wake you. She knew how much her morning and evening kisses meant to me. She was so thoughtful to remember to kiss me every day.

She was daddy's girl, but I know that she loved her momma and she would always tell me and show me how much she loved me. She was one of my very best friends. God knew that they could not be on the earth without each other. He had to bring them home to heaven together.

Babe, you take care of our Gigi, and I got noni, B.B. and Coco. We're still the best team.

MICHAEL JORDAN, NBA LEGEND, CHARLOTTE HORNET'S OWNER: Got too great pride as I got the know Kobe Bryant, that he was just trying to be a better person. A better basketball player. We talked about business. We talked about family. We talked about everything. And he was just trying to be a better person. Now, he's got me and I have to look at another crying meme for the Knicks -- I told my wife I wasn't going to do this, because I did not want to see that for the next three or four years. That is what Kobe Bryant does to me.

SABRINA IONESCU, UNIVERSITY OF OREGON WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM: A week after the accident, I was in Colorado. I had a game and like I

do before every game, I prayed. This time I was thinking about Kobe and Gigi, and his voice is still in my head even if the body is not on this earth.

And all I wanted was a sign that in some way he still heard me, too. I looked off into the sky, and there it was a beautiful golden sunset, the boldest yellow, Lakers yellow, and further in the distance a helicopter. There was my sign that he will forever be with me.

I heard his voice in my head, the last line from one of his books, "walk until the darkness is a memory and you become the sun on the next traveler's horizon." Today may feel like darkness because he was in so many ways a sun, beaming, radiating, fixed in the sky.

I ask each of you, every girl, dad and every human here with a voice, a platform and a heart to not let his sun set, shine for us for our sport where he once did. Invest in us with the same passion and drive and respect and love as he did his own daughter. In the end, she was a sun just trying to rise and god, did she glow. May their light forever shine. Kobe and Gigi, I'll love you forever.


BALDWIN: And that young woman who you just heard there at the tail end that was University of Oregon basketball star Sabrina Ionescu. And just hours after the speech, she made history on the court becoming the first Division I player, male or female, to make 1at least 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 1,000 rebounds in a career.


IONESCU: I mean that one is for him. To do it on 2/24/20 is huge, we talked about it in the preseason. I can't really put that into words and he is looking down and really proud of me, and just really happy for this moment with my team.


BALDWIN: Sabrina, congratulations.

We are minutes from the closing bell, we're watching the Dow took another big hit today as global fears grow over the coronavirus. Quick break, we're back in a moment.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It'll all go away soon. That is not really a plan though. THE LEAD starts right now.

Confident in public, unloading in private, President Trump trying to convince the U.S. that he and his administration are doing enough to contain the novel coronavirus as critics suggest that he's asleep at the wheel, and the virus spreads.

It's Bernie versus the bunch, a critical debate tonight, the last chance for Democratic candidates to knock down the frontrunner Senator Sanders before a major chunk of the country has it's say on Super Tuesday.

Plus, as President Trump is trying the weed out perceived disloyalty inside of the Trump administration, he is also ripping the liberal leaning Justices on the Supreme Court and suggesting that they, too, should get out of his way.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper and we're going to start with breaking news in the money lead.