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INSIDE POLITICS

Democrats Spar In Final Debate Before Super Tuesday; Senator Bernie Sanders Defends His Proposals Says They Aren't That Radical; Democrats Gang Up On Senator Bernie Sanders In South Carolina Debate; Donald Trump To Hold 6 PM ET News Conference On Coronavirus; CDC: 59 Confirmed Cases Of Coronavirus In United States. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2020 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. President Trump calls an evening briefing and press conference about the Coronavirus, scrambling to get his administration on the same page after days of mixed signals and market turmoil.

Plus a messy debate as the 2020 Democratic Race approaches a crossroads. South Carolina Saturday, 14 states next Tuesday. Bernie Sanders was the constant debate target because he has a clear path to pull away in the delegate chase.

And last stand or spring board to a comeback Joe Biden gets a late but important endorsement in must win South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): This country is at an important point. It is time for us to restore this country's dignity. No one wants to admit it, to the fundamental principles that make this country what it is. My good friend my late wife's great friend Joe Biden.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A packed hour ahead. But we begin right there, the morning after the big South Carolina Democratic Debate and Joe Biden landing that late but key endorsement, the influential South Carolina Congressman, Democrat James Clyburn.

The Former Vice President guarantees a South Carolina win Saturday and hopes Clyburn can now help as the other candidates try to make inroads with African-Americans. That competition was a major sub plot of last night's debate. It is more a food fight more a shouting match really.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you get nominated we will be re-litigating this all year.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You talk to what I am.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Warren--

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN: I was talking to Bernie--

BUTTIGIEG: I want to send those Democrats back to the United States House. Let's listen to them when they say they don't want to be out there defending--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vice President Biden, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Bernie Sanders you see him there also campaigning in South Carolina right now. Sanders is in play in South Carolina poised for a solid or better Super Tuesday and already the early delegate leader. So he was the number one debate target the other six candidates trying to paint Sanders as way too risky a bet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: I think I would make a better President than Bernie.

BUTTIGIEG: Imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump. Think about what will be like for this country.

TOM STEYER (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie Sanders' analysis is right. The difference is I don't like his solutions.

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie in fact hasn't passed much of anything.

KLOBUCHAR: I don't think this is the best person to lead the ticket.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Should you keep on going we will elect Bernie. Bernie will lose to Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Jeff Zeleny on the ground live in Charleston this morning. Jeff, three days left to campaign. What is the sense the morning after?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, some of those bruises I think, still healing from last night. It was an extraordinary free-for-all, and it is unclear who an actual winner was?

But Joe Biden clearly had a bounce in his step this morning as he accepted that endorsement from Congressman James Clyburn. There is no stronger or better endorsement if you want if you're Joe Biden.

All the other Democratic rivals would have gladly accepted this Joe Biden needed this. The question is what does it mean going into Saturday? There is no doubt that Congressman Clyburn speaks to an older set of other, older African-American voters in particular and many of whom are still undecided. They tell pollsters that up to half of the voters here say they could still change their minds.

So Joe Biden was looking for a strong debate performance. He needed it last night, and he got it. I've been to all these debates and I think it was his strongest debate performance. The question is about Bernie Sanders. He is still making inroads here among younger voters.

And the Clyburn endorsement, what does that mean exactly for younger voters? We know that establishment figures like that speak more to older voters. So the Congressman flew back to Washington for business there Bernie Sanders is still on the ground campaigning here.

He is not looking beyond South Carolina like his advisers were saying they might be doing several days ago. He is actually fighting for South Carolina. He has a rally here North Charleston going to Marital Beach, going to Spartanburg going to Columbia.

So he is putting the work here in on the ground. If he wins in South Carolina on Saturday, and its game over for this whole idea of stopping his movement but Joe Biden thinks he is winning here. He is campaigning here and now has the seal of approval from Congressman Clyburn John so the next three days certainly fascinating here and then boy off to the races on Super Tuesday, John.

KING: A lot of fun still ahead. Jeff Zeleny live on the ground of Charleston I appreciate it very much. With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights Julie Pace with "The Associated Press" CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast" and Margaret Talev with "AXIOS".

[12:05:00]

KING: I want to come back to Clyburn and Biden a little bit later. But to the point of what Jeff just said, a few days ago, the Sanders campaign was we will do our best in South Carolina but there was a possibility after the debate. You do a morning event and you pop up for a Super Tuesday state. You try to split the difference saying Biden's got that I'm going to do a muscle flex come Tuesday.

They clearly see a chance to win which is why one of the challenges for Senator Sanders last night everyone was saying you're radical, you're outside the mainstream, you tanked the party Sanders holding his ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Do we think healthcare for all, Pete, is some kind of radical communist idea?

BUTTIGIEG: Let's talk about that.

SANDERS: Do we think raising the minimum wage to living wage? Do we think building millions of units of affordable housing and raising taxes on billionaires is a radical idea?

BUTTIGIEG: Let's talk about this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The debate was messy. It was unruly it was out of control at times. However, if you're a voter watching, especially a Bernie Sanders' voter no reason to turn away was there. He defended his ideas, he had fight and he had spunk knew he was the target and said bring it on.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I think that's why listen, we don't know what that means in South Carolina. We don't know how firm his support is in South Carolina. He's certainly doing better with African-Americans than he did last go round Hillary Clinton I think 185 percent of African-American voters in 2016.

So he has about 20 percent or so. You could tell Joe Biden, they're trying to figure out he went after Sanders on gun control mentioning some of his past votes that don't look so good in terms of where the Democratic Party is on those votes now. He also went after Steyer on private prisons.

Steyer is sitting on about 19 percent of the African-American vote. So you can tell he's being squeezed on both sides and trying to figure out how solid that support is? Jim Clyburn, I think is going to be the difference between - is he closer to 5 percent in terms of his margin of victory or closer to 10 percent?

And Jim Clyburn obviously well-known throughout the state among African-Americans Older African-Americans but their kids as well and he has got a huge field operation there. That's what Jim Clyburn--

KING: So we'll see how that plays out. And again back to Senator Sanders. What was interesting was everybody came after him more gentle than the others but even Elizabeth Warren on the debate stage and then later in the spin room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: The plan that Bernie has put out doesn't explain how we get there? It doesn't explain how we are going to expand the coalition to get it done? And it doesn't explain how we are going to pay for it? That's a real problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Everybody, even like-minded progressive Elizabeth Warren understands here if Sanders wins or is close to a second in South Carolina then has a very, very strong Super Tuesday. Number one, they're toast. They have no wins. What's their claim to stay in the race and number two he starts open a delegate lead.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, someone like Elizabeth Warren, they're diminishing returns for going hard against Bernie Sanders because those are some of the voters that you would want to give you another look so going after particularly his most loyal supporters.

However, the others, the attacks just didn't land, even the gun answer, he doesn't really have a good answer for, that would be palatable to people who are more pro gun control, nothing really landed on him.

Part of that is delivery but part of it was when you're someone who have been making the same arguments for as long as Bernie Sanders is, he knows who he is and so he can have answers to be called out.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: One thing I would say on Warren, I was at one of her events on Monday in South Carolina, and it was really interesting. She has resisted for a long time going after anybody in the field but particularly Bernie to Jackie's point because she knows if he were to falter she wouldn't inherit at some of his supporters.

But I had talked to several women who are Warren's supporters after that event. And they specifically told me they wanted to see her do that in the debate. They think she is the better progressive candidate. They think she is more effective and they wanted her to make that case in a really clear way. So I think in some ways she was responding to what her campaign has been hearing from her voters. It is unclear if it is coming too hard for her.

KUCINICH: And going after Bloomberg plays into that.

MARGARET TALEV, POLITICS & WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, AXIOS: I think that Bloomberg really made the most explicit case against Sanders as the nominee. He said if we nominate - if Democrats that way, if they nominate him that he would lose to Trump and they would take down the House and the Senate as well.

But Warren's role as kind of a Sanders' wing man, which is like really weird and interesting to watch, because it sounds like she wants him to be the nominee but probably more than Bloomberg has helped to dial that back.

I think with Bloomberg, the real question is whether we can see him translate what he has been doing to Sanders on stage into ads. He's resisted it so far, the ads have all been Anti-Trump ads, Pro Mike Bloomberg ads but between now and Super Tuesday like I think we are all waiting to see whether that makes a difference.

[12:10:00]

KING: And that is part of the calculation will someone, someone emerge as the alternative to Sanders as opposed to this group of people all beating him up which he's fine with if he gets his 28, 30 percent of the vote and they're splitting everything else or Nevada he did even better than that.

So he is fine with that for now. Mayor Bloomberg is one percent who says it should me. Vice President Biden needs a South Carolina win so he can say it should be me. Warren is trying to find her spot. The other one is Mayor Buttigieg, listen to Mayor Buttigieg talking to CNN this morning again, he is not expected he has troubles with voters of color. We saw that in Nevada, we think we're going to see it in South Carolina. We'll see a few days left. We'll see he is trying to make the case Democrats, you have to pick one and he says it should be him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG: I think our best shot is if you believe in a different vision from Senator Sanders, which is where most Democrats are then the time has come for us to look at what our strongest option is going to be.

Again as the person he has gotten the most delegates of votes besides him. He is the only one to beat Bernie Sanders anywhere in the country so far this year. I believe ours is the right campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's an argument. He's right. He won more delegates barely in Iowa. He was very close competitive in New Hampshire. He is absolutely right on the facts. The question is as we move on if you have a disappointing South Carolina and then you're going to Super Tuesday where is the win?

HENDERSON: Where's the money to for Pete Buttigieg? I mean, one of the things you saw him do early on in that debate is give the name of his website. Because he's running low on money he hasn't been able to attract any voters of color at this point, younger voters either.

He was fine in that debate. He is always very articulate. But I think in some ways he has trouble breaking through partly because he's a 38- year-old Mayor of a small town or Former Mayor of a small town in Indiana.

I think it's a lot to ask people to back him for President. People have Mayors they don't necessarily think their own Mayor should be President of the United States. I think it's a leap to ask voters in South Carolina and in these Super Tuesday states to back him for the nomination. We'll see though.

KING: And it is a harder leap, when you have familiar faces like Biden and Sanders and then you have even during the debate every time they went to a commercial break there was a Bloomberg ads.

You're trying to break through, you're trying to say give me a look, and everywhere voters look, they're seeing somebody else because of money. We'll come back to the story and this CNN programming note as well.

We'll continue our series of Town Halls live from South Carolina. We're quite there at the schedule tonight Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. Tonight it beings at 7:00 pm eastern right here on CNN get some popcorn, that's worth watching. Up next, the President says his administration is on top of the

Coronavirus but his own words have undermined the efforts of the Public Health Professionals.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:00]

KING: President Trump is promising a White House Coronavirus update tonight that's an administration effort to regrouping after days of mixed signals and sharp criticism from critics that say the administration is not doing enough.

Democrats are front and center in that criticism. The Senate's top Democrat Chuck Schumer today detailing a proposal to put up $8.5 billion to fight the virus that toward the $1.25 billion in new emergency money that Trump Administration requested on Monday.

The White House this morning actions do show some added urgency. A 6:00 pm press conference added by the President tonight and consideration of more potential travel restrictions. But the President's own words and tweets continue to complicate the crisis management.

This morning "USA in great shape" the President says before accusing television networks including this one of trying to make the outbreak look as bad as possible he says and "Panicking markets".

That departs from how Senior Trump Administration Health Officials describe the threat including this morning just moments before those presidential tweets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you look at the other countries, Italy, Iran, Japan, South Korea, they are having communities spread in their countries which means it will likely will spread to other countries and when that happens then you have the makings of a pandemic.

If we have a pandemic, almost certainly we're going to get impacted. This is very clear if we have a global pandemic, no country is going to be without impact for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's John Harwood is at the White House. John, one of the challenges here seems to be the President has been kind of casual dismissive, yet you hear Dr. Fauci and he's like don't panic but be prepared.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Precisely and you see there the direct conflict between happy talk from the President from Larry Kudlow others who said we have got it under control, don't worry about the stock market dip and expertise like Dr. Fauci, who is trying to accelerate the development of a vaccine at NIH. This is a moment for recalibration for the White House and it is because Republicans have joined Democrats John in questioning the administration's readiness. They're not buying the happy talk. If you saw yesterday John Kennedy of Louisiana questioned the Acting Homeland Security Secretary and say you're not giving me the answers I want.

Richard Shelby the Senate Appropriations Chair telling the administration, you need to ask for more money than you has been asking for. That tells you they know they're in trouble. And the other thing that tells you that President privately has concluded he was in trouble, when he was in India yesterday, he was telling a group of business leaders, you know this Coronavirus is the kind of thing - the kind of external shock that may hurt your business that had nothing to do with you.

That reflects the President trying to push off responsibility. You can bet he is going to say, it wasn't my fault, he is blaming Democrats today. So it is going to be very interesting to see after he gets an up to date briefing including from those health experts, exactly what tone he strikes at 6:00 tonight.

KING: The giant question, looking forward to it. Interesting to see just how the President describes this tonight and who he brings out with him. John Harwood live at the White House, appreciate that important reporting.

And it is a challenge. So the President was overseas but the President can get fully informed overseas. We live in a world of technology.

[12:20:00]

KING: 25 years ago, you would say maybe the President is not getting the latest information. There is no such excuse anymore. And so I just want to listen again the President said yesterday, it will be over soon, it is going to go away. He said when it gets warm, it is going to disappear. He said there will be a vaccine soon. Soon means to most American means a couple months, right? Here's Dr. Fauci saying no, no.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAUCI: The confusion again is we're close to starting a phase one trial to determine safety. We are going to do that in 1 1/2 to 2 months but that doesn't mean you have a vaccine. In order to get a vaccine that is practically deployable for people to use it is going to be at least a year-to-year and a half at best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now the President is saying everybody in our business is trying to undermine him. No, I hope his friend, Rush Limbaugh is right and this is like the common cold. However, at a time like this you want consistent clear and trustworthy information from people in charge not mixed signals including emanating from the number one the President.

KUCINICH: And talking about the markets instead of talking about science. I think that also sort of undermines. We're worrying about how it's impacting. Yes, of course the economy matters. When it comes to people's safety and their health, you would hope that would be the focus and not the DOW.

HENDERSON: But we know that the President pays very close attention to the DOW. And it looks like the DOW plummeting almost what like 2000 points or something over these last days is what brought him to this moment.

We will see what he says today. We'll see if he's out front, if he is truthful. You sort of want to hear more from these medical professionals who understand a science and aren't so interested in the political spin of it all, which is what the President wants to do.

KING: And that's what interesting. I mean, I have no issue if the President also worries about the economy, worries about the global economy as he worries about Americans' Public Health but he's worrying about it in the context of his re-election. If there's supply chains issues that can be dealt with now because that is going to impact the economy and impact probably public health as well you will deal with that.

But he is worried about reelection. He wants to brag about the stock market and you have seen the last several days on Wall Street which this is the President's former top economic adviser saying guess what, yes, this is both public health crisis and serious threat to the global economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HASSETT, FORMER CHAIR, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: And if that is true then what's is going to happen is that big one time shock in China is going to continue into the second and third quarter and then you're looking at the kind of global recession that nobody wants to see happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TALEV: Yes, okay. I'm just going to say that's true. And that any President would be worried about the economy. But how you talk about it with the public is important. Right now, this is a crisis/pandemic or potentially pandemic on two parallel tracks.

One is the economic implications the aftershocks of what's happening in China. How it affects major U.S. industry, Airlines, Cruise Lines, Apple, Disney, et cetera. The second parallel track is the American's health which obviously is more important, it is much more important.

If these two tracks merge, forget about it. And so they need to figure out, do they want a Czar, want to call it a Czar, will it be run out of HHS or out of the National Security Council? My bet is on number two.

Who will it be and how will the President job where trying to keep everyone calm without acknowledging that they're taking it seriously? And I doubt we'll have all those answers by 6 but we will begin to hear a little bit. PACE: And this is when of those moments where really helps to have a President who is seen by the public as an honest broker and someone who is trustworthy and someone who deals in facts.

And frankly half of the country does not see this President probably even more if you have got Republicans in private moments don't see this President as somebody who is an honest broker who is going to go out there and talk about what's in the best interests of the country not in the best interests of his own reelection.

And it will be - I think really an important moment for him to get up there tonight, if he chooses to and talk about this as the President for the entire country and not as President for Republicans.

KING: An excellent point and someone who study the brief. It's no shock he would be surprised by something like this, he might not understand this. But you can study and learn about it. We saw this play out during in the Obama Administration in Ebola, where people had to suddenly go in the bunker and study and try to figure this out. Bringing the experts and figure it out and then communicate with clarity.

The question now is my question was why didn't they go big? Number one because of the threat the potential threat. Number two, sure the President is up for reelection. Let's make sure we send reassuring signals from the beginning. Instead they come in with a pretty low ball request.

And the Democrats are getting out of head and if you look at the Schumer plan $1.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention including the Infectious Disease Rapid Response.

$3 billion for Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund $2 billion set aside for state and local government reimbursement and $1 billion for USAID Emerging Health Threats that's the money to spend around the world and a programs $1 billion for the National Institute of Health Vaccine development.

So I don't understand that. Is everything in there right? I'm not smart enough, we should be asking the Public Health Experts need to get at it and look at it. But the Democrats are saying; let's go big, if we have money left over, that's great.

[12:25:00]

KING: When the administration came in small. The question is will we get a different message tonight?

HENDERSON: Yes, that's the thing. And I think they came in small because I think this President's sort of approach to everything is nothing bad ever happens on his watch. It happened on Obama's watch Ebola. He doesn't like those comparisons so you saw him over and over down play it and now concerns being raised by other Republicans and Public Health Officials.

KUCINICH: If there is any time for people to set aside politics and to work together it's something like this. Something that actually could be very serious for the American people and you would hope that they would come together be it funding and other places and messaging to make sure everyone is safe.

KING: In the file, there is a tweet for everything. October 2nd, 2014 Ebola crisis, the early days then private businessman, Donald Trump, Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting, spreading all over Africa and fast. Stop flights.

So at a time the Obama Administration was trying to get its public messaging a certain businessman from Manhattan was--

PACE: Remember how much pressure Obama was under. He had to name a Czar to take control over this. Even though the number of incidents in the U.S. was quite small he had to show that he was really aggressively trying to get his arms around this. That's what I think you're starting hear Republicans say to this President you have to at least show that you are taking this seriously.

TALEV: The government may legitimately have looked at the analysis of the data earlier and said this was a containable problem. These things change quickly. This may not have been an issue of underfunding or in confidence or anything it may just be an issue of how the illness is spread? We will see. There will be e-mail chains and phone call chains about all of this.

But in the context of the staff purges and the loyalty oath and that sort of things which we were talking about until yesterday when this testimony hit the Hill, that is, to Julie's point, the problem, which is can you trust the data and figures you're hearing when it's not a matter of election interference or something that sounds like a lofty topic, health, ability to go to work and ability to go to school and not be sick and not endanger your life and your family's life.

KING: Something that touches potentially touches every family in America. We'll stay on top of it. Again the President's speaks 6:00 pm tonight. Stay here on CNN for that coverage. When we come back to the 2020 race and Joe Biden's new help as he faces a make or break South Carolina test.

And if you're watching last night's debate, or if you missed it, here you go a few tastes of what Michael Bloomberg considers humor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLOOMBERG: I'm surprised they show up because I would have thought after I did such a good job in beating them last week that they'd be a little bit afraid to do that. I think what's right for York City isn't necessarily right for all the other cities. Otherwise, you'd have a naked cowboy in every city. Misconception, that I'm six feet tall.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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