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Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate Ahead of South Carolina Primary; Joe Biden's Possible Path to Democratic Presidential Nomination Examined; Trump Announces 6PM ET Press Conference on Coronavirus. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 26, 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]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to your New Day. It is Wednesday, February 26th, 8:00 in the east, or so I'm told. The Democratic candidates ganged up on the frontrunner, Senator Bernie Sanders, at last night's fiery debate in South Carolina. Most of his rivals tried to claim that a socialist would sink the Democratic ticket. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I would make a better president than Bernie.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump. Think about what that 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.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not think that this is the best person to lead the ticket.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (D) FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: So to keep on going, we will elect Bernie. Bernie will lose to Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, there was a lot going on today following that debate. Very shortly, former Vice President Joe Biden is hoping to pick up what is really one of the key endorsements, not just in South Carolina, but maybe going forward into the race as it moves to Super Tuesday.

Also, we're keeping a very eye on the market. U.S. stock futures have been all over the place this morning. They were down more than 200 points for a little bit. Now they're up very slightly. Why are we watching this? The last two days have been horrific on Wall Street, major losses over fears of coronavirus spreading to the United States. We'll talk about that a little later.

But first, the debate. Joining us now, CNN editor at large, Chris Cillizza, CNN contributor Wajahat Ali, he's a contributing writer for the "New York Times," and CNN political commentator Karen Finney. Cillizza, I want to start with you. I know we can go online and see your complete list of winners and losers from this debate.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Indeed.

BERMAN: It is extensive. I want you to focus on who you think perhaps the biggest winner is, or what the biggest movement is coming out of this debate.

CILLIZZA: I think probably, if you are looking at it, not just last night but what last night means, it's Joe Biden. I think Jim Clyburn made very clear he would be watching the debate before making a final decision. He said over the weekend he didn't think Joe Biden had been particularly good in the debates.

Now, I don't think that Joe Biden was the best debater on stage last night. I think Pete Buttigieg, if you are holding a debate class, Pete Buttigieg is probably the best debater naturally. But Biden was angry, in a positive way, sort of righteous anger. And I think he mostly, with the exception of complaining about the rules of the debate, which I think is always unseemly for any candidate, I think he mostly did what he needed to do.

And, remember, everything for Biden is about winning South Carolina. If he doesn't win South Carolina, that's it for his campaign, whether he acknowledges it or not. I think if you believe that a strong debate performance helps get him that Clyburn endorsement, which we don't know yet but that we'll learn today, that will help him in South Carolina. So I think, Biden, if you are looking for someone who did himself the most good, it's probably that guy.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Let's play the moment where Joe Biden kind of seized the microphone. He almost had his, "I paid for this microphone" moment, or the equivalent of it, where he demanded to be allowed to talk. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie. Bernie, in fact, hasn't passed much of anything. The fact of the matter is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I get to answer that.

BIDEN: Look, the fact is -- I'm not out of time. He spoke over time and I'm going to talk. Here's the deal.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: That roar from the crowd, Waj, was almost like they had been waiting for Joe Biden to seize that moment. What's your takeaway from all of last night?

WAJAHAT ALI, CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Nobody puts Joe Biden in the corner.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: "Dirty Dancing."

ALI: Thank you. Thank you, John. It's always for you, and you always get the references. Angry Joe came out swinging. It's the fight for his entire candidacy right now. It's his entire fight for the campaign. Chris is exactly right, if he does not get South Carolina, if he does not win convincingly, and for me convincingly is by at least eight points, he has no path forward because Joe Biden has said that I will bring people of color. And I'm sorry to say this to Iowa and New Hampshire, but people of color are the base of the Democratic Party.

If Joe Biden, who was vice president to Obama for eight years, who has so much experience, especially in South Carolina, loses to Bernie Sanders or only beats him by three or four points, what pathway does he have and how can he literally look at the American people and say, hey, I'm the best bet for you to beat Trump? So he came out strong. The bar is always low for Joe Biden, no offense to Joe Biden, but he performed with vigor. He was consistent. He made a contrast to Bernie. I think it will be enough for him to win South Carolina, to give some life to him moving forward. Can he sustain it? That's the big question.

BERMAN: First of all, Waj just set the over/under at eight percent.

CAMEROTA: That was helpful. That was helpful.

BERMAN: Eight percent is the over/under. And I do want to show people what Waj is talking about there with the path for Joe Biden.

[08:05:00]

And I know this can be confusing to some people who have been watching for the last few days, everyone saying Bernie Sanders is the national front-runner. It's Bernie Sanders' to lose. That may be so, but there is a path for Joe Biden, and it will ultimately be up to voters to decide. He could win in South Carolina on Saturday. And if we put up the map of Super Tuesday you can see there are a lot of states that have large African-American populations that will be voting in Democratic primaries in Alabama, in Tennessee, in North Carolina, in Virginia. If he can hold his own and pick up delegates in California and Texas, there's a path, Karen. And it will be the voters who ultimately get to decide, and those South Carolina voters, 60 percent of whom will be African-American, are going to have a huge say in this.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, absolutely. And, remember also, African-American voters here in South Carolina, there's a little bit of a split. I think that will be something that will be interesting to see what happens. What we saw in 2016, which I suspect will repeat here in 2020, is younger African-Americans will likely support Senator Sanders. Older African-Americans, and black women, which everybody like, I think it's important to watch what black women, will most likely be with Joe Biden. I suspect that's how he's going to win this state. And then you're exactly right.

Here's what I think the challenge is going to be, though, coming out of South Carolina. The only person other than Mike Bloomberg who has really had significant resources on the ground in those March states is Elizabeth Warren. She's had, I think it's about 1,000 people on the ground for several months. So even if she has a mediocre showing here in South Carolina, she could still be alive come Super Tuesday because, remember, up till now in South Carolina, that's five percent of the total number of delegates that you need. Super Tuesday, obviously, that is really what I would say the big kahuna, right? I think coming out of Super Tuesday, we will have a much clearer sense of what this field is going to be moving forward.

CAMEROTA: So Chris, the candidates were fiery last night, and so was the crowd. There was a lot of crowd participation happening after some of the answers. And so here was a moment where the crowd did not like Bernie Sanders' answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba, that Cuba made progress on education. Yes, I think --

CROWD: Boo!

SANDERS: Really? Really?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Isn't that interesting, Chris? He was surprised. That isn't a great retort, "really?"

CILLIZZA: I say that every time Berman says something to me.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Really?

CAMEROTA: But was that sufficient?

CILLIZZA: OK, so I do think Bernie was rattled several times by the booing. One time he said something about Michael Bloomberg supporters were just billionaires and people booed him, too. And I think he was a little put off by it.

That said, and I've been very public about this, I just don't think the audience should be allowed to participate in that way. I think that this is a TV event, almost exclusively. There are very few people who get the opportunity to actually be in the debate hall, and they influence the way in which it is perceived through the TV audience. I know no one wants to do a debate with no audience. It's like playing a baseball game with no crowd. But I do think that it is a little -- it doesn't help. I think people make decisions when you have booing and cheering, because clearly there were some people in there who were loudly for Bloomberg. Clearly there were some people in there who were loudly for Biden.

I know all the candidates get the same amount of tickets. I think it's up to whoever moderates it and whoever runs the event to say, you can politely applaud, but you cannot dominate while other people are talking. That debate was bad enough, candidly, in terms of informing voters. I didn't think we needed it. But Bernie was rattled by it. I just don't think it should be a thing.

BERMAN: I'm not saying it's a good thing, but I've run out of outrage in life. There's only so many things I can --

CILLIZZA: John, I have extra if you need some.

FINNEY: Come on, John. You have to ramp it back up.

BERMAN: I know, I'll get there. I'll get there. I want to bring up what was one of the arguments that several of the candidates did make vocally and directly about Bernie Sanders, which is that he will lose to Donald Trump and it will drag down the Democratic ticket. Pete Buttigieg made that argument. So let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The time has come for us to stop acting like the presidency is the only office that matters. Not only is this a way to get Donald Trump re-elected, we have got a House to worry about, we've got a Senate to worry about. And this is really important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: How potent is that, Waj, as an argument?

ALI: I want to quote writer William Goldman. Nobody knows anything. It's nine months out, and Bernie Sanders right now, whether you like it or not, is the front-runner because he has built this amazing grassroots base, right, multicultural, multigenerational. He doesn't need to win 40 to 50 percent because there's about 323 candidates still running in the Democratic race. But he wins enough. We don't know what's going to happen.

I think he was another winner of the debate because they all went after him, and Bernie weathered the storm, and that's good enough for Bernie. He's consistent. He's on message. That's why his base loves him and that's why people dislike him.

[08:10:05]

We don't know what's going to happen, and I'll say this again. In 2016, a week before the election, I had people who were conservatives who spent their entire life in the conservative party telling me there's no way that Donald Trump will win the 2016 election, and look what happened. He only won by 77,000 votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. So there's enough time there for the Democrats to unite.

I don't think young people care that Fidel Castro won best supporting actor last night. And I think the fact he's going up against Trump, this is what we have to realize. He's going up against Trump who has praised Putin, who has praised Kim Jong-un, who has praised Modi, just happened yesterday. So enough people -- I just don't think enough people care. I think in Florida, if he does get the nomination, there will be damage control. There will be enough time.

CAMEROTA: Waj, Karen, Chris, thank you all. Sorry, we're out of time, Karen. Four hours isn't enough. It's not enough.

BERMAN: Careful what you wish for.

CAMEROTA: That's what we've learned. Thank you all.

BERMAN: So Bernie Sanders maybe got the most attention, but Michael Bloomberg, he got plenty last night, and a lot of it was about something he almost said or seemed to nearly say. A senior Bloomberg campaign adviser tell us -- fills in the blanks, I should say, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage last night talking about the money he spent to help get Democrats elected to the House.

[08:15:06]

Listen closely to what he says here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's just go on the record. They talk about 40 Democrats. 21 of those were people that I spent $100 million to help elect. All of the new Democrats that came in, put Nancy Pelosi in charge and gave the Congress the ability to control this president, I bought -- I got them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I what them?

Joining me now is Tim O'Brien, senior adviser to the Michael Bloomberg presidential campaign.

And, Tim, what did he mean to say there because it sure sounded like he was about to say I bought them.

TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, SENIOR ADVISOR, MICHAEL BLOOMBERG PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John Berman, you're such a cynical journalist.

You know what? I heard was back, but it was fine if it was bought. The point remains, what was the outcome? You know, Mike spent a lot of money getting behind Democrats, a large number of whom were women to help turn the House blue. The House turned blue. Nancy Pelosi became speaker. Donald Trump got impeached.

And if Bernie Sanders gets elected, the House will be red again. The Senate will stay red. The White House will stay in Donald Trump's hands, and the courts will continue to get packed.

BERMAN: I might be a cynical journalist. In this case, I was someone who was listening to words spoken out loud which is why I was asking about it.

Look, it was an admittedly low bar for Mayor Bloomberg to cross last night. I know you all think that he had a better debate performance than the first one. What do you think was the most important message he got across? Was it the one you tried to slip across about Bernie Sanders?

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, we will continue to say that. We think that Mike is the best person to lead this country. He's the only candidate we think that will beat Donald Trump in the fall. This is the most epically important election of our lives. And we shouldn't roll the dice.

I think Mike, on a number of questions, showed what a deeply informed, competent and compassionate leader he is. And I would also say regardless of the outcome of this election for someone to have stumbled in the first debate as he did in front of tens of millions of people and have the spine and sense of purpose to get back up again on that stage and turn in the performance he did last night, I think was extraordinary. I think going forward you'll see him, I think, continue to bring the same message we had to voters to begin with. He can unify the party and beat Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Would have been a heck of lot of money he spent to not show up to the second debate. I'm not sure what his option there would have been.

One more question about Bernie Sanders. It's more than just saying Michael Bloomberg is the only candidate to win. The mayor is saying Bernie Sanders would sink the entire Democratic ticket.

So, Mayor Bloomberg, if he isn't the nominee, will he support with his vast resources Bernie Sanders if he is the nominee to beat Donald Trump?

O'BRIEN: Yes, we've said that, John. We'll continue to say that. We believe --

BERMAN: But you don't believe it will matter?

O'BRIEN: We believe that the entire Democratic field on principle is better than Donald Trump. This campaign will never support Donald Trump. This campaign will never turn its back on the American people at this time of peril. Mike sees his campaign as the culmination of his life's work. We intend to stay in it.

BERMAN: What do you need to do on Super Tuesday. I know you're not competing in South Carolina, but you are in the Super Tuesday states next week. What's your bar for success on Tuesday?

O'BRIEN: I think getting a strong showing on the delegate front. That's going to be the same bar throughout these races, John.

BERMAN: Do you need to win a state?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think we need to have a very good showing. I think we've been waiting in these states for the other Democrats to come out of the first four states. There's only 4 percent of the delegates at play in these first four states, 96 percent of the voters still have to be heard from. And we have a big ground operation that's ready and waiting.

BERMAN: I do want to ask since you brought up Michael Bloomberg's financial support for Democrats across the country in 2018. No question about that. But it did come up on the debate stage, his support for Republicans in the past.

And I do think we have some sound from Elizabeth Warren mentioning that specifically. So let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who funded Lindsey Graham's campaign for re-election last time? It was Mayor Bloomberg. And that's not the only right-wing senator that Mayor Bloomberg has funded.

I don't care how much money Mayor Bloomberg has. The core of the Democratic party will never trust him. He has not earned their trust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So how do you respond to that? Specifically, does the mayor regret his support for Lindsey Graham? Does he regret his support for Pat Toomey? Does he regret his support for Scott Brown?

[08:20:00]

O'BRIEN: You know, Toomey is a great example out of the three there. We wouldn't have time to get into all of this.

But if you look at Toomey, Mike supported Toomey because Toomey was an advocate for gun control. Mike is not an ideologue. And he is not so ruthlessly partisan that he won't cross the aisle to get a solution into the hands of the American people when it makes sense.

Mike has done more than any private individual in this country to break the back of the NRA and reduce gun violence. Pat Toomey was that rare Republican who wanted to do the right thing on gun violence and Mike supported him.

And I think that's one of the things that's missing from Senator Warren's analysis of all of these things is that she actually doesn't understand what it takes to cross the aisle to get legislation done on behalf of the American people. If we want to end gridlock in Congress, you need that kind of thinking.

BERMAN: So the mayor is proud of his support for Pat Toomey and would do it again?

O'BRIEN: I think -- I think at that point in time, mike was very proud of his support of Pat Toomey. And he's on issues supported Republicans in other areas when it aligned with his values.

And I've said this time and again, Mike Bloomberg has very progressive values. He's a pragmatic progressive. The difference between him and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is that he wants the math to add up and he wants to be transparent with voters about how you pay for progressive programs. He doesn't want to fund them with seashells and balloons.

BERMAN: Tim O'Brien, we always appreciate you coming on. Thanks for being with us this morning. We appreciate your time.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: And I do want to tell people we'll get a chance to see former Mayor Mike Bloomberg on stage tonight in a way they haven't before. A CNN town hall. His first. This is his first forum really anything like this.

It's at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. We'll also have Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, taking questions from South Carolina voters in a really important event. Again, tonight at 7:00 Eastern on CNN.

CAMEROTA: It will be a very interesting night.

All right. Meanwhile, we have some breaking news. President Trump is just announced a press conference tonight on the coronavirus. And CNN is learning new details about what exactly is on the president's mind, what is worrying him the most about this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:26:04]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: President Trump has just announced a press conference that he'll be holding at 6:00 p.m. tonight to update Americans on the U.S. response to the coronavirus.

CNN is also learning new details about the president's mindset on this global crisis.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live at the White House with all of the breaking details and our new reporting.

Jeremy, what have you learned?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the president has just returned from India and he's arriving into Washington and is increasingly concerned about this coronavirus epidemic. And the president watched has some of his top administration officials were getting pummeled by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle facing really tough questions about the administration's response and whether or not this emergency funding request that they put in was sufficient.

What we're also learning is that the president's concerns are really being driven by the stock market and by the economy and the concerns that the coronavirus will continue to have a detrimental impact on both of those.

Initially, though, the president was downplaying that 1,000-point market sell-off on Monday on Wall Street. Listen to what he said in India just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's a problem that's going to go away, but we lost almost 1,000 points yesterday on the market, and that's something -- things like that happen. And you have it in your business all the time. Had nothing to do with you.

It's an outside source that nobody would have ever predicted if you go back six months or three months ago, nobody would have ever predicted. But I think it's going to be under control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: But after that, of course, the market went down nearly 900 more points yesterday making clear to the president who was very concerned about the economy, particularly as he faces re-election this year and is banking on a strong economy that there's probably more he needs to do. That's why it seems we're seeing him take the reins of the public relations aspect of this with this news conference later today.

Meanwhile, we're also hearing, though, that the Trump administration is considering additional travel restrictions similar to those imposed on China which banned any foreign nationals who had been in China over the previous two weeks before coming to the United States from entering the country. That is something we're told is on the table and that the president himself has been considering.

The president is expected to get a briefing from his top officials on this matter later today. And it's very possible that they'll be discussing those additional travel restrictions as they look to try and get this matter under control. But it's clear already that the criticism has already begun in Washington, and the president now trying to play some cleanup -- John, Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right. Jeremy Diamond for us at the White House, Jeremy, thanks so much.

Joining us now, CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, first, just your reaction to the news. The president going to

hold a news conference at the White House at 6:00 p.m. up until now, his main concern has seemed to be the stock market reaction to the coronavirus as far as we can tell.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And now we're hearing from scientists at the CDC as we've been talking about for a little bit of time, describing the likelihood that this could start to develop and start to spread, rather, the coronavirus in communities here in the United States. I mean, to be fair, that is something public health officials have been saying for some time. They've been saying, look, you look at these extraordinary measures that are taking place.

In China, the largest quarantine in the history of the world, the policies, the travel restrictions. All of that was really designed to slow this down, not stop it. It's a tiny little virus. It doesn't help boundaries and borders.

You know, I talked to Dr. Redfield, who's the head of the CDC last week, and asked him about worst case scenarios here. And here's how he put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL: This virus is probably with us beyond this season or beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold, and we'll get community- based transmission. And you can start to think of it in the sense like seasonal flu. The only difference is we don't understand this virus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: I really pushed him on this point.