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Nikki Haley Withdraws from GOP Primary; Trump Endorsed by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell; Interview with Former Republican Presidential Candidate Asa Hutchinson; Russia's War on Ukraine; Russian Strike Hits Near Zelenskyy's Convoy in Odessa. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 06, 2024 - 10:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: And so, their challenge is to try to work around him knowing that he isn't always going to be, maybe even rarely going to be on the message that they want him to be on. When it's something like this, where it is extremely delicate to get a lot -- of not all of, but a lot of these supporters who won't, just as Jeff said, put on the Republican jersey. And they're going to have to try to find a -- more avenues to get around that kind of rhetoric and that kind of behavior.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And I think the marching orders are clear for both of the presumptive nominees now. For the next 244 days, that's how long it is until November 5th, Election Day, they both have to rebuild their coalition.

So, stepping back from this, we're going to not see Nikki Haley every day. She will be, you know, still playing a role in trying to help local candidates and down ballot candidates. But I think it is clear there's no doubt that President Biden has to work on, sort of, rebuilding his fraying coalition of younger voters, Latino voters, black voters, other voters, progressives, of course. But Donald Trump also has to rebuild his coalition.

So, the question is, what does happen to that sliver of voters in the middle? We call them now Nikki Haley voters. We'll see if we still call them that by November, but for now they are and I think that they'll be watching how both sides react here, and I would not be at all surprised if President Biden mentions those Nikki Haley voters by name tomorrow night in the State of the Union.

BASH: Yes.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR AND "SITUATION ROOM" HOST: I wouldn't be surprised either. Eva, it's very interesting. It was only a five- minute speech from Nikki Haley. So, five minutes -- approximately five minutes, announcing her suspending of her campaign, but I thought it was really significant. She took a little time to say, the world is on fire -- her words, right now, and the United States must stand by allies, Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan. It's a moral imperative.

Those were strong words coming in a speech announcing she was exiting this race.

MCKEND: Yes, and it was core to her argument, her election argument that she had a foreign policy background and she would be prepared for the presidency and some folks showing up to her rallies. The Democrats that I spoke to showing up to her rallies would tell me explicitly they liked where she stood on Ukraine, on supporting Ukraine.

I think what we are going to see in the weeks ahead is Democrats really amplify all of the insults that the former president lodged at her supporters, and try to really frame this contest in broad terms to bring them in. So, this is going to be a conversation about the future of America, about American democracy, about the constitution. That is how it seems like they are telegraphing. They're going to try to bring those voters into their camp.


BLITZER: We'll see how that works out.

ACOSTA: And there's going to be -- I mean, not just these personal differences between Trump and Nikki. I mean, policy differences. And we should note, just this morning, President Zelenskyy confirmed there was a strike in Odessa, Ukraine this morning, leaving people dead and wounded. Zelenskyy was in Odessa at the time. He said he could see the strike. He could hear what was going on. I mean, this just -- it tells you what the clear contrasts are in terms of the campaign coming up.

BLITZER: We're going to have a live report on that coming up.

ACOSTA: We're going to talk about that coming up.

BLITZER: That's a major development that he was --

ACOSTA: Major development.

BLITZER: -- potentially within gunfire.

ACOSTA: Yes, and we haven't even mentioned that this morning, but we're going to be talking about that in just a few moments.

Our panel, thanks very much guys. Really appreciate it.

BASH: Thanks.

ACOSTA: We'll continuing to follow this breaking news. Nikki Haley, suspending her campaign. Setting up a Trump-Biden rematch. We will have much more on all of this after a quick break.



BLITZER: All right. We've got some breaking news coming in right now. The Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is endorsing Former President Trump.

Let's go to CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. He's joining us from Capitol Hill with the latest. Update our viewers, Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY AND CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR: Yes, there's actually been more than three years since Senator McConnell spoke to Donald Trump at that time. He's acknowledged Mitch McConnell in December of 2020 that Joe Biden had won the presidential election, and that prompted Donald Trump to be -- essentially cut off all ties with the Republican leader than in the aftermath of January 6th. Mitch McConnell pointedly blamed Donald Trump for those actions. Calling him morally and practically responsible for the events on January 6th.

But -- so, they have not had any ties and discussions and he has not endorsed him up until now. In the aftermath of Nikki Haley stepping aside from this wet race. The Republican leader issuing a statement, saying that he will in fact endorse Donald Trump for the presidency.

I'll read you some of his statement, Wolf. He said it's become abundantly clear that Former President Trump has earned the requisite support of Republican voters to be our nominee for president of the United States. He said, it should come as no surprise that as nominee, he will have my support.

He goes on to talk about how they worked together on issues involving the tax overhaul that passed in Congress, as well as Mitch McConnell's role in ensuring three Trump's Supreme Court justices were confirmed to the bench. He says, I look forward to the opportunity of switching from playing defense against the terrible policies that Biden administration has pursued to a sustained offense geared towards making a real difference in improving the lives of the American people.

So, Wolf, this is -- the Republican leader has Trump has oftentimes just refused to even say Donald Trump's name for the past several years. You ask him a question about Donald Trump, he said he does not want to talk about the presidential race. Trump, in fact, has leveled attack after attack against Senator McConnell after those comments that McConnell made on the Senate floor, blaming him for January 6th.

In fact, Trump leveled a number of racist attacks, too, against his wife, a Taiwanese immigrant. Someone -- Elaine Chao, who was the cabinet secretary under Donald Trump himself. Chao, of course, stepped aside in the aftermath of January 6th.


So, they have a very tense relationship. Really no relationship, whatsoever. But McConnell has indicated for some time that whoever the nominee is of his party, he will fall in line and back the Republican nominee. And that's exactly what he is doing here.

Of course, Mitch McConnell will not be working with Donald Trump if Trump is elected as president. McConnell's already said he would step aside from the leadership position that he has held for the past 17 years and give way to other potential candidates. And two of those Republicans who are running right now, John Cornyn and John Thune, both of them have endorsed Donald Trump as well.

I just caught up with Senator John Thune, the number two Republican who wants to take McConnell's job. He downplayed some of his past concerns he had about Donald Trump's viability as a candidate in the suburbs. And Thune has, for some time, Wolf, expressed concerns about how Trump could play in key battleground states, particularly as they try to regain the Senate's in the fall, Wolf.

But he downplayed those. Rallied behind Donald Trump. Said that there will be a unified ticket in the fall. It really shows you how the party establishment now lining up behind Donald Trump in the aftermath of his victory here. Now, the president's presumptive nominee with the support of the Senate Republican leader. Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll see how that battle for the Senate Republican leadership plays out. Manu Raju, good reporting as usual.


ACOSTA: All right. Thank you, Wolf.

And joining me now is former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. A former Republican candidate in this year's presidential race. Governor, thanks so much for joining us. I do want to ask you about Nikki Haley dropping out of the race, but there is some more breaking news to talk about. That's what Manu Raju was just talking about a few moments ago. Mitch McConnell now endorsing Donald Trump. What do you make of that?

ASA HUTCHINSON (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it surprises me actually, because he's not going to be running for reelection. There wasn't any motivation. I think it really indicates the draw of the team. We've been on the Republican team all our life. It's hard to switch from that. It's hard to say we're not going to support the nominee of the party. It's very difficult for me as well.

And so, it is a surprise that announcement today from Senator McConnell because he's been very, very clear in the past as to holding Donald Trump morally responsible for January 6th and his disagreement with them. So, I don't think that you can overlook that even as you look to the future.

I thought Nikki Haley's announcement today was classy. And hats off to her for running a good race and for staying in there through Super Tuesday.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Governor, I do want to ask you about that because Nikki Haley made it very clear when she announced that she's withdrawing from the race that, you know, she has her supporters and she is not yet inclined to endorse Donald Trump. And I think what she wants to hear is something of an olive branch coming from the former president, which is obviously going to be a tough sell. I mean, what is your sense of it? The president -- President Biden is already making an appeal for those Nikki Haley supporters. What do you think those supporters are going to do?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think they're going to be divided. Some are going to sit it out. Some will be focusing on Congressional and Senate races. Others will -- might switch to Biden. Many of them will go to Donald Trump because they have historically supported the nominee of the party.

So, it will be divided and they're up for grabs. And so, yes, it's incumbent upon Donald Trump to do his job as a frontrunner and reach out to them. And for example, with Nikki Haley, you would think the obvious thing is that you would reach out.

You would say, I know you've got to think about this, but we want you to make a primetime speech during the convention. We value you and negotiate her support. Obviously, she wants to be able to showcase her ideas and make that case at the convention and she should be able to do that. And Donald Trump can bring her in with that kind of outreach, perhaps.

ACOSTA: And Governor, I mean, I did want to ask you, you have refused to endorse Donald Trump for president. If I'm not mistaken, that hasn't changed. What is your mindset on all of that? Any chance you could change your mind?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it's very troubling to me. First of all, I mean, I -- I've said very clearly, I think Donald Trump is wrong direction for our party and our country. I endorsed Nikki Haley. I want to see what comes out of the convention. But, do not expect an endorsement from me for Donald Trump in this election. I'm a loyal Republican. I'm going to fight hard this year.

But we see the establishment now becoming Donald Trump, and it's a direction that I don't want to see our party go or our country go.


ACOSTA: You're not there yet?

HUTCHINSON: I'm not there yet. And it's -- it is -- it's very clear whenever you look at our relationship with our allies, whenever you're looking at the incredible challenges that he faces with his court case, and his alleged criminal conduct. This is not something that I, as a former federal prosecutor, can sign up for. And so, don't expect that to happen as we go forward.

ACOSTA: All right. Governor Hutchinson, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it. Wolf.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Strong words from the Governor, indeed.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. BLITZER: We're continuing our breaking news coverage this morning. Nikki Haley suspending her 2024 presidential campaign. Listen to this.


NIKKI HALEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In all likelihood, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee when our party convention meets in July. I congratulate him and wish him well. It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him. And I hope he does that.


BLITZER: And with Nikki Haley's departure, the Trump-Biden rematch is now set. Let's discuss this with CNN Senior Political Commentators, Ana Navarro and Van Jones, and Republican Strategist Shermichael Singleton.

Ana, give me your bottom-line assessment right now of what's going on.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think today was a reality check. What we're seeing is a Republican reality check. Look, I think there's a lot of Republicans who don't want to vote for Donald Trump. Who saw in Nikki Haley a life raft.

A lot of them weren't Nikki Haley voters, but she was the vehicle to issue that protest vote. She was the -- what stood in between them and Donald Trump. It is now absolutely the reality that this is a binary choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

I am not surprised that Mitch McConnell has come out and endorsed him. We all know Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump hate each other. It's mutual. But Mitch McConnell has been a Republican his entire life. His reason of being. His raison d'etre is partisanship, is getting Republicans elected. And what he is signaling with this is, look, I hate the guy, but I'm drinking my medicine because I am a party guy.

I think Asa Hutchinson is absolutely right. There's going to be some Republicans who come back home. But you never underestimate Republicans ability to do that. They did that after we heard -- a lot of Republicans did that after we heard Donald Trump on those "Access Hollywood" tapes. Some of them will not vote, and some of them will vote for Biden.

I would be shocked if a Liz Cheney came out and endorsed Trump. I would be shocked if a Mitt Romney came out and endorsed Trump. If Nikki Haley or Mitch McConnell do, that, to me, is not shocking.

BLITZER: Well, let me play a few clips for you, Ana, and get your thoughts. She was pretty gracious, I thought, today in wishing him well. Congratulating him. But listen to what she said in recent days and weeks about Trump. Listen to this.


HALEY: Donald Trump got out there and just threw a temper tantrum. Everything he touches, we lose.

I don't believe Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden.

How much more losing do we have to do before we realize maybe Donald Trump is the problem?


BLITZER: So, do you still think she's eventually going to endorse him?

NAVARRO: Wolf, we could sit here and we could watch video all day of horrible things that Ted Cruz said about Donald Trump. Of horrible things that Marco Rubio said about Donald Trump. Of horrible things that Lindsey Graham said about Donald Trump. And I could go on and on. We could literally sit here all day.

So, do I think it's still possible that she endorses Donald Trump? Yes. I think Nikki Haley is going to do what's best for Nikki Haley. And preserving her options in the Republican Party and in her political future.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Shermichael Singleton to get his reaction as well. Just yesterday, Shermichael, Trump was tearing into Nikki Haley. Calling her crazy and a very angry person. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She's gone crazy, and I've never seen anything like it. She pulls up a piece of paper, which is false. Tells a lot of false things. She is -- she's gone haywire. She hasn't lost too many elections, I guess. And she's getting nowhere. She's actually going down. Her numbers are going down. So -- and she's a very angry person. So, we'll see if she straightens out. Maybe she will.


BLITZER: What do you think? What's your reaction to all of that, Shermichael?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I mean, look, Wolf, I think that the former president would be smart and wise, strategically speaking, to lessen the negative rhetoric against a two-term governor, former U.N. ambassador who served in his cabinet position.


One of the good things that I think occurred with Nikki Haley staying in this race is that the Trump campaign now strategically is aware of where their weaknesses are. As a strategist, I've been through this process on three presidential campaigns. You want to know every precinct, every county in a state where your candidate is struggling.

So, as I'm doing those sort of voter profiles. Who are the voters that we need to make additional room, if you will, to get them on our side? I want to know where they are. The Trump campaign is now incredibly equipped with knowing exactly where those voters are.

So, he needs to extend that olive branch and ask her to work with me to help reach out to some of those Republican voters who are skeptical of a potential Trump return to the White House.

ACOSTA: Yes, and Van -- I want to bring Van Jones in. I mean, Van, let's talk about this across six states that voted last night. We can show this to our viewers. A majority of the Republican electorate has not been willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of President Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

But Van, I mean, I'm searching around looking through all of Donald Trump's comments since the results from last night. I have not heard him say that any of the results last night were rigged, or erroneous, or any -- there weren't any -- so, does that mean that we should have total faith and confidence that even Trump supporters should have total faith and confidence in our electoral process in this country? The matter's been put to rest, hasn't it?



JONES: Yes. Let me speak from my heart, and let me speak from my head. From my heart, I tell you, this is a heartbreaking moment, and not just for people in the United States. If you're a Ukrainian soldier, looking at a wall of Russians coming at you, and having to ration your bullets, today is a bad day because one of the great champions of the United States being strong for our allies, strong for democracy, just went down in defeat today. And you feel more alone and more afraid of the future.

If you're in Poland, if you're in Europe, and you're looking at a wall of Russians coming for you, and saying, where's the United States? Today is not a good day. So, from my heart, this is not a good day.

From my head, what is Nikki Haley doing? What was that speech? What is she trying to play for? I think three things. Number one, why is she withholding her endorsement? Ron DeSantis, as soon as he got out, endorsed Trump and was belittled and sidelined and made look like an idiot. So, she would be crazy to endorse now. I agree with Ana, she may endorse, but she shouldn't endorse now. Look at what just happened to DeSantis.

Number two, dollars. Trump is broke. She is sitting on the biggest donors in American politics. She could be a bank or she could be somebody who closes the bank door. So, she has real power, not voting power now, but dollar power. She knows to use that. And then number three, it is just hard. Remember Hillary Clinton in 2016, to turn your supporters around, even if you want to, you can't do it in a day.

So, if you look at Nikki Haley, she's smart to hold her cards, to play her cards, to figure out, can she get this party to do something to keep America from abandoning democracy around the world? I hope she continues to play a constructive role. She's done a good job for her party in the country so far. But this is a bad day for democracy. Not just in the United States, but around the world.

ACOSTA: And Van, what does President Biden need to do at this point to earn those Nikki Haley supporters, bring them into the fold? We saw the Biden campaign putting out a statement from President Biden almost immediately after Nikki Haley walked off that stage in South Carolina. What do you think?

JONES: I think he needs to talk to her donors and her supporters and say, if you want to, a year from now, watch Russian tanks rolling through Europe, then, you know, endorse Donald Trump and get on that bandwagon. But understand, you're going to wake up one morning and you're going to see horror across Europe and you're going to have American soldiers, sailors having to go over there and do something that we could have done with dollars, we have to do with blood.

If you want to continue to see the country being divided and unable to govern itself and treat itself well, get on that Trump train, but you got a place over here. Now, he also, I think, needs to make a stronger case for what he is going to do to keep the economy moving in a good direction for people who go into grocery stores and can't pay for their groceries.

He says, he's going to sick the DOJ and the FTC on these grocers, these corporate grocers that are ripping off Americans. He needs to lean into that for the voters. But for the people like us who care about democracy around the world, they have a binary choice. We're out of NATO and Russia is running over Europe or you stand with Joe Biden.

BLITZER: It's very interesting indeed.

And, Ana, let me get back to President Biden. He had some major victories. He really didn't have much of an opposition last night. But it was interesting in Colorado, eight percent of the Democrats who showed up to vote, voted uncommitted. The number was close to 20 percent in Minnesota. What do you make of that?

NAVARRO: I think they're clearly sending this administration a message that they are very unhappy, in particular, with the Israel- Gaza issue. I mean, this is -- it is what it is, and I think this administration is listening. I think this administration is taking it to heart.


We saw a change of policy, a major change of policy this weekend announced by Vice President Kamala Harris when she was in Alabama. And I think a lot of that has to do with what's actually happening on the ground with some of those very heartbreaking, heart-wrenching images we are seeing coming out of Gaza.

But also, because it's very hard to maintain something when the American people don't support it. And they are listening to this. They are listening and they're taking stock and they're working really hard for a resolution. They're working really hard to get the hostages released. They're working really hard to have humanitarian aid brought into Gaza. So, I think it's having an effect.

And I think these voters, though now are faced with a binary choice. The binary choice is Joe Biden, who's working really hard towards a two-state solution, or Donald Trump. What's the first thing he did when he became president in 2016? The Muslim ban. So, if you think the folks in Gaza have a better shot under Donald Trump, I don't know what you're thinking.

ACOSTA: Yes, and Shermichael, I mean getting back to, you know, what does Nikki Haley do? I can't imagine -- I mean, we saw Mitch McConnell almost immediately after Nikki Haley got out of the race endorsing Donald Trump.


ACOSTA: I just don't -- can we see Nikki Haley going to Mar-a-Lago a la Kevin McCarthy and making peace with Donald Trump? That just sounds like an otherworldly concept.

SINGLETON: I mean, I don't think it will be immediate, Jim, but I do eventually think she'll get there. Van mentioned a point about her donors. Quite a few well-known individuals in the Republican Party. They've given the presidential candidates all the way from Romney campaign I worked on. She could also convert her presidential campaign to a leadership pack.

Now, we don't really talk about this often on cable news, but essentially what that means for the viewers is that Nikki Haley could transfer those -- that money to a new organization that would then allow her to play in Congressional races, Senatorial races.

So, she's thinking about four years from now, 2028, she has an opportunity to position herself as really a queenmaker, if you would, to say, these are the types of Republican candidates we should support --

NAVARRO: But if I may --

SINGLETON: -- and endorse --

NAVARRO: Listen.

SINGLETON: -- as we move the party forward.

NAVARRO: We're talking about voters like if they were marbles. Voters are not marbles. You just don't pick up your marbles and put them over here. And you know, Van was talking about Hillary Clinton's supporters and how -- Hillary Clinton supporters were Hillary Clinton supporters. They were not anti-Obama supporters.

ACOSTA: Right, that's right.

NAVARRO: Sanders supporters in 2016 were Bernie Sanders supporters. They were not anti-Hillary. ACOSTA: Just because Nikki Haley goes back and supports Donald Trump --

NAVARRO: A lot of the folks that we are calling Nikki Haley, a lot of those marbles --


NAVARRO: -- are anti-Trump. Folks who are going to have to decide for themselves what they do.

SINGLETON: But, Ana, we do know that PBS, NPR had a poll that came out that showcased 82 percent of them are likely to vote for Donald Trump. Now that gives around 12 percent remaining. So, if Haley endorses Trump, can maybe three or four percent out of that 12 say, OK, we'll vote. That could make a substantial difference in key battleground states.

ACOSTA: All right. Ana, I do have to cut in because we do have some breaking news that we have to get to right now. Guys, thank you very much for that terrific discussion.

Breaking news out of Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says a strike has hit near where he and the Greek Prime Minister were traveling in the port city of Odessa on the Black Sea. Zelenskyy says there are fatalities and injuries. Obviously, the Ukrainian president is OK.

But let's go to CNN's Clare Sebastian. She joins us now with the very latest. Obviously, when we saw this headline, Clare, a lot of concern in the United States, obviously around the world. What can you tell us?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're still getting information in about this, Jim, but we believe this happened at around 10:40 this morning, Kyiv time, that's about seven hours ago. And it happened while President Zelenskyy was meeting with the Greek prime minister in the port city of Odessa. This is the largest Ukrainian seaport on the Black Sea regularly targeted. And in fact, they visited the site of a very deadly attack for civilians on Saturday, a nine- story residential building, where 12 people were killed.

But as for this strike today, President Zelenskyy saying that they could see and hear it. We don't know exactly how close it was to their convoy or where exactly they were when it hit, or what exactly was the target at this point. But the fact that it happened very close to where they were, that President Zelenskyy was meeting with the Greek Prime Minister, the head of state of a NATO country, at the time, obviously raising significant questions.

They did appear at a press conference, shortly after, both of them, uninjured. And we are, of course, waiting for more information on the number of dead and wounded, because President Zelenskyy has confirmed that there are dead and wounded as a result of this.

BLITZER: Yes, very disturbing developments, indeed. Clare Sebastian. Thank you very much.

And our next hour of "Newsroom" starts right after a short break.