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Interview With Donald Trump; Historic Blizzard; Michael Bloomberg for President?; Democratic Presidential Forum; Democrats Preparing for Tonight's CNN Town Hall; Grand Jury Clears Planned Parenthood, Indicts Video Makers; At Least 34 Dead in Blizzard, More Snow Possible. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 25, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: When you say probably, you haven't 100 percent decided you will be at the debate?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. Nothing is 100 percent.
BLITZER: Why not?
TRUMP: I just have -- I'm not 100 percent. I will see. If I think I'm going to be treated unfairly, I will do something else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Trump also launches new attacks on the moderator, at least one of the co-moderators, Megyn Kelly, and details his vision for beating ISIS. Can Trump's plan take down the terrorists?
And the big thaw. Parts of the Northeast still shut down by the blizzard of 2016. The death toll climbing. The fear of collapsing roofs is growing and tonight a new worry. Is one-third of the U.S. about to face another big chill?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're just three hours away from CNN's exclusive Democratic town hall in Iowa featuring Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. They are locked in an increasingly tight race exactly one week before the Iowa caucuses. We will go there live for a preview.
Also, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump threatening to skip the next GOP debate this week. In a one-on-one interview, Trump tells me why he's unwilling to commit.
We're also following the climbing toll from the blizzard of 2016, at least 33 deaths now blamed on that storm that has large regions of the Northeastern parts of the United States still paralyzed and shut down. Millions of people are being told it will be days before life returns to normal. And, tonight, there's threat of more snow and rain.
My interview with Donald Trump only minutes away. We also have our correspondents, our expert analysts and our guests all standing by.
Let's begin with the GOP presidential race. And, tonight, Donald Trump stepping up attacks on his closest rival, Ted Cruz, calling him a liar and a nasty person during our one-on-one interview. And you are going to hear more of that interview coming up next.
But, first, let's go to Iowa and CNN political reporter Sara Murray.
Sara, the battle for Iowa is getting intense.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
All the action is happening here in Iowa, but Donald Trump is in New Hampshire. That's where he and Ted Cruz are battling it out, in the Hawkeye State.
MURRAY (voice-over): It's the final stretch in Iowa, and Republicans are scrambling to get ahead.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One hundred and seventy-seven hours, that's how long we have got until the Iowa caucus.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you lose your wife, if you lose your husband, I don't care. Go caucus. OK?
MURRAY: With a week of campaigning until the caucuses, Trump leads the field, and the billionaire businessman is feeling confident.
TRUMP: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's, like, incredible.
MURRAY: So, confident he's campaigning in New Hampshire today and slamming the GOP establishment.
TRUMP: The establishment, the media, the special interests, the lobbyists, the donors, they're all against me.
MURRAY: While other candidates hunker down in the Hawkeye State. But this weekend, Trump took a shot at traditional campaigning. Instead of taking his jet back to Manhattan, he spent the night in a Holiday Inn and attended a local church.
TRUMP: We talked about humility at church today. I don't know if that was aimed at me. Perhaps.
MURRAY: All as Ted Cruz tries to knock Trump down a notch, today getting a boost, an endorsement from former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
RICK PERRY (R), FORMER TEXAS GOVERNOR: Ted is the leader that we need to reignite the promise of America. That's why I'm supporting Ted Cruz.
MURRAY: And needling Trump for botching a biblical reference when he referred to the New Testament book 2nd Corinthians as 2 Corinthians.
CRUZ: Well, you know, two Corinthians walk into a bar.
MURRAY: And Cruz isn't the only one having fun at Trump's expense, as "Saturday Night Live" unveiled a skit with Trump and his latest campaign surrogate, Sarah Palin.
TINA FEY, ACTRESS: Thank you, Iowa. Oh, I wanted to take a break from my full-time career of writing things on Facebook to fly down here and lend my support to the next president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR: Hey, America, isn't she great? Just the total package. Smart, legs, yelling, everything. I haven't seen a woman this impressive since Jeb Bush.
MURRAY: Meanwhile, Marco Rubio picked up his own high-profile endorsement from the "Des Moines Register" editorial board, and hit the trail with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have always felt real good about our work here. I have. And every week -- every day that goes boy, obviously, we are very encouraged by the support that we are building. We will see what it translates to a week from tonight, but we feel very positive about it.
MURRAY: Now, while Donald Trump is in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio will be right here in Iowa in just a couple of hours. As for Trump, he will be back on the campaign trail here in Iowa tomorrow night -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara Murray in Iowa for us, Sarah, thank you very much.
Let's get some more now.
I sat down earlier today with Donald Trump in his New York office. We spoke about the race for the White House.
BLITZER: Before Iowa, there's a Republican debate Thursday night. FOX is hosting that debate. You and Megyn Kelly have had issues. She's one of the moderators. Are you going to be at that FOX debate?
TRUMP: Well, probably. I mean, I don't like her. She doesn't treat me fairly. I'm not a big fan of hers at all. I don't care. She was -- she probably was -- I might be the best thing that ever happened to her. I don't know, because who ever even heard of her before the last debate?
But I thought she was very unfair in the last debate. A lot of people said I won that debate. Everybody said I won the last debate. But I'm not a fan of Megyn Kelly. I don't like her. She probably doesn't like me. And that's OK. But she better be fair.
I would like to go to the debate. I enjoy the debates. I have done well in the debates. Every single poll has said I have won every debate. But we are going to see what happens. Going to be exciting.
BLITZER: When you say probably, you haven't 100 percent decided you will be at the debate?
TRUMP: No. Nothing is 100 percent.
BLITZER: Why not?
TRUMP: I just have -- I'm not 100 percent. I will see. If I think I'm going to be treated unfairly, I will do something else.
But I don't think she can treat me fairly, actually. I think she's very biased. And I don't think she can treat me fairly. But that doesn't mean I don't do the debate. I like doing the debates. I have won every single debate, according to every poll. I have won every single debate.
I think the debates have been good. You know, after the last debate, I went up 11 points in the poll. I went up 11 points right after the debate. The poll came out. I went up 11 points because of the debate.
So, I want to do the debates. They're good for me, but I don't think she can treat me fairly, and I'm not a big fan of hers. Maybe I know too much about her.
BLITZER: You and I have been doing interviews for at least a decade.
And you have changed on some issues. But on certain national security issues, you have been remarkably consistent.
TRUMP: That's true.
BLITZER: And I want to get specific on what you would do if you were elected president. This is October 2008. This is what you said about Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2008)
TRUMP: Hey, look, it was not Saddam Hussein that attacked the World Trade Center, OK? In fact, those people, when they sent their families back, most of them went back to Saudi Arabia. It was not Saddam Hussein that took down the World Trade Center.
And, in fact, Saddam Hussein killed terrorists. They had very few terrorists, because he didn't terrorists in Iraq, and he killed terrorists. So, we go and attack Saddam Hussein. Now, Iraq now is the number-one breeding ground for terrorists. All
the terrorists go to Iraq to learn the trade. You know, we all have trades, right? And they go to Iraq. But you didn't have that when Saddam Hussein was running Iraq with an iron fist. Now you do.
Now, we took out Saddam Hussein. What have we created? A mess. And the day we leave Iraq, it is going to be -- forget it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And there's not one word in that I would change, not even a word.
And I also said, if you went on, or I said to other people at the time, that Iran will take over Iraq, sure. And, look, it's going to happen. Just like you're sitting there, Iran will take over Iraq.
BLITZER: Well, Iran's influence in Iraq has grown enormously.
TRUMP: It's not influence. They're going to take it over. It's just a question of time. They will just take it over. They have taken over...
BLITZER: What would you do?
TRUMP: We gave them $150 billion.
BLITZER: If you were president on January 20, 2017, you are sworn in as president, what would you do to, A, stop ISIS and, B, prevent, let's say, Iran from taking over Iraq?
TRUMP: Well, one thing I would have done a long time ago is take the oil. And we still don't do it properly. But I would have taken the oil.
And when we left -- we shouldn't have been in Iraq. And I said don't go into Iraq and don't go in. You are going to destabilize the whole Middle East. Another thing I said there, if you go on, you are going to totally destabilize the Middle East and Iran is going to take over.
OK, now we're in because of stupid decisions. We're in. And they didn't knock down the World Trade Center, by the way, OK? They had nothing to do with knocking down the World Trade Center. So we're in Iraq. We spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over the place. We're in.
And now Iran is taking it over. I would take the oil. But I would have taken the oil when we left. As bad as it was, we shouldn't have been there, I would have taken the oil when we left, because we just left a shell. These aren't politicians. These are corrupt officials running Iraq. These are totally corrupt people.
And Iran essentially is right now controlling Iraq. If you look over history, they would fight, but they were equal. They would fight. Nobody would move. They would fight for years and years, because there was -- we decapitated their military, and now Iran goes in and just...
BLITZER: How aggressive would you be in trying to destroy...
TRUMP: I don't want to tell you. You know why? Because we want to be unpredictable.
We need unpredictability in this country. You are asking a question like that. I know it's politically never good to say, I don't want to tell you. But I have a good chance of winning. I don't want the enemies and even our allies to know exactly what I'm thinking. We have got to be poker players.
We have got to be chess players. You know what we are? We're checker players, and we don't play well. And part of the reason is, we always tell everything. Like, Obama goes -- and he has got 50 people that he's sending over. Why does he have to make an announcement he's sending 50 people? He's sending 50 soldiers, our finest over there to Iraq and to Syria.
Why does he have to say that? Why does he have to announce it? Why couldn't he just let them go?
TRUMP: Excuse me. Now they have a target on their back.
BLITZER: We will have much more of my interview coming up with Donald Trump. He says he will destroy ISIS. I will ask him how.
And the man known for living in luxury talks about his downscale stay on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A lot of buzz that you slept in a Holiday Inn Express the other day.
TRUMP: I did.
BLITZER: How did that go?
TRUMP: I did two nights, actually.
BLITZER: Two nights?
TRUMP: They said one night. It was actually two nights. I thought it was terrific. It was clean. It was nice. And the bed was good. That's all I need. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: More now of my one-on-one interview with the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump.
National security is a huge issue in this campaign. And we talked extensively about the terrorist threat to the United States.
BLITZER: Would you use ground forces to destroy ISIS?
TRUMP: I will tell you, I will destroy ISIS. I will destroy ISIS.
Do you know how bad it is for me to say that? Wouldn't it be nice if we could surprise them? General George Patton didn't say -- he doesn't -- you know, Wolf Blitzer: Would you use ground forces? Yes, I would use. No, I wouldn't use.
You have got to have some element of surprise. You have to some unpredictable -- we are so predictable. You have to have -- you have to be unpredictable a little bit. When Obama announced that he was leaving, OK, he gave a definite day, when he said we're leaving Iraq.
We shouldn't have been there, but he should have never announced a date certain when we were leaving. We're totally predictable as a nation.
Now, bottom line, I will do a number on ISIS like you wouldn't believe. But I don't want to sit here and tell you every single thing I want to do. At some point -- we're warriors, right? At some point, you have to surprise the enemy.
I watch these guys, like Lindsey Graham, who is just not a smart person. He says, we have to go here with this number of people and we have to attack them from this level and this level.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could surprise them and knock the hell out of them?
BLITZER: Another interview we did on September 24, 2007, right here, you said this about America's standing in the world at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, just look at this country. We have gone from this tremendous power that was respected all over the world to somewhat of a laughing stock.
And, all of a sudden, people are talking about China and India and other places, even from an economic standpoint. America has come down a long way, a long way. The United States has come down a long way, and it's very, very sad. We're not respected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: That was the beginning of China.
TRUMP: Well, and that was the beginning of China. That was the beginning of India, when India -- by the way, India is doing great. Nobody talks about it. And I have big jobs going up in India. But India is doing great.
But that was the beginning of China. That was the beginning of India. Look at everything I told you. Everything I told you is all right,whether it's Iraq, whether it's Iran, whether it's China, whether it's India, whether it's Japan.
BLITZER: President George W. Bush, he was in office in 2007, when you said...
TRUMP: Right, absolutely. I'm so fan. I have never been a fan of Bush.
BLITZER: But who is more responsible for the weakening of America internationally? Would it be President Bush or President Obama, because you have been very critical of both?
TRUMP: I think Bush did a bad job, and I think Obama carried it out. He continued to do a bad job.
BLITZER: Who do you blame more?
TRUMP: I would say that it's pretty equal. I would say that Obama has been very, very weak. It could have been stemmed at the beginning of his administration.
What he didn't do is he didn't stop...
BLITZER: Who is he?
TRUMP: Obama -- the devaluation of the Chinese currency has absolutely destroyed us. It's killed us.
They have created one of the great thefts of all time. They have stripped our country of jobs, of money, of factories. You look at the number of factories that have collapsed. And I'm not only talking about China. I'm talking about other countries, too. Look at Mexico, what they're doing to us. It's unbelievable. That's a mini version of China.
And Obama allowed them to get away with it now for almost eight years.
BLITZER: If you were elected president, would you move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
TRUMP: I would. I would, yes.
BLITZER: How quickly would you do that?
TRUMP: I would do it fairly quickly. I have a lot of friends in that world.
I was at the Israeli Day Parade, 2004. I was the grand marshal walking up Fifth Avenue. And I have great relationships to Israel. And, by the way, the worst thing that's ever happened to Israel is Barack Obama, and especially with respect to this horrible deal that we just made with Iran.
This is the worst thing that's happened to Israel. I do not know. And I tell my Jewish friends, how do you support this guy? He's a disaster for Israel. And most of them don't know. They say, we don't know.
It's almost like it's a habit.
BLITZER: Back in 2008, when we spoke, you called Sarah Palin, who has now endorsed you -- quote -- "very impressive." And you said you would trust her with the economy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I would trust her, yes.
BLITZER: To deal with this economic crisis, the enormity, something that we haven't seen, some say, since the Great Depression?
TRUMP: Well, look at what other people have been doing. And they had a lot of experience. And they're the ones that got us into this mess.
Maybe you need less experience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, that was when she was chosen as the vice presidential nominee by John McCain. And I backed John McCain 100 percent. He was having an uphill battle, because he was sort of like, what happened?
The last year of Bush was a disaster. And John McCain was having a hard time. And, yes, I always liked Sarah Palin. I respected her. I loved her loyalty, even her loyalty to me. Look at the beautiful loyalty to me. She went out the other day and backed me in front of thousands of people. We had a packed arena at Oral Roberts University. And it was packed.
Bernie, by the way, does not get crowds like that.
BLITZER: You get very big crowds. There's no doubt about that.
And we have mentioned it many times.
TRUMP: And Bernie is second, I will say.
BLITZER: He gets big crowds, too.
TRUMP: But it's nowhere near...
BLITZER: Would you consider Sarah Palin for your Cabinet?
TRUMP: I don't want to even talk about it now.
You know the nice part? She didn't ask. She called me up. She said: "I love what you have done. You have created a movement. You're going to win. I would love to endorse you."
And I was a little bit surprised, because I thought she might endorse -- you know, she's endorsed Cruz in the past. In fact, without her endorsement, he wouldn't have won for the Senate in Texas.
So, I was really impressed that she did that, but she never asked for a thing.
BLITZER: Did you see Tina Fey reprising Sarah Palin, "Saturday Night Live"?
TRUMP: I did. I did. I did. It was very cute.
BLITZER: And Darrell Hammond plays you. What do you think of him?
TRUMP: Well, I think Darrell is great.
BLITZER: He does a pretty good job.
TRUMP: He does a great job.
BLITZER: It's very funny, you got to admit.
TRUMP: He's very good.
BLITZER: One final question. A lot of buzz that you slept in a Holiday Inn Express the other day.
TRUMP: I did.
BLITZER: How did that go?
TRUMP: I did two nights, actually.
BLITZER: Two nights?
TRUMP: They said one night. It was actually two nights. I thought it was terrific. It was clean. It was nice. And the bed was good. That's all I need.
I don't need Mar-a-Lago. I want to win. I want to make our country great. I wanted to devote my energy, whatever this ability that I have had over the years from making things really good and doing well.
That's when I put in my statements, my financial statements -- I'm a private company. People couldn't believe how successful I am, more successful than they even thought. I built a great company, some of the greatest assets in the world. And I say that only in that that's the kind of thinking this country needs.
We have people that are incompetent running our country. We can't have it anymore. We're not going to have a country left. We're going to do something great. We're going to make America great again.
BLITZER: Mr. Trump, thanks very much for joining us.
TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
BLITZER: We're counting down to the CNN Democratic town hall tonight in Iowa, where Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they are getting ready to battle it out. We will get a preview when we come back.
BLITZER: It's a night of breaking news in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. Just hours from now and only here on CNN, the candidates will take questions from Iowa voters at a special town hall.
Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is in Des Moines for us tonight.
So, how is that -- set the stage for us in this particular case, Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you, with one week remaining before the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley all are trying to win over one of the most precious commodities in all of Iowa, the undecided voter.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need more respect, more tolerance, know love, more kindness.
ZELENY (voice-over): But that all may have to wait. The Democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is deadlocked. Today, in Iowa, Clinton presented herself as a realist, taking aim at Sanders' proposals, starting with free college tuition.
CLINTON: I don't think it's right to give me and my husband free college for our child. I think that, if you can afford to pay, you should pay. ZELENY: Sanders is asking voters to join him in what he's calling a
revolution, a political movement to bring real change.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nothing that I have described to you today is utopian, it is not pie in the sky. In fact, much of what I have talked to you about today exists today in other countries on Earth.
ZELENY: The candidates have been making their case for months, Clinton's voice showing a strain today.
CLINTON: You do talk a lot in this campaign.
ZELENY: One week from tonight, voters will finally start having their say. The outcome of the Iowa caucuses will set the tone for the rest of the 2016 campaign.
President Obama weighed into the race far more than ever before in an interview with Politico.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot.
OBAMA: And just letting loose.
OBAMA: I think Hillary came in with the both privilege and burden of being perceived as the front-runner.
ZELENY: Still staying neutral, but sounding favorable to Clinton. He said he understood Sanders' appeal, but pushed back to any comparisons to 2008.
OBAMA: You're always looking at the bright shiny object that people don't -- haven't seen before. That's a disadvantage to her.
ZELENY: Iowa is a test of organization. The real activity is taking place behind the scenes at campaign offices, with Clinton aides shipping out boxes to precincts and team Sanders trying to capture the late enthusiasm.
The political world is keeping a close watch on Iowa, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He's once again flirting with a third-party run, particularly if Sanders and Donald Trump win their nominations. Clinton said she has a solution to that.
CLINTON: The way I read what he said is, if I didn't get the nomination, he might consider it. Well, I'm going to relieve him of that and get the nomination, so he doesn't have to.
ZELENY: Sanders said the race doesn't need another billionaire.
SANDERS: The American people do not want to see our nation move toward an oligarchy, where billionaires control the political process. I think we will win that election.
ZELENY: The Mayor Bloomberg decision is a long time off, though.
But first and foremost are the Iowa caucuses. And, tonight, I'm told by a senior Clinton adviser she's trying to win over some of those Sanders supporters who may be unsure of his electability and may have questions of his experience.
And Senator Sanders is going to ask his supporters to believe as they did eight years ago, Wolf, so a very interesting night coming up tonight here on CNN -- Wolf.
[18:30:13] BLITZER: Will be fascinating indeed. All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you.
CNN's Chris Cuomo will be moderating tonight's CNN town hall. We're showing our viewers some live pictures. Chris is joining us now.
Chris, thanks very much for doing what you're about to do. This will be -- really be critically important exactly one week before the Iowa caucuses. First of all, walk us through the format for the two-hour town hall.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Wolf, as you know, this is very different than a debate tonight by design and intention. CNN very happy to get the ability to give the voters what they say they want the most a week out from the caucus, which is a last best chance to be face-to-face with the candidates and ask what's on their mind and in their hearts and get a direct response.
So we're going to have, starting with Senator Sanders and Governor O'Malley and finishing up with Secretary Clinton. They'll each come up in turn, not together. We'll set the table with them a little bit, and then it will be the voters and them. Questions, in turn, and I'll basically have the best seat in the house. A very different set of chores than ordinary in a debate, as you know all too well and do all too excellently yourself.
But this is a different goal tonight. This is about allowing this democracy to be in its raw progress, of people who say what's going on in their lives. And you'll get a different measure with the candidates then we're used to seeing, let's be honest. Even when someone like you or me asks them a question, they may dismiss the premise. They may not like the question. You can't do that with a voter. This is their lives; this is their heart. This is what they care about.
So it will be interesting to see that interaction and the range of topics that are on people's minds, I think will be very impressive for people tonight.
BLITZER: So if somebody in the audience, an Iowan, stands up and asks a question, the candidate gives an answer, will you be able to follow up, if necessary? CUOMO: Yes. I would like there to be as little me as possible in
this. I think the goal is pretty simple: to keep them on track, make sure that the question does get an answer, at least directly. You know, sometimes if we don't like the question, we seem to answer the question we would rather have been asked. So we're going to try to make that -- avoid it.
But as much as possible, I want to be there to observe and take it in like everybody else and give everybody a chance to see with how the candidates deal with what's coming out of actual Iowa voters.
BLITZER: Are there time constraints on how long the answers can be, if someone stands up and asks a question? Can the candidate then give a speech or are you going to cut them off after a certain amount of time?
CUOMO: Great question. I'll probably have to referee a little bit. It is not like a debate where they're on the clock as we usually do, again, because it's a town hall. We wanted it to be a little bit looser, a little bit more open to the kind of engagement by the candidate and that -- and that particular voter.
But if it goes too long, we have to move them on, because the goal is to get as many different questions as we can.
BLITZER: Finally, a question that has been asked of me. I don't know the answer to this one. How did you come up with the order? There are going to be three candidates. Each one gets a half an hour. But how did you come up with the order?
CUOMO: Bigger brains than mine were at work on that, Wolf. As you know, the CNN Politics team, so excellent, so, you know, well kind of accustomed to doing this. It was all done by a big group of people trying to figure out what seemed most fair, vetting the questions to make sure that they were relevant to the campaign; not designing the questions but making sure the topics reflected a range.
But there was, you know, no real particular methodology to who went first or second or third or for how long. Everything will be as equal as we can make it.
BLITZER: Good work. We're looking forward to it tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern, a two-hour CNN town hall. Chris Cuomo will do an amazing job moderating that. Thanks so much, Chris, for that. We will all be watching, 9 p.m. later tonight.
Right now we're going to dive into all of this with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN Politics executive editor, Mark Preston; and the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine, our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza.
Mark, you say tonight is crucial. Tell our viewers why.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, it's certainly crucial because, Wolf, anything can happen on this stage. We're going to have these three candidates making their final, final push to try to get these crucial Iowa caucus voters to support them.
And let me tell you why here. If you go back to 2008, and you look at when Iowa Democrats decided who they were going to support, if you look at those numbers, 27 percent of Iowa Democrats at this time in 2008 had not decided who they wanted to choose.
When you get to the day of the caucus, it was 11 percent. So when you see a race so close, so tight right now, Wolf, something on stage could either really doom one of these candidacies or could take Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley or Bernie Sanders and put them above the rest.
[18:35:09] BLITZER: Gloria, your take. How much is at stake, for example, tonight for Hillary Clinton?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think -- I think a lot is at stake here. In talking to Clinton advisers, they tell me, look, they can win this nomination, even if they don't win Iowa and New Hampshire, but let me just tell you, they want to win Iowa. And they feel that they need to win Iowa. They've always kind of thought that New Hampshire is Bernie Sanders' backyard, as they put it.
But if they were to lose Iowa, they're just not sure what kind of momentum Bernie Sanders would have. They say they've got a southern firewall, but, you know, if Bernie Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, this could be a race that goes on, Wolf, until April or May. And the Clinton campaign does not want that at all. Even though they think they would win in the end.
BLITZER: Ryan, we heard in Jeff Zeleny's report, President Obama now weighing in more assertively in the race, certainly much more than he has done before. Some are reading this as almost a tacit endorsement of Hillary Clinton. You see that?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think I do. I mean, he went out of his way to be as sympathetic to Hillary Clinton as he could in that interview. And, frankly, to throw a bit of cold water on any arguments that the Sanders campaign is reminiscent of the Obama campaign.
I mean, he was almost retroactively dismissive of, you know, himself in 2008 in his campaign against Hillary and went on about how much harder it was for her and how she didn't get the credit. And, you know, talking about the bright shiny objects. And, frankly, talking about how -- from President Barack Obama's perspective, Sanders has not been vetted, saying that, if Sanders wins in Iowa, there's going to be a lot more pressure on some of the costs of his proposals and there's going to be a lot more people digging into his background in a way that Obama was suggesting hasn't happened.
I think there will also be a lot of pressure on Barack Obama to be more up front about who he supports if Hillary Clinton gets into a long fight with Sanders. He has said he's not going to, or his chief of staff has said Obama is not going to endorse. But I think if this turns into a long campaign, Hillary versus Sanders, you can bet that Obama is going to be pressured to say a little bit more. BORGER: you know, Barack Obama's legacy really depends on Hillary
Clinton winning the presidency.
BORGER: So it's kind of not surprising that he'd give her this half a hug, as I call it. And I'm surprised, in fact, that it wasn't a little bit more robust, because it's Hillary Clinton saying, "You need to keep Obamacare," for example.
It's Bernie Sanders saying, "You know what? I like a single-payer plan, and I'd like to kind of start all over again."
So the president really does need to embrace Hillary Clinton, if -- if what he has done in the past is going to be continued in the future.
BLITZER: We saw that near embrace in that interview today.
All right. Everyone stand by. There's a lot more going on. We're counting down to the CNN town hall. That's coming up 9 p.m. Eastern tonight. Two hours with the three Democratic presidential candidates. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[18:43:04] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: There is breaking news now on one of the biggest political controversies of the past year, those secret videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood workers talking about selling tissue and body parts from aborted fetuses.
Just now in Texas, a grand jury said it will not -- repeat not -- indict Planned Parenthood on charges the organization had broken the law, but in a stunning twist, the grand jury says it did find wrongdoing by the people who made the videos and indicted two people behind the recordings.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is following the breaking news for us.
Tell us more, Pamela, about this very surprising decision.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, it certainly is a twist, Wolf. This Houston grand jury that had been investigating allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood after the controversial videos we're watching right here surfaced and essentially went viral, has instead indicted two of the anti-abortion activists who made these videos.
The employees with the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, are charged with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony; and the director of the center has also been indicted on a misdemeanor count relating to purchasing of human organs. Now, you may recall last summer, the center released the secretly-
recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood officials, alleging that they were trying to sell fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood had denied those claims all along.
And in response to this news today about the indictments against the two people who made these videos, Planned Parenthood said these anti- abortion extremists spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, lying and breaking the law. When they couldn't find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up.
And the Texas governor's office, Wolf, has also chimed in on this and said, look, there's still a state investigation here. This will not impact that. The governor's office saying also that the state of Texas will continue to protect life -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela, pretty stunning development, indeed. Thanks very much for that update.
We're counting down right now to CNN's exclusive Democratic town hall in Iowa tonight.
[18:45:04] A high stakes showdown with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton exactly one week before the Iowa caucus. We just heard, we're going to get more on what's going on. We'll set a stage for that.
But I quickly want to bring in Gloria.
Gloria, this decision on Planned Parenthood by this grand jury is going to have political ramifications.
BORGER: Well, look, in the Republican party, candidates jumped forward and said that the videos were tragic, outrageous, you name it, and went on and on. This is kind of a stunning reversal here in which the people who made the video are now being indicted.
I think as far as Democrats are concerned, Wolf, look, 68 percent of Democrats are pro-choice. And Planned Parenthood overall, Wolf, is a political issue is not great for the Republican Party. It has a 59 percent favorability rating overall among Americans. And so, I think that perhaps this will put that issue to rest, at least for now.
BLITZER: I suspect, Gloria, this could come up in the town hall tonight.
BORGER: It might come up in the town hall but when you are talking -- when you have Democratic voters talking to Democratic candidates, they will always defend Planned Parenthood. If this were a Republican town hall, it would be a little bit different because I think for Republicans, the issue will still be whether abortion, you know, the question of abortion and whether Planned Parenthood is at all at fault here regarding the use much of fetal tissue. So, I think that is still an issue in the Republican Party.
BLITZER: Just about two hours from that town hall. Ryan, let's move on and talk about this new article you have in the
"New Yorker" magazine in which you say one of Trump's great successes is in attracting people who are otherwise alienated. Your words from the political process.
How potentially could this be a game-changer especially in these early states?
LIZZA: Yes, I spent a lot of time in December and January going to Trump rallies and talking to his supporters.
There's no doubt, one thing that comes up again and again is people who are disgusted with politics or have never been engaged in politics before being attracted to Trump. Especially some people who are economically not doing very well and people in Mississippi that I talk to in South Carolina who, frankly, just have not been touched by the political system. And see in Trump someone that maybe can fix the dysfunction in Washington. I came across that a lot.
I would say that is tempered in the early states, especially in Iowa, by the numbers. We have not seen in crucial Iowa caucuses a jump in registration of Republicans. So at least in that state, the new blood he's bringing in, the enthusiasm he's created out there, we have not seen from the Republican party of Iowa, a big surge in registration. So, in other places, it may be different. But again, on caucus night, you can walk into the caucus and register as a Republican. So, it's not too late for this phenomenon to take hold.
That's a big thing to watch next Monday night. Do we have a similar phenomenon on the Democratic side where you have a rush of new voters coming out, an army of Trump supporters coming out for him? If so, we're going to have a big Trump victory. If not, closer to a Cruz victory. Or maybe a late surging third candidate we haven't been talking about yet.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, we're seeing some anger reflected in the polls. New Monmouth University poll says more than 6 in 10 Americans believe that all or most much their fellow citizens are angry with Washington. How do the candidates make that anger work to their advantage?
BORGER: Well, you know, they are already doing that. And that's precisely what Ryan was writing about this week and Trump was playing into. I mean, it's the anger against Washington. It's the anger against the establishment. And even insiders are running as outsiders.
I mean, Ted Cruz is an elected senator. You don't get more insider than that. But he's made a career in the Senate of running against his Republican senators and defying them, defying his own leadership, calling the Republican leader a liar. And that is sort of, you know, his stake.
And he's -- you know, this is something he is running on. So if you play to that voter discontent, which is real and understandable, by the way, on both sides of the aisle, because I believe that Bernie Sanders that as well, because voters are angry that Democratic voters, some of them, are angry that President Obama hasn't delivered the way they would have liked him to deliver. You can be quite successful.
[18:50:02] BLITZER: Mark, can a Democrat lose both Iowa and then New Hampshire and still capture the nomination?
PRESTON: Well, you know the irony is we've been talking about what's going to happen on Monday night. If Bernie Sanders is able to win here in Iowa, would he have the momentum going into New Hampshire to shut out Hillary Clinton?
If you look at the polls in New Hampshire, Wolf, Bernie Sanders is doing very well over Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton would have an uphill battle of even doing well in that state. But to your point, there have only when two Democrats since 1970 that have gone on to win the Democratic nomination if they lost both states. Those Democrats, George McGovern, and get this, Bill Clinton.
So, Hillary Clinton, there's a lot on the line for her, Wolf. There's certainly a lot on the line for her as there is for Bernie Sanders tonight. They have two different messages. They've been crisscrossing the state today. They've been trying to rally their troops and quite frankly, we expect them towards the end of the week to be here and really just working the state, trying to get as many voters out because this race is really, really tight as we're heading into Monday night.
BLITZER: Ryan, do you expect these Democrats tonight to be lively shall we say in criticizing their competitors?
RYAN: I think so. I think Hillary has really stepped -- actually both of them have really stepped it up in the last week pointing out major differences. Clinton, very interestingly, is resorting to the same argument she made against Barack Obama in 2008. And, frankly, I think it applies a little bit more this time with Bernie Sanders because the ideological differences back in 2008 between Obama and Hillary Clinton were not that great.
This time, they are. And so, when she makes the argument, hey, pay attention, look at the details, look at what's going on with Bernie Sanders' agenda and see if you really believe that he can pass that in a dysfunctional Congress. That's essentially what she's saying is that his agenda is too bold. You can't get it done and you need a pragmatist in Washington who can work with both sides.
Now, if you believe Hillary Clinton can do that -- but that is the same argument she made against Barack Obama. And obviously it did not work in 2008. I think it has the benefit of being true. She is historically more of a pragmatist. She's more of a moderate than Sanders, but, boy, that's a tough argument for an idealistic Democratic electorate.
BORGER: You know, Wolf, I --
BLITZER: Hold on, Gloria. Gloria, we've got have to leave it right there, but there's a lot more to discuss.
Remember, later tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, exclusively only here on CNN, the town hall in Iowa with the Democratic presidential candidates.
Still ahead, as 85 million Americans struggle to dig out after a deadly and crippling blizzard, forecasters are keeping their eyes on developing storms that could be over the snowpack eastern U.S. by midweek and again this weekend.
[18:57:22] BLITZER: We're counting down to the Democratic presidential town hall here on CNN. You're looking at live pictures coming in right now. We're going to hear from the three Democratic presidential candidates. They'll answer questions directly from Iowa voters. That airs a little bit more than two hours from now, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
First, we've got some breaking news we're watching. The blizzard of 2016 still very much an unfolding story tonight with the death toll climbing to at least 34 and large portions of the northeast still paralyzed and shut down. We're also now learning that many of those reeling from the storm could actually be facing yet more snow.
Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray has the latest forecast.
Jennifer, millions of people are still feeling the impact. What's the latest?
JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it doesn't look like we're going to see near about as much snow as we did with this last storm, but even a little bit of snow is not what people want to hear after they are still digging out of this monster storm. Look at it. Over the past couple of days, this storm just sat on top of the mid- Atlantic, the Northeast, snowed consecutively for more than 30 hours.
This was an epic storm, and it definitely lived up to all of its hype. Let me show you what we're facing later in the week. Here is the American model. As we move into midweek or so, we're basically looking at just rain across Washington, D.C., New York. It all depends on how close this low gets to shore. It doesn't look like we're going to have much cold air along with it. It looks like it's going to mainly be a rainmaker. Of course, the GFS model showing basically the same thing.
So, we're not looking at huge snowfall totals by any stretch of the imagination. Look at this, though. This is New York City Central Park 26.8 inches of snow, 0.1 of an inch of snow to tie that record of the most snowfall ever in a storm. Unbelievable, 0.1 of an inch away. Of course, Reagan ranked number four at 17.8 inches.
Look, there is a little bit of a controversy in D.C. surrounding that total. If you look at Dulles and you look at Baltimore, they both had almost 30 inches of snow and then right here at Reagan, 17.8. Basically, there has been a little controversy with the snow measuring
board at the airport. Either it was blown away or it was buried underneath the snow. They were measuring. There's actually an investigation going on to look into exactly what happened. But right now they are sticking with that number 17.8 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pretty amazing. Pretty amazing. Those forecasts were pretty much spot on. I must say I was pretty impressed by that.
Jennifer, thanks very much for all that good work.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our special exclusive town hall tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
In the meantime, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.