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State of the Union

Interview With Texas Senator Ted Cruz; Interview With White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Donald Trump Attacks Senator Ted Cruz; The Lenny Skutniks of the Past Administrations. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired January 10, 2016 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ted Cruz rising.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Almost every Republican candidate is attacking me. And -- and that kind of suggests maybe something has changed in the race.

TAPPER: And the Republican presidential candidate trying to tamp down the questions Donald Trump is raising about his eligibility to be president.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are worried that, if he weren't born on this country, which he wasn't -- he was born in Canada.

TAPPER: We're on the Cruz bus in battleground state Iowa for an exclusive Sunday interview.

Plus, the president taking on guns.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I expect the Second Amendment, but all of us can agree that it makes sense to do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of people who would try to do others harm.

TAPPER: Will he go even further in Tuesday's State of the Union address? His chief of staff will be here with a preview.

Plus, the sharpest political minds will be here with insights from the campaign trail.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, D.C., where the state of our union is contentious.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, sensing a possible pending loss in Iowa to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, is launching broadside over broadside to the Texan, one oft chief attacks, questioning whether Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother, is constitutionally eligible to be president. Trump doubled down on this attack last night in Iowa.


TRUMP: You're talking about natural-born citizen, right? Now, if he ever got the nomination, you know the Democrats are going to bring a major suit. He was born in Canada. Whether we like it, don't like it, he lived there. He was there. He was born in Canada.


TAPPER: Cruz calls this attack nonsense. And the campaign has even released Cruz's mother bit certificate.

Sound familiar?

We sat down for a Sunday exclusive with Senator Ted Cruz on his bus tour through the state of Iowa. His latest polling there -- the latest polling shows Cruz leading 27 percent to 23 percent in the Buckeye State. On board -- in the Hawkeye State, rather.

On board his campaign bus, I asked Cruz about Trump's many attacks.


TAPPER: Senator Cruz, thanks so much for doing this. Appreciate it.

CRUZ: Well, it's good to be with you.

TAPPER: So, you're getting a lot of flak from your opponents. I just have to say, so, Donald Trump in the last few weeks has gone after you in one way or another about your faith, suggesting you're in the pocket of big oil, questioning whether you're constitutionally eligible.

I understand your strategy of not wanting to engage in what you call the silly season, but do you ever -- are you ever worried that, by not responding, some people might feel like you're afraid of Trump?

CRUZ: Well, look, let's be clear. This has been my approach with regard to everybody.

TAPPER: Well, you and Rubio go back and forth sometimes.

CRUZ: Well, listen, Marco and I have had some disputes on policy, and in particular something like the gang of eight, which was a major battle, and we disagreed on substantive policy.

TAPPER: Right.

CRUZ: So, I'm glad to engage on the substance there.

But from the beginning of this campaign, whenever everyone has thrown rocks, has thrown insults, I have not engaged. I have not reciprocated. And I don't intend to. And that's the way I have treated Donald. It's the way I have treated every other candidate. And it's the way I intend to approach it.

And the reason, Jake, I think most Americans, they couldn't care less about a bunch of politicians bickering like schoolchildren.

TAPPER: Well, they care if you're constitutionally eligible. Right? I mean, that's something -- you get asked about that.

CRUZ: But the substance of the issue is clear and straightforward.

As a legal matter, the Constitution and federal law are clear that the child of U.S. citizens born abroad is a natural-born citizen. And the dynamic that is happening -- it was interesting. Three weeks ago, almost every Republican candidate was attacking Donald Trump.

Today, almost every Republican candidate is attacking me. And that kind of suggests maybe something has changed in the race.

TAPPER: Well, you're leading in Iowa, for one, and second in the polls nationally.

Carly Fiorina saying the other day that she says it's odd that it wasn't until 2014 that you renounced your dual citizenship, your citizenship with Canada. Now, I know you say you didn't even know about until "The Dallas Morning News" wrote the story, I think, in 2013.

Did you ever go back after that "Dallas Morning News" story and try to find out more about your parents' time in Canada, whether they did any -- I mean, did they vote in Canada when they were there?

CRUZ: No. No.

TAPPER: No, they did not?

CRUZ: My mother didn't because she was a U.S. citizens.


And my mother -- look, the Internet has all sorts of fevered swamp theories, but the facts are simple. My mom was born in Wilmington, Delaware. She was an American citizens by birth. She's been an American citizens all 81 years of her life. She's never been a citizen of any other place.

And so the law is simple and straightforward. And it's actually come up a bunch of times in our nation's history. So, John McCain was born in Panama, but he was a U.S. citizen because his parents were citizens.

TAPPER: And he was born on a U.S. military base.

CRUZ: Well, George Romney, Mitt's dad, who ran for -- ran for president in 1968, was born in Mexico, when his parents were Mormon missionaries. But he was a U.S. citizen because his parents were citizens.

And, actually, Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona, but before Arizona was a state, when...

TAPPER: Right. It was a territory.

CRUZ: ... it was just a territory.

And, again, his parents were citizens. So, as a legal matter, this question is straightforward. What it's really designed to do -- listen, what the American people are focused on are the real problems facing this country.


CRUZ: We have had in the last two days -- last night, we had two terrorists arrested, one in California, one in my hometown of Houston.

They both came as Iraqi refugees using the same vetting that President Barack Obama wants us to trust with Syrian refugees. And then, today, we saw a Philadelphia police officer shot multiple times by a man who has apparently pledged his allegiance to ISIS.

The American people are looking for who is ready to be commander in chief, who has got the experience, who has got the judgment, the seriousness of purpose, the clarity of vision, the strength of resolve to keep this country safe and defeat our enemies.

And, in my view, any candidates or, for that matter, folks in the press who want to go down rabbit trails and circus sideshows are distracting from the real issues the American people are focused on. How do we keep American safe, how do we bring back jobs, and how do we bring back our constitutional rights, that's what I'm focusing on.

TAPPER: Let's talk about one of those issues, immigration.

CRUZ: Yes.

TAPPER: That's a big issue.

CRUZ: Yes.

TAPPER: An issue where you just a few minutes ago differentiated yourself from Marco Rubio. It's an issue where you and Donald Trump differentiate yourselves from the pack in many ways.

You both say you want to deport the 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Now, Trump has said that he will have a deportation force that will go door to door and round people up and get rid of them.

You haven't really been clear, as far as I can tell, as to how you're going to get all these people out of the country. How will you get them out?

CRUZ: Well, actually, Jake, I have been very, very clear.

There's an 11-page, very detailed immigration plan on my Web site. It's, Anyone can go look it up, read chapter and verse. That immigration plan was drafted hand and hand with Steve King and Jeff Sessions, two of the strongest advocates and fighters for securing the border we have in the entire country.

And it lays out details in terms of how we secure the border.

TAPPER: Well, I'm not talking about the border, though. I'm talking about the people that are already in this country.

CRUZ: Well, no, no, but it details an entire enforcement strategy. It's not just -- interior enforcement is a critical part of how you stop illegal immigration.

TAPPER: Right.

CRUZ: So, it's a comprehensive approach to stopping illegal immigration.

It begins by building a wall that works.

TAPPER: Right.

CRUZ: And, you know, as I joked in the last debate, maybe we will make Donald Trump pay for it.


CRUZ: After that, we triple the Border Patrol. We increase four-fold the fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

TAPPER: But how do you get the people who are already in here out?

CRUZ: You put in place a strong E-Verify system. That means people cannot get employment without proving they're here illegally.

You put in place a strong biometric exit-entry system for visas so that we know the instant someone overstays their visa. Forty percent of illegal immigration is visa overstays. And, by the way, you can't -- deportations are ineffective until you secure the border.

Why? Because, right now, when we deport someone, often, they come back in two, three days. It's like if a boat is sinking. You have got to patch the hole first. If you just start bailing and you never fix the hole, it doesn't work.

TAPPER: Yes. I get that.

But I still don't understand who the people who are living in the shadows, who are already operating under the radar, at least 11 million of them -- will you have a force that goes door to door, rounds them up, and deports them?

CRUZ: We have an enforcement force. It's called Border Patrol and it's called Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

TAPPER: They at the border, though.


CRUZ: They're charged -- no, ICE is not. ICE is not.

Border Patrol is at the border. ICE is at the interior. They're both law enforcement. And, listen, this shouldn't be an issue of debate. You know, I'm reminded of some years ago Sonny Bono was asked, what is your view on illegal immigration? And he said, well, it's illegal, isn't it?

The question of what to do with people here illegally, the president -- the Constitution answers this. The president says the president -- that the president must -- quote -- "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

That's a responsibility. When the president takes his oath of office, that's a promise he's making to the American people. What Barack Obama says is, he doesn't care what federal law says. He will not enforce it.


If I'm elected president, I will follow the Constitution and I will enforce the law. Federal immigration law says, if we apprehend an individual who is here illegally, they are to be deported. I will enforce the law.


TAPPER: I -- I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it seems like a fairly simple answer, yes or no. Will you have people going door to door rounding people up?

CRUZ: Door to door, we don't have any system that knocks on the doors of every person in America. That's not actually how the American law enforcement system works.

We also don't have people going door to door looking for murderers. We don't live in a police state. We do have law enforcement. How do we catch people? We catch them through things like E-Verify. We catch them through things like the criminal law enforcement system, where, in 2013, do you know how many criminal illegal aliens the Obama administration released?

It was over 104,000, 196 with homicide convictions, murderers, roughly 400 with sexual assault convictions, rapists. That -- those numbers should be zero. Over 16,000 with drunk driving convictions.

TAPPER: Right.

CRUZ: So, we enforce the laws, but -- but this notion -- and, listen, you know the media game you're playing. You want to conjure up...

TAPPER: No, I'm really just -- Trump has been very specific. Trump has been specific. There are 11 to 12 million, at least, undocumented immigrants. And he says he's going to have a force go and grab them and deport them. (CROSSTALK)

CRUZ: We -- we have law enforcement authorities that enforce our laws.

Your question, you keep saying, are they going to knock on every door in American? No. I don't intend to send jackboots to knock on your door and every door in America. That's not how we enforce the law for any crime.


TAPPER: Coming up next, Senator Cruz calls President Obama the most anti-gun president we have ever seen, the president pushing back, of course, on his critics.


OBAMA: It is so over the top, and so overheated.




TAPPER: Welcome back to State of the Union. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Obama says he will leave a seat empty at Tuesday night's State of the Union address to mark the victims of gun violence. This follows the president's executive actions to expand background checks.

That move inspired Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to post this Photoshopped image of Obama on his Web site declaring -- quote -- "Obama wants your guns."

I asked Cruz about this in our exclusive interview on board his bus tour of Iowa.


TAPPER: Gun control, restrictions on gun ownership, gun grabbing, as you called it in an e-mail, a lot of that in the news these days and a lot of questions about background checks, who should be able to buy a gun, who should not.

Do you think somebody who has been convicted of domestic abuse against a partner, a girlfriend, boyfriend, should that person be legally allowed to buy a firearm, because that's an issue that is debated a lot?

CRUZ: Well, it's existing law right now that if you have a domestic violence abuse, you're not eligible to buy a firearm. And that's existing law.

And I mentioned my obligation as president is to enforce the law. And that's an obligation I take seriously. You know, it's interesting. There are a lot of times I will get questions in town halls. You're on a bus right now. We're traveling through Iowa. We're doing 28 counties in six days.

I will get questions in town halls: Will you implement this policy that we really care about? And my answer over and over -- so, for example, I have had people say, will you end Obamacare on day one? And my answer has to be no.

Now, listen, no one is more committed to ending Obamacare than I am. But a president doesn't have the constitutional authority to end it on day, because it's a statute passed into law by Congress. The only way to end it is to repeal that statute.

So, I will work with Congress and do everything humanly possible. We will repeal Obamacare. But, unlike Obama, I don't intend as president to be, to use his word, an emperor, simply decreeing the policy outcomes I like. I intend to follow the law.

And it used to be that liberals believed in that. It's one of the amazing things under the Obama administration, is, where have all the liberals gone, as we have seen the president disregarding the law, disregarding the Constitution?

For example, a few years ago, President Obama lawlessly appointed commissioners to the National Labor Relations Board. He declared that the Senate was in recess, when it wasn't...

TAPPER: Right.

CRUZ: ... and made recess appointments.

Now, a few decades ago, there would have been old bulls in the Senate, the Ted Kennedys, the Mike Mansfield, the Robert Byrds, Democrats who would have stood up to a Democratic president and said, no, Mr. President, you don't have the authority to trample on the authority of the United States Senate.


CRUZ: What is amazing is how servile the entire Democratic Party is right now that they -- I guess it's just the ends justify the means.

And, by the way, as you know, that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, 9-0, the Supreme Court said, no, of course Obama doesn't have the authority to make appointments and declare the Senate in recess when it's not in recess.

TAPPER: Right.

Let's talk about that, because the House and the Senate, Republican- led, just sent to President Obama a bill to overturn Obamacare. He vetoed it.

CRUZ: Yes. TAPPER: Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, says, we're going to

have the vote to override the president's veto. We will probably not succeed, but this it how we're going to do it.

CRUZ: Yes.

TAPPER: What do you say to your Republican colleagues in Washington and the Capitol, the cartel you refer to, who say, this is how we should have been doing it, not your way, which was shutting down the government, their way, which is the constitutional way and the proper way?

What is your response to them, the Mitch McConnells of the world?

CRUZ: Oh, listen, the American people are so frustrated with Republican leadership who say at every turn we have to fund all of Obama's agenda, all of Obama's priorities.

You know, we -- the Republican leadership just passed this massive omnibus bill, over a trillion dollars, thousands of pages negotiated in the dark of night.

TAPPER: Right.

CRUZ: It funds 100 percent of Obama's priorities, funds all of Obamacare, all of executive amnesty. It funds all of Planned Parenthood. It funds this disastrous Iranian nuclear deal.

It even funds President Obama's indefensible plan to bring Syrian refugees to America. Just this week, we saw two Iraqi refugees who are -- have been arrested for being ISIS terrorists. And, yet, Republican leadership decided to fund President Obama's plan to bring more.

TAPPER: Pelosi and Reid say the Republicans gave away the store because all they wanted was some deal that would help oil companies.


CRUZ: Look, you are exactly right.

And Pelosi -- you're -- I'm going to say something that you will rarely hear me say. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid are exactly right. All of them said publicly, Republican leadership just funded our entire agenda.

This is why -- you know, when Washington is completely befuddled -- why are conservatives uniting behind Ted? Why is there so much frustration with Washington? That sums it up. They're tired. We win elections. We keep winning elections. We won a tidal wave election in 2010. We won a tidal wave election in 2014.

And Republican leadership tells the American people, I'm sorry. We can't stand and fight for anything.

That's why people are fed up. But I'll tell you. A year from now, if I'm elected president, Congress once again will pass a law repealing Obamacare. And the difference is, I will sign it into law.

TAPPER: Well, every Republican will sign it into law, whoever wins, if any of them make it to the White House.

CRUZ: But there's a difference. For it to happen, you have got to campaign on it and fight on it. You have to come out of this next election with a mandate from the people.

And I intend to make this next election a referendum on repealing Obamacare and on passing a simple flat tax, where every American can fill out our taxes on a postcard, and we can abolish the IRS.

TAPPER: But you know a lot of your colleagues in the Senate and the House in purple states or purple districts are worried about either you or Donald Trump being on top of the ticket. They worry that, even if you win the White House, you are going to be a drag on them...

CRUZ: Well, I...


TAPPER: ... in Ohio or New Hampshire or...

CRUZ: You're right that there are a lot of Washington political consultants that argue every election cycle the way for Republicans to win is run to the mushy middle. Run a candidate that is Democratic- lite.

And every time we do it, we get clobbered. This is no longer a theory. As they say in the tech world, this has been beta-tested. The one thing that is abundantly clear, if we nominate another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole or a John McCain or a Mitt Romney -- and all three of those are good, honorable, decent men who love this country.

But what they did didn't work. And, by the way, in those purple states, all three of them got clobbered in the purple states, resulted in people losing other elections in the purple states.

You want to know how we win 2016? I think 2016 is going to be an election like 1980, that we're going to win by painting in bold colors, not pale pastels. You know, Jake, you have been on the road with me. At almost every stop here in Iowa, people come up to me and say: "I'm a Democrat. I have been a Democrat my whole life."

This morning, there was a man who said: "I'm a Democrat. I'm a union member my entire life. I have changed over. I'm voting for you this time."

At an event two stops ago, an African-American man came in, said: "I was supporting Hillary Clinton when I walked in here. I'm with you now, because we're abandoning our values. We're forgetting who we are."

You know, it's worth remembering. In 50 years, there's only one Republican who has a group of Democrats named after him, Reagan Democrats. If the Washington theory were right that you win crossover votes by running to the mushy middle, we would have Gerald Ford Democrats or Bob Dole Democrats or John McCain Democrats or Mitt Romney Democrats. We don't have that, because you have got to give people a reason.

In 1980, millions of FDR Democrats, millions of people whose parents and grandparents have been Democrats, crossed over to vote for Reagan because they said, those are my values. You're fighting for what I care about.

And I'll tell you, as we see the Democratic Party get more and more radicalized, wage a war on the Second Amendment and our right to keep and bear arms, wage war on religious liberty, wage a war on our basic freedoms, and then engage in this sort of bizarre, politically correct view of radical Islamic terrorism, where they won't even say the words -- it's like they're ostriches with their head in the sand.

TAPPER: I want to thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

CRUZ: Thank you, Jake. God bless.

TAPPER: Good luck. Have fun out here in Iowa.

CRUZ: We're having a tremendous time.


TAPPER: The White House is promising an unconventional speech for President Obama's final State of the Union address. What is the president planning? That's next.


OBAMA: I don't think I have ever been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now.




TAPPER: Welcome back. I'm Jake Tapper.

Believe it or not, President Obama is going to give his final State of the Union address on Tuesday.

The president says, rather than giving a usual laundry list of policy proposals, this speech will focus on how the president hopes the country will look after he has moved out of the White House next year.

Let's look forward to the speech and the president's final year in office with his longest-serving chief of staff, and, by all accounts, his favorite one, Denis McDonough.

Thanks for being here, Denis.

I want to talk about the State of the Union in a second, but first a couple big news items that I want to get your perspective on.


TAPPER: Breaking overnight, actor Sean Penn met with El Chapo in October, the big drug trafficker, after the Mexican drug kingpin had escaped from prison.

According to "The New York Times," the Mexican government is now investigating Penn and others who participated in this interview. What is the Obama administration's position on this? Has the president or have you read this interview with this horrific drug dealer?

MCDONOUGH: Well, thanks for the opportunity to be on the show, Jake.

And also what broke on Friday night is that Chapo has been rearrested, which is good. He should stay behind bars.

I have not read the interview, but I have read a lot of the coverage of the interview. And one thing I will tell you is that this braggadocios action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including to the United States, is maddening.

We see a heroin epidemic, opioid addiction epidemic in this country. So, we're going to stay on top of this, with our Mexican counterparts, until we get that back in the box.

But El Chapo is behind bars. That's where he should stay.

TAPPER: Any concern about Sean Penn at all? If the Mexicans want him, will the U.S. make sure that they're able to talk to him?

MCDONOUGH: Well, it poses a lot of very interesting questions, both for him and for others involved in this -- this so-called interview. So, we will see what happens on that. I'm not going to get ahead of it.

TAPPER: Much bigger issue, obviously, is North Korea and their nuclear test. They claimed it was an H-bomb.

The U.S. just flew a B-52 bomber over the Korean Peninsula, nuclear- capable of carrying -- it's capable of carrying nuclear weapons -- to warn North Korea. Next week, the House is going to vote on new sanctions.

What new steps does the administration want to see against North Korea? With all due respect, what is being done now doesn't seem to be working.


MCDONOUGH: Well, look, we obviously did, as you just pointed out, underscore to our South Korean allies last night the deep and enduring alliance that we have with them. Last night was a step towards reassurance in that regard and that was important.

As it relates to what steps we'll continue to take. Well what we'll continue to do is work not just with South Korea and Japan but also with China and Russia to deeply isolate the North Koreans. I'm not telling you that I think that this is ultimately going to get -- that this is going to resolve this issue overnight. We're going have to continue to squeeze the North Koreans until they live up to their prior commitments including going back to 2005, when they committed to be rid of their nuclear weapons. That's the baseline requirement they have to rejoin the international community. Until they do it, they'll remain where they are which is an outcast -- unable to provide for their own people.

TAPPER: China has been reluctant to squeeze North Korea. And they're really the only ones with the real leverage to do this, because they apparently had made the calculation that they would rather have what passes for stable -- a stable North Korea on their border than they would have -- that there are issues about a nuclear North Korea. Have they changed their mind at all?

MCDONOUGH: Well, you saw the President Xi stand on the south lawn of the White House in September and reemphasize China's support for the denuclearization of that peninsula. We take them at their work and we'll continue to work with them and make sure that they understand that a nuclear North Korea is not a stable scenario. And so they have to understand that.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. I'm going to show you some recent nationwide polling data from CNN.

When Americans are asked if they're satisfied with the way the U.S. is being governed, 75 percent, no. When American are asked if they're satisfied with how things are going with the war on terrorism, 74 percent, no; 52 percent said they disapproved of President Obama's job performance.

Going into the final State of the Union these are not the kinds of numbers that a president would want.

MCDONOUGH: We don't spend a lot of time looking at the numbers, Jake. I spend a lot of time looking at what we need to do to continue to keep this country safe and how we continue to grow the economy here.

Last week, on Friday morning, we learned that 292,000 new jobs last month. That's the 70th month in a row of job growth in this country. The (ph) most -- the quickest reduction of unemployment in decades. The fastest rate of job growth since the 1990s when there was another Democrat in the White House, by the way. So we're going to continue to focus on those things.

Well, the numbers will sort themselves out. And that's what we're focused on.

TAPPER: And what's the president going to say Tuesday night to reassure these Americans who are worried, and skeptical, and anxious about the future?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think, what you'll hear from the president is what he came and said to us late last year he sat down with us and said, look, it's time for us not to focus on the State of the Union as an issue and -- for the upcoming election or anything. He wants to talk about the future of this country. He's a very optimistic about the future of the country.

You'll hear him talk about every American having a shot in this changing economy. You'll hear him talk about using all the elements of our national power to protect and grow the influence of this country. And importantly, Jake, you'll hear the president talk about making sure that every American has a chance to influence this democracy. Not the select few, not the millionaires and the billionaires, but every American. And when we draw (ph) on (ph) the strength of every American the sky is the limit for this country and we're seeing that just now with the kind of jobs growth that we see.

TAPPER: When you talk about jobs growth and you also talked about the changing economy. This was the worst opening week for U.S. stocks ever in January. And while the economy did add the 292,000 jobs, you mentioned, in December Bill Clinton's former labor secretary, Robert Reich, he calls them lousy jobs. He said -- he wrote it on Facebook.

"The U.S. continues to add lousy jobs at a fast clip. We've got in the habit of looking only at the number of jobs created rather than what they pay or how secure they are."

Is he right?

MCDONOUGH: What we see is, as I just said, the most drastic reduction in unemployment in more than three decades. And what we are seeing is a dramatically changing economy. So, that's why the president is going to about this on Tuesday night. He's going to talk about how it is that everybody can succeed in that economy.

We see opportunities for Congress to help us along the way. They ought to go ahead and pass the TPP deal which we got in the last year, and which is the largest free trade agreement in history opening numerous markets to us or (ph) leading (ph) them to China to dominate. So, Congress should help along the way. But we feel really good about the future of this economy and the future of this country.

TAPPER: President Obama also making a big issue out of gun control talking about increasing background checks. He also said in a "New York Times" op-ed -- he wrote in a "New York Times" op-ed that he's going to become basically a single issue voter in some ways. He's not going to support Democrats or anyone who doesn't support, in his term, common sense gun legislation.

Now, I don't know exactly what that means in terms of how he's going to make that decision. Bernie Sanders, for example, voted against the Brady Bill when he was in Congress -- in the House. He voted to protect gun manufacturers from being sued to give them immunity. Does Senator Sanders meet the president's standard?


MCDONOUGH: Well, I'm going to say two things about this. First of all, the president is not making a big issue of gun control. What is happening in the country with over 30,000 deaths last year from gun violence that this is a big issue in this country. 20,000 people -- kids under 18 in gun safety, gun accidents, or gun violence killed over the last decade. More than 500 police officers.

This isn't an issue that we're making. This is an issue that we are -- need to confront as a country, point one. Point two, what the president had said is not just for the Democratic primary but for elections for the full house, a third of the Senate, state houses and governorships across the country. People ought to treat this issue the way these numbers demand to be treated. And that's what he's going to -- that's what he's demanding of party candidates, Republican and Democrat across the country.

Last thing as it relates to Senator Sanders. We've seen movement on this since the op-ed appeared on Thursday. We think that's good. If that continues that's the goal of this is making sure that we have gun laws that are responsive to the wishes of the American people. Not responsive to the wishes of the big NRA bosses here in Washington.


MCDONOUGH: So that's what we're -- that's what we're seeing. We'll continue to see that when we have a nominee. Then we'll roll up our sleeves and make some decisions.

TAPPER: So, Sanders saying that he's willing to rethink his vote on immunization -- immunity. rather, for gun manufacturers might make the president support him, ultimately if he gets the nomination.

MCDONOUGH: The goal here is getting common sense gun laws that will reduce that violence. That will reduce the 30,000 deaths every year in this country. And we think that that's having an impact. As we see it, we'll make some final decisions about what the president will do and who he'll support.

TAPPER: One of the president's strongest allies on this issue is former New York City mayor, Mike Bloomberg, who not only has made a big political issue out of it in New York City when he was mayor, but also he's putting quite a bit of his fortune to push for gun legislation, restricting gun ownership and the like. He's now polling -- sources tell us, to see how a third party candidacy by him might fare if it came down to it.

Is it possible that since he's so strong in the president's view on this issue the president might even support an independent presidential candidacy by Mike Bloomberg?

MCDONOUGH: It sounds to me like a hypothetical -- built on a hypothetical, Jake. So, I'll just wait and see what happens on this. What we're focused on is common sense steps to reduce gun violence. That's what the president rolled out last week. That's what we're focused on and that's what we'll continue to do. TAPPER: Last question for you.

President Obama when he ran for president obviously promised to unite the country. The tone in this country, the divisions in this country in many ways seen worse. I'm not blaming that on President Obama but looking back on it, is there anything that he could have done differently to actually fulfill this pledge to have a united and more cohesive America?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think one of the things you'll hear him talk about as I said a minute ago in the speech on Tuesday night is how we make sure that our politics is as good as the American people. And so he'll have some things to say about that on Tuesday night, Jake. So, I'm not going to get too far ahead of him. But (ph) I'd (ph) say (ph) (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough. It's always a pleasure to have you. Don't be a stranger. Thank you so much. Good luck Tuesday night.

MCDONOUGH: Thanks, man. Happy New Year. Thanks for the opportunity to be with you.

TAPPER: Thanks for being here.

As Bill Clinton hits the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders hits him with some surprisingly strong language. Fighting words?


SANDERS: Hillary Clinton is not bill Clinton. What bill Clinton did, I think we can all acknowledge was totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable. But I am running against Hillary Clinton. I'm not running against Bill Clinton.





DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because you cannot put somebody there folks that's going to go in and he's going to be immediately sued by the Democrats because they're saying he was born in Canada. He's not allowed to run for president. And if there is that doubt -- don't forget these lawsuits, who knows more about lawsuits than I do. I'm the king.


TAPPER: That was Donald Trump last night raising the issue, again, of Ted Cruz's citizenship. He claims he's just doing his pal a favor by making sure the issue doesn't get mired in the courts should Cruz win the nomination -- with friends like that. With me here are my friends, Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia attorney general and Ted Cruz supporter, CNN political commentators Hilary Rosen, S.E. Cupp, and Van Jones.

Ken, let's turn to you.


TAPPER: You're not only a Cruz supporter, you're a lawyer.


TAPPER: You know something about this.

CUCCINELLI: Constitutional legal works.

TAPPER: Now, Cruz originally said this is settled law. It's not settled law. It is likely that --

CUCCINELLI: As in like 99.9 percent likely. Right.

TAPPER: But (ph) has (ph) there ever been a U.S. Supreme Court --


CUCCINELLI: If that's what you defined a settled law that's true.


CUCCINELLI: He was born -- naturally born a U.S. citizen. So if what you care about is the text of the constitution, this is open and shut.

So, I mean, he's in exactly the same position that McCain was. McCain was born on foreign soil as a U.S. citizen. Cruz was born on foreign soil as a U.S. citizen.

TAPPER: Well, McCain was born on a U.S. military base to...

CUCCINELLI: It doesn't matter.

TAPPER: ... two U.S. citizens.



TAPPER: I'm just saying. Both his parents were --


CUCCINELLI: That has not mattered during our lifetimes. The U.S. citizen at birth...


CUCCINELLI: ... is what matters. He is one. And this is -- this is an example of just throwing in the kitchen sink as he closes in on winning Iowa. I mean that's what it is.

TAPPER: Fair enough.

Van, McCain initially came out and said, oh no, this is different than my case. Of course, he -- a lot of bad (ph) blood between him and Cruz.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, I mean, this is -- this is the kind of sort of circus that Trump -- Trump wants to be the (INAUDIBLE) distracter in chief. He doesn't want to be the commander in chief. When you want to be the commander in chief you focus on the stuff that's happening to the country, inside the country. He's the distracter in chief. And we always go for it. He throws stuff out there. You know, but part of this (ph), it's -- you know, Cruz was -- when the birther thing was going on against Obama Cruz was a little bit fudgy on that stuff. So, in some ways it's the chicken coming home to roost.

TAPPER: Although I have to say using the Cruz definition even if President Obama had been born in Kenya, which he was not he was born in Hawaii.


But even if he had been his mom was a U.S. citizen.


TAPPER: So, we would have qualified under this new Cruz definition.


TAPPER: Sorry. Sorry...

CUPP: Right. Right.


TAPPER: ... definition 1790. Right.

CUPP: Look, when it comes to this, Trump is in Trump parlance, a loser. He has tried this tactic of otherizing candidates to get ahead in Iowa. And he doesn't really understand Iowa voters.

He tried this with Ben Carson. Now Ben Carson has gone away but not because of Trump took him out. He tried to otherize Ben Carson on his Seventh Day Adventism (ph) which is not strange and scary to Iowans. That didn't work.


He tried to otherize Ted Cruz's evangelical roots coming from Cuba. Not Canada this time. Now he's Cuban. That didn't work in Iowa. So it's a strategy that Trump has tried and tried and tried and it's just not -- it's not resonating in Iowa. He's going to have to take on Ted Cruz in a different way. TAPPER: Hilary --

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Here is the interesting piece, which is for that for the last several weeks Ted Cruz has effectively turned himself into the alternative to Donald Trump.

And what you're seeing, I think, with the John McCains and others who are going after Ted Cruz is, wait a second. We wanted a more establishment candidate to be the alternative to Donald Trump.


ROSEN: We don't want these two choices here. And so I think you're starting to see more of an internecine war among the Republicans than we've even had before. Because as it narrows down to Trump and Cruz, Republicans are starting to panic a little bit.

JONES: That's (INAUDIBLE) for the establishment (ph) -- Republican.


Look, I spoke at a -- at a huge breakfast among Republicans outside Richmond yesterday. And the alternative for Trump people was Cruz.


TAPPER: I want to play a robocall, the talking points (INAUDIBLE) got their hands on as being played in Iowa from a white nationalist, aka, racist group. Let's play that.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I'm Jared Taylor with American Renaissance. I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America. We don't need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.


TAPPER: That's not a Trump call. That is a group that is separate from the Trump campaign but it is a group of racists who are urging...

JONES: Right.

TAPPER: ... I would imagine, what they imagine to be, fellow racists to vote for Trump. This must bother you as a Republican.

CUCCINELLI: Absolutely.

I mean -- and who thinks this helps? Are you kidding me? I mean these are foolish racists calling around as if everybody else will be...

ROSEN: Yes. Well, then why --

CUCCINELLI: ...and they think it will help.

ROSEN: Why isn't Ted Cruz immediately denouncing this? Calling on Trump (INAUDIBLE). The key isn't just what this guy does. It's how these other Republican candidates are going to react.


ROSEN: Donald Trump should denounce it.

CUCCINELLI: OK. So, we're going to -- we're going to set that standard.

ROSEN: Ted Cruz should denounce it --


CUCCINELLI: We're going to have the Democrats going after --

ROSEN: Absolutely.

CUCCINELLI: Denouncing everything that happens all around the world that's most Americans --


CUPP: No, no. Sorry if you have people actively campaigning for you that are against your values --


CUCCINELLI: What about the other 10 candidates?

TAPPER: Let's go to --


CUCCINELLI: What about the other 10 candidates?

JONES: Well, it will be denounced. It should be denounced but this is troubling. If I were Trump, it's the time to look in the mirror. Who am I inspiring? Who am I attracting? Why will horrible racist groups say I'm the only candidate that speaks for them?

This is what -- for my deep concern is that Donald Trump is beginning to legitimate some of the dark things that have been in our country for a long time and now starting to -- let them elevate. Let them rise. If I were Trump I would look in the mirror.

TAPPER: We only have a couple of minutes. And I do want to turn to the Democratic race because there is one.

And according to a new "NBC" news poll out today the race in Iowa is really tightening. Look at that. Clinton 48 percent. Sanders 45 percent -- 45 percent. And we have seen Hillary -- the other Hillary really start to take on Bernie Sanders in a much more aggressive way especially on guns. Let's play that clip. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When it really mattered Senator Sanders voted with the gun lobby and I voted against the gun lobby.


TAPPER: She must be worried.

ROSEN: Sure.

You know, they always said this was going to be a close state in Iowa and close race in this primary. You know, nobody believes that she really felt that way. I think we're seeing that this is true.

Early state voters do not (ph) like to be told who their winner is going to be. And I think we're seeing that with independents and Democrats in Iowa. The gun issue, I think, is starting to become sort of a wedge issue in this campaign. Kind of the way gay rights was, maybe, you know, in prior presidential campaigns.

Democratic leaders are, you know, are clearly on one side. The American people are mostly with them. But, you know, Sanders and Clinton are going to have a point of differentiation there --


ROSEN: She didn't -- she didn't have a progressive issue to go...


ROSEN: ... obviously don't have them (ph).

CUPP: I don't agree with Hillary Clinton on guns but this is smart. I don't think -- especially now when we're talking about guns. I don't think Democrats and liberal voters are going to understand or appreciate the nuance of Bernie Sanders' gun position and he's very Vermont specific votes...


CUPP: ... that he did to represent constituents who are gun owners. They're not going to care. They're going to -- they're going to hear Hillary Clinton's distinction and they're going to be with Hillary Clinton.


JONES: Thing is a moment, I think, of real concern for the Clinton campaign. Clinton is building a machine. Sanders is building a movement. Clinton has the head of the grass tops.

[09:50:01] Sanders has the heart of the grassroots.

TAPPER: All right. That's all the time we have. Great stuff. When we come back a favorite Washington tradition that inspired us to put (ph) (INAUDIBLE) to bring you this week's "State of the Cartoonion."



TAPPER: Welcome back.

The State of the Union address is a night full of pomp and circumstance. Among the traditions inviting honored guests to sit beside the first lady. Here in Washington, D.C., those guests are often referred to as Skutniks. Why you ask? Well, that's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."


TAPPER (voice-over): Tuesday will be President Obama's final State of the Union address which brings me to one of my favorite Washington traditions the introduction of Lenny Skutniks in attendance.

What are Lenny Skutniks? Well, on January 13th, 1982 Lenny Skutnik, an employee of the Congressional Budget Office witnessed the Air Florida crash into the freezing Potomac River. He dove into the water and saved the life of a passenger. Days later President Ronald Reagan honored Lenny Skutnik at the State of the Union.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We saw the heroism of one of our young government employees, Lenny Skutnik.

TAPPER: Since then those invited to the speech are called Skutniks. They're usually there to illustrate a point the president wants to make. Celebrating a political cause including a very loyal and patient vice president and his wife.


TAPPER: Or honoring average Americans or saluting troops.

REAGAN: Sergeant Stephen Trujillo.

TAPPER: Not every Skutnik has held up very well.


CLINTON: Sammy Sosa, you're a hero in two countries tonight.

TAPPER: So, who should President Obama's last Lenny Skutniks be? Perhaps both sets of Castro brothers should be there to celebrate new relations with Cuba and the Democratic Party's demographic advantages. Or maybe to talk about sentencing reform. We could have a chain gang consisting of Aaron Hernandez and Suge (ph) Knight (ph), and that woman who freed those prisoners in upstate New York.

Or maybe the president could make the hoverboard Skutnik. Though that might put an end to this (ph) practice once and for all.


TAPPER: You can watch the entire State of the Union address right here on CNN this Tuesday.

Tomorrow Vice President Joe Biden will sit down with CNN ahead of the speech. As the president hits (ph) off (ph) his final year in office. You can see that interview tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

And right before the big address CNN will interview Hillary Clinton about the president's proposal and her campaign. That airs with our special coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Tuesday.

Thanks for spending your Sunday with us. Go to -- STATE OF THE UNION for extras from the show. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts right now.