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State of the Union

Interview With Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg; Interview With Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT); Interview With Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 09, 2020 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Picking a president?

In New Hampshire, Democrats look to stand out in a still-crowded field.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot risk dividing Americans' future further.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This guy's not a Barack Obama.

TAPPER: Who has the momentum going into the primary? The two front- runners, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, join me in moments.

And Iowa bust. A week later, still no official winner.


TAPPER: As the party weighs how to address new inconsistencies, Democrats worry about what the caucus turnout means for November.

I will speak to the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, ahead.

Plus: presidential payback? President Trump fires two key witnesses from his impeachment trial, after a week that proved his near- stranglehold on the Republican Party.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We went through hell, unfairly.

TAPPER: With a compliant Senate, a strong economy, and rising approval numbers, can nothing get in his way?


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is wondering if the second time is the charm. Voters in New Hampshire will now get their chance to shape the

Democratic primary race this Tuesday, after a disastrous first contest in Iowa, where the winner has yet to be officially determined.

The two Democratic candidates who have claimed victory in the Iowa caucuses, Senator Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, will both join me this morning.

New this morning, they both appear to be riding some Iowa momentum into the Granite State of New Hampshire, where they have increasingly come under attack by their opponents.

A new CNN/University of New Hampshire poll out this morning shows Sanders and then Buttigieg ahead of the rest of the Democratic field in a state where one of the top two finishers has always gone on to become the Democratic nominee.


TAPPER: Joining me now, 2020 presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's start on Iowa, because some of your supporters say that DNC Chairman Tom Perez publicly called for a recanvass of the results just as results were starting to indicate that you were closing in on your lead.

Your national co-chair, Nina Turner, said the timing of that -- quote -- "does look fairly intentional" -- unquote.

Do you think the Democratic Party is trying to openly hurt your campaign?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, all I can say about Iowa is, it was an embarrassment.

It was a disgrace to the good people of Iowa, who take their responsibilities in the caucuses very seriously. They screwed it up badly, is what the Iowa Democratic Party did.

But, at the end of the day, to me, what is most important -- and I don't know how anybody can debate it -- we ended up on the first ballot 6,000 votes ahead of anybody else.

And after the realignment process, which is a fine process, we ended up 2,500 votes ahead of Mayor Buttigieg. When you win an election by 6,000 or 2,500 votes, from where I come from, you win the primary or the caucus.

So, we are confident that we, in fact, won the Iowa caucus. And I thank the people of Iowa for that.

TAPPER: Do you think that the Democratic Party, whether the Iowa Democratic Party or the DNC, was trying to hurt you, though? SANDERS: I have no idea.

And that's -- we're going to monitor the situation closely, but that's not my impression at this point.

Look, all I can tell you, Jake, is what I think most Americans know. We are taking on the entire establishment. We are taking on corporate America. We are taking on Trump and the Republican establishment. And there are a lot of people in the Democratic establishment who are not, to say the least, enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders.

But I'm not casting any aspersions on -- political aspersions. The incompetence there in Iowa was just extraordinary.

TAPPER: Joe Biden says that your Democratic socialist label would hurt down-ballot candidates.

He's not the only one saying it. Vulnerable Congressman Conor Lamb in Western Pennsylvania said -- quote -- "It would be really hard" for you to win his district.

Congressman Anthony Brincini -- I'm sorry -- Congressman Anthony Brindisi of New York says your platform is not a winning message. Congressman Bera of California says you would probably put the House majority in jeopardy.

What's your response to these Democrats who are worried that you're going to hurt them in more moderate districts?

SANDERS: Well, the truth is that our agenda is precisely the agenda that the overwhelming majority of the American people want.

We're going to grow the voter turnout. In Iowa, where the turnout was not as high as I wanted it to be, among young people, people under 29 years of age, we increased the voter turnout by some 33 percent. It's a huge voter turnout.

And we do that all over the country. I think you're going to see incredible gains for down-ballot Democrats.

Look, at the end of the day, the American people want to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. They want to make public colleges and universities tuition-free and cancel student debt by a modest tax on Wall Street speculation.


The American people understand health care is a human right, not a privilege. The function of health care is not to make $100 billion for the drug companies and the insurance companies. The American people understand we have got to deal with the existential threat of climate change.

Our agenda is the agenda of working-class and middle-class Americans. They want us to take on corporate interests and the greed of the drug companies and the insurance companies. TAPPER: You talk a lot on the campaign trail about income inequality,

how the top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans all combined.


TAPPER: Our investigative KFILE team found that, early in your political career, way back in 1974, you said that it should be illegal to earn more money than someone could spend in his or her lifetime.

You proposed a maximum wage cap on the highest earners.

SANDERS: What year was that?

TAPPER: 197...


SANDERS: What year was that?

TAPPER: It was 45 years ago.

SANDERS: You know, look, Jake, in all due respect...


SANDERS: ... that was seven years before I was -- did you go back to my third grade essay when I was in PS-197 about what I said?

TAPPER: Well, you were a grown man in your 30s.

SANDERS: I mean, what I said 40 or 50 -- yes, but that was -- yes, 50 years ago.

Let's talk about my mayor's record, where I was a transformative mayor, reelected three times.

You know, we could go back to things that I said in the '70s. I don't think it's productive. I have been a senator for 16 years, a congressman -- a senator for 14 years, a congressman for 16 years.

But here's the bottom line. This is what I do believe.

When you have three people own more wealth than the bottom half of America, when half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, when 500,000 Americans are sleeping out on the street, yes, the rich have got to pay, and the large corporations have got to pay their fair share of taxes.

We will raise taxes very substantially on billionaires. No apologies for that.

TAPPER: But you do not favor a wage cap, as you once proposed? That's the only question.

SANDERS: Fifty years ago, look, we -- what I just said is, when you have massive levels of income and wealth inequality -- by the way, in the last three years under Trump, the billionaire class has seen an hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars' increase in their wealth.

The average American worker has seen less than a 1 percent increase in real wages last year. All right? That's the issue that we got to deal with right now.

We need an economy that works for working people, not just for the billionaire class, which is what we have under Trump's economy.

TAPPER: I want to ask you.

A nonprofit organization that you launched, Our Revolution, has been promoting you. It is -- under the tax code, it can accept unlimited money. It's not required to disclose its top donors.

The "USA Today" editorial board wrote of this dark money group -- quote -- "Sanders has long been a big critic of money in politics. To then go out and found a group like Our Revolution is hypocritical."

What's your response to "USA Today"?

SANDERS: My response to that is, I don't want -- I do not believe that any group, Our Revolution or anybody else, should be raising money from wealthy people.

And I'm not asking for their help. They legally can do what they want to do, because you have a corrupt political system.

But I would also point out that I'm running against a candidate, Pete Buttigieg, among others, who has raised contributions from more than 40 billionaires, including the CEOs of some of the largest drug companies in America.

So, we are independent of Our Revolution. All these other groups, they are legally able to do what they want. So, my message for all of the candidates, let's end all of that stuff right now. You want to do it today? Let's do it today.

But we are independent of Our Revolution. And I -- our campaign finance situation is that we have received more individual campaign contributions from more Americans than any candidate in the history of American politics, averaging $18 a piece.

So, we have revolutionized campaign finance. Our support is coming from the working class of this country. We don't get contributions from billionaires.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about something Hillary Clinton said this week.

She attacked you again, believe it or not. This time, she said...

SANDERS: Did she attack me again?

TAPPER: She did.

SANDERS: Is that again? All right.

TAPPER: This time, she said your promises will ultimately lead to distrust in government, because, in her view, you will not be able to deliver on them.

This comes, as you have also said, as you know, that nobody knows exactly how much Medicare for all is going to cost. You have also said you don't know how many new people would be able to attend tuition- free college under your plan.

Do you think she has any point here, that the ambitiousness of your plans is exceeded even by what you know about them and, ultimately, that might lead to disillusion and distrust?

SANDERS: Look, you know, my own view on that is that I think we have got to unite the Democratic Party to defeat the most dangerous president in modern American history. I'm not going to revisit 2016.

But in terms of our agenda, it is the agenda of what working people want. In terms of health care, we are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people.


And we're spending twice as much per capita. Does that make sense to anybody? The function of health care is to provide quality care for all, not to make $100 billion in profits for the drug companies and the insurance companies.

And it doesn't matter to me what anybody else says. This is what I believe. I live 50 miles away from Canada. They provide health care to all people. You come out of a hospital in Canada after a month there, you don't pay a nickel.

And they spend half as much per capita. If Canada can do it, if Europe can do it, the United States of America can do it. That is not a false promise. That is simply having the courage to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry that, in some cases, charges us 10 more for the same exact drugs they sell in Canada.

We're going to take them on. We're going to take the insurance companies on. For 100 years, Jake, presidents have been talking about health care for all. We're going to do it.

TAPPER: You won the New Hampshire primary by more than 20 points last time. You going to win again on Tuesday?

SANDERS: We have a great volunteer organization. The reason we won in Iowa, because of our grassroots activists, we're going to do that, I believe, here in New Hampshire.

I'm very proud of the work that our people are doing. I think we have an excellent chance to win.

TAPPER: Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

SANDERS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next: There is another candidate claiming victory in Iowa, and now he is surging in New Hampshire.

Pete Buttigieg joins me to respond next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

My next guest is also claiming victory in the Iowa caucuses, and he's polling in the top two ahead of New Hampshire's primary on Tuesday.

But that newfound front-runner status also puts a big target on his back, and his opponents are making clear with new attacks this weekend.


TAPPER: Joining me now, 2020 presidential candidate former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Mayor Buttigieg, thanks so much for joining us.

Both you and Bernie Sanders have declared victory in Iowa.

I want you to take a listen to a comment you made when you were asked about the Electoral College in a CNN town hall last year.


BUTTIGIEG: At risk of sounding a little simplistic, one thing I believe is that, in an American presidential election, the person who gets the most votes ought to be the person who wins.


TAPPER: If you use that standard in Iowa, it appears that Senator Sanders got 6,000 more votes than you, even if you currently lead in the state delegate equivalent.

Is it fair to say, using the Buttigieg standard, that Senator Sanders won the Iowa caucus?


BUTTIGIEG: Well, this is about getting delegates.

But I'm happy to congratulate Senator Sanders on a fantastic night, just as we had a terrific night, a huge validation for the message of this campaign, for what we have to say about bringing everybody into a shared vision that I think is going to defeat Donald Trump in November.

TAPPER: Are you essentially saying it was a tie?

BUTTIGIEG: I will let other folks characterize it, but sure.

I mean, it was a great night for Bernie and it was a phenomenal night for us. I mean, this is a campaign that began a year ago with no money, no national name recognition. Our exploratory committee staff started out, I think, with four people in a tiny office. I don't have any personal fortune. We built this.

And what we were able to build is, I think, a different vision for what America can be. We're turning the page, leaving the politics of the past in the past.

And what I'm especially encouraged by is that the result that we had in Iowa came from rural and urban and suburban communities. We did well in counties that had voted for President Obama and then voted for Trump, and really demonstrated, I think, how we can put that majority together to win.

But, look, New Hampshire is New Hampshire. It's a different state. It thinks for itself, independent-minded. Folks here aren't going to let Iowa or anybody else tell them what to think.

And so we're working very hard every day, meeting as many voters as we can, taking questions, doing events, and looking forward to earning a good night here too on Tuesday.

TAPPER: So, take a listen to this brand-new digital ad from Vice President Joe Biden's campaign which was just released.


NARRATOR: Joe Biden helped lead the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which give health care to 20 million people.

And when park-goers called on Pete Buttigieg, he installed decorative lights under bridges.

Joe Biden helped to negotiate the Iran deal.

And under threat of disappearing pets, Buttigieg negotiated lighter licensing regulations on pet chip scanners.


TAPPER: What's your response?


BUTTIGIEG: Well, it's a typical political attack.

And it's too bad, because so many communities, communities like mine in South Bend, we know that we might look small from the perspective of Washington, but, to us, it's what's going on in Washington that looks so small and small-minded.

And communities, whether they're my size, or rural communities, or even neighborhoods in our biggest cities that feel completely left behind, are frustrated with being made into a punchline by Washington politicians.

TAPPER: After CNN's Jeff Zeleny pointed out that Biden made a similar inexperience attack on Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race, former Vice President Biden replied -- quote -- "This guy's not a Barack Obama."

What do you think of that?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, he's right. I'm not. And neither is he. Neither is any of us running for president.

And this isn't 2008. It's 2020. And we are in a new moment, calling for a different kind of leadership.

Look, we are facing the most disruptive president in modern times. And I don't think the same playbook that helped us get here is going to work against him.

We're also facing the most divisive president in modern times, which is why I'm equally concerned about a message that says, if you're not either -- if you're not for revolution, you must be for the status quo, because I think that leaves most people out.

I'm building a campaign that's about calling as many people as possible in, standing together to make sure that we not only defeat Donald Trump, but face the issues that our country is going to be confronting.

I mean, look at what's going to be on the next president's desk, not just the conventional issues that we have been dealing with all along, but cybersecurity challenges, election security attacks, global health security concerns like -- like pandemics, and, here at home, an economy that's being transformed by forces from automation, to the gig economy changing what it is to be a worker.


We're going to have a lot to deal with. And the only way to get it done is to do it together.

TAPPER: Your opponent Bernie Sanders has unleashed a new attack on you, starting a hashtag #PetesBillionaires.

Take a listen to Senator Sanders.


SANDERS: Unlike some of the folks up here, I don't have 40 billionaires, Pete, contributing to my campaign.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) SANDERS: If we want to change America, you're not going to do it by electing candidates who are going out to rich people's homes begging for money.


TAPPER: What do you say to that?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, Bernie's pretty rich, and I would happily accept a contribution from him.

Look, this is about making sure we bring everybody into the fight, at a moment when we're going to be going up against Donald Trump, who, with his allies, are raising -- I think the other day, they raised 25 million bucks in one day.

This is the fight of our lives. I'm not a fan of the current campaign finance system, but I'm also insistent that we have got to go into this with all of the support we can get.

And, by the way, my campaign is where it is because hundreds of thousands of individuals, no corporate PACs, individuals, have contributed through

And in, I think, two million-plus contributions, the average, under 40 bucks.

I'm the mayor of South Bend. It's not like that's an establishment fund-raising powerhouse. We were able to get here by putting together a movement. And that movement is the one that is going to turn the page, bring an end to the Trump presidency, and lead us to the moment that's got to come next.

TAPPER: I want to follow up on a question from the debate.

You were asked by Linsey Davis about why the marijuana possession arrest rates for black residents of South Bend is more than four times higher than the arrest rates for white residents.

You admitted that your city was not immune to systemic racism. But I guess the question was, do you personally take responsibility, any responsibility, for that racial disparity in marijuana arrests?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, all of us are implicated in these problems.

And I take responsibility for everything good, bad and indifferent that we did in our city. But I also take responsibility for the fact that arrest rates for black residents in my city on drug charges were lower than in the state and around the country.

But, look, that doesn't get any of us off the hook. These systemic disparities and the systemic discrimination that goes on throughout our system are one of the reasons I am calling, not only for us to legalize marijuana, but for us to end incarceration as a response to drug possession altogether. Not only that, we have got to look at situations, as we go back

through the years, all the way back to the crime bill, incarceration has done so much more harm than the offense that it was intended to deal with.

And that means looking at expungements. That means a focus on reentry and ensuring that people can get back on their feet.

Something else we did proactively with measures like Ban the Box for hiring in the city of South Bend -- we have got a long way to go. And if there's one thing I learned as mayor, it's that this entire country needs to come to a reckoning about how the criminal legal system is barely worth the name of justice, especially when it comes to the racial disparities that it's perpetuated.

TAPPER: Last question, just a yes or no. Are you going to win in New Hampshire?

BUTTIGIEG: We're in it to win it, and we're planning on a big night.

TAPPER: All right, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thanks so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

BUTTIGIEG: Good to be with you.


TAPPER: Democrats have been waiting years for the chance to beat President Trump. After last week, should they be worried?

The chair of the Democratic National Committee joins me next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

New Hampshire Democrats are making their primary picks without knowing officially who won Iowa last week.

The Iowa Democratic Party is planning to announce its review of inconsistencies in its caucus data tomorrow. The issue is raising questions about how long the Democratic primary race could go and whether the Democratic Party is up to it.

Joining me now, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez.

Mr. Perez, thank you so much.

So, Iowa was a mess. I think we can agree on that.

Caucuses are run by the party and by volunteers, quite often, and not state election officials. The DNC, since you took over, has been trying to discourage states from having caucuses and encourage them to have primaries instead.

Is it time for the DNC just to say to the Democratic -- to the state Democratic parties, no more caucuses, we can't have this being run by parties and by volunteers; it needs to be state election officials?

PEREZ: Well, I do think it needs to be state election officials running elections.

And, as you correctly pointed out, one of the conversations we had after the 2016 election, in addition to the superdelegate reform to return power to the people, is, we incentivized states to go from caucuses to primaries.

There were 14 states four years ago that held caucuses. Seven of them are now primary states. Iowa chose to keep their caucus status.

And I think what we learned from all the mistakes that were made -- and it's undeniably unacceptable. I'm frustrated. I'm mad as hell. Everybody is.

And I think what we're going to do at the end of this cycle...


PEREZ: ... is have a further conversation about whether or not state parties should be running elections.


We are really good at building parties, building organizing, building the best voter file, winning elections. And we have done that in 2017, '18 and '19. That's our sweet spot as a party.

TAPPER: But not running elections itself?

PEREZ: Right.

And one of the challenges...

TAPPER: So -- but you say it's time for a conversation.

I'm saying, isn't it time for the DNC to say, that's it, no more caucuses, no more party -- parties doing this, no more volunteers, we need -- it is official DNC policy to have primaries and have state election officials do this?

PEREZ: Well, one of the one of the challenges, and the reason we don't do -- we didn't do that in our most recent conversation about this is that you need to pass a state law to have a state-run primary.

And there are some states that still have caucuses, where I'm not sure the Republican governor would sign the law to have the election. So, that's a challenge. If a state won't pass the law -- and in those seven states that I mentioned that moved from caucus to primary, they had a bill that was passed in their legislature, and they moved forward. But I think it's abundantly clear, Jake -- and this is one of the lessons of last week, is that we should do as a Democratic Party the things we do well, and that is building organizing, building...

TAPPER: Right.

PEREZ: ... coalitions, winning elections. That's what we have been doing.

And I look forward to the conversation, not only about whether we should get out of the business of running elections, but, also, we're going to have a conversation about order as well.

TAPPER: Well, that's the thing.

Is Iowa about to lose their first-in-the-nation caucus status? are they about -- I mean, it's not difficult to imagine South Carolina, New Hampshire, other states that are out of the process, Illinois, for example, the governor there is -- there is making a big pitch saying, Iowa, you lost your chance. You screwed up. It's time for another state to take over.

Is that -- is that possibly going to happen?

PEREZ: Well, that's the conversation that will absolutely happen after this election cycle.

And after the last election cycle, we had a conversation about two really important things, superdelegate reform, and the primary caucus issue that we're discussing now.

And that's going to happen again, I have no doubt about it, because it's very necessary. And...

TAPPER: How much responsibility do you take for what happened?

I understand the Iowa Democratic Party did what they did, but the DNC plays a role. Do you take any responsibility?

PEREZ: Sure.

Yes, the Iowa Democratic Party runs the actual election. Our partnership with our state parties -- any time something goes wrong, whether it's something that's run by the state party or not, we're all in this together.

So, that's why we had a team of people. I'm really proud of our team.

TAPPER: I mean, the DNC approved the plan.

PEREZ: Well, the DNC did a number of things in connection with the plan.

They wanted to do a virtual caucus, Jake, where people could actually vote where it's going to be over the telephone. And we said no, because we had cybersecurity concerns. The infamous -- the now infamous app, they actually used an app in

2016 to conduct the tallies. They weren't voting with it, but they used an app in 2016. And they did their own RFP to select a vendor.

And the question we asked was, have you pressure-tested it? Have you pressure-tested it? And, clearly...

TAPPER: What did they tell you?

PEREZ: They gave us assurances that it was going to work. It didn't work. We're going...


TAPPER: But had they pressure-tested it?

PEREZ: Well, with hindsight, not early enough.


You know this, that some Democrats are calling for your resignation. Former Congressional Black Caucus Chair Congresswoman Marcia Fudge said -- quote -- "We're a party in chaos."

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said: "Tom Perez should be held accountable for this failure."

Have you considered resigning?

PEREZ: Absolutely not.

Jake, look at the last three years. My job, when I came in, was to rebuild our infrastructure, to win elections. And, when you do that, sometimes, you got to make tough decisions.

Our superdelegate reform -- I have great respect for Congresswoman Fudge. She doesn't support it. I get that. And I respect that, but I categorically disagree with her on this.

We have been winning. This is what it's about. I think it's really important for people to take a broader step back right now.

This is the most unsettling phase of the cycle. In 1991, George Herbert Walker Bush's approval ratings were sky-high. People were saying, there's nobody in the Democratic Party field who can win. And there was a lot of understandable angst.

We're in a similar position now, in the sense that I don't know who the nominee is going to be.


PEREZ: We're barely out of the starting gate.

And the angst is elevated because we have the most dangerous president in American history. But here's the good news. TAPPER: Yes?

PEREZ: We have been winning elections in 2017, 2018, 2019.

TAPPER: Right.

PEREZ: We are better positioned to hand our nominee an infrastructure for success than ever before.

TAPPER: Speaking of infrastructure, can the American people, can Democrats have faith in, A, the results that ultimately come from Iowa, and, B, what happens in Nevada, because they are also going to have a caucus, and they are also talking about using not the same app from Iowa, but a different, what they're calling a tool, according to the "Nevada Independent" newspaper.


PEREZ: Let me handle Nevada, and then I will handle your Iowa question.

Yes, I have great confidence in Nevada. We have been in touch with them regularly. They have a great party infrastructure. They have great leadership. And they have a great team. And we will continue to assist them in whatever manner possible to make sure that caucus is a success.

They have early voting in Nevada, unlike Iowa. That's going to be helpful.

As it relates to Iowa, I asked for a recanvass because I want to send a message to voters that we want to make sure that every vote counts.

And it's clear that it's a very close race between Mayor Buttigieg and Senator Sanders.

TAPPER: Can people have faith in the results, the ultimate results out of Iowa? Are you going to trust them?

PEREZ: I do. And here's why.

This is about who gets the most national delegates to the convention. And the 90, 95 precincts that they're looking at right now, the range of delegate allocation -- again, 41 delegates -- is unlikely to be affected by these problems that were uncovered.

Having said that, we should not have problems.


PEREZ: This was unacceptable. And that's why we did what we did. And that's why we're learning from it.

And the good news here is that we are going to -- we're learning from our mistakes, applying them immediately. And we're going to keep moving forward, and we're going to be talking about health care everywhere across America.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much.

PEREZ: That's how we win.

TAPPER: DNC Chairman Tom Perez, appreciate your time, sir.

On Wednesday President Trump was acquitted. On Thursday he celebrated at the White House. On Friday he started to clean house. That's next.




LT. COL. ALEXANDER S. VINDMAN, FORMER NSC UKRAINE EXPERT: Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And why do you have confidence that you can do that and tell your dad not to worry?

VINDMAN: Congressman, because this is America. This is the country I have served and defended. That all of my brothers have served and here right matters.


TAPPER: That was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testifying in the president's impeachment hearing about the difference between his father's Soviet Union and American democracy. On Friday Vindman was fired along with his twin brother and another key impeachment witness, Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. Let's discuss.

Senator Santorum, let me start with you. Some Republican senators were urging the president not to fire Sondland. In addition Susan Collins of Maine said that she doesn't favor any retaliation. But we're clearly seeing some retaliation.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, the president has a right to have people around him that are -- he's comfortable with and support him. Obviously these people have done things to lose the president's faith in them.

The president has the right to do these things whether he should or shouldn't have done them, that's the question. I certainly as a president wouldn't want people around me who don't support what I'm trying to accomplish and it seems like particularly in the case of Vindman, that's the case.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But, you know, it's one thing to say I don't -- I no longer have confidence in this person. It's another thing to completely humiliate the person, right?

TAPPER: By having him escorted off the grounds. FINNEY: By having him escorted out. By having his twin brother also treated so shabbily. The performance that we saw from President Trump this week in the -- his sort of post vote sort of screed as it was. I mean, it was immoral, it was unethical, it was despicable. And I really hope that Democrats going into this election cycle, not just at the presidential level, but at the -- when we talk about the Senate and House races, I hope we hold Republicans accountable. Because in that performance he made a fool of every single Republican who acquitted him.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Love, take a listen to what Susan Collins had to say.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I obviously am not in favor of any kind of retribution against anyone who came forward with evidence.


TAPPER: So Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, Ambassador Sondland, they were subpoenaed. I mean -- and they came and they told the truth as they saw.

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Look, there were a lot of people that warned the president against this. I think we need a little bit more of that. I've said that Republicans have to ask themselves what kind of lessons they've learned because I don't think we'd be in this situation if the president got a little bit more push back and say, we're not going to be with you on this.

With that being said, yes, the president can do whatever he wants to. He should be able to have not everything -- not everything he wants to, but he should be able to have people around him that he trusts. The way he did it is where I think that there's -- there's a dignified way of doing it, and a lot of the Republicans were saying, let them go out on their own at least with some dignity.

TAPPER: And, Waj, let me just ask you because the president had, I think it's fair to say, a good week. His approval ratings are up. The economy is doing great. The Democrats had a disastrous Iowa caucus. How does a progressive like you feel at the end of a week like that?

WAJAHAT ALI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I feel that President Trump is going to get more self-destructive because I have actually paid attention to his presidency. And a normal president like Bill Clinton was also impeached would use that moment to be presidential, address the nation, apologize for abusing his power to try to coerce a foreign ally to interfere in our elections and he had the airing of grievances where he literally was like an authoritarian leader telling everybody, hey, if you're good to me, I'll reward you. If you're bad to me, your head will be on a pike. And Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is a Purple Heart recipient.

FINNEY: Yes. ALI: A Jewish refugee, a man who served this country. There are horrible anti-Semitic conspiracies attacking him. If Donald Trump wanted to just get rid of him for his insubordination why did he also single out his twin brother, right?

And also I want to mention this because if anyone cares about the law anymore, retaliation against a witness is illegal. And people say, Susan Collins, I'm going to be so concerned, troubled. And wait for it. Disappointed.


You know what Trump did right after the Mueller hearing ended? The day after he had that Ukraine call. So will he learn his lesson? Of course not. He couldn't even wait a week. Just three days after -- two days after he did this and he's going to mess it up.

TAPPER: Let's turn to New Hampshire because that's the other big story going on. I was clear in Friday's debate that Sanders and Buttigieg were the focus of a lot of incoming from their fellow candidates. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie's labeled himself, not me, a Democratic socialist. I think that's the label that the president is going to lay on everyone running with Bernie.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this going after every single thing that people do because it's popular to say and makes you look like a cool newcomer, I just -- I don't think that's what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the White House and look where it got us.


TAPPER: Cool newcomer. Clear shot at Pete Buttigieg


TAPPER: What do you think is going to happen in New Hampshire? It still does seem like, at least according to our new poll out this morning which is from before the debate we should note, that Buttigieg and Sanders are vying for first place there.

FINNEY: I actually think Senator Sanders will have a repeat of 2016 in which he blew us out -- having worked on Hillary's campaign, blew us out of the water. I suspect he'll have the same as a neighboring state senator.

But you know, Jake, I just want to go back to something you were saying about what a bad week it was for Democrats. I actually think that what happened in the Iowa caucus is one of the best things that could have happened to this party. As someone who came into the DNC in 2005 --

TAPPER: Can't wait to hear this.

FINNEY: Yes. In the aftermath -- it's time Iowa is no longer the first. It's time we do away with caucuses. It's time we have a more diverse early process.

TAPPER: You disagree. You're sitting next to a winner of the Iowa caucus.

ALI: PTSD, Rick.

SANTORUM: No. I think we all realize I was not the winner of the Iowa caucus. Because the winner of the Iowa caucus is the person who gets declared the winner at the caucus.

LOVE: Right.

SANTORUM: Someone who gets declared the winner 16 days later isn't the winner of the Iowa caucus because it doesn't matter. And I think that's -- the one thing the Democrats did right was not rush out and try to get this -- you know, try to get a decision out when they knew the numbers were bad. So I actually give credit to the Democrats for stepping back, getting the numbers out.

I believe these numbers are probably right. They may change a little bit. But as Tom Perez said, it's not.

And, look, I understand how people want to get rid of caucuses. I think caucuses are good things because it rewards party activists. It tells you where the passion is in the party as opposed to these big primary --

FINNEY: We can't be flipping coins to find out who won the caucus.


TAPPER: Mia --

LOVE: Also they have a dual caucus system. If the national party came out and said we're going to do away with your caucus system, a lot of people in the state of Utah would have a big problem with that. Right now we have like --


LOVE: We have a dual system now. So the states can kind of figure some of those things out. I think that --


LOVE: And they should.

ALI: I'm going to pour out -- I'm going to pour out water for the Iowa caucus, may it die and (ph) the (ph) progressives. One of the whitest states in the country, 91 percent white should not have this much influence. And Democrats will go from one of the whitest states of Iowa to New Hampshire, one of the other whitest states. And I'll say something about Buttigieg and Sanders. We still won't know who really the Democratic front-runner is until Nevada and South Carolina.

FINNEY: That's absolutely right.

ALI: Because people of color are the base of the Democratic Party.

TAPPER: Right. You can't win the Democratic nomination --

ALI: You will not win it.

TAPPER: -- without at least a plurality of African-American votes.

ALI: And it's a multi-cultural coalition, right? A white majority hasn't gone for a Democrat since the Jurassic age. I think Obama and Clinton only got 38 percent. They need people of color.

FINNEY: This is a fight that the party has been having since -- the aftermath of 2004, right? People say John Kerry lost because he didn't -- he wasn't tested in enough places. Whether or not you believe that, we had a whole commission to add Nevada and South Carolina.

And so, I agree with you we have to reflect the diversity not just ethically but regionally. The issues in South Carolina are not the same as in the Midwest.

TAPPER: All right. We'll see what happens with Iowa 2024. Thanks one and all for being here.

The Washington tradition has long been a time for unity and reflection when members of both parties come together to share how their faiths guide them. And then President Trump showed up. Stay with us.



TAPPER: President Eisenhower was the first U.S. president to attend what became the National Prayer Breakfast in 1953. He joined with Republicans and Democrats to pray for divine guidance for this nation. The mood was described at the time as solemn and reverential.

This past week President Trump used the event, the National Prayer Breakfast, to attack the sincerity of the faiths of Republican Senator Mitt Romney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Both of whom supported the president's impeachment and removal from office.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say, I pray for you, when they know that that's not so.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Both Romney, a devote member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Pelosi, a Catholic, have said that their faiths guided them during these difficult political times.

In December after the president first questioned Pelosi's sincerity the Speaker explained to me what she means when she says she prays for President Trump.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I do pray for him, because he is the president of the United States, and I pray that God will open his heart to meeting the needs of people in our country.

I pray for his health and for his safety, and for his family. I do it all the time.


TAPPER: The notion that any person of faith would pray for her political opponents, or even her enemies, that's a central tenet of Christianity.


It's part of the Sermon on the Mount. Nonetheless the president's son tweeted -- quote -- "Likelihood of Nancy Pelosi praying for Trump is about the same as the likelihood as Satan running around quoting the Scriptures"-- unquote.

Of course, in the Book of Matthew, Satan not only quote scriptures he quote scripture to Jesus. Everyone's faith is different but as a person of faith to me nothing could be more indicative of a distance from the humility and love that so many of us get from religion than the act of using a unity prayer breakfast to attack the faith of others. Demonstrating instead of humility and love, ego and vengeance and spite.

"FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS" starts next.