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State of the Union

Interview With Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Interview With Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg; Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC); Interview With Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Marc Short. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 16, 2020 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): The long haul. 2020 Democrats prepare for a drawn-out battle, while working to prove they can unite the party.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our chance, our only chance, to bring new thinking to Washington.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This campaign is like no other. This is our nation's moment.

BASH: I will speak to presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar next.

And legal right? President Trump ignores criticism from his attorney general, amid questions about political interference at the Justice Department.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stay out of things, to a degree that people wouldn't believe.

BASH: The chief of staff to the vice president, Marc Short, joins me to discuss in moments.

Plus: down South. 2020 Democratic candidates try to gain ground with minority voters.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We haven't heard from the most committed constituency of the Democratic Party.

BASH: Will South Carolina delivered Joe Biden a win?

I will speak with South Carolina kingmaker Congressman James Clyburn ahead.


BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper, in Washington, where the state of our union is off to the races. President Trump wakes up today in Florida, where he will serve as the

grand marshal at the Daytona International Speedway. But he leaves behind outrage here in Washington, as he continues to sound off on cases in front of his own Justice Department, even after the uproar prompted Attorney General Bill Barr to publicly urge the president to back off.

But Barr's own decision to oversee or overrule career officials in some criminal cases involving people with ties to the president is raising more questions about the line between President Trump and the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, the Democratic race to challenge President Trump has moved to Nevada, where Democrats are looking to prove they can build a diverse coalition of support in a primary race many now expect to stretch on for months.

This morning, I will speak with two candidates, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar, who are trying to capitalize on momentum coming out of New Hampshire.

Joining me now from Las Vegas is the candidate with the most Democratic delegates, Pete Buttigieg.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning, Mr. Mayor.

I want to start with the Culinary Union in Nevada. The Culinary Union is coming out against Bernie Sanders' health care plan because it would do away with the deal that they negotiated with private insurer.

That led to some Sanders supporters personally attacking the union leaders. Sanders has disavowed the attacks.

I want to show you what he said. He said that: "Harassment of all forms is unacceptable to me. And we urge supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or ugly personal attacks."

You have been critical of Sanders about all of this. Is that good enough for you?

BUTTIGIEG: You know, it's really disturbing to see the Culinary Union attacked, when these are workers who have stood up and fought for, among other things, good health care plans.

They're not interested in Washington taking away their choice. And I think part of what's at stake in this election is the idea, the idea I'm putting forward of delivering health care to everybody, so there's no such thing as an uninsured American, but doing it with Medicare for all who want it, while union members and others who have good plans are able to keep it.

No one should go after working people for wanting to defend and grow what they have earned. And it's a key point of difference at the policy level between me and Senator Sanders, and, also, I think, very important that supporters of any candidate do this with respect. We have a crisis of respect and decency, obviously, in the White House right now. And it's natural that there's going to be the heat of competition on our side, but...

BASH: Has Senator Sanders done enough to disavow this...

BUTTIGIEG: You know, I will leave it to Senator Sanders to characterize what's going on with his own supporters.

What I will tell you is that I'm focused on making sure that my own supporters and our campaign conduct this competition, even when it's heated, with a level of respect for where people are coming from, because we're talking about workers standing up for their own care.

BASH: So, you say that your health care plan is better for unions in particular, because their members could keep their private insurance.

But you also have said that, if your health care plan is a success, it could create a -- quote -- "glide path" to Medicare for all.


Can you guarantee to these union workers that, if you're elected president, they will be able to keep their private health care plan?

BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely.

Look, Senator Sanders' plan, by definition, abolishes private plans, like what the culinary workers and other workers across Nevada and America have. Mine does not. It's a simple, clear and major difference.

Now, as you pointed out, if my plan is the very best insurance plan in America -- and I think it just might be -- then, eventually, everybody will cross over to it. But I want them to be able to decide.

And in the event that it's not, if some plans out there are better, why would we want to kick anybody off of it? This is a commonsense position that most Americans support. It still amounts to the most progressive, major reform to health care that we have had in 50 years.

But it is doable. It makes sense. It's the right policy. And it has the advantage of being something that Americans could actually unite around.

The next president is going to be taking office in a dangerously divided Washington. Here, we have an opportunity to have bold, big, meaningful change, and actually have that bold change be unifying, rather than divisive. Why wouldn't we take that opportunity?

BASH: OK. So, Mr. Mayor, let's talk about the race that you're in right now.

You have the most delegates after the first two contests. They were in overwhelmingly white states. The race is about to get much more diverse. And a new Quinnipiac poll showed that, since last month, the former

Vice President Joe Biden, his support among black voters has fallen by more than 20 points. But Mayor Bloomberg, his support among black voters has tripled to 22 percent.

You , on the other hand, you're at 4 percent.

Why aren't those voters coming to you?

BUTTIGIEG: You know, I'm not focused on poll numbers right now.

We're having conversations with voters, many of whom, by the way, have been very busy in their lives, and last year were saying, come back to me when there are more than 20 of you, and are taking a different and new look at the candidates, now that we have demonstrated that we have been able to gain support in states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

As we come to more racially diverse states, like here in Nevada and South Carolina, many of the voters of color that I'm talking to are focused in particularly on -- in particular on one thing, defeating Donald Trump.

Look, nobody is experiencing the pain of living under this administration more than voters of color. And I'm talking to a lot of highly pragmatic voters who want to know, more than anything else, that you can put together the organization and the message that will decisively defeat this president.

There is so much on the line right now, and we have got to get this right.


BASH: Forgive me.

Do you feel confident you can convince them? Because part of the kind of the narrative or the question going into these votes is whether or not success would beget success? You have had success. And you feel confident that -- that voters of color are going to see that and look your way in a way that they haven't before?

BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely.

I mean, I still have to go out there and earn it. This is a process of earning trust with voters who have every reason to be skeptical, who have often felt taken for granted by the Democratic Party, who are, again, very pragmatic right now too.

And so I am not going to take any vote for granted, just as I'm not going to leave any vote on the table. We are campaigning hard here in Nevada, across -- across the country. We will be working hard in South Carolina too.

I believe we're in a position to earn the support that we need, not only to win, but in order to deserve it.

BASH: So, your rivals, I know you have heard, they're criticizing you for holding high-dollar fund-raisers all over the country.

And you have said that you're doing whatever it takes to beat Donald Trump. But, right now, you're in a race for the Democratic nomination. And Senator Sanders, for example, is raising more than you without holding those high-dollar fund-raisers?

Is it fair to say that what you're doing now is whatever it takes to beat Bernie Sanders and your other Democratic rivals in order to get to the point where you can go after Donald Trump?

BUTTIGIEG: So, let's be very clear.

My campaign is fueled by over two million contributions. I believe the average contribution is under 40 bucks. It is the lifeblood of our campaign.

And, by the way, if you're watching right now and you can go to and help this campaign, that is a critical part to how we succeed.

I am following the same fund-raising practices that President Obama did and that our leaders have in order to make sure that we draw in all of the support that we need to win.

And the campaign I'm building right now is not just for earning the nomination. It is for defeating Donald Trump, who, with his allies, has demonstrated that they will do anything to hold onto power.

My campaign is about belonging. It is about inclusion. I don't define this campaign or define myself by whose help we reject. This is about making sure that everybody who shares these values, everybody prepared to defeat Donald Trump is on the same team pulling together.

And we built this from the ground up. Look, I'm not a millionaire. I haven't been in politics for years or decades. I don't have the advantages of having been a senator.


We built this from scratch, and with the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have contributed to this campaign, people of all walks of life. I'm proud of what we have been able to do.

And, yes, this is how we're going to defeat this president.

BASH: Last -- before I let you go, Rush Limbaugh, to whom the president recently awarded the nation's top civilian honor, described you as a 37-year-old gay guy, mayor of South Bend, who loves to kiss his husband on the debate stage.

Now, there has been bipartisan criticism of him for those remarks. I wanted to give you a chance to respond, if you would like to.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I love my husband. I'm faithful to my husband. On stage, we usually just go for a hug, but I love him very much.

And I'm not going to take lectures on family values from the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

BASH: OK, we will leave it there.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thank you so much. Good luck on the campaign trail out there in Nevada. I appreciate it.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

And the surprise third-place finisher in New Hampshire is now drawing big crowds in Nevada.

Senator Amy Klobuchar joins us next.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

My next guest says her presidential campaign is surging at just the right time.

After taking third in New Hampshire, Senator Amy Klobuchar is now on the trail in Nevada, where she's hoping she can prove she can keep her momentum going.

Joining me now from Las Vegas is Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning.

KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: I want to start, first of all, on the crisis in the Justice Department, after the attorney general, Bill Barr, dialed back a sentencing recommendation for Trump associate Roger Stone.

Nine of your Democratic colleagues, including Senators Warren and Sanders, have called for the attorney general to resign. Do you think he should resign?

KLOBUCHAR: Sure, I'd be glad if he resigned. I just don't think that is realistic.

And what is realistic right now -- I didn't support him to begin with. I'm the one that grilled him on his expansive view of executive power, which all of that has come to roost.

But what I think is realistic is that he is now going to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee. I'd also like him to come to the Senate. And, along with my colleagues, I have asked him to do that, so we can probe him on the role of the president in trying to influence decisions in the Department of Justice, in particular the Stone decision. I just think it's outrageous, knowing how hard these career prosecutors work to do the right thing, how hard they worked on a case like Roger Stone's, got him convicted, and then get undermined when it comes to the sentencing.

That's just not normal.


So, Senator, let's talk about where you are now, the primary. And the calendar is -- is about to get -- in the states where you are about to get much more diverse. You finished very strong in New Hampshire, as you well know.

And, because of all of that, your time as a prosecutor in Minnesota's Hennepin County is getting more scrutiny. So, I want to ask you about that.

I want you to listen to what you said when you were running for prosecutor in 1998.

KLOBUCHAR: I think I'm going to look young.


KLOBUCHAR: When you look at the crime rate in Hennepin County, it's not acceptable. We have to look at making sure that there's a consequence when someone commits a crime.

And when you see the dramatic reductions in crime in other parts of the country, we can learn a lot from what they're doing. And they're enforcing the law down the line.


BASH: So, that tough-on-crime approach has now been linked to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

So, in retrospect, do you regret that?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, let's set this up.

I was running against a Republican opponent who actually was advocating for longer sentences, as well as less gun control. So, I was actually arguing, when I talk about consequences, it can mean things like drug courts, like restorative justice, which was a major focus of my time in the county attorney's office.

And, during my time there, we actually saw a 12 percent reduction in African-American incarceration rates.

So, what do I think when I look back at that? I was not involved in some of the controversial issues in other states, like stop and frisk. I understand that that is unconstitutional.

But what I was focused on there is trying to go after crimes and making sure there's a consequence. But it does not mean that it always has to be prison time. There just has to be some kind of reaction to make sure that people aren't just committing crimes, and there's no response.

The response has to be tailored to what the crime is.


So, from 2002 to 2004, more than 60 percent of juveniles brought to the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center were black, according to a Council on Crime and Justice study, even though only around 10 percent of the county's overall population was black -- was black.

You have been clear that you believe that there is racism in the justice system. But, given that and given the stats from back then, do you take any responsibility for the racial disparities in the criminal justice system on your watch?

KLOBUCHAR: I think everyone involved in the criminal justice system has to take responsibility, including myself.

What we know is that there's institutional racism. And how do we get at it is really my job and will be my job as president. And I would argue someone with this experience actually could do a very good job of getting at it, one, sentencing changes, like the FIRST STEP Act, that I was a co-sponsor of, that we passed.

And, as a prosecutor, it was important to have me as one of the co- sponsors, reducing nonviolent sentences on the federal level. As president, I will roll it out for the Second Step Act, to create incentives for the states, where 90 percent of people are incarcerated, doing something for clemency and having a clemency board outside of the Justice Department, an innovative approach that I will bring forward as president.


Doing more when it comes to eyewitness identifications, diversifying police departments and offices, making sure that we have videotape interrogation something that I advocated for when I was prosecutor.

I have always said that we are not like a business in the criminal justice system. You don't want to see repeat customers.

BASH: So...

KLOBUCHAR: What you want to see is people get help, so they can get out of the system, which is why I have been the lead Democrat when it comes to drug courts.

BASH: Senator, I want to turn now to one of your opponents for the Democratic nomination, Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

There's report in "The Washington Post" this weekend that paints a sweeping picture of him making crass sexual comments, objectifying women, creating a sexist culture in the workplace. Now, I want to be clear, Bloomberg has denied the allegations. He said

on Twitter that he has zero tolerance for an environment where women aren't respected.

What do you make of the reports?

KLOBUCHAR: I think he has to come on a show like yours here, Dana. He has not gone on any Sunday shows since he announced.

I have got to answer questions like I just did on my record, and he has to do the same thing. I don't think you should be able to hide behind airwaves and huge ad buys. He has to come on these shows.

And I also am an advocate for him coming on the debate stage. I know I'm not going to be able to beat him on the airwaves, but I can beat him on the debate stage, because I believe my argument for my candidacy is so much stronger. The Midwest isn't flyover country to me. I live there.

The people that work there like they're poker chips -- since I'm in Vegas -- of one of the president's bankrupt casinos -- they're not poker chips to me. They're my friends and neighbors.

When it comes to a state like Nevada, they have two women senators, majority women legislature. I have an incredibly strong argument here that this state, this state has put women in power really like no other state.

And then, finally, the work that I have done in terms of bringing people with me, not just by running ads, but what we just saw in New Hampshire, moderate Republicans, independents building a coalition, that's what we need to build a coalition to win.

And I'd add one more thing. Since that New Hampshire primary, Dana, I have raised over $12 million in just a little over a week. So, I can finally be competitive on the airwaves and get teams in every single Super Tuesday state.

BASH: So, Senator, before I let you go, I want to ask you about one other opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Congressman Dean Phillips, who is backing you, says he thinks that there are probably 25 to 30 seats that absolutely would be impacted directly by having a self-avowed Democratic socialist at the top of the ticket.

Do you think Democrats would lose the House if Bernie Sanders were the nominee?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, I'm not a pundit, but -- what I do know this.

I'm the only one on that debate stage, when asked, do you have a problem with a socialist leading the Democratic ticket, that I said yes. And that is despite the fact that Bernie and I are friends. We came in together.

And my argument is that we don't just have to win an election by eking by a victory at 4:00 a.m. We have got to win big.

And I'm the one with the track record, as Dean Phillips knows, which is why he's supporting me, that brings people with me, that wins in the reddest of red rural areas, as well as suburban areas, that flips the statehouse every single time.

I'm the only one on that debate stage that has done it. It's not talking points to me. And of course we need to keep the House. And you do that by having a candidate that shares the views.

Here in Nevada, as you were just talking about early in the show, we don't want to kick 149 million Americans off their current health insurance in four years, which is exactly what Bernie's bill would do.

People are much more pragmatic. They want plans and not pipe dreams. I am the candidate that brings that. And I think that's why we are surging across the country.

BASH: Senator Amy Klobuchar, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Great to be on, Dana.

BASH: Thank you.

And up next: The attorney general says the president is making it impossible for him to do his job.

A top White House official joins me next to talk about that.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

The latest critic of President Trump's Twitter feed is his own attorney general, Bill Barr, who said this week that the president's tweets about current Justice Department cases make it impossible for Barr to do his job.

Clearly undeterred, though, President Trump is still tweeting about current cases. And some new moves by the Justice Department are raising questions about political interference.

Joining me now is the chief of staff for the vice president and President Trump's former legislative affairs director, Marc Short.

Thank you so much for coming in this morning.


BASH: So, let's start with what the attorney general said this week. Let's take a listen.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases make it impossible for me to do my job.


BASH: Why did the attorney general feel the need to do this?

SHORT: I don't know, Dana.

I don't think that it's impossible to do his job. In fact, I think that Attorney General Barr is doing a great job. I think he has a lot of confidence inside the White House.


I think that the president's frustration is one that a lot of Americans have which feels like the scales of justice are not balanced anymore. That for someone like Roger Stone gets a prosecution that suggests a nine-year jail sentence which is four years above the sentencing guidelines and candidly someone like Andy McCabe who also lied to federal investigators gets a lucrative contract here at CNN people say, how is this fair and how is it equitable? I think that's the president's frustration.

BASH: You don't think that it is unusual for the attorney general to come out in any administration but particularly in this administration to basically say to the president back off?

SHORT: Oh, well, I'm not going to tell you it's not unusual, but I think that he does enjoy the support of the president, and I think that -- that, again, the concern that we have is a sense that the scales of justice are not the same. Again, what we have been seeing again and again is that the Department of Justice has been politicized and the Attorney General Barr is trying to correct that.

Normally what happen in a case like Roger Stone is that somebody has asked for a sentence that is four years above the sentencing guidelines. It goes up the chain to say, here is why I'm suggesting that. Once that happen Barr took it back and said, no, that's going -- that's going to be excessive. But I think there's concern about a lot of people who knew that the Mueller probe was a fraudulent probe.

BASH: Which is understandable. There's understandable concern on any level in any case. But it's a totally different thing when it is the president of the United States involving himself in criminal cases particularly involving people who are close to him.

And since that interview, basically not me speaking, that's obviously what the attorney general was getting at, the president continued to tweet. He tweeted about the Justice Department's decision not the prosecute Andy McCabe and asserted his right to intervene in criminal cases. So why isn't the president listening to his attorney general? SHORT: The president has been able to communicate directly with American people through a social media outlet. It is something help (INAUDIBLE) the presidency. It's one of the things the American people love about him is they can communicate directly with him. He's going to keep doing it. It's what he has done from the beginning and I think it's a very effective way for him to communicate with the American people.

When we talk about weighing in I've read even today in "The Washington Post," an editorial talking about Bill Barr being the president's wingman. Those were the exact words that Eric Holder used when he said, I am Obama's wingman. And media never criticized that. Yet today it's never been accusation that Barr says, I'm his wingman, but the media is criticizing (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: I think what the -- first of all, it's not the media it's Barr now. Barr is the one who's criticizing the president for his tweets not us.

SHORT: No. What the media is criticizing is they're alleging that Barr is the president's wingman doing basically politicizing the DOJ when in fact Eric Holder said, I am Obama's wingman, and the media was silent at that time, Dana. The reality is that Barr is being independent. He did come into this decision on his own. It was not something that was influenced by the president.

BASH: But what I hear you saying is that it's OK because the president uses social media in an effective way, but it's OK to take that to a level that he is -- he is a disrupter. He is a precedent breaker, but this takes it to a level where the Justice Department has historically lived up to its name, you know that. It's an advocate for independent justice. It's seen that way around the world.

SHORT: What's been happening inside of the Justice Department has been unprecedented. When you basically knew the Russian collusion was a hoax and you continued to pursue it, you continued to try to entrap people, that is something that the American people have not seen before and there's a danger to. So for the president to speak up and say, it's unfair to prosecute and suggest four years extra years in prison for Roger Stone you're basically letting the number two person in DOJ go free and again have a lucrative contract here at CNN doesn't really seem for most people to be equitable system, Dana.

BASH: But most people is one thing. Again, for the president of the United States to inject himself in something like this is -- I mean, justice is supposed to be blind, right? I mean, it is not even close, the perception is that it is not even close when you have the president intervening.

SHORT: That's the point. The president is speaking out, because it hasn't been blind.

BASH: Barr ordered the Justice Department to re-examine the case of the former National Security adviser Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. President Trump said, Flynn's situation is very unfair. He previously wished him best wishes and good luck. Why is the attorney general inserting himself in cases involving the president's associates?

SHORT: Because, again, there has been a bias inside the Department of Justice that Attorney General Barr is trying to correct. I think that he said that the president has not called him directly to say please do these things. He has acted independently to initiate these reviews. And I think he's doing a terrific job with it.

BASH: OK. You're saying that there is a bias. I understand why you are saying that, but there isn't -- there isn't -- there isn't proof of that given the fact that you had Robert Mueller appointed, appointed by somebody who was a Trump nominee, and you had very long, very intense investigations by people who, I know you guys said it was a witch hunt and it was -- and it was -- and it was corrupt and all of those things, but at the end of the day, you had genuine investigations going on by people who are career nonpartisan prosecutors.


SHORT: Well, they are supposed to be nonpartisan. That's the basis of our complaint, Dana. The reality is that there are people inside the Department of Justice who very clearly were stating their intent to stop Donald Trump from becoming president of the United States. That is a serious problem and that is what the president has spoken out about. And as you say that proof, I think it's pretty clear now in the aftermath of the Mueller report that they knew there was no Russian collusion, that they continued the investigation to see who else they can snare, who else they can entrap and --


BASH: I don't know -- all right. I don't know if that is true that they knew that there was no corruption.

SHORT: I think --


BASH: That's not -- that's not -- that's not -- that's not fair. There are a lot of things that we can and we'll fact check. But I want to move on to another topic which the former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He has come under fire for stop and frisk in New York City. The president tweeted but then deleted a tweet calling Bloomberg a total racist over these controversial comments from Bloomberg, depending the practice. But I want you to listen to what the president said about stop and frisk in 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Stop and frisk which worked very well, Mayor Giuliani is here, it worked very well in New York. It brought the crime rate way down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out young black and Hispanic young men.

TRUMP: No, you're wrong. You have to have stop and frisk. Stop and frisk had a tremendous impact on the safety of the New York City.


BASH: So supporting stop and frisk makes Mike Bloomberg a total racist. What does that say about President Trump who supports that?

SHORT: I think the president has said is that Rudy Giuliani he felt stop and frisk was applied legitimately. Under Mayor Bloomberg the numbers of African Americans apprehended I think grew about exponentially by four and to that point there are questions about whether or not it was really targeted on race and that's what the president's complaint is.

BASH: So you feel comfortable that there's no --


SHORT: I think what he said -- no I think he said pretty clearly he felt it was -- the policy was executed well under Mayor Giuliani, but it was abused under Mayor Bloomberg.

BASH: But he supports the notion of stop and frisk --

SHORT: I think it depends on what the criteria are, Dana.

BASH: OK. So -- I mean, you realize people look at that and say, he is calling Michael Bloomberg a racist but he is supporting the same --

SHORT: The number of apprehensions grew, I believe, is by four. So it was -- it was -- it was -- it's a huge explosion. And I think that the president said he felt the program was administered very well under Mayor Giuliani. I think he's being consistent on that.

BASH: So Michael Bloomberg did too much stop and frisk?

SHORT: I think the question is it appears that he certainly took it to a further extent that I think the president is not comfortable with.

BASH: OK. One more question about something that hasn't got a lot of play but I know you have interest in, and that is the budget. And that is -- the president's budget put forward last week says that the federal deficit over the next 10 years will not be eliminated. It has actually climbed to more than $1 trillion. The president vowed during the campaign to eliminate not only the deficit but the entire national debt by the end of his second term. Why is this is a promise that he feels comfortable breaking?

SHORT: Look, the spending problem is one that afflicts both Republicans and Democrats alike, Dana. If you look at the president's first budget, it did balance in 10 years. At this point as we've accumulate additional deficits, it has now taken 15 years. But traditionally Congress has thrown out the president's budget. They would stick with the president's budget, we could get back on to a balanced structure, but the process is that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress end up spending too much money and we have -- we do have a deficit --

BASH: But as you know, the budget is a political document of what the desires are --


BASH: -- and the policy goals are of a president. The fact that he is not even trying, even saying that his goal is to balance the budget and that the deficit will still balloon especially in really good economic times. I mean, these are the times where you are supposed to be able to deal with that so why not?

SHORT: Yes. With President Trump's economic policies you continue to see revenues grow. Americans are thriving. More Americans ever before are employed, therefore, many of their reliance upon social programs has come down. The economy is fantastic, Dana.

BASH: Why not cut the budget down?

SHORT: But the reality is that -- where President Trump has suggested modest cuts it previewed -- it's presumed by a lot of media saying they're draconian cuts. And so the reality is he's trying to the best to balance within 15 years. If Congress would come along with this we could do that, but thus far Congress has been unwilling to accept the budget. You're right it's not (INAUDIBLE) of document it's here's our policy guidelines. But our administration puts a lot of time and effort in putting that budget together. It's why balance in 10 years the first year, it's up to 15 year now. We have a chance to control this if Congress will work with us on it.

BASH: Marc Short, thank you so much for joining us.

SHORT: Dana, thanks for having me.

BASH: I appreciate it.

And, up next, the South Carolina primary could mark the end of the road for some Democratic candidates.


That state's kingmaker, Congressman Jim Clyburn -- Jim Clyburn, rather, joins me next.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

The Democratic primary is moving on the more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina where the primary could be make-or-break moment for former Vice President Joe Biden who says that this state, at least South Carolina, is his firewall. But is Biden support among African American voters slips nationally could a key endorsement give him a boost in South Carolina? [09:45:01]

Well, that's state's kingmaker Congressman James Clyburn says he is not ready to say which candidate he supports quite yet and he joins me now with a big grin on his face. Thank you so much for joining me.

So, Mr. Clyburn, first about the former vice president. He has called South Carolina his firewall, but so far he's coming fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and a new Quinnipiac poll shows that his support among African Americans on a national level has fallen by more than 20 points in the last month, so will South Carolina be his firewall?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, I don't know. We will see. I think that we have been seeing the numbers all year. In fact, last year as well.

And the vice president is leading among the African American voters in South Carolina by a wide margin. These things usually tighten up when you get close to an election, so we don't know. We will find out in about 10 days.

BASH: What is your feeling? I mean, do you have a better sense of what is going on, on the ground there, than anyone. Do you feel that his support is slipping or do you feel that he's still in good shape down there?

CLYBURN: Well I think that Steyer is doing an incredible job. Buttigieg is doing very good. I passed my grandson's house as I came to the studio today, and he is working on the Buttigieg campaign, he had a big crowd at his house. So I think there is a lot of activity taking place here. And I think that we're going to have a real spirited contest.

BASH: OK. So you have said that the reason I am not asking you is because I won't get an answer about who you are going to endorse, because you won't do that until after the South Carolina debate which is on February 25th. "The New York Times" is reporting that your previously expected endorsement of Joe Biden is now uncertain because you're worried about endorsing a candidate who may not win South Carolina. Is that true?

CLYBURN: I don't know where they're getting that from. I'm very -- I'm an admirer of "The New York Times." I read "The New York Times." But they don't always get it right.

The fact of the matter is I have never ever worried about who will win in order to tell my supporters who I favor. So I will never ever base my support upon whether or not I think that person will win the state anyway. Why would you need my support? I did not support Barack Obama publicly in 2008. Nobody thought he was going to win, but he did.

So I don't know where they are getting that from. That is not how I make decisions.

BASH: OK. All right. So, let me ask you, you mentioned Mayor Buttigieg. He is actually running an ad in South Carolina right now featuring your grandson who works for him. You said to me on this program in November that Mayor Buttigieg will have trouble with older African American voters in South Carolina because he is gay. He has done really well in Iowa and New Hampshire. As voters learn more about him, do you think they still feel that way?

CLYBURN: I think that we all grow. We mature and I think that the political calculations are changing quite a bit.

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church. My father was a pastor there. My grandfather was a pastor. I know what takes place in fundamental Christian churches throughout the country.

And so though I may feel differently, I don't adhere to everything that I was taught in the church I grew in. So what I feel personally and what I know to be fundamental to teachings in fundamentalist churches are two different things. I only try to answer your question as honestly as I possibly could. And I think that is your feel that that is a problem, and we all have been reading what has been said in the last 24 hours about that.

It didn't bother me personally. I like the mayor very much, and my grandson and I talk about it all the time. But that's not the way I feel personally.

BASH: But you still think it's a problem? You don't think it has changed?

CLYBURN: Yes, it has (ph) changed. It just matured. The calculations have changed. Yes, that's what I said at the outset.

BASH: I see. OK.

So, one last question. You mentioned Tom Steyer he got less than 1 percent in Iowa, less than 4 percent in New Hampshire, but he is in second place right now in some polls in your state. Briefly, why is that? What do you think is going on?

CLYBURN: I have always said, money is a mother's milk of politics. He has money and he has been spending it. And so I think that will always make a difference.


Where was Bloomberg nationally among voters a month ago? But he has money, he's been spending it, and it's changed the calculations a lot. So for us to just pretend that that money doesn't make a difference, that would be foolhardy. Money makes a difference. Steyer has it, he's been spending it and he's reaping the rewards.

BASH: James Clyburn, thank you so much. We look forward to seeing you down there in South Carolina and to hearing what your decision is, you've said you know who you're going to vote for you just won't say it publicly yet. Thank you very much for your time this morning. CLYBURN: Not yet. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

And make America great again, it's actually a slogan with a very long political history, that's next.



BASH: Thanks so much for watching. Tonight, the high stakes race for the Oval Office.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): So you want to be the leader of the free world. Just how far will you go to get what you want?

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just got to the Senate. The general feeling was, that was pretty audacious.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He said, I'm not getting in this to lose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lyndon Johnson, he's one of the most Machiavellian players in American politics who basically will do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We figured out that we must be being bugged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He put a black book on my desk. I probably should have said, where did you get this, Bill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's impossible to overestimate how furious Ford was. You do not challenge the president of the United States when he's an incumbent.

OBAMA: I promise you, we as a people will get there.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We'll make America great again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): "RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE" tonight at 9:00 on CNN.