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L.A. Schools Closed after Threat; Trump's Huge Lead Ahead of National Security Debate; RNC's Sean Spicer Talks Debate; Rush Limbaugh Criticizes Donald Trump. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 15, 2015 - 11:30   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[11:30:11] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We're coming to you live from Las Vegas.

But we're also keeping a very close eye on the breaking news out of Los Angeles right now. The nation's second-largest school district, L.A. Unified Schools, is shut down after a credible threat coming in -- an electronic threat coming into the school district. All of the schools, 900 schools, more than 600,000 students, shut down this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The superintendent said he made this decision in the wake of what happened nearby in San Bernardino and what has gone on around the world. Probably, he meant Paris.

Let's go straight to Los Angeles now, bring in Paul Vercammen.

Paul, what can you tell us? We're looking although pictures of the schools, presumably these searches now with 900 schools for some sort of threatening device.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, John. If you want to put this into context, you talk about the 640,000 students, John, that's just a little bit less than your native Boston.

So, what they have done is principals and others are now greeting the students at the schools. A school close to our CNN bureau here in Hollywood, they said they were able to get to some 95 percent of the students before they went ahead and made their arrangements to get to schools. Elementary schools, quite often the student walks. Only 5 percent showed up and they were turned away. This is finals week in Los Angeles, the week before they go off for Christmas holiday. It seems like this threat was timed toward that. Not sure.

We know the FBI now involved. As we said, the LAPD taking this seriously as well, saying this is a level-one threat as they go through this.

But certainly a dramatic and ripple effect. The Los Angeles Unified School District is sort of a traffic impact in and of itself. We know commuter patterns are always more seriously involved, embroiled in serious traffic when the district's in session. When they go to holiday, there's lighter traffic. Today is one of those days where parents throughout Los Angeles County were warned about this, those that have students in the district. Private school students, it was up to the individual schools as to whether they continued.

Also, the mayor making an adjustment here saying any student could ride for free today on the L.A. metro buses or system. That a reaction to a threat involving the buses and the buses not rolling with the L.A. Unified School District today.

BERMAN: A huge logistical challenge, obviously, in Los Angeles. The concern over the threat itself, over a backpack or some kind of packages that could be threatening to these schools.

Paul Vercammen, in Los Angeles.

Obviously, this just highlights the concerns over national security right now that are pervasive in this country. And that will be the focus here in Las Vegas tonight at the final Republican debate of 2015. A brand-new national poll shows Donald Trump with his biggest lead yet in this race. He is at 38 percent in the ABC News/"Washington Post" poll. Ted Cruz way, way back, at 15 percent. That's nearly double his number from last month.

BOLDUAN: And an important note, as the candidates prepare for this national security focus debate tonight. This was a poll conducted after the terror attack in San Bernardino and also after Donald Trump laid out his controversial proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

Let's get much more on what the polls could mean tonight. Let's bring in CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston, for much more on this.

You see the polls, Donald Trump still holding, continuing to dominate the field. But this is a very different looking field than even the last debate. Cruz surging here. What are you looking for tonight?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It is. It's so fascinating in the way this race has been so volatile, completely reshaped by the terror attacks in Paris, in San Bernardino. Now you have threats, you know, like Los Angeles this morning. We don't know how serious that is at this point. But it has, I think, led voters to just focus on who they feel most comfortable with leading them through this time. It's taken the focus off the economy to a big extent. You'll see a lot of candidates capitalize on that tonight. Certainly, we saw Rick Santorum talking about, you know, his knowledge of ISIS and terrorism threats, and other candidates like Cruz and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio will try to really capitalize on that issue tonight.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And they're also really trying to differentiate themselves. Because while there are some real differences between these candidates on their approaches to national security.

BERMAN: No doubt.


BERMAN: Maeve Reston, thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Maeve.

BERMAN: Joining us now to discuss, chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, Communications Director Sean Spicer.

Sean, great to have you here.


BERMAN: So we heard Rick Santorum saying he welcomes the discussion Donald Trump started about banning Muslims from coming into the United States. Your boss, the RNC chairman, Reince Priebus, I'm not sure he welcomes that discussion. He comes out and says he opposes that notion.

[11:35:10] SPICER: Well, I think what the chairman said was that he opposes the particular tactic. What we can agree on is what Maeve touched on. Tonight, is about security because Americans are not feeling --


BERMAN: No, he said he's against it.


SPICER: He said, I don't agree with that tactic.

BOLDUAN: And it's against American values.

SPICER: But I think what you're seeing from each of these candidates tonight is a desire to talk about the security that Americans right now just don't feel. And they don't feel comfortable with Hillary Clinton. She might, on paper, this have foreign policy experience but experience doesn't translate into results. What they fear right now is that Hillary Clinton does not have what it takes to keep America safe.

BERMAN: Is it troubling to you in that ABC News poll, 59 percent of Republican primary voters say they're supportive of the idea of banning Muslims?

SPICER: Right now, this administration and Hillary Clinton have no plan to keep America safe. You're seeing Americans clinging to Republican candidates out there talking about specifically how they would keep America safe. They may not agree with every tactic, but they are longing for people to talk about what we need to be doing and putting a plan forward.

BOLDUAN: On this ban, the numbers out of the ABC News poll, 59 percent of Americans support the ban that Donald Trump -- 59 percent of Republicans support the plan Donald Trump laid out. Then party leaders, Paul Ryan, I mean, you go down the list of party leaders who spoke up very strongly, condemning what Donald Trump said. That kind of feeds into what a lot of folks fear, a lot of folks on your side, fear. Are party leaders out of step with your base?

SPICER: It's not just the base. You look at that particular poll, there's a high number of Independents and actually a good number of Democrats. There's just such a longing right now for any plan. It's not necessarily one plan over another. The problem right now is that Hillary Clinton has no plan. Republicans are putting forward each of them in their individual plan. You heard Senator Santorum talk about his. Each candidate will talk about it tonight. I guarantee, they're not going to be the same. The difference is what Americans want is at least people thinking about how they're going to keep this country safe.

BERMAN: So, nine candidates on the main debate stage, an undercard with four candidates there. When do you think it's time to have fewer on stage? When do you think it's the appropriate time to winnow the field?

SPICER: It won't be our job or CNN's job or anyone's job to winnow the field. It's up to the voters. Right now, if you look at the interest in the first debate, the numbers tuning in are exponentially greater than you would get on the main stage. There's a longing for continuing to understand some of these candidates, their visions. You're also seeing a candidate like Chris Christie, who went down, now back up. There is --


BOLDUAN: I haven't -- have we ever heard of that before? He was on the main stage, off the main stage, then back on the main stage.

SPICER: We've never had that before.


BOLDUAN: Oh, that's right.

SPICER: That speaks volumes to what our party has done to ensure these number of can days have an opportunity to have their voices heard. The number of candidates that have ever been on either party stage was 10. We had 11 on the main stage before, as many as 17 at that first debate, when you look at the two debates combined. There are that many qualified people running on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, it's been a coronation of Hillary Clinton. I think that's why you're not seeing the energy, excitement, enthusiasm on their side and you are seeing it on ours.

BOLDUAN: Rick Santorum, if he was any preview, there will be energy on that stage tonight.


SPICER: When you look at the excitement on social media, on kitchen tables, in barrooms, casino floors, people are excited.

BOLDUAN: Where do you hang out?



SPICER: You have to go through it to get here. But there is -- it is on the top of everybody's mind. Whether you're a Republican, Independent or Democratic, you're talking about the Republican field.

BOLDUAN: That's true.

Sean Spicer, great to see you.

SPICER: Stay warm, guys.

BOLDUAN: You stay warm. We'll have you back. Bring a coat next time.

SPICER: We'll have dinner.


BOLDUAN: We talked about that dinner before. Sean Spicer likes food. That was our biggest takeaway from our last interview.

Coming up next for us, more on the breaking news out of Los Angeles, the threat out one of the largest school districts in the United States. What officials are telling us about what kept 660,000 students at home this morning.


[11:43:27] BERMAN: John Berman here in Los Vegas. Kate Bolduan here as well. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We do have breaking news out of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Unified School District, more than 600,000 students, school canceled today. Those students who had already arrived sent home. The superintendent says there was a credible threat, a credible threat sent to many schools involving backpacks and packages. Right now, they're searching as many as these schools as they can to determine whether or not this threat is actually existent at this point. We are expecting to hear much more from them in the coming hours.

BOLDUAN: We're going to continue to follow that breaking news.

We're also here in Las Vegas for the big CNN debate. The focus there, national security.

Let's discuss everything to be expected tonight. Let's bring in CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson; and CNN political commentator and former senior advisor to President Obama, Dan Pfeiffer; and CNN political commentator and former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Amanda carpenter.

You have longer titles than we do.


I keep adding and adding. You're too accomplished.

You have this breaking news out of Los Angeles. This underscores -- we don't have the details of exactly what's going on but it underscores the importance and urgency of a conversation about national security right now.

One of the new elements, I think, if we talk about what's different from the last debate to this debate, not only the focus on national security, but I got to say, one of the most important elements, I think, Amanda is Ted Cruz. He's surging. He's making moves. What is -- how is he going to make a difference tonight? What is he need to do? A lot of folks say, the person he needs to attack, especially on these issues, national security, is Donald Trump. And he hasn't really gone there yet.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think Ted Cruz needs to attack Donald Trump. I think he needs to show he has a commanding presence and can be commander-in-chief. You do that by having a reasonable, thoughtful approach. But doesn't alienate people and isn't bombastic. Donald Trump has raised attention to a lot of issues, immigration, on a number of levels. Ted Cruz is also concerned about those issues. Ted Cruz actually has practical, reasonable solutions that don't alienate other people and go against what America stands for as a country.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting. There's been a lot of discussion since Trump came out with the idea of banning all Muslims from coming to the United States. The question put to every Republican candidate, people wonder, is someone going to stand up to Trump? Is someone going to make a stand on this stage behind us tonight and say, that's outrageous?

But, Dan, the flipside of the question is, is there a risk to doing that? Why would they? We see this ABC News poll that shows 59 percent of Republican primary voters support the ban on Muslims.

[11:45:12] DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, every candidate on stage tonight has a different strategic interest. I agree with Amanda. It is not in Ted Cruz's interest to go after Donald Trump. He has a different set. There are other candidates, like John Kasich or Carly Fiorina, who are sort of on the bubble of falling off in relevancy, who needs attention, and one way to get attention is go after Trump. They may try to do that. I'm not sure it's good politics but everyone has a different calculus.

BOLDUAN: When talking about a different calculus, one person we haven't talked about is Jeb Bush and where Jeb Bush has gone. We talk about who's going to attack and how will that happen. That failed for Jeb Bush in the last debate. Who does he attack? NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think one of

the questions for him is, he might be at his most irrelevant point in this campaign so far. He's at 3 percent. No one is suggesting a debate performance can turn it around. He has a bunch of money. He spent $50 million on -- or his super PAC has. He's been making this argument that serious times call for serious people. In other words, Donald Trump, you're not a serious person. But it's hard to see what he does in this debate. Perhaps, given the fact that the spotlight isn't on him and he's going to be so far down on the stage that we'll see Jeb Bush unleashed, but what that looks like is hard to say. Whether or not it will work for him, we'll have to see.

BERMAN: You win the prize for the coldest comment to match the temperature out here.


Close to relevant point --

BOLDUAN: Cold hands, warm hearts.


Not including you, Dan Pfeiffer.


Great to see you guys.

Nia, Mika (ph) and Amanda -- that's your new names.



BERMAN: Next, much more on our breaks news, the threat to the second- largest school district in the country. More than 600,000 students sent home. We will soon hear from Los Angeles officials on way this decision was made and what they have learned over the last several minutes. Stay with us.


[11:50:52] BOLDUAN: We want to once again welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We continue to follow the breaking news out of Los Angeles. The nation's second-largest school district shutdown earlier this morning as a non-specified but credible threat against the schools. The superintendent saying that it was not a threat, not to one school or two schools or three schools, but many school, and out of an abundance of caution, the superintendent shutting down all of the schools and telling all of the employees in the schools to leave the buildings. And he said he will keep it that way until he can be assured that all 900-plus schools, 600,000-plus students, to make sure that all of the schools and everyone is cleared and safe. We will continue to follow that breaking news out of Los Angeles. BERMAN: Obviously, national security is a major concern around of the

country. This just highlights that. A major focus on that in the debate tonight.

Along those lines, an interesting development. Rush Limbaugh has always been supportive of Donald Trump, always said nice things, but the radio show host just took a shot at him over Ted Cruz. He said that Trump's criticism of Cruz is not something that a genuine conservative would do.

BOLDUAN: And Trump, of course, called Cruz a maniac for his behavior in the Senate. Rush Limbaugh has spoken very supportively of Ted Cruz. Listen here to Rush.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST (voice-over): So, and one thing, my question here about the way that Trump has gone after Cruz here, calling him a maniac, refusing to working with people in the Senate. The reason that I'm focusing on that, folks, because that's so unlike Trump. I mean, that's a huge mistake. Fro any of you who are holding out hope that Trump is a genuine conservative in the field, a genuine conservatives, even in the Republican field, would not go after Cruz in this way.


BOLDUAN: Joining us now to discuss this, everything, ahead of the debate, Brett O'Donnell, the president of O'Donnell and Associates, a political consulting firm, also a renowned debate coach, and helping to advise and prepare presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham, in this cycle; and also, Scottie Nell Hughes, chief political correspondent for USA Radio Network, and a Trump surrogate.

Great to see you, Brett.

Thanks for joining us.

And, Scottie, first to you.

On this issue of Rush Limbaugh, and he took a shot there at Donald Trump saying that you cannot go after Ted Cruz like that, and he kind of backed off of it a little by and he said that he was not necessarily saying that Trump is like dead to him, but if you are losing Rush Limbaugh, isn't that a big problem for Donald Trump?

SCOTTIE HUGHES, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, USA RADIO NETWORK: Well, good morn, and it is interesting to watch over to the past few hour, because some people are giddy at the thought of Rush Limbaugh turning and criticizing Donald Trump, because they realize that Mr. Trump cannot destroy what they throw at him, so destroy within. And Rush Limbaugh is a huge conservative voice, and the thought of him going after him is a certain doom for Mr. Trump, but I took it a different way. I took it that listen, you can go after Cruz and separate yourself based on the business quality experience and the great negotiator that you are, but you don't have to use the Democratic talking points. But make no mistake, Rush Limbaugh still likes what Trump is doing for the GOP, but he has faith and trust in Ted Cruz, who is a consistent conservative, and he likes them both.

BERMAN: Interesting. Brett O'Donnell, you are a famed debate coach, as they say.


There is a famed college debater on the stage, Ted Cruz, and he was a famed Princeton debater. He knows how to control the debate stage, and so how should he approach this debate, which will be the first biggest moment for him in this campaign?

BRETT O'DONNELL, PRESIDENT, O'DONNELL AND ASSOCIATES & POLITICAL DEBATE COACH: Absolutely. He has a couple of challenge ahead of him, because he has to the deal with Marco Rubio attacking him from the right saying that Ted Cruz was an isolationist and voted against the policies to keep the country safe and secure, and that is something that the American people have not heard yet fully vetted out. It is something interest ting to see how he responds to Rubio, but it is also going to be seeing how he handles Ted Cruz, I mean, or how he handles Donald Trump.

[11:55:12] BERMAN: This far away from him.

O'DONNELL: Yes. Yes. And really, these are about being the alpha person on the stage. And so if he is passive with Donald Trump and plays nice like he said he would, he is going to be looking weak, so he has to find a way to counter attack back without appearing to make Trump supporters angry, because they are both playing for the same pool of voters, so he has a tight rope to the walk with Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: And the tight rope and the big moment for him. And a big moment for all of the candidates, because the field is so different and the state of the debate is so different in this debate than the last one, and it is a completely different landscape. And a big night ahead of us tonight.

Scottie, thank you so much.

Brett, great to see you. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: There is a lot going on in the world. And we are getting more breaking news as Los Angeles is dealing with the threat against its schools.

And now we are just learning that New York City, moments ago, revealed that officials there received a non-credible threat against the schools. What did they do about it? Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[12:00:04] ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield, live in Las Vegas. And we will get to the Republican presidential debate and all the news surrounding it in just a moment.