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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Post-Debate Coverage Of Democratic Presidential Debate. Aired 10:30-11p ET

Aired December 19, 2015 - 22:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:30:00]

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... Clinton, and I hope we can work on an independent investigation, I want to apologize to my supporters.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight's debate playing out in the leadoff primaries, State of New Hampshire where voters could shake up the race when they cast their votes just weeks from now. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is a CNN Democratic Debate Special.

You're looking at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire where the Democrats are just wrapping up an often heated debate. We heard Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley drive home their differences on critical issues, including the war against ISIS, gun control and corporate America's political power. This debate comes just weeks before the first presidential primary season votes are cast and it comes in the midst of a controversy pitting Sanders and Clinton camps against one another.

Sanders telling Clinton early that he's sorry, that his aides got unauthorized access to Clinton's voter files taking advantage of a problem with the DNC's computer system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MUIR, ABC WORLD NEWS ANCHOR: Does secretary Clinton deserve an apology tonight?

SANDERS: Yes. I apologize.

MUIR: Secretary Clinton, do you accept?

SANDERS: Not only do I apologize to Secretary Clinton, and I hope we can work together on an independent investigation, I want to apologize to my supporters. This is not the type of campaign that we run and if I find anybody else involved in this, they will also be fired.

MUIR: Secretary Clinton, he's apologized. How do you react?

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I very much appreciate that comment, Bernie. It really is important that we go forward on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All three Democratic candidates saved their toughest shots for the presidential hopefuls from the other party, especially the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: He is becoming ISIS' best recruiter. They are going to people, showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We have a team of correspondents, analysts and contributors standing by live to dissect all the pivotal moments of this Democratic debate and its impact on the campaign. Let's go around the tables. We'll get reaction from all of our political correspondents, our analysts, our commentators, our experts. I want to begin with our Senior Washington Correspondent Jeff Zeleny, you cover the Democrats. Jeff, your major takeaways from this presidential debate?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think the biggest takeaway from this debate us that Hillary Clinton had her eye on the general election. Throughout the course of these two hours, she did not relent from attacking Bernie Sanders or even Martin O'Malley on these distinctions, but she has her eye on the long game here. The but I think we have to start out with Bernie Sanders apologizing for this extraordinary situation that's been going on for the last 36 hours or so to let his campaign file suit against the Democratic National Committee.

He said he apologized and she accepted his apology and said it is time to move on from that. But back to what each candidate is trying to do, I think that she was trying to look ahead to the general election. Bernie Sanders is saying, not so fast. He tried to question her judgment, her judgment specifically on the Iraq War. He mentioned that at least two or three times that she voted for the Iraq War and of course he did not.

And Martin O'Malley, I think was trying to simply stay in this conversation. He was having a bit of a hard time doing that. He is struggling both in Iowa and New Hampshire here. But, Wolf, there were some distinctions, some difference on taxes first and foremost. She pledged that she would not raise taxes on the middle class. Bernie Sanders says he can't make that promise at all. So that is one of the issues that is going to be front and center here for the next six weeks or so until the Iowa caucuses.

BLITZER: Nia-Malika, you're our senior political reporter, your major takeaway?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think it was almost a status quota debate, I think people came in, in certain positions. I think the lead in the same position, Martin O'Malley trailing in the polls. Bernie Sanders sort of stalled out in the polls, he's about 30 percent, that seems to be his ceiling, and Hillary Clinton in a commanding place.

I thought she was very strong in a way that she wasn't strong before on terror and war. I think she definitely wanted to come out as more hawkish.

[22:35:06] You saw some stark differences there in terms of the prosecution of the war on terror, on ISIS. She wants a no-fly zone, and you heard I think Martin O'Malley there trying to make a distinction, trying to basically come forward and say he's the younger generation. But I think he was trying to land punches, didn't really land them very effectively. And Bernie Sanders, again, struggling on guns. That's an issue that Hillary Clinton, as well as Martin O'Malley think they can score points against Sanders and I think they did again tonight.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, you're a former Senior Political Adviser, you're also our CNN senior political commentator, you're now at the University of Chicago, Institute of Politics. But when you saw this feud that developed between the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Bernie Sanders campaign, it had the potential for totally exploding. But Bernie Sanders came out right away and calmed things down.

DAVID AXELROD, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: Yeah. He did the right thing and so did she by reaching this point of accommodation and moving on. Look, I think the most striking thing about this debate was the distinction between it and the fracas that you moderated in Las Vegas a couple of days ago, a few days ago, because there really isn't that much disagreement between these candidates. And clearly they were not -- Martin O'Malley was a little aggressive with Hillary Clinton at points because he's trying to get into the game. But, what's striking was a good natured kind of banter between all of them and the humor that was shown. And the fact is, I don't think anything happened in this debate that basically changes the ordering of the candidates. Bernie Sanders people, I think will be thrilled with this debate. Hillary Clinton's people will be happy particularly on her national security performance and I think we move on from here.

BLITZER: It's pretty close between these two candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Dana Bash, our Chief Political Correspondent, in both Iowa and New Hampshire, even though nationally, in all the national polls she's way ahead.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And New Hampshire is the state that kind of is the ball game, probably for Bernie Sanders. He's from a neighboring state. He had done better there when he kind of rose in the polls initially. And, not just that, it just kind of depends on what happens with Iowa because we all on both sides, but maybe especially with the Democratic side, voters of New Hampshire like to tell Iowa, "No, no, not so fast." So, if she does well in Iowa then it might actually help Bernie Sanders for that reason.

But I actually am looking at what Hillary Clinton said on two things towards the general election, Republicans are pouncing on her on, number one, suggesting -- actually saying point-blank that the American national security position and posture is finally correct when it comes to ISIS. Jeb Bush had a twit out and a video out in a nanosecond about that and other Republicans are going to as well. But, that is going to be definitely one of the narratives going forward from the GOP side.

And the other is, her suggesting that Donald Trump is actually a recruiting tool for ISIS. We're not exactly sure where she got that, but that is going to be an instant question that we're going to fact check. How could she prove that?

BLITZER: We're going to be doing a lot of fact checking. Peter Beinart, you're coming to this very closely, Peter Beinart is one of our political commentators, a contributing editors of "The Atlantic." The notion that ISIS is already Donald Trump's statements about banning Muslims from coming in United States, have you seen evidence that ISIS is already doing that?

PETER BEINART, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, ATLANTIC MEDIA: No, I haven't. I think it would be interesting to watch, I mean the truth is, and this is I think the hard thing for Democrats and Republicans to acknowledge, the thing that ISIS use the most is American air strikes and drones that kill people in the middle east. That is being done by the Obama administration, that's a bigger driver of ISIS recruitment and he's saying -- that Donald Trump is saying as reprehensible as it is.

BLITZER: S.E. Cupp, another one of our political commentators, what's your big take away?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATORS: Yes, well as the conservative obviously, I was listening through different ears. All I heard primarily was varying defenses of those current status quo lead from behind strategy. Hillary talked a lot about coalitions. Coalitions seemed to be her answer for every domestic and international ill, whether it was guns or ISIS. She talked about Russia probably respecting a no-fly zone. I'm not sure a lot of people trust her instincts when it comes to Russia. Bernie Sanders he'd somehow magically be able to make Muslim nations who have been unwilling to help us in the fight against ISIS somehow do this, and when pressed on it he couldn't really explain why. And I think Martin O'Malley, in tone, intend or try to distinguish himself, but didn't really on substance.

So I think if you're a Republican looking at a general election and you know that terrorism is top of mind to most voters, I think you're thinking that the Republicans are more where the nation is, where voters than these three Democratic candidates.

ZELENY: (Inaudible) they're right. ISIS has lost a substantial amount of territory since early this year.

[22:40:03] The strategy is actually working on the ground. It doesn't mean ISIS can't plot attacks in the west, they're on the ground in Iraq and Syria. ISIS really is losing territory.

CUPP: The majority of Americans, though, don't think that and that's reflective...

ZELENY: Realities don't matter.

BLITZER: We're only beginning. There's a lot to dissect, a lot to assess. Up next, an eye-popping moment, Hillary Clinton vanishes and then slips back on stage.

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(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Sorry.

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MUIR: We're going to begin on the economy. We want to turn to the American jobs, wages and raises in this country. And we believe Secretary Clinton will be coming around the corner any minute. But in the meantime we want to start with this eye opening number, and Senator Sanders, this question goes to you first anyway.

In 1995, the median American household income was $52,600 in today's money. This year, it's $53,600. That's 20 more years on the job with just a 2 percent raise. In a similar time-frame, raises for CEOs went up more than 200 percent.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. That was an awkward moment after the first commercial break in tonight's Democratic Debate that Hillary Clinton was not back at her lectern. The moderators were asks questions of the other candidates when Mrs. Clinton walked in. She apologized as you heard.

[22:45:05] Unlike this week's Republican presidential debate, tonight's Democratic debate started with some fighting terrorism, but also included economic issues, taxes, student debt, health care among others. We're back with our political correspondents, commentators and our experts. Very quickly Paul Begala, you're one of our political commentators, you support Hillary Clinton...

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do.

BLITZER: ... you worked with her Super PAC trying to get her elected. What was your reaction to that little awkward moment following that first commercial break?

BEGALA: Obviously the candidate has no power over when the network turns the cameras on. It would have been nice to have a full stage, I suppose I don't do this for a living but, it seems to me that she showed a little humor, some grace. She's walked very, you know, kind of calmly and conventionally (inaudible) in just one word, sorry.

And -- she showed a lot of poise, I thought ABC maybe could have -- maybe stretched for 30 seconds or something and give her a little more time.

AXELROD: I'll give you my theory, I think that those tricky sanders tech people somehow remotely locked the lady behind doors so...

(OFF-MIKE)

BLITZER: A little dirty politics.

(Inaudible), one of our political commentators. You were Hillary Clinton's Campaign Manager way back, what, in 2008, right? What was your reaction?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To that moment?

BLITZER: Yeah. I thought it was a little rude that they started without her. I mean she's the front-runner for the party right now. They could have banter, they could have gone to George Stephanopoulos, done a panel, but to start the debate without her I thought was just a little -- not only odd, but rude. Do you want to weigh in?

BLITZER: You want to weight in?

CUPP: Well it's, you know, it's never been easy for me to have sympathy for Hillary Clinton. I certainly did in that moment. I thought it was disgraceful that they went on without her and forced this moment where she has to come on and make this obviously, you know, entrance into the stage and kind of humiliating and really unfair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a good moment, I think a lot of people -- a lot of women in particular can identify with that. And I thought the way she handled it was really, really good. I don't think she was hurt by that at all.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: That's my point. If she gets me to sympathize in that moment, it was a win for her.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, let's get to the substance now, guys. An important issue in this debate, now here's a little clip of what we just heard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Guns in of themselves, in my opinion, will not make American safer. I think that if -- it is creating much deeper, closer relations and, yes, coalitions within our own country. The first line of defense against radicalization is in the Muslim-American community. People who we should be welcoming and working with. I worry greatly that the rhetoric coming from the Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, is sending a message to Muslims here in the United States and literally around the world that there is a clash of civilizations, that there is some kind of western plot or even war against Islam which then I believe fans the flames of radicalization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jeff Zelany, this is an important theme and among other things, all three of these presidential candidates using an opportunity to go after Donald Trump.

ZELENY: No doubt. And this was, of course, the first debate since the shooting in San Bernardino. So, we used to talk about gun laws kind of, you know, in a background check kind of way. Now it means so much more in the wake of this. So, it was definitely one of those general election moments she was looking at here. There are a few small differences between these Democratic candidates and Bernie Sanders, of course, has been more supportive of gun policy because he's from a hunting state in Vermont. But the differences are very minor, the Democrats compared to the differences with Republicans.

But, she took this moment, this opportunity to bring in Donald Trump. Once again, and saying that, you know, he is not helping here, he's hurting us with the ban of Muslims and other things here. But, I think that -- I think that overall, if there are any independent voters out there who were watching on a week before Christmas, she may look compelling to them. She may look like someone who sounds more reasonable in the wake of all this. But, of course, this is all going to be litigated again in the general election.

BLITZER: I suspect there are a lot of people watching in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, some of the other states, as well.

Everyone stabbed by. Coming up, we have a reality check on a huge controversy between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns that resulted in an apology on the debate stage tonight. Stay with us.

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[22:50:00]

We're back with our Democratic Presidential Debate Special. One of the most significant moments tonight came when Bernie Sanders apologized to Hillary Clinton for a breach of DNC computer files. This was a huge issue at least going into the debate, but it was quickly resolved when Bernie Sanders publicly apologized to Hillary Clinton and to his own supporters. David Axelrod, how unusual is an apology like that given the feud that had developed? Basically, these two campaigns were accusing each other of who knows what.

AXELROD: Well I think the apology was smart. Because the fact is, Bernie Sanders' folks did do something wrong. It wasn't consistent with the nature of his campaign and he needed to do something definitive right at the top to state that and I think apologizing to his supporters, as well, was smart. But I also think Hillary Clinton was smart to handle it the way she did. I think her campaign got a little overheated yesterday in the exchanges and she has nothing to gain from an ongoing dispute with Bernie Sanders as you've pointed out. She's got bigger things in mind.

BLITZER: And she accepted that apology pretty quickly.

BASH: Yes of course, which was -- as David said smart to give, but remember, this is not your conventional debater, Bernie Sanders. Remember what he said at our debate. Enough with your damn e-mails. That was not politically smart for him to do and he did it anyway. So, you know, I think it's kind of Bernie being Bernie.

BLITZER: But they were -- there were some significant difference when it comes to this war on ISIS. Hillary Clinton is very firm saying there should be a no-fly zone, Bernie Sanders says not so fast.

HENDERSON: That's right, I mean not only that, this idea of what to do with Assad, Sanders coming down on the idea that, listen, you leave us out there and you focus on ISIS first and Martin O'Malley saying the same thing and going after Hillary Clinton in terms of wanting to be too hawkish, in terms of her vote on the Iraq war as well.

[22:55:09] So very -- a lot of differences there. I want to go back a bit to datagate. I wonder if it really is over, right? The Bernie Sanders campaign has I think, really been brilliant with this. They were in the wrong and they turned it around and really became the victims I think in this, and raised $1 million over this.

AXELROD: They became the victims because the Democratic National Committee cut them off from their own files and acted...

BLITZER: Was that a mistake?

AXELROD: Oh without question it was. You know, Bernie Sanders, depending on what her goal, I think it was the wrong thing to do, but I also think if what's suggested was somehow going to help Hillary Clinton or she thought it was, that was the exact wrong thing to do.

BLITZER: Patti Solis Doyle, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Chair of the DNC, the Democratic National Committee tipping the scales in favor of Hillary Clinton.

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well I think the real problem with this and what was so brilliant about Bernie Sanders is the backdrop of all of this is the debate on a Saturday night before Christmas where nobody is watching and they're sort of follow -- dovetails to the whole problem, right? A few debates help Hillary Clinton. So I think the compounding vote issues is the real problem. BLITZER: Millions of people -- I don't know how many millions but

millions of people were watching. Political news junkies were watching. People who like to vote, they probably were watching. So, I wouldn't necessarily belittle the number who were out there. Peter.

BEINART: And I actually think that Hillary Clinton, if this campaign thought she had plenty to worry about in these debate they were wrong. She's actually shown that she's been very good, especially since the emergence of national security. I think the biggest problem for Bernie Sanders is he's a one-trick pony. He's very, very powerful on the question of income equality and incorporate governance. But when you saw -- when they moved to gun control, he was awkward. And here with the whole first segment being on national security, he doesn't have the same identity on these issues. He doesn't have the same command of the issues and it allows Hillary Clinton to find it a much, much easier subject.

BLITZER: From the Republican perspective S.E., who won this debate?

CUPP: Well, she did. And I think Peter's analysis is right. Certainly he's not very strong on foreign policy but also he seems very unwilling maybe to take the dirty victory, right? I mean, he was very conciliatory, very sorry, very statesman like. David talked about their fun banter, that's great, but it's not going to move you up in the polls. So, if Bernie Sanders wants to stay high minded, well that's lovely, but Bernie Sanders if going to stay at 30 percent.

BEGALA: But Bernie's way to move up is not by tearing her down. Hillary is a very high favorable rating amongst Sanders' voters. They like her they just like Bernie more. So, that was a bad idea I think for him to -- that's why he was not doing it. Apologizing is what's in their political interest. They're not doing it because it doesn't work.

As this data thing exploded, I kept thinking of the words of great legendary newsman, your fried Wolf, Ron Burgundy. Well, that -- so quickly, immediately, the Democratic National Committee goes nuclear and cuts off all access. And Bernie goes nuclear and files a federal lawsuit like, holy smokes guys, just like, let's calm down and sort this out. And I think David is right. If the Democratic Party made a mistake here, if you're for Hillary and I am, you don't want to get into this story.

You know Napoleon said never interrupt your opponent when he's destroying himself. Bernie is a deep ethical man, highly principle man, his campaign did a really dirty thing. He handled it right tonight but the campaign really screwed up. If everybody else had just shut up it would have been more damaging to Bernie than the Democratic Party cutting him off.

BLITZER: Here's what I want to do. I want to tell our viewers here in the United States and around the world, it was a two-hour plus debate. If you missed it, we've got some of the highlights for you right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANDERS: What I have a real problem with, and as you mentioned, this is a problem, I recognize it as a problem, of what the DNC did arbitrary without discussing it with us is shut off our access to our own information, crippling our campaign. That is an egregious act. I'm glad that late last night that was resolved. Fourthly I look forward to working with Secretary Clinton for an investigation, an independent investigation about all of the breaches that have occurred from day one in this campaign because I am not convinced that information from our campaign may not have ended up in her campaign. Don't know that.

Not only do I apologize on Secretary Clinton, and I hope we can work on an independent investigation from day one, I want to apologize to my supporters. This is not the type of campaign that we run and if I find anybody else involved in this, they will also be fired.

CLINTON: Now that I think, you know, we've resolved your data, we've agreed on a, independent inquiry we should move on.

MARTIN O'MALLEY, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you want to know why things don't get done in Washington?

[23:00:00] Because for the last 24 hours, with those issues being so urgent to people as they tune in tonight, wondering how they're even be able to buy presents for their kids. Instead, we're listening to the bickering back and forth. Maybe that's normal politics in Washington. But that is not the politics of higher purpose that people expect from our party.