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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver; Interview With Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; North Korea Fears; Republican Battle; Sanders and Clinton Debate; Rubio Reprograms Stump Speech to Target Rivals. Aired 4:00-4:30p ET

Aired February 11, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Countdown to a critical Democratic debate right here on CNN. THE LEAD starts right now.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders set to battle tonight live on CNN. And I stress the word battle. Details of Clinton's new plan to get aggressive after that 22-point shellacking in the Granite State.

The race on the Republican side set to put the hospital in Southern hospitality. Hospitality, get it? Candidates bracing for low blows as they all fight to stop Trump.

Plus, he was once one of Kim Jong-un's closest advisers, but now he's disappeared. North Korea reportedly executing a top military chief and close adviser. What's going on inside that nation with an unstable leader and nukes?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We are going to begin with our politics lead today and what is shaping up to be a brutal competition for the African-American vote between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with Clinton deploying a major civil rights icon this afternoon who questioned, where was Bernie Sanders during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s?

This as the two candidates prepare to debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this evening. You can watch that "PBS NewsHour" debate live tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now from the debate site in Milwaukee.

Jeff, I don't even know if it's accurate to still call Hillary Clinton the front-runner anymore. Will we see her behaving this evening more as an underdog?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, an underdog might be a bit of a stretch, but she's a wounded front-runner for sure. The Clinton campaign tonight is trying to draw more distinctions as they have been trying to with Bernie Sanders, but there's no question she has far more to lose.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): A showdown in Milwaukee.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You are the reason we are here.

ZELENY: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the same stage tonight, their first face-to-face meeting since tables turned in the Democratic primary fight.

CLINTON: I want to begin by congratulating Senator Sanders on his victory tonight.

ZELENY: Sanders suddenly in the driver's seat after a commanding win in New Hampshire.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, New Hampshire. And now it's on to Nevada, South Carolina and beyond.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: But Clinton is well-positioned for a long battle ahead, winning a key endorsement today from the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: And there is no question that the person that has obtained the most results and benefits for communities of color and everyone in America, in my opinion, it's not even close. It's Hillary Clinton.

ZELENY: Congressman John Lewis, a leader of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march, was asked about the civil rights record of Sanders, who as a student played a far less visible role in the 1963 March on Washington.

SANDERS: I was way, way back there, one of the several hundred thousand people who was here.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I never saw him, I never met him. I was involved in the sit-ins, the Freedom Ride, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed the Voter Education Project for six years.

But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton.

ZELENY: Not all members were on board. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman and Sanders supporter, said on Twitter the endorsement was "without input from CBC membership, including me."

In a battle of endorsements, the Sanders campaign weighed in with one of their own today, Harry Belafonte.

HARRY BELAFONTE, ENTERTAINER: Just use your platform and your power to do some good for social welfare.

ZELENY: With Iowa and New Hampshire in the books, the Sanders-Clinton contest is now playing out to a far more diverse electorate. The Nevada caucuses, just nine days away, is a state where 20 percent of voters are Hispanic.

The South Carolina Democratic primary is the following week; 55 percent of Democratic voters in 2008 were African-American. Sanders, who says he raised more than $6 million since New Hampshire, took a victory lap on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert."

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Why do you think the younglings like you?

SANDERS: I think for two reasons. By definition, young people are idealistic, and they look at a world with so many problems and they say, why not?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, young voters are a challenge, but raising money is also a big challenge for the Clinton campaign.

Their campaign manager, Robby Mook, sent out a note trying to shake up their donors. And, Jake, listen to what he said. He said: "We can't allow you are team to be outraised and outspent. Our team is more diverse and enthusiastic. It's time for us to show it."

And tonight here on this stage behind me, it's time for Hillary Clinton to show that she is the better candidate of these two Democrats -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, it should be interesting. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

[16:05:00]

The entire Democratic Party watching to see how Clinton will respond to her bruising New Hampshire defeat when she squares off against Bernie Sanders tonight.

Joining me to now preview the Democrats' matchup, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also a Democratic congresswoman from Florida.

Thanks so much for joining us.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Thanks, Jake. Great to be here.

TAPPER: So in an exclusive interview with CNN just now, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the Democrat from Nevada, said he expected the Democratic race to go on for months. He said there might even be a contested convention. Is that possible?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I mean, I have enormous respect for Leader Reid and he's been absolutely remarkable in fighting for our agenda.

I do think that this will be a -- continue to be a robust primary that will play out over the course of the next several months. But there were predictions of a brokered convention, a fight that would go all the way to the convention in 2008, if you recall, Jake, and that didn't happen.

It didn't happen because this was wrapped up in a timely process through the normal primary schedule, and I think is what the case -- that that will be the case here.

TAPPER: All right, so a respectful disagreement with Leader Reid.

Hillary Clinton lost to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire by 22 percentage points, the biggest victory in a contested Democratic primary there since John F. Kennedy, but it looks as though Clinton and Sanders are leaving the Granite State with the same number of delegates in their pockets, because Clinton has the support of New Hampshire's superdelegates, these party insiders.

What do you tell voters who are new to the process who says this makes them feel like it's all rigged?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, let me just make sure that I can clarify exactly what was available during the primaries in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

The unpledged delegates are a separate category. The only thing available on the ballot in a primary and a caucus is the pledged delegates, those that are tied to the candidate that they are pledged to support. And they receive a proportional number of delegates going into the -- going into our convention.

Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don't have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists. We are, as a Democratic Party, really highlight and emphasize inclusiveness and diversity at our convention, and so we want to give every opportunity to grassroots activists and diverse committed Democrats to be able to participate, attend and be a delegate at the convention.

And so we separate out those unpledged delegates to make sure that there isn't competition between them.

TAPPER: I'm not sure that that would -- that answer would satisfy an anxious young voter, but let's move on.

Here's a contrary concern that I do hear from some Democrats out there.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Sure.

TAPPER: Can Bernie Sanders, do you think, win a general election?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I mean, I have said repeatedly that I think that either one of our two candidates will ultimately be elected the 45th president of the United States.

And it's very simple. Look at the insult-fest that is going on, on the other side of the aisle that occurs at every one of their debates. At our debates, you have substantive, deep-dive discussions about how to build on President Obama's legacy of 71 straight months of job growth in the private sector, cutting our deficits by nearly three- quarters, 19 million Americans who now have health insurance.

And the distinction between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is really on how to continue to move in the direction to help more people reach the middle class. And compared with the backwards direction that Republicans would take us -- all of them have hugged the most extreme right wing of their party, would take away health care, would turn Medicare into a voucher system, would roll back all the economic progress and take care of the wealthiest, most fortunate Americans.

That's the contrast, no matter who the nominees are. And the American people will continue to choose to go in the direction that we have been, like they have in five out of the last six presidential elections.

TAPPER: You were a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2008. Were you surprised that she lost the woman vote in New Hampshire?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, it's not for me, in my role as national party chair, Jake, to be handicapping or analyzing the results of our primaries.

What I am thrilled about is that if you look at the 11 and then eight Republican candidates who drove voters to the polls and had record turnout, our candidates also, although there were only two really driving voters to the polls, nearly equaled the record turnout that occurred on the Republican side.

And so that shows you what kind of enthusiasm and organization we have. And the big difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is that we have a central voter file that both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders are feeding their data from their organization and mobilization into our data file, which will eventually bode well for our nominee.

And the Republicans still have a very fractured process, different vendors, no memorandums of understanding. And so they're going to be all over the place, and we will maintain our digital and technological advantage that we have had for many years and that allowed us to propel our nominee to victory. And we will again.

[16:10:11]

TAPPER: Congresswoman and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Hope you enjoy the debate this evening.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: A reminder: You can see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tonight in the "PBS NewsHour" Democratic presidential debate. That's here on CNN, as well as PBS stations, at 9:00 Eastern this evening. After a crushing defeat in New Hampshire, a critical endorsement for

Hillary Clinton today. Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus say they are backing her over her rival, Bernie Sanders. One of those supporters will join us next and tell us why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More on our politics lead, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton each going on the offensive, trying to court African-American voters in the South. Early polls suggest Clinton has a healthy lead among African- American voters.

Today, she earned a key endorsement from the political action committee of the Congressional Black Caucus. But as the candidates begin to focus in on South Carolina, Sanders is trying to make his case. And his huge win in New Hampshire could prompt some to give him a second look.

Missouri Congressman and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Emanuel Cleaver joins me now. He's a supporter of Hillary Clinton's.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: Good to be with you.

TAPPER: So, your fellow congressman and fellow CBC member and civil rights icon, John Lewis, said today that he never saw Bernie Sanders during the civil rights movement in the '60s, but he said he did see Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Now, Bernie Sanders was involved in the civil rights movement in 1962. He was arrested for protesting segregated schools in Chicago. He was at the march on Washington.

Is this fair criticism?

CLEAVER: Well, I'm not sure that that has very much to do with the decision that we made, but John Lewis obviously has the history and the credibility to speak about what he saw during the very turbulent days of the civil rights movement. And I don't think there's anything that Bernie Sanders has done or said that would cause us to believe that he is anti-civil rights. So, I think that issue is settled by a number of things, including the way the senator has voted.

What we're simply saying, and I think what John Lewis was saying, is that with Hillary Clinton, we have boots on the ground, somebody who's been there and was visibly there that doesn't negate all the other unnamed, faceless people who participated in the march. There are 250,000 people at the march on Washington.

TAPPER: Right.

CLEAVER: All of those people are civil rights icons, as I look at it. TAPPER: I don't doubt Hillary Clinton's support for civil rights and

I don't doubt that she's been a supporter of the CBC and the issues you care about. But in 1964 she was a Goldwater girl. By her own description she was a Republican back then. I mean she was in high school. But she was not doing what Bernie Sanders was doing at that time.

CLEAVER: Well, the thing that I think we all have connected with was that after her awakening, Hillary Clinton was able to participate in programs and put forth policies that were revolutionary at the time, working with the children's defense fund is just one. But keep in mind that back in that same time, Ronald Reagan, who was now almost a deity for Republicans, was a Democrat.

So, I think if we're going to get into that part of things, I would say Bernie Sanders has just become a Democrat. But I think the thing we need to focus on, frankly, is history. I think history says something about what a person's future will be like and Hillary Clinton has a history of getting things done and actually visibly working for civil rights.

TAPPER: Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, as you know he supports Bernie Sanders. I had him on my show a couple of days ago. One of the reasons he said that he is backing sanders is because in the 1990s he said Hillary Clinton was pushing the super predator theory. Quote, "This notion that I child at age six months could be so sociopathic as to be beyond redemption, that was frankly only ever used to describe the actions of young black men."

What's your response to that?

CLEAVER: I heard -- I saw that interview with Ben Jealous, who I have respect for. But look, what he did on your interview, which is unfortunate, and kind of beneath who I've seen him to be, he spent a time just throwing bomb after bomb after bomb at Secretary Clinton.

I don't think that that's necessary. I think what we all -- what we need to be doing, especially African-Americans, is point out to the public, to African-American voters and others of what we have experienced with these individuals. And what we've experienced will lead to what we think they can do.

And I'm not sure that I saw Mr. Jealous just attack after attack after attack, and I've seen him on two other shows during the same thing. It's unfortunate because I think everybody likes him and respects him and I think that's unnecessary.

I don't think this is a war of black leaders trying to outdump trash on their particular choice for the presidency. I think, you know, I'm not going to participate in that circus. I think it's unfortunate.

TAPPER: Congressman Cleaver, always good to see you. Thanks so much for coming on.

CLEAVER: Good to be with you. TAPPER: And guess what? There's also a brutal battle going on on the

Republican side, as Ted Cruz prepares a direct onslaught of ads against Marco Rubio. Donald Trump is pulling his critical ad about Ted Cruz.

[16:20:01] Why the change of heart?

Plus, on the front lines in Syria, our own CNN reporter in war-torn Aleppo as Syrian forces attempt to take that city back. He'll join us live from Syria, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's stay with our politics lead. After his debate stage malfunction, Marco Rubio has reprogrammed his stump speech. Until Chris Christie detonated Rubio's choice talking point, Rubio had kept the focus squarely on one thing, to dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing.

Well, today, Rubio said a few of the people in his own party have no idea what they're doing, when it comes to foreign policy that is.

[16:25:02] CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is with Ted Cruz in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Sunlen, who did Rubio go after today?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it also felt like a laundry list that Marco Rubio was ticking through his rivals. He went after Trump, Bush and Cruz directly by name. Many candidates here in South Carolina are really sharpening their lines of attack today, indicating that here in South Carolina, it's game on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nine days actually until the big event.

SERFATY (voice-over): The Republican field now a six-man race and a Southern slugfest is under way.

TRUMP: You vote for Trump, we win here, we're going to run the table.

SERFATY: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on a collision course.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the state of South Carolina, I don't think people are interested in someone, a Republican candidate who's pushed partial birth abortion, who won't defend marriage and who supports big government bailouts.

SERFATY: Both on the hunt for the same bounty, evangelicals -- a powerful voting bloc in South Carolina.

TRUMP: It's going to be such an unbelievable week and a half. I'm going to be with you almost all the time.

SERFATY: Trump hammering away at a familiar rival, Jeb Bush.

TRUMP: He's a low-energy person. I said -- no, I said he's a stiff.

SERFATY: Bush punching back at Trump as he spends his 63rd birthday on the campaign trail.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't care how popular he is. He's wrong. And you better believe that if we elect him, that we're not going to win. Other than that, I'm having a great birthday.

SERFATY: Others in the field bracing for the attacks.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I'm not going to be a pin cushion, though. I don't take crap from anybody.

SERFATY: John Kasich, eyeing Bush.

KASICH: I'm worried about Jeb. It's all negative. How the heck can you sell negative?

SERFATY: While Marco Rubio debuting a more aggressive tone following his disappointing finish in New Hampshire is launching an across-the- board attack, calling out three of his rivals by name.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump has zero foreign policy experience. Negotiating a hotel deal in another country is not foreign policy experience. Jeb Bush has no foreign policy experience, period. Ted Cruz has a little bit of foreign policy experience.

SERFATY: Meanwhile, the Rubio campaign now signaling they are digging in for the long haul, even if the fight leads all the way to a brokered convention.

RUBIO: We're ready for that. We're ready for a long primary process. We're ready for it to end in a more traditional way. No one can predict this year, it's completely unpredictable.

SERFATY: The Cruz campaign is trying to frame it as a two-man race with Trump, but the campaign's latest television ad in South Carolina has a different target -- Senator Rubio.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe you should vote for more than just a pretty face next time.

SERFATY: A sign the southern brawl is just getting started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you guys have room for one more?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And while his rivals dig in here in South Carolina, Donald Trump tonight is campaigning instead in Louisiana. That's a state that votes in March. So, Jake, at least for today Donald Trump looking ahead further down on the primary calendar -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sunlen Serfaty, thank you. Joining me now, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp and former Obama 2012 press secretary Ben LaBolt.

S.E., let me start with you.

In an interview with "The Associated Press", Terry Sullivan, who's a campaign manager for Marco Rubio, said the Republicans might not have a nominee until May and even talked about possibly a brokered convention. Rubio was asked about that today. He said I don't think it is necessarily negative to have a brokered convention. Possible?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, before New Hampshire and Iowa, before this race started, time was everyone's enemy, right? The RNC, Republicans were of the mindset, we want this process to be as quick as possible because the longer it goes on, the more damaging it is.

Now that Trump has really sort of blown this up, time is everyone's best friend. We want more time. We need more time.

And so, I get why Rubio and other candidates are now thinking, well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to let this go on a little bit longer.

TAPPER: Interesting. And now, Democrats are talking about it too. Take a listen to this interview with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. He was asked about how long this might go on by our own Manu Raju. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We've had these races go on for a long, long time. So, certainly no one can say there haven't been enough debates.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Do you think there's any possibility that they could be going into a Democratic convention without a consensus nominee?

REID: I don't know, but it would be kind of fun.

(LAUGHTER)

RAJU: I mean, is it possible for a brokered convention?

REID: Sure, sure. I seriously -- some of the old conventions produced some pretty good people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Harry Reid longing along for the days of Estes Kefauver versus Adlai Stevenson there.

But do you think it's possible, a brokered convention on the Democratic side? BEN LABOLT, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, OBAMA 2012 CAMPAIGN: Look, it's

possible in some universe but I think it's very unlikely. The Clinton campaign sent a memo this week saying they expect to have this wrapped up in March. I think the Sanders campaign does have the benefit of some small dollar fund-raising and the potential to perform well in caucus states where activists determine the results.

But as we get to these bigger states and big primary votes with diverse populations, I think that will favor the Clinton campaign and favor it pretty quickly.