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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump Leads S.C. Polls, Establishment Panics; Jim Clyburn Endorses Hillary Clinton; Author Harper Lee Dies; High Stakes in S.C. for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Kate is off today.

Feast your eyes on South Carolina. Do not look away for a moment. Within a moment, Hillary Clinton will pick up what could be one of the most important endorsements of this campaign.

Within a moment, Donald Trump will hold his first rally of the day, ahead in every poll, poised, perhaps for a primary victory tomorrow, which one Republican told me could cause the establishment to flat-out hit the panic button.

Within a moment, Marco Rubio continues his "bring your governor to work" day, campaigning with Nikki Haley.

And Jeb Bush continues his "bring your mother to work" day, campaigning with Barbara Bush. That's happening now in South Carolina, so important in the presidential race.

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BERMAN: But in Washington, an important moment for the entire nation. Justice Antonin Scalia lying in repose at the Supreme Court. Is that Darrell Issa right there? Right there, an important Congressman paying his respects. The Supreme Court is now open to the public. There are folks lined up there for just this type of moment. That is Darrell Issa right there, the Republican Congressman from California right. We'll check in throughout the hour. This is a moment for the nation to say thank you to someone who has served the country for so many decades.

But first, let's go back to South Carolina. Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, live in Myrtle Beach, where we'll see Donald Trump within the hour. And, Dana, within 24 hours, we might have a great deal of clarity about this Republican race.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. You said it. You know it. You've covered politics for a long time, as have I. South Carolina is so incredibly important in terms of a moment in the Republican primary race.

And if Donald Trump achieves what the polls right now say he's going he's going to achieve, which is a victory in South Carolina, a place that generally picks more establishment candidates, if they pick him instead, even other Republicans in other campaigns and certainly in Washington, say that he might be unstoppable at that point.

You mentioned that it's "bring your governor to work" day for Marco Rubio. This is "bring your crowd to work" day. This is kind of a classic Trump event. There are people lined up outside, waiting to get in. This is a very, very big space. The campaign says it could hold about 6,000 people. And this is the kind of energy, the kind of momentum that Donald Trump is trying to put forward.

Now, we should say, back in Iowa, he had these kinds of crowds, too, and he only got into second place. He didn't win as the polls had suggested. Trump officials tell me that, this time, they have stepped up their ground game here jut as they did that in New Hampshire where Donald Trump did win, and they're hoping that the kind of boost that he's gotten across the board --

BERMAN: Dana --

BASH: -- even and especially surprisingly from evangelical voters, will push him over the top -- John?

BERMAN: Dana, stand by. Stand by.

We're going to go to Columbia. That's Congress Jim Clyburn, the most important Democrat in South Carolina, about to give his endorsement to Hillary Clinton.

REP. JIM CLYBURN, (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is an important opportunity to take stock of where we are as a nation and make choices about where we are going as a people.

Eight years ago, South Carolina and the nation made history with the choice of Barack Obama. It was an emotional campaign for many of us. A few days ago I admitted that my head and my heart were in different places relative to this year's presidential primary. Today, however, my head and my heart are in the same place. A few people speculated that my head was with one candidate and my heart with the other. That was not the case at all. My heart has always been with Hillary Clinton. But my head had me in a neutral corner. But after extensive discussions with my wife, Emily, who is here with me today, our children, and grandchildren, and other constituents and friends here in South Carolina and across the country, I have decided to terminate my neutrality and get engaged. [11:05:00] This is my 24th year in Congress. I had the opportunity

to work up close and personal with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. My experiences with both have been pleasant and enjoyable. But in spite of how it may sound, sometimes, campaigns are and should be about the future. And I believe that the future of the Democratic Party and the United States of America will be best served with the experiences and know-how of Hillary Clinton as our 45th president.

We are facing some critical challenges. Family incomes are stagnant and the wealth gap is widening. Educational costs are soaring, and post-secondary education, which is more necessary today than ever before, seems out of reach for too many. Far too many communities have languished in persistent poverty for far too long. I believe that Hillary Clinton is the best choice to help us conquer these challenges.

Hillary Clinton is the best choice to achieve equal pay for equal work. And arrest the growing income inequality that exists in this country. Hillary has devoted her life to early childhood education and affordable health care for all. Hillary Clinton's proposals for accessible and affordable higher education will relieve the crushing debt of college loans and preserve the value and viability of historically black colleges and universities. And Hillary Clinton is far and away the best choice to reform our criminal justice system and restore the Voting Rights Act to its rightful place as the most effective guardian of that most-sacred right for every eligible American in our communities.

As a life-long student of history and a former history teacher, I've often said that history lessons can be real blessings. but only if we have learned them. I learned a long time ago that Hillary Clinton is a fighter, and that's what we need in our next president. The change we seek for this great country will not come easy. We need a real fighter, and I believe Hillary Clinton is that fighter.

Although, I speak only for myself and those who have urged me to take a stand, I urge all like-minded South Carolinians to join the fight. Let's vote on Saturday, February 27th, to nominate Hillary Clinton to be the next president of these United States.

Thank you.

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CLYBURN: I'm sure that there may be some questions. I'll be glad to respond to them. I might answer one or two.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm curious on why now.

CLYBURN: Well, as you probably know, I made a vow to not say or do anything that would jeopardize South Carolina's status as the first- in-the-south primary. So eight years ago, I stayed silent. I didn't endorse at all, because I was told by many of the candidates that if I got overly involved that they would stay away from the state. That's why I waited until now. I did not want to get out there too early and have candidates using my involvement as an excuse not to engage in South Carolina, because I want this state to remain in the current status in the pre-primary window. I think it's good for the South Carolina the Democratic Party, and it's good for South Carolina. If for no other reason, it brings a lot of people here who spend a lot of money and help us educate these young people who are here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Congressman, it's tight in Nevada right now --

CLYBURN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Are you hoping this endorsement is going to seal a victory for Hillary Clinton and the vote in Nevada?

[11:10:05] CLYBURN: Well, to be totally honest with you, I was on the phone with a few of my friends in Nevada. You may know that for the last four or five election cycles, I campaigned a lot in Nevada. I have quite a few friends there, some of whom urged me to come forward now, expressing that it may help them in Nevada. I certainly hope so.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Several of your colleagues in Congress have framed the Senate Republicans opposition to President Obama nominating someone to replace Antonin Scalia in racial terms. Do you see it that way?

CLYBURN: In racial terms?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Uh-huh.

CLYBURN: I've not heard what they've had to say, but I'd frame it in constitutional terms. I think the Constitution is very clear on this subject. And those people who seem to be revisionists of history seem to forget, but I haven't, that Justice Kennedy was approved in the last year of a presidential administration. And so if the president were not to move forward now, if we do not do what is necessary, what we're talking about is leaving the Supreme Court under-personed (sic) to be politically correct, for 18 months. You're talking about 12 months left, basically, in the president's term, 11 to be exact. And then you start a process with the next president that will last from six to eight months. You're talking about September in next year before we get a Supreme Court justice. And so I think he would be derelict has president of the United States were he not to put forward a name, and I think the Senate would be derelict if they would not give that person a vote.

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BERMAN: All right. You've been listening to Jim Clyburn, congressman from South Carolina, the senior elected Democrat in the state of South Carolina, the senior ranking African-American in the House of Representatives, a key political figure in the nation, a crucial political figure in South Carolina, a week and a day before the primary there, endorsing Hillary Clinton, saying he is terminating his neutrality in this race. He says his head and his heart finally in the same place. Called Hillary Clinton a fighter. I think, very importantly, said he hopes this endorsement helps not just in South Carolina but in the state of Nevada, which votes tomorrow.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN political commentators, Dan Pfeiffer and Margaret Hoover and Errol Lewis. Dan was a senior advisor to President Obama, Margaret worked in the Bush 43 White House and also for Rudy Giuliani, and Errol is a political anchor at "Time/Warner" cable news. And also with us is Daniella Gibbs Leger. She was a chief, a former advisor to President Obama and a top Democratic Party official.

Where to begin.

Errol Lewis, credit where it's due. You want endorsements, big endorsements in South Carolina, they get no bigger.

ERROL LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Exactly right. You want to talk about the Democratic establishment, this is the establishment. I mean, Clyburn is the dean of the congressional delegation. He's the number-three ranking Democrat in Congress. He's got people who actually -- he actually has an organization. It's not as if it's just him sort of shouting at a microphone. He has people who are going to go out there and work.

It does suggest that Clinton is calling in favors. It does suggest that Clinton needs some help. There's no shame in asking for help. It's probably better to ask for it. Jim Clyburn is a big win for her. They needed this and they got it.

As he mentioned, in 2008, which was a big deal in South Carolina, he stayed neutral officially. And he got off the fence this time.

BERMAN: He stayed neutral and it upset the Clintons a lot in 2008. There was a lot of fighting there. It indicates that whatever bad blood there was in 2008 is completely gone now.

Dan Pfeiffer, you were part of that 2008 race on the other side for Barack Obama. You know how powerful Jim Clyburn is. Talk about the timing. The Democrats don't in South Carolina tomorrow. They vote a week and a day from now. This endorsement was made a day before Nevada. Why today, do you think?

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, I'd say I think the general view is endorsements are nice to have. Most of them aren't worth much more than the paper the press release is printed on. Jim Clyburn is an exception to that rule. He has a political organization unlike a lot of members of Congress. They can move votes in a presidential primary election.

Why now? I'm skeptical it's going to move votes in Nevada. I don't think people in Nevada will decide to caucus or not based on what a congressman from South Carolina does. But it will matter in South Carolina, because a week, it gives you enough time that he can start turning his organization on, enlisting his precinct captains and volunteers, making sure they're helping the Clinton campaign, the sooner the better in this case. I think this is an important endorsement for Secretary Clinton. I think it will certainly help solidify her lead in South Carolina. It's a good day for that campaign.

[11:15:36] BERMAN: You know, Daniella, you talk about the Democratic fire wall. Having Jim Clyburn's endorsement in South Carolina certainly adds some ballast to that fire wall. As he was presenting the endorsement, he used language that I can only imagine created glee in Brooklyn, if it wasn't written in Brooklyn, frankly, because it came right out of Hillary Clinton talking points. "I made the decision with my head and heart, I made this decision speaking to my wife and also my children and grandchildren." Ding, ding, ding, younger voters with whom I've been having a problem. What words jumped out to you in his endorsement?

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yeah, I noticed the head and heart moments that he repeated more than once. I think you see that on the Democratic side. There are some folks who are trying to say that there's more people who are voting more with their heart and more emotion on the Bernie Sanders campaign. I think it's important that the Congressman Clyburn said, actually, no, I'm doing both. I support her intellectually and think she'll make a great president, but she also moves me in my heart, and not just me, but my kids and grandkids, not just the older generation, but the younger generation that's inspired by her candidacy. If you look at the polls, there's no enthusiasm gap on this side. There's widespread enthusiasm for both candidates.

BERMAN: Margaret, you're the outsider in the sense that you're a Republican. You are a student of politics and you know that -- again, we talked about South Carolina. Everyone wanted Nikki Haley's endorsement. Every Republican wanted Nikki Haley's endorsement. Marco Rubio got it. This is the Democratic equivalent.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Nikki Haley runs the Republican Party in the state and has an apparatus and organization, but mobilized only three days before the vote, as opposed to six days before the vote for the Democratic side.

I couldn't help but, exactly to your point, laugh at the head and the heart commentary from her. I mean, those talking points were written directly out of Brooklyn. There is an enthusiasm gap on the Democratic side when it comes to sort of sheer excitement about Bernie Sanders versus Hillary Clinton. She has tried to make the case herself that if you're going to be the leader of this country, you have to have both a head and a heart, and I have that. But she needs third-party validators to make that case. She can't do it herself.

BERMAN: Jim Clyburn made the endorsement in Columbia, South Carolina. Hillary Clinton, not by his side, because she's in Nevada campaigning for the caucuses, which are tomorrow.

Our Brianna Keilar chasing the Clinton campaign in Nevada.

You heard Jim Clyburn, Brianna, saying he's been on the phone with his friends in Nevada trying to get them out tomorrow. This has to come as good news, welcome news and a relief for the Clinton campaign.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, and I think what it does is gives them a little bit of confidence, if, for instance, they lose in Nevada, which they think is a very real possibility. The polls are tied up. They're unpredictable. This is a caucus setup.

But one of the things that struck me about what you heard and certainly where you heard Clyburn say this was at Allen University, a historically black college. This is one of the distinctions that the Clinton campaign is making and that Clyburn is making. Bernie Sanders has a proposal for free public university. Historically black colleges and university are not public. So Hillary Clinton's campaign has a bit of a carve-out there to provide a fund that would help historically black colleges and universities. When you see where Clyburn is making this announcement and when he's talking about HBCUs, he's saying Hillary Clinton is the one who has an eye on these universities, who cares about the African American community, and it's a really -- it's a real point that he's trying to make.

BERMAN: All right. Brianna Keilar in Nevada.

To our panel, I want you all to stand by for a moment.

We have some breaking news just into CNN. We just learned of the passing of one of America's most important authors, the author of one of America's most important books. Harper Lee, who wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird," she passed away at the age of 89. Harper Lee, who wrote that book, so importantly, the only book that she published for so many years until this last year when a second book came out. Either, you know, her desire or not. But such an impact on so many people in this country. One single book with a series of characters that I think defined America and the American family and our perception of ourselves.

CNN's senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, joins us to talk about this, I think, important passing -- Brian?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: Yes, this is a very sad moment for so many tens or hundreds of millions of readers. Practically, every student in the United States is assigned to read "To Kill a Mockingbird," has read the words and cherished it.

Harper Collins, the publisher of her follow-up, "To Set a Watchman," which came out last July, and was in some ways a controversial release, is now confirming that she has passed away at the age of 89. They're working on a statement that will be forthcoming.

We're also hearing from officials of her hometown in Alabama, also confirming this news.

There's no word, John, on exactly when or how she passed away. We assume we'll hear more on that in the coming hours. She had been in poor health in the past, suffering a stroke, for example, in 2007. But we see her here that same year accepting a Medal of Freedom from - then President George W. Bush.

I don't think it's an understatement or overstatement to say that few books changed the world the way Harper Lee's novel did back in 1961.

BERMAN: No. Presented a sense of justice, the importance of justice, a sense of family, the importance of family, and the sense of America and how America has changed and can change. You see here --

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STELTER: 1999, it was voted the best novel of the twentieth century by the readers of "Library Journal." That puts into perspective. Of all the work -- and she didn't really speak much, if at all, after the release of "To Kill a Mockingbird." I think in 1964 was the last time she gave an interview talking about her work. In a modern age, where everyone comments on everything, she let her work speak for itself and be interpreted by the readers and scholars and historians and students and teachers in classrooms across the country and around the world.

BERMAN: Brian Stelter, I think it's a sign of the value of that one book, just how important it was, that even with just one work for so many years, it was so dominant and she was such a crucial figure.

Brian Stelter, thank you.

Again, Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," passed away at the age of 89. We've received confirmation. It's a passing important to this country. We're marking it today.

22 minutes after the hour. Moments from now, back to South Carolina, back to the campaign trail, because they just have 24 hours to get out the vote. Who better to get out the vote than mom? Barbara Bush appearing with son, Jeb Bush, on the campaign trail. Is she the closer? Can she help get him up in the polls and get him past South Carolina?

Plus, Donald Trump ahead in all the polls. He takes the stage in just a few moments, his first rally of the day. What's his closing argument in South Carolina? How far is he going in this race? He says he'll run the table.

And an important moment at the Supreme Court. You're looking at live pictures right now. Justice Antonin Scalia lying in repose. You see him surrounded by his law clerks. They will stand by the side of that casket all day, all night. President Obama expected to pay his respects. We will take you there, live.

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[11:27:16] BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES & MOTHER OF JEB BUSH: What's left for me to say is that Jeb has been a great son, a great father, a great husband, married well --

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BUSH: -- and is one of my four favorite sons.

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BERMAN: All right. Former First Lady Barbara Bush bringing it to the campaign trail with a weird veiled shout-out to Neil and Marvin Bush --

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-- which you don't hear much of on the campaign trail. Nice to see her looking well and out on the campaign trail. I'm sure Jeb Bush thinks it's nice to have her out there. He needs everything he can get with just one day in the South Carolina votes in the Republican primary.

Back with me, CNN political commentators, Dan Pfeiffer, Errol Lewis, Margaret Hoover, along with CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, who is awaiting the arrival of Donald Trump at an event.

I kind of want to talk about the stakes tomorrow for the leading candidates right now because we saw Barbara Bush.

Dana, let's start with Jeb. He's taken a lot of heat the last couple of days, that this might be it for him.

BASH: A lot of heat, and a lot of kind of campaign trolling, if you will. Other campaigns or at least people associated with other campaigns kind of getting it out there that he's out of money and that means he's going to stop paying staff and that means he's going to quit the race after South Carolina if he doesn't come in at least third. But they insist, inside the Bush campaign, that that is not true, that he is going to be in it longer than South Carolina no matter what happens. But you know how this works, John. Even if he doesn't officially drop out, if Jeb Bush doesn't at least do better than expectations, as he would say, and expectations are to stay in and do well, you have to beat Rubio, who is the guy closest to him in his lane. That maybe he's still in the race for a while, but a lot less of a factor. And even now, given the fact that this is effectively his last real stand, it's going to be hard to get beyond something less than a third-place finish here.

BERMAN: Marco Rubio -- Margaret Hoover, I should say, let's talk about Marco Rubio, since Dana brought him up. The expectations for Rubio are now quite high, I would say. He picked up the most important endorsement in South Carolina. His campaign now betting hard on the momentum. They're saying we have it all. They're saying we could finish second and maybe even threaten for first. They've set the bar have. HOOVER: They always have set the bar high.

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BERMAN: They said they were going to win South Carolina.

HOOVER: That whole goal all along was three, two, one. Third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, and first in South Carolina. He has a strong South Carolina team on the ground. His political people have cut their teeth in South Carolina and know the lay of the land. He does have to do well. There's no question. As much as it's make or break for Jeb Bush, it's make of break for Marco Rubio as well. And what we need to start seeing happening, if there's any prayer for --