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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Republican Nevada Caucuses Today; Veteran Republican Operative: No One Has Tried to Stop Trump; Clinton Winning Delegate Count; Obama Announces Plan to Close Guantanamo; Rep. Mike Coffman Argues Against Closing Guantanamo. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 23, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:30] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan.

It's caucus day in Nevada. The Republican candidates are making their final pitch to voters, and there is a lot at stake tonight in a state that knows a lot about stakes, delegates, momentum, and maybe simply survival.

BERMAN: In "I want to be in the momentum" category, Marco Rubio, holding his final rally in Nevada, in Las Vegas. You can look at it right now. That is where it will happen in moments. What will he say? We'll take you there when it begins.

Donald Trump, Cruz, they have their big moments in just a bit. Donald Trump fresh off of musing about punching a protester in the face. Cruz fresh off of firing a key campaign aide after an attack on Rubio.

And while all that's happening, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton getting ready for a CNN town hall in South Carolina tonight. A big event to be sure.

But first, the Republicans.

CNN's Sara Murray live in Las Vegas.

Just hours away from when voters show up and try to figure out this whole caucus thing -- Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Good morning. You're right. It is a little bit tricky to figure out here in Nevada. It's like the Wild West of politics. Polling is unreliable. Turn out tends to be low.

We know Donald Trump comes in with momentum at his back. The big question is this fight among the remaining candidates about who is going to be the Donald Trump alternative. Cruz and Rubio still in the race, and Kasich, still battling it out, saying they can win their home state, staying they are the one that can take on Trump. The Kasich situation has gotten interesting because of this new

Quinnipiac poll that just came out of Ohio that puts Trump in the lead over Kasich. He's at 31. John Kasich is at 26 percent.

If you think this indicates people are backing off at all, you better think again. I spoke with a Kasich spokesperson who said they feel good about Ohio and are 100 percent confident we will win the state. He said, in fact, we look like the only candidate who will beat Trump on the 15th.

So there's a lot of pressure trying to get each other to drop out. But Kasich doesn't plan to bow to that any time soon -- John?

BERMAN: He has as many second place finishes as Marco Rubio.

Sara, live for us in Las Vegas.

Again, it is caucus night there.

Speaking of Rubio, we showed you live pictures of a Marco Rubio rally there kicking off any second.

CNN's Jason Carroll is checking the scene.

It is, in fact, happening any moment, Jason, correct?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes, expected to happen about any moment from now. The music is going down. Perhaps some of the key speakers are about to take the stage.

As you know, John and Kate, this is going to be Marco Rubio's only rally here today. He actually will not even be here tonight. Later today, he's heading to Michigan and heading off to Minnesota. That may say something about some of his chances here in Nevada.

What do we expect to hear during this rally? Some of the same messages we heard in Reno, that he's the one who can unite the party, he's the most conservative and most trustworthy, unlike his opponent, Ted Cruz. There's been a lot of back and forth between these two candidates in a heated battle for second. It came to a head yesterday when Cruz had to fire his spokesman, Rick Tyler, after he put out that false ad that falsely showed Marco Rubio making disparaging comments about the Bible.

And now there's even more back and forth. This time, about the subject of illegal immigration. As you know, Ted Cruz was questioned about illegal immigration about what we would do to go after undocumented workers. He said something to CNN in January versus something he said to Bill O'Reilly last night. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't intend to send jack boots to knock on your door and every door in America. That's not how we enforce the law for any crime. CRUZ: Of course, you would. That's what ICE exists for. We have law

enforcement that looks for people who are violating the laws that apprehends --

(CROSSTALK)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX HOST, O'REILLY FACTOR: Let me get this straight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Marco Rubio tweeted about that saying, "Ted Cruz endorsing an idea he expressly rejected just five weeks ago, what changed?" The implication here he's flip-flopping on the issue, perhaps because we're in Nevada, a state where they have a large Latino population. I think the Rubio folks were saying he's trying to do everything he can to go after the Latino vote, including being untruthful -- Kate, John?

[11:05:22] BOLDUAN: Jason Carroll, thanks so much. Jason, we'll keep an eye on that event. They're warming up the crowd.

You have Rubio, Ted Cruz fighting it out. What about the front runner here? One veteran Republican operative says no one has stopped Donald Trump because no one has really tried. And she's now laying out a road map of how to take the front runner down.

BERMAN: She's literally written a memo. The author is Katie Packer. She joins us now. Katie was Mitt Romney's deputy campaign manager in 2012, the founder of the Our Principal PAC, which has spent some time trying to beat up Donald Trump in these key early states.

Katie, thank you for being us.

You say it's about more. Going after Donald Trump is about more than just saying he's inconsistent. You need to have him say he's inconsistent. You need to show his own words to the voters. Explain.

KATIE PACKER, FOUNDER, OUR PRINCIPAL PAC & FORMER MITT ROMNEY DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yeah. I mean, a lot of people say to us, you know, you have to go after the fact that he's vulgar and a potty mouth and crass, he's flip-flopped on things. Those might be true but the reality is when we're sat down with focus groups, what we've found is Trump in his own words, showing no allegiance to any kind of conservative thinking or ideology. It's the strongest attack against him just highlighting his own personal record in this sort of convenient conservatism that he's proclaimed in the last six months that isn't grounded in any ideology or philosophy. And we think it's dangerous for the party. That record is something that voters look at, and they say, I'm not sure about this guy, I have some questions, and overwhelmingly, they choose other candidates in the final days.

BOLDUAN: Katie, you say no one has stopped him or been successful because no one has really tried. You've done the research and you say this is how to do it. How is this attack strategy different than attack strategies in the past?

BERMAN: Cruz put up ads. PACKER: There haven't been a sustained strategy. There's been $215

million spent in this campaign, only about 4 percent of that has been spent going after the front runner. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent going after Marco Rubio, going after Ted Cruz, going after Jeb Bush individually, but not even $10 million, including our efforts, has been spent going after the front runner who would spell doom for our party if he were to become our nominee. We think it's time for everybody to come together, put the resources together. It's also time to rue unite behind an alternative to Trump. Overwhelmingly, Republican voters are saying no thanks to Trump. The problem is that vote is split. We're trying to carry this message of highlighting Trump's conservativism of convenience at Trumpquestions.com. That's where you can find the information. And we hope voters will take a look.

BERMAN: Katie, I follow you on Twitter. It's pretty clear that if you don't support Marco Rubio outright, you're supportive of him, at least on Twitter. Why doesn't Rubio stand up to take on Donald Trump? He's done a lot of debates. He's hardly said a word about Donald Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

PACKER: Sure. Sure. I'm generally supportive of Marco. Other people supporter of this effort are supportive of other candidates. Our PAC is not in the business of picking a candidate. We think they're all more conservative than Trump.

I'm not going to speak for the Rubio campaign. You'd have to direct that question to them.

(CROSSTALK)

PACKER: We'd like to see all the candidates do what we're talking about. That's why today I put this memo together asking all the candidates to highlight Trump's convenient conservatism and sort of band together in that message.

BERMAN: To be clear, you think Rubio should do more to go after Trump?

PACKER: I think all of the candidates should all do more.

BOLDUAN: Also, Katie, you also point out it's not too late to take him on, but time is running out. When is too late?

PACKER: Well, I mean, it's too late when Trump gathers enough delegates. The problem is the rules start to change here shortly. After March 15th, many of these states become winner-take-all states. You can get all the delegates in these states by winning with 30 percent. We could potentially see a candidate become our nominee without having secured a majority of Republican primary voters, and that's something that's a little bit dangerous when it's a candidate like Trump that doesn't represent the conservative values that our party holds dear.

BOLDUAN: Quickly, Katie, why haven't people taken him on? Do you think people are scared to take Donald Trump on?

[11:10:00] PACKER: I think some people just don't want the headache, frankly. And it is a headache. Trump has a lot of very angry sort of Trump boots, as we call them that make death threats and are very nasty at you on Twitter and in e-mail. They've called my home. And so some people don't want the headache. Some people may feel it's not part of their strategy. We saw the head of Jeb Bush's super PAC last year say he's somebody else's problem. Everybody thought, if I can get down to a battle between me and Trump, I can win it. The problem is nobody has gotten it to that point.

BERMAN: Jeb Bush tried, he's done. Cruz tried, and he is suffering. One guy, Rubio hasn't tried. We'll see if he takes on the mantle you're asking him to.

Katie Packer, great to have you with us.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Katie.

PACKER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Donald Trump, along with the other people in this race right now, are going after Nevada. Nevada caucuses tonight. Marco Rubio has an event there very, very soon. He takes the stage. Any minute we'll take you there live.

BOLDUAN: And just before Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders face off in tonight's CNN town hall, Spike Lee reveals who he is backing. No just backing, but cutting an ad. Why he's telling voters to do the right thing.

And a mystery phone call now at the center of the investigation into the Uber driver who is accused of going on a killing spree. Who called the man now charged moments before the attacks?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:18] BERMAN: Just a few hours from now, a big moment for the Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a CNN Democratic town hall, talking right to the voters of South Carolina. Just four days before the big primary there, a week before Super Tuesday.

BOLDUAN: And one super important thing to remember. It's not just the vote count. It's the delegate count as well. After the first three contests, here's where they stand. Add in the super delegates, Clinton currently has a big advantage, but that can all change, and change fast.

Let's bring in our political director, David Chalian.

David, when you look at that you know the pressure is on. Also the stakes are high for tonight, right?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's right. That pledge delegate number when we were able to finally adjudicate the final delegate over the weekend, Hillary Clinton now has taken this one delegate lead among pledged delegates. Her campaign promised late night they're never giving that lead up among pledged delegates.

This goes to what you're saying about super delegates. They are free agents. They can change their support anywhere along the way. However, the argument is that they tend to change their support when they do, towards the person who is leading among pledged delegates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. So it is critical to Hillary Clinton to keep that pledge delegate lead because then she robs Bernie Sanders from any argument that somehow super delegates aren't following the will of the people.

BERMAN: David, the big CNN Democratic town hall in South Carolina tonight. What do you expect to see given what's happened over the last few days. Hillary Clinton won in Nevada. She's ahead in the South Carolina polls. Bernie Sanders seems to have sharpened his attacks overnight.

CHALIAN: Front and center, John, is going to be the battle for the African-American vote. This is the first big test on that. The South Carolina Democratic primary electorate is majority African-American. You saw how well Hillary Clinton did with them in Nevada where they made up a bigger slice than we saw in Iowa or New Hampshire. The battle for the African-American vote is front and center. That's why we see some big, prominent African-American celebrities. Morgan Freeman in Hillary Clinton's ads. Spike Lee and Danny Glover coming out for Bernie Sanders. That's why it's front and center this week.

But I also think this is the moment that Bernie Sanders is going to have to start explaining, here, his path to the nomination. Because you're right, he has sharpened his attacks. But I also noted in listening to him yesterday in Massachusetts, he started ticking through a list of accomplishments, that he brought Hillary Clinton closer to his positions, almost sort of taking a report card to his campaign, thus far, and I think more than a report card, the challenge for Sanders tonight and going forward is really plotting out how he's going to overtake her in the delegate battle and a real path to the nomination.

BOLDUAN: Would you travel west with us for a moment?

CHALIAN: Gladly.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

And explain the Republican Nevada caucuses. There are some strange dynamics at play there.

CHALIAN: I don't know that I can explain. Let's start, first and foremost, there's not a long history and tradition to the caucuses. It's a relatively new phenomenon to have these in the first four contests. It's only been the last couple of presidential cycles they've been doing that. And remember, there's a big Mormon population in Nevada. When Romney was running there was less than a battle, even though Ron Paul made a fight there as well. I think looking at tonight, you have to say Donald Trump, who has been dominating the race, second place in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, is still the dominant figure into tonight. Rubio did spend some of his youth in Nevada and was raised in those years as a Mormon. There may be some familiarity with Rubio.

And this is the first GOP test we've seen with a significant slice of Hispanic voters. And having Cruz and Rubio prominent in the race, it will be interesting to see how those voters swing their votes. But Donald Trump in our polling from a week ago was dominant, and I don't think there's anything that's happened on the ground to indicate that that probably is still not the case heading into tonight. And take a look at Marco Rubio's schedule. He is not sticking around after this morning after his Nevada event. He's heading on to Minnesota and Michigan, March 1st and March 8th states.

BOLDUAN: Super Tuesday, here we come.

David Chalian, great to see you. Thanks, David.

CHALIAN: Thanks, guys.

[11:20:01] BOLDUAN: Remember, programming note, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have a CNN Democratic town hall in Columbia, South Carolina. Chris Cuomo will be monitoring. That is 8:00 p.m., only on CNN.

BERMAN: Donald Trump, he says he's going to punch someone in the audience, or at least he wishes he could.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Why does he say such things, and what does it get him? We'll discuss as Donald Trump gets ready to hold his final rally before tonight's caucuses. We'll take it live.

BOLDUAN: Plus, much more on the breaking news this morning. President Obama rolling out his plan to close Guantanamo Bay, a plan that includes moving detainees to the United States. The backlash that's already rolling in. Where does this fight go now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:25:23] BOLDUAN: Just moments ago, President Obama laid out his plan to shut down the Guantanamo Bay facility, setting the stage for a showdown with Congress. The closure is something the president vowed to do as one of his first acts in office. It's been a long time since he's been in office. He just announced how and why he finally plans to make good on that pledge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if, as a nation, we don't deal with this now, when will we deal with it? Are we going to let this linger on for another 15 years, another 20 years, another 30 years? If we don't do what's required now, I think feature generations are going to look back and ask why we failed to act when the right course, the right side of history, and justice, and our best American traditions was clear.

With this plan we have the opportunity finally to eliminate a terrorist propaganda took, to strength relationships with allies and partners, enhance our national security and, most importantly, uphold the values that bind us as Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: 91 detainees are still being held at Guantanamo Bay. Republicans and many Democrats oppose shutting down the facility.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now.

Barbara, this debate has been going on for a long time, definitely since President Obama came into office. What does this mean? Where does this fight go from here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The president understands he has a political fight on his hands with Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, largely opposed to using any funds to transfer detainees to prisons, federal or military prisons in the United States. That's really the bottom line issue here. The president can go ahead and continue to transfer as many as he wants, with approval, security approvals, to countries oversea, back to home countries, other countries that will take them. The strategy now is to get the number of detainees from 91 back down to somewhere in the 30 to 60 range. And then take those and try and transfer them stateside for further detention. But that's what Congress has objected to, saying it won't allow federal funds to do that.

So this report lays out a strategy. We have some details. The people, the Pentagon people working on it went and looked at some 13 facilities. The Navy Brigg at Charleston, South Carolina; Fort Leavenworth; maximum security federal prisons in Colorado, to see what was needed and to begin to develop some cost estimates. They believe they can save millions of dollars over the long run if they do this. And they'll continue, they said, with the legal process.

But this is still very much a political problem for the president. There's no indication -- and within minutes today of the White House announcement, you did see the Republican candidates lining up saying that they would not support it.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Barbara, thank you so much. Barbara, great to see you.

To Barbara's point, the Republican presidential candidates are already weighing in. Here is Senator Rubio just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You wake up this morning to the news that the president is planning to close Guantanamo, maybe even giving it back to the Cuban government.

(BOOING)

RUBIO: This makes no sense to me. We're not giving back an important naval base to an anti-American Communistic dictatorship.

(CHEERING)

(APPLAUSE)

RUBIO: And number two, we're not going to close Guantanamo. In fact, we shouldn't be releasing the people that are there now.

(CHEERING)

RUBIO: They are enemy combatants. These are literally enemy combatants, in essence soldiers -- not soldiers, terrorists, of foreign terrorist organizations, many of whom, as soon as you release them, they rejoin the fight against us. Not only are we not going to close Guantanamo, when I am president, if we capture a terrorist alive, they're not getting a court hearing in Manhattan or sent to Nevada. They're going to Guantanamo and we'll find out everything they know.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: And to be clear, the White House says it's closing the detention facility, not handing it back to Cuba. They've said that explicitly.

BERMAN: Not giving the base back to Cuba. That's not part of this deal.

BOLDUAN: They've said that many times over.

Let's continue the discussion. Republican Congressman Mike Coffman of Colorado is joining us. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thank you for joining us.

You oppose closing Guantanamo Bay. One of the places they could be taken to is your home state, Colorado. Why do you not want them to come to Colorado? Do you not think the supermax prison there that already holds suspected terrorists can handle it?