Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Battle Against ISIS; Interview With Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley; Trump vs RNC; Trump: RNC Doesn't Want Me to Get the Nomination. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 13, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Donald Trump going to battle. He's calling it the art of the steal.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Just one day until the battle in Brooklyn, and something that has never happened before in this campaign happens for Senator Bernie Sanders, but will it matter when all the delegates and superdelegates are counted?

Donald Trump now waging all-out war with the Republican Party over rules that could keep him from hitting that magic number, but how far is he willing to go in this feud?

Plus, body count. The Pentagon claims 25,000 ISIS fighters have been killed, but they offer little proof as the terror group continues to wage war on nearly every continent.

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

We're going to begin with our politics lead, two outsiders raging against the machines. First, Donald Trump, mega businessman turned Republican front-runner, not feeling the love, I think it's fair to say. Trump says the rules are stacked against him as he fights to keep delegates that he says Senator Ted Cruz is -- quote -- "stealing," delegates, it should be pointed out, the Republican National Committee insists are being earned completely in accordance with previously established rules.

On the other side of the aisle, there's Senator Bernie Sanders. He's taking on Democratic heavyweight Hillary Clinton. Tomorrow, the two will go head-to-head in CNN's debate in Brooklyn. Sanders is in another fight over delegates, but the ones he wants are superdelegates. These are Democratic establishment figures who have already pledged support for Clinton whom Sanders wants to change their minds.

Aiming to get a groundswell of grassroots supporters to make his case and today to walk the walk, quite literally, Sanders this afternoon joined picketing Verizon workers protesting what he calls corporate greed.

Let's bring in CNN's Joe Johns. He's live from New York.

Joe, today was endorsement day for both Sanders and Clinton, including Sanders first Senate colleague to support him.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley came on board for Sanders today, but the front- and-center moment for the candidate came with a union group that endorsed him months ago and now finds itself out on strike against an American telecom giant, giving Sanders an opportunity to showcase his views about big corporations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): Bernie Sanders out today on the Communications Workers of America picket line in support of the thousands of Verizon workers who are striking over contract disputes and competing to pull in last-minute endorsements to boost his support in New York.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am honored, I am grateful to have the support of this fantastic union. Thank you so much.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JOHNS: Sanders with the endorsement of the New York Transit Workers Union or the first time one of his colleagues in the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley who talked to CNN's Manu Raju.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: It's Bernie that I am endorsing because he has been in the battlefield fighting clearly on these issues in a way that I think is the boldest, most powerful voice.

JOHNS: But Hillary Clinton firing back with but support of her own, winning the endorsement of "The New York Daily News" editorial board, which was responsible for that scathing interview with Bernie Sanders only last week that made him look seemingly unprepared.

It wrote today that Clinton's proposals are shaped for the world in which we live and called Sanders utterly unprepared and a fantasist at passionate war with reality.

Clinton also won the endorsement of two major immigration groups, announcing her plan to create an office of immigrant affairs and once again hitting the Republican front-runner.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As I have said frequently about Donald Trump, basta, enough with the prejudice and the bluster and the bigotry.

JOHNS: Another key voting bloc for Clinton, African-Americans. In a recent poll, she's leading Sanders by 37 points among likely black voters and trying to sidestep the New York land mines of race and politics.

One mini-controversy arose from a skit she appeared in with New York's mayor, where she thanked him for finally endorsing her and he responded that he was running on C.P. time, also known as colored people time. She said it was the mayor's skit, hers.

CLINTON: Cautious politician time.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNS: And then another wrinkle after "The New York Times" called on the candidate to more fully explain her position on the controversial 1994 crime bill her husband signed while in office. But in her speech today before Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network, Mrs. Clinton played it safe with wording she's used before.

CLINTON: Reforming our criminal justice system and ending the era of mass incarceration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Bernie Sanders is holding a rally tonight in Washington Square Park here in New York. It was originally scheduled for tomorrow, but the campaign had to move it because of tomorrow's debate. Hillary Clinton also holding a rally tonight in the Bronx, Jake.

[16:05:11]

TAPPER: All right, Joe Johns, thank you.

As you heard, Jeff Merkley from Oregon is now the first sitting senator to endorse Sanders.

And he joins me now live to explain why.

Senator, thanks for being here.

MERKLEY: You're welcome.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: So, when asked why now, you explained that your home state of Oregon is getting ready to start the mailing ballots process at the end of this month.

Now, your Oregon colleague Ron Wyden is with the vast majority of Democratic senators having endorsed Hillary Clinton, and he endorsed her before Iowa. Wouldn't it have made more sense to get ahead of this train a long time ago? He certainly needs help.

MERKLEY: Well, you know, there's been a string of endorsements all the way through by senators, each choosing what moment felt right to them.

For me, what felt right was when Oregonians start paying attention, which is kind of two weeks out from the ballots, is a moment to weigh in and hopefully have the arguments I'm putting forth hold some sway.

TAPPER: A big question right now for Senator Sanders is what's his path to the nomination.

As you know, he trails Clinton by 229 pledged delegates, according to CNN's count, almost 700 if you include the superdelegates. His path largely depends upon convincing a lot of these superdelegates to change their minds. And you know a lot of these superdelegates. Do you think Senator Ron Wyden or Senator Harry Reid or Senator Chuck Schumer are going to be convincible?

Will they change their mind, change their endorsement from Clinton to Sanders?

MERKLEY: There's no question it's an uphill battle. But if you look at campaigns in the past, sometimes events happen occur on the campaign in which that uphill battle becomes a little easier and often successful.

I think the superdelegates who are not in office are more likely to consider changing where they stand because they haven't taken such a public point of view. There's a lot of party officials around the country who should be thinking really about who presents the best path on the biggest issues facing our nation.

And I obviously think that that's Bernie Sanders.

TAPPER: Now, I know you have talked about how strong he is, how bold he is. The editorial board of "The New York Daily News" calls Clinton a -- quote -- "super prepared warrior realist." They describe Sanders as a fantasist who's at passionate war with reality.

I assume you disagree. Why?

MERKLEY: It's completely wrong.

When he was mayor, he rebuilt the waterfront. He brought in a ball team. He set his town on a great path, Burlington. When he was in the House, he passed more amendments. He was called the king of amendments. More amendments than any of the other 435 congressmen.

He comes over to the Senate, he champions the expansion of our federally qualified health care system, our clinics that are the front door to the health care system. He got that done. It wasn't about Bernie Sanders. It was about the citizens having fair access to health care.

So, he had a bigger vision of more affordable single-payer, but he was willing to take whatever intermediate step it was in towards that vision.

TAPPER: Right.

But you would agree that those things that you just listed, starting with the waterfront in Burlington, are very different from the very grand, very bold proposals you hear from Senator Sanders on the campaign trail, winning him the support of millions and millions of very idealistic and often young voters. But let me just ask you this. Of the big plans that you hear him talk

about, and you praised him for his boldness, can you name one that you think would have a chance of passing the Senate?

MERKLEY: Well, I can tell you that by laying out that vision, the likelihood of taking steps in that direction become much more significant.

Now, in 2010, we were one vote away from single-payer from age 55 up. So we were almost there with 59 votes. We needed 60. So was that in hand? Did we make it in that moment? No. But that vision also propelled a lot of other improvements that we did in the health care system in that year.

And I was on the committee that helped the committee with Bernie Sanders. He was a key part of that effort. And then you turn to the veterans side and it was Bernie Sanders that brought the right and the left together behind a veterans bill that greatly increases employment opportunities, education opportunities.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: With all due respect, I didn't hear an answer to my question.

MERKLEY: Well, you're asking is the ultimate castle in the sky achievable when you have a Republican majority that wages continuous war on the presidency? And the answer for almost anything is no.

TAPPER: But I wasn't talking about the castle in the sky. I'm just talking about Senator Sanders' campaign promises.

MERKLEY: Well, they are a campaign vision.

You can call them a promise, but they are a promise to fight for the direction we need to go, and certainly take, for example, on his understanding of how middle-class jobs have been eviscerated by trade agreements with countries where people are paid less than $1 an hour.

I mean, he understands directly what that has done to working Americans, not only for those who lost their jobs, which is about five million Americans, but what it has done for everyone else who still has a job, but no more leverage in terms of benefiting from the increase in wealth or the prosperity of that company.

[16:10:08]

For four decades, we are now in the situation where virtually 100 percent of the new income has gone to the top 10 percent. That means, for four decades, we have been leaving 90 percent of Americans out in the cold.

This is a powerful grip on the frustration and challenge facing American families who saw an America that shared in its prosperity, shared its growth in the postwar era, and now isn't.

TAPPER: Yes, all right, I appreciate it. And I'm sure Senator Sanders appreciates your passionate endorsement of him.

Thank you, Senator Merkley. Appreciate it.

MERKLEY: You're very welcome.

TAPPER: Good to see you. Thank you so much.

MERKLEY: Pleasure to be with you.

TAPPER: A reminder that you can watch Clinton and Sanders in the Brooklyn Democratic debate tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

Just into CNN, a shakeup for the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump making a key addition to his staff. Who? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Donald Trump says the deck is stacked and the Republican National Committee is shuffling the cards. But now as he huffs and puffs about the Republican establishment, he is also entrusting a Republican insider with a lot of power on his campaign.

Sunlen Serfaty is on the trail in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Sunlen, who is this new hire?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the new hire, Jake, is Rick Wiley. He's a veteran GOP operator and he was the former campaign manager of Governor Scott Walker's campaign.

So, now, he's coming aboard the Trump campaign and this, of course, comes at a time when Donald Trump is railing against the establishment, his disagreements with the RNC chief now boiling over.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You're saying that you don't think the RNC wants you to get the nomination?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't think so.

SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, the feud between GOP front-runner and the head of the Republican Party is erupting into an all-out war.

D. TRUMP: Because of all the shenanigans that goes on.

COOPER: You call them shenanigans, but those are the rules. Didn't you know those rules?

D. TRUMP: I know the rules very well but I know that it's stacked against me by the establishment. I fully understand it.

SERFATY: Donald Trump taking his criticism of the GOP nominating system's rules to new heights, now accusing the Republican Party of conspiring against him to prevent him from winning the nomination.

D. TRUMP: They changed the rules a number of months ago. The people in --

COOPER: About eight months ago.

D. TRUMP: Well, not very long ago.

COOPER: But you had a lot of time to prepare a better organization.

D. TRUMP: They saw how I was doing and they didn't like it.

SERFATY: And Trump is now making it personal, calling RNC chair Reince Priebus out by name, telling a newspaper that Priebus should be ashamed of himself.

The RNC chair quickly firing back, saying the Trump campaign should have known the rules, tweeting, "Nomination process known for a year and beyond. It's the responsibility of the campaigns to understand it. Complaints now?" And taking a shot at the front-runner, quipping, "Give us all a break."

Meantime at CNN's town hall, the Trump family trying to soften his image.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: I'm incredibly proud of my father. I'm amazed and truly in awe of what he has accomplished and what he's accomplished throughout the course of his life.

SERFATY: Though admitting they have tried to referee him at times.

IVANKA TRUMP, WIFE OF DONALD TRUMP: And if he would only listen, I did many times. And I just say, OK, do whatever you want. He's an adult. He knows the consequences.

SERFATY: Trump conceding that he's not ready to fully be presidential yet.

D. TRUMP: I have two more people I have to take out and when I take them out, I will be so presidential, you won't believe it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And in another sign of the Trump campaign seems to be trying to take steps to play the inside game a bit more. Sources tell CNN that tomorrow the campaign will start a fresh new series of congressional outreach meetings tomorrow in Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Miller -- Sunlen Serfaty, rather, thank you so much.

Joining me now, CNN political commentator and senior writer for "The Federalist", Mary Katharine Ham, and from New York, CNN political commentator and Donald Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany.

Kayleigh, let me start with you. Rick Wiley ran Scott Walker's presidential campaign. He is regarded as an insider. Paul Manafort, another insider, joined the campaign recently. Ed Brookover, who's leading Trump's D.C. outsider, also an insider.

For an outsider campaign, there are an awful lot of insiders coming into the campaign now.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because Donald Trump realizes that he needs to play by the rules or at least be prepared to play by the rules in order to defeat the rules. But where I give Donald Trump credit is hiring guys like Wiley and Manafort.

He's being strategic here. He has to, if he wants to ensure that he gets the nomination. But I give him credit because instead of being like Senator Cruz who's just saying these are the rules, I'm going to navigate them, I'm going to utilize them to my advantage. Donald Trump is standing against the rules and saying, you know what, you can't disenfranchise Colorado, you can't disenfranchise North Dakota and Wyoming, those voters didn't get to vote. Even if it's not in my interest, I'm going to sit here and say the American people should have a vote.

So, he's playing by the rules by hiring guys like this who can navigate the system while also challenging the rules.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, you heard Kayleigh talk about the rules in some of these states. Most recently, Colorado, where they set up the rules there. We're going to have a convention instead of a caucus or a primary. That was announced last summer, and they had votes, both on the county level, the congressional district level, the state level, and you hear the Trump campaign continuing to say that the voters were there disenfranchised.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if it's a Washington establishment conspiracy, then the Washington establishment conspiracy has this bizarre headquarters on the western slope of Colorado in small towns and in rural Virginia. These are actually grassroots people who are involved in these county conventions. They are not overlords from Washington.

I also think it's interesting for Trump to say, hey, it's no good to utilize the rules and use them to your advantage when his argument for all of his crony capitalism and all of giving to Democrats for his entire career is, "Look, I was playing the game and using the rules to my advantage."

[16:20:04] He should know how to play this game. He's not interested in making the rules known to himself. He's interested in complaining about them after the fact and that has not worked thus far and I think hiring people who know the rules and who have been engaged in this process is a step towards recognizing that.

TAPPER: Kayleigh, let me ask you that because I've heard this point before that Mary Katharine just made. When Mr. Trump when talking about using bankruptcy laws, when talking about using the tax code, he always talks about these are the rules and I'm playing by them. Why is that any different than what Senator Cruz is doing with, you know, county conventions and the like in Colorado?

MCENANY: Because Senator Cruz is part of the political game and he's in a position where he took a hard stance alongside Donald Trump saying you can't disenfranchise one million voters, it's a fairly obvious point to say that it's unjust to deprive people of the right to vote. I mean, that's antithetical to democracy.

Senator Cruz is in a position where he can stand behind Donald Trump and unite and say we need to empower the people and not diminish them. When Donald Trump was playing by the rules as a businessman, he's not in a position to change those rules. In order to create a successful business, you have to play by the rules that Washington has created.

Now, when you get to Washington, you can change those rules.

TAPPER: Let's turn to Senator Ted Cruz for a second, Mary Katharine. Marco Rubio yesterday was talking about the convention, talking about Ted Cruz. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want the Republican nominee to be a conservative, and in my view at this moment of the candidates that are still actively campaigning. The only one that fits that criteria is Ted Cruz.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The only one who fits the criteria is Ted Cruz. But when our own Manu Raju went over and asked him, are you endorsing Ted? The answer is no, he's not endorsing anybody.

Why is it so difficult for these people who want Ted Cruz to get the nomination to say they're endorsing him?

HAM: Yes, it's sort of, kind of endorsement. Well, sure, this is the guy that fits the criteria, but I'm not actually going there.

Look, I think the right thing would be to jump out of the race and say, "I'm throwing my support behind Ted Cruz." I think he is the conservative in the race, even if people are not super fond of him, if they worked with him on the Hill at any given point.

I do think this is a symptom of what has plagued the GOP throughout this process, is like people not making those decisions, people not coalescing and that's why you have a uniquely weak front-runner who is nonetheless leading the fight here.

TAPPER: Kayleigh, I want to ask you about the fact that there's this story from CNN about the fact that several high-profile Republicans are now announcing that they don't plan on attending the convention. This includes not only Jeb Bush but also senators who are up for re- election, including Senator Kelly Ayotte likely from New Hampshire and others. What do you make of that?

MCENANY: That's a mistake at this point because, Jake, when you look at the convention, none of us know what it's going to look like. There is a chance that Trump wraps this. He goes in as the frontrunner.

It's a convention that unites us all, that brings us all together. That's imperative if we want to beat Hillary Clinton. It's imperative even in the event of a brokered convention that we come together.

And by having senators who say, "I'm going to sit this one out," that does nothing in a way of uniting. That says a lot of diminishing the party.

So, I think everyone needs to stand together, wait to see what the convention is going to look like. And no matter what it looks like really, to show up and unite the party.

HAM: I think when it comes -- I think Kayleigh is right, when it comes to the endorsement game and the convention this time around, things are not being played by the normal rules and politicians are allergic to unpredictability so they don't know how to deal with it. I think that's what's going on.

MCENANY: Yes.

TAPPER: All right. Mary Katharine, Kayleigh, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

This programming night, night three of a very special series of town halls with the Republican candidates and their families. Tonight, Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, will join Anderson Cooper in New York City. It all happens at 9:00 eastern. Make sure to tune in.

The last time some New Yorkers were this excited, Kotter was still being welcomed back. Coming up, a look at the last New York primary where both parties were so much in play so far into the season.

Plus, why the FBI could soon be booking many more appointments at the Apple genius bar. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're just six days away from the crucial New York primary. The presidential race is getting more tumultuous by the minute, understandably so with so much at stake. While the Republican candidates are wrangling over the 95 delegates, the Democrats are fighting to get a bigger piece of the 247-delegate pie.

It's been a long, long time since New York mattered so much to both parties in the primaries, 40 years to be precise. In 1976, the contest in the empire state was as nasty, as combative and as consequential.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent Brynn Gingras from New York.

Brynn, welcome to CNN. It's worth remembering the 1976 was the last time there was a real contested convention. BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, yes, Jake, Ronald Reagan, of

course, gave Gerald Ford a good fight all the way up to the convention of that year and for Democrats, a number of candidate were still pitching for the nomination, so New Yorkers votes really mattered, just like we're seeing today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GINGRAS (voice-over): The Fonz, bell bottoms and a bicentennial birthday bash for America. It was 1976.

Paul McCartney's silly love songs topped the billboard charts and a serious political decision confronted voters across the country, including here in New York. According to politicos we spoke with, '76 was the last time the New York primaries mattered this much on both sides.

Ken Fisher's family has been involved in New York Democratic politics for decades.