Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Clinton Becomes Presumptive Democratic Nominee; Mixed Messages from GOP on Trump Support; Trump To GOP On Judge Attacks: "Get Over It"; McCain In Danger Of Losing Reelection; Democrats' Approval Rating For Obama Nearly 90 percent. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 8, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's turn to our politics lead today.

Hillary Clinton, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, that's the reality this afternoon, after Clinton cracked that delegate threshold, including those superdelegate endorsements, and completing a mission that she officially and openly started nearly nine years ago.

Now, whatever you may think of Clinton or her politics, this is a national and historic moment; 100 years ago, women in this country didn't even have the right to vote. Clinton's path was paved by women politicians ranging from Belva Ann Lockwood to, yes, Sarah Palin.

But give Clinton her due. In 2008, after conceding to soon-to-be President Barack Obama, Clinton gave her staffers these tokens that you're looking at right here, jewelry inscribed with the words "18 million cracks," the number of votes and dents her campaign put in what Clinton then called the highest, hardest glass ceiling.

Last night, with many of the veterans of the 2008 campaign wearing that reminder of what almost was, Clinton indeed shattered the ceiling, became the first woman ever to lead a major political party into November.

CNN senior correspondent Jeff Zeleny is here with me in Washington.

And, Jeff, Clinton acknowledged the history of the moment, but then she immediately pivoted into assailing Donald Trump.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: She did indeed, Jake.

And the crowd went wild as she did that. I mean, if the idea of a second President Clinton isn't enough to unify Democrats, the Clinton campaign hopes and believes the idea of stopping Donald Trump will be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton savoring victory. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This campaign is

about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us and this is our moment to come together.

ZELENY: Her long Democratic primary fight over, the next battle already under way.

CLINTON: The choice is clear. Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to become president.

ZELENY: The first order of business, unifying Democrats around a visceral opposition to Trump.

CLINTON: To be great, we can't be small. We have to be as big as the values that define America. And we are a big-hearted, fair-minded country.

ZELENY: An early look at her general election pitch is already coming through.

CLINTON: Stronger together. Stronger together.

ZELENY: Those two words aimed squarely at her next rival.

CLINTON: It's clear that Donald Trump doesn't believe we are stronger together.

ZELENY: Meanwhile, she's extending her hand to Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

CLINTON: Let there be no mistake. Senator Sanders, his campaign and the vigorous debate that we have had have been very good for the Democratic Party and for America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: With commanding victories in California and New Jersey on Tuesday, the final scorecard shows Clinton winning 28 states and Sanders 22. She won more than 3.5 million more votes than Sanders and swept a majority of pledged delegates and superdelegates.

But she's looking ahead, studying vice presidential choices, raising general election money and prioritizing battleground states to win 270 electoral votes in November, Ohio and Pennsylvania her first stops next week.

CLINTON: The end of the primaries is the beginning of the work we're called to do.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With all of her many problems.

ZELENY: As Trump begins taking even sharper aim at the Clintons.

TRUMP: She has made tremendous mistakes.

ZELENY: She's inviting voters skeptical of him, regardless of party, to rally behind her.

CLINTON: We are better than this. We won't let this happen in America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: And if you agree, whether you're a Democrat, Republican or independent, I hope you will join us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Senator Sanders is flying to Vermont tonight. He will be in Washington tomorrow for that meeting at the White House with the president. Democrats are giving him a little bit of space here, but, Jake, only a little space. They want this wrapped up and quick.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Donald Trump won a few primaries last night, too, and he had, as you heard, some tough words for Hillary Clinton. But members of his own party are slamming the Republican nominee, and some are even saying they will not vote for Trump in November.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:58]

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

Let's continue with our politics lead. Several Republican leaders who agree that Donald Trump's argument that a federal judge cannot be fair of his heritage, that that notion is indeed racist, but when you ask if they still support Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee and next president of the United States, well, that's when we get some mixed messages.

Some of these Republican leaders are going back on their word and they're recalling their support for Trump. Then you have House Speaker Paul Ryan. Just one day after calling Trump's comments textbook racism, today, he's urging his Republican colleagues to unite behind Trump.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has been talking to GOP officials about what they want and what they need from Trump right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I will make you proud of your party and our movement.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump trying to turn the corner in the wake of widespread intraparty condemnation of his attacks on the ethnicity of a federal judge.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I would like to be able to endorse Donald Trump, but he really has to change the approach that he has taken.

[16:40:02]

MATTINGLY: Trump seeking to calm GOP jitters, offering this pledge Tuesday night.

TRUMP: You have given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall. I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle, and I will never, ever let you down.

MATTINGLY: The speech marking Trump's effort to end or at least pause days of internal GOP heartburn and very public backlash, all with Trump doubling, tripling down on his attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is overseeing a lawsuit against the billionaire involving his now- defunct Trump University.

TRUMP: He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico.

MATTINGLY: Trump's remarks crafted by a close group of family and advisers coming a day of back-channel phone calls, warnings and pleas from top GOP officials, sources say.

Top Trump backer and defender New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spending hours at the Trump Tower, among those working on Trump's remarks, which today earned high marks from some Senate Republicans.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he's done a good job in the last 24 hours of realizing the impact of those comments. I think it shows real leadership when he takes responsibility and walks those comments back.

MATTINGLY: The more telegraphed approach coming hours after Trump released a statement saying his comments about the judge -- quote -- "have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage," but those words coming too late for some.

Republican Senator Mark Kirk, facing a tough reelection fight in his home state of Illinois, saying Trump -- quote -- "has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world."

Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt adding that the party should renew its search for a Trump alternative.

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It's like ignoring stage four cancer. You can't do it. Got to go attack it. And right now, the Republican Party is facing -- the plane is headed towards the mountain after the last 72 hours.

MATTINGLY: Others in the party encouraging Trump to pivot to the general election and fast.

SEN. DAN COATS (R), INDIANA: I think it's time for Donald Trump to shift from the thought of the moment, spontaneously uttered, to a more disciplined way of running a campaign for president of the United States. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Our thanks to Phil Mattingly.

House Speaker Ryan says it's time for Republicans to hold their noses and get in line. But my next guest, a Republican senator, tells me that, for him, it's not that easy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:46:03] TAPPER: Sticking with our Politics Lead now, as we were talking about before the break, Republicans on the fence because of Donald Trump's criticism of Judge Gonzalo Curiel. More and more, GOP lawmakers are growing weary and holding out their support.

Joining me now is Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Senator Flake, thanks so much for joining us. CNN has learned that House Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his support for Donald Trump at a closed door meeting with all House Republicans today telling him to unite behind the presumptive Republican nominee.

You are in the Senate, of course. Are you prepared to support Donald Trump or how it's being cast as for the good of the party?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I'm hoping that I can. I am not in the never Trump movement. I'm hoping that he will come around and stop making these statements that are simply toxic for the party.

TAPPER: In your view, what would be worse for the country, a Donald Trump presidency or a Hillary Clinton presidency?

FLAKE: No, I don't want a Hillary Clinton presidency. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton. But I can tell you we won't have any Republican in the White House that takes these kinds of positions and makes these kinds of statements. So it's a moot point whether you'll have a Trump presidency because he won't be in the White House if he continues to make these kinds of statements.

TAPPER: You said something along those lines to reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday. You said Donald Trump cannot win the White House. With all due respect, he defeated 16 other Republican candidates, some of them very impressive. He's won more Republican primary votes than any other Republican candidate ever. Why can't he win the White House?

FLAKE: There's a big difference between winning a primary and winning a general. And you can take extreme positions in a primary and win the primary. But try translating that into a general election win and you just can't.

To make a statements that he made about the judge, to espouse a Muslim ban, the conspiracy theories that he's espoused, I just can't see that person winning the White House.

TAPPER: Well, on the subject of the judge, Mr. Trump said in a statement yesterday that his comments about the judge were misconstrued. Take a listen to what he said on Fox News last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot of anxiety there. There's a lot of anger, I guess, anger. They just can't come back. They can't get over it. So they have to get over it ideally. As to whether or not they endorse me, it's OK if they don't, but they have to get over it. They shouldn't be angry for so long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He's talking about the blow back from people like yourself in terms of the anxiety and anger and he's saying you're going to have to get over it.

FLAKE: Well, I'm sorry, but we're not the ones that sound angry there when you're accusing a judge born in Indiana of not being able to consider something fairly because he's a Mexican. I mean, that's a statement from our candidate and that -- statements like that are going to have to change if we're going to win the White House.

TAPPER: And last night's speech by Mr. Trump didn't do enough to reassure you that he can be the kind of measured candidate that you want?

FLAKE: It was certainly better. When he's on teleprompter, he tends to be obviously more scripted. Having said that, there were still a few cringe-worthy moments there when he continues to refer to "our African-Americans." That's just -- that's not a good way to approach it and just kind of a cringe-worthy statement.

TAPPER: Your colleague, Senator John McCain, from your home state of Arizona, he's in a tough re-election fight. Do you think that his support for Donald Trump ultimately could hurt him more than it helps him? How do you think that's going to play?

[16:50:08]Because obviously he needs Trump voters to vote for him, but at the same time is supporting Donald Trump taking away support that Mr. McCain has built up over several years with, for instance, Latino voters?

FLAKE: Well, as you mention, anybody who has worked with John McCain or examined his record knows where he is on these issues with Latinos and others. He doesn't share Donald Trump's sentiment.

I think that John McCain has his own brand and he's independent, he's conservative and I don't think -- I think that he's better off than most candidates around the country because Donald Trump has attacked him personally.

So trying to put him in the same position as Donald Trump just isn't going to work if that's what the Democrats is trying to do.

TAPPER: What did you think of it when he went after John McCain's war records, specifically saying that he's only a hero because he was captured, quote, "I prefer people who weren't captured." FLAKE: It was just appalling for anybody to attack John McCain's war record knowing what he went through and Arizonans know that and I know that they were very upset.

TAPPER: Do you think Republicans might lose the Senate because of Donald Trump?

FLAKE: Well, if he doesn't change his position on a number of these issues, the Muslim ban, his talk about race and ethnicity like he is, then it's a very good possibility. So I hope that he changes.

There's nothing in Donald Trump's record, his business record to suggest that he was discriminatory and so these are just words that he's using now.

Maybe some kind of wedge politics. I don't know. But whatever it is, it needs to change or those statements will simply be toxic in a general election.

TAPPER: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, thank you so much for your time, sir.

FLAKE: Thank you.

TAPPER: He's hinted at it for quite some time. President Obama is after holding out for months is finally ready to officially endorse Hillary Clinton, but can the campaigner-in-chief really make that big of a difference? That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:56:23]

TAPPER: Welcome back. The end is near for the Democratic Party's prolonged primary process and the person who can officially signal the bitter end, President Barack Obama for the first time acknowledged that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee. What does Senator Bernie Sanders think about all of this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had a very kind call from President Obama and I look forward to working with him to make sure that we move this country forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I look forward to working with him. Not with her. Not with them. President Obama is set to meet with Senator Sanders tomorrow. Given his popularity among Democrats, can the president be the one who can bring these two contentious rivals together? White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Hello, everybody.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama keeps waiting to dive into this race and throw his support behind Hillary Clinton. He needs though to unify the party, to not only avoid alienating Bernie Sanders supporters but win them over. Today, Vice President Biden described this delicate dance.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's clear we know who the nominee is going to be, but I think we should be graceful and give him the opportunity to decide on his own.

KOSINSKI: And the meeting tomorrow between the president and Sanders at the White House is expected to be long, hashing out the plan forward. But if Sanders wants to stay in much longer, don't expect the president to wait.

He could do a sort of build-up of an endorsement for Clinton, possibly for something softer, maybe on social media before we see a big campaign-style event with her.

The president knows his power, his near 90 percent approval rating among Dems, his potential to motivate voters even the far less than reliable young one to rally around Sanders.

But remember, Obama's own primary battle with Clinton in '08 was even more contentious than this one.

CLINTON: Shame on you, Barack Obama.

KOSINSKI: Still, she endorsed him and became his secretary of state, now it's his turn to be a force for her campaign. Her backers can't wait.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He will speak to those young people in a powerful way. He also does something better than anybody and that is carve up Donald Trump. He uses wit and humor and ridicule to belittle Trump.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show.

KOSINSKI: Hitting Trump and making it stick, though, is a challenge. The president tried last month to make the point Trump has world leaders worried.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: They are rattled by it and for good reason. A lot of the proposals he's made display either ignorance of world affairs or a cavalier attitude or an interest in getting tweets and headlines.

KOSINSKI: Which Trump quickly turned to his advantage.

TRUMP: When you rattle someone, that's good.

KOSINSKI: Expect much more. And Democrats realize even if the president can't change the minds of Trump voters, he may convince more young people to vote. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Our thanks to Michelle Kosinski. Don't miss Hillary Clinton's one-one-one interview with Anderson Cooper on her historic achievement and the path forward and how she's going take on Donald Trump. That's on "THE SITUATION ROOM." That's coming in about one hour.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.