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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton; Secret Service Controversy; Deadly Strike; South Carolina Flooding; Clinton: 'I Have Work to Do in New Hampshire'; Rubio Under Fire From Trump, Bush. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 5, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: underwater, a flood disaster unfolding right now in South Carolina, where dams and levees are failing and deadly record rainfall.
Mandatory evacuations are in effect, as the waters rise. Is the worst yet to come for tens of House of people downstream?
Deadly strike -- disturbing new details of a U.S. air attack on a hospital in Afghanistan that killed almost two dozen people. How did American forces make such a mistake and what impact will it have on the fight against the resurgent Taliban troops?
Not so Secret Service. The agency is facing sharp criticism after agents leaked private information about a U.S. congressman that once applied to work there. I'll talk to a senator who has now put a hold on three Obama nominations in protest and is also calling for a criminal investigation.
Campaign comedy. "Saturday Night Live" spoofs the 2016 White House race with partisan jabs at the candidates. Will political humor help Hillary Clinton soften her image?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I'm just so darn bummed. All anyone wants to talk about is Donald Trump.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump? Isn't he the one that's like, you're all losers?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We want to st welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, record deadly flooding in South Carolina, a state the governor says is now living through a once-in-1,000-year disaster.
At least nine people have been killed and state officials are now reporting nine dams have failed and more are being overtopped by water that just continues to rise.
We're also following the growing scandal over Secret Service leak of personal information about Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who is the running now to become the next speaker of the House. Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, he is now for a calling for a criminal investigation. He's here to talk about that and more.
We also have our correspondents and exert analysts. They're standing by.
But let's begin with the breaking news.
CNN's Nick Valencia is in Forest Acres, South Carolina.
What are you seeing there, Nick?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the result of that relentless rain that has just been pounding the state of South Carolina, here specifically in Columbia, the state's capital, and those flash floods have been especially treacherous.
And you can see the devastation it has left behind. Already, nine people have lost their lives as a result of this storm and it's left behind this type of catastrophic damage. Just in the last few hours, the rain has stopped and that is the welcome good news here for these residents, but just in the last hour, what we have heard is that another dam just right behind us has breached, causing even more flooding in these neighborhoods, making the roads just impassible.
Behind me, you can see the results of another dam that has breached just behind me, if you want to zoom in on that here. That dam has forced this water, tearing apart this bridge and leaving this entire area washed out. Very difficult situation here, one that is threatening lives and one that is causing a lot of concern for Governor Nikki Haley.
She's recommending people stay inside their home and shelter in place. Many people have out of curiosity, boredom, maybe a sense of adventure, come out to check out around the scene. Just a little while ago, we were seeing some teenagers that were dangerously close to the edge here, if we want to get just a little bit closer, perhaps not too close here.
But you can see what it's done to this roadway. We see rescue helicopters above us as welcome, Wolf, a lot of helicopters in the area surveying the damage, as well as National Guard troops at the ready and more than 7,000 of them have been dispatched here and are on standby as well to deal with this -- water rescues, more than 100 across the state, and of course nine people who have lost their lives. We hope there haven't been any others, but this is still a very active situation, Wolf. BLITZER: Very dangerous situation, indeed. Nick Valencia, thank you.
Let's bring in CNN's Boris Sanchez.
What's the latest where you are, Boris?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we got some good news within the past hour.
Earlier today, we were told the town of Manning, where we are in South Carolina, about 50 miles west of where Nick was, was blacked out. There was no power here. Within the past hour, we have just seen stoplights come on and several businesses turning their lights on. The good news is at least some places here have power.
For the most part, the city looks much like this. If you look behind me, this is Highway 301. It's a highway that stretches all the way down to Florida and right now it's flooded as far as the eye can see, at least a mile of flooding, flooding businesses nearby. Cars are submerged. We have seen a lot of scenes like this today all around the western -- or eastern part of South Carolina, I should say, scenes that will continue to play out as the rain continues to come down.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Tonight, more rain pounding parts of South Carolina, and officials are warning residents the danger is not over yet.
GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: People are off the roads. They have really listened, but those that didn't listen, this is dangerous. This is very real.
SANCHEZ: Governor Nikki Haley said today there could be more evacuations with floodwaters likely to rise. Crews across the state have been working around the clock, rescuing people from their homes and cars as floodwaters rise. In Georgetown County, the fire chief tells CNN one man was found clinging to a tree after his truck was swept away by an overflowing river.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A witness saw a truck go around the barricade and when a little bit down the road and the water pushed him right in the ditch, into the river. I hope it sends a strong message. This guy could have lost his life.
SANCHEZ: The call to stay off the roads echoed by officials across the state.
HALEY: This is not the time to take pictures. We have got enough media out there that you can look at to see the pictures and see the views of what's happening in South Carolina.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just don't be stupid. I mean, that's the thing. Keep saying, you know, don't try to drive through flooded areas. You don't know how deep they will be.
SANCHEZ (on camera): Crews are not only having to get to residents' cars that have become submerged by the floodwaters, but also, if you take a look behind me, that's a National Guard vehicle that came down as this bridge went out. Underneath it is actually a car, just another sign of how powerful these floodwaters can be.
(voice-over): According to the governor, about 550 roadways and bridges are closed, some completely washed out. In Clarendon County, dozens of streets are impassable.
In Georgetown along the coast, business owners rush to pump water out, even with the threat of high tide looming. Thousands of residents in pockets of the state are also dealing with power outages and contaminated water due to sewage overflow.
SANCHEZ: And, unfortunately, Wolf, not everyone is heeding that warning from the governor and other officials to stay out of this water and stay inside.
Earlier today, we saw several people walking around barefoot in this water in shorts, as well as riding kayaks around here. Certainly not a good idea, not only because of the possible dangers lurking underneath the water, but the water itself is filthy. There is probably bacteria in it. You just heard sewer water may be mixed in with all this rain. Definitely a good idea to stay out of this water and not kind of put yourself in the line of even more danger.
BLITZER: Yes, best not get anywhere near there. Boris, thanks very much.
BLITZER: There is other breaking news we're following, including the international outrage over a deadly mistake, an airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan by a U.S. gunship, an incident that killed more than 20 people, including doctors and children.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's working the story for us.
What's the latest, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Pentagon says it hopes to have answers, at least preliminary answers, in the next several days, about what happened.
But make no mistake, hospitals, schools and mosques are no-go zones for U.S. airstrikes.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STARR (voice-over): International outrage after a hospital in Northern Afghanistan was struck from the air by the U.S. The U.S. is investigating its role in the attack that left 12 medical staff and 10 patients, three of them children, killed, another 37 wounded.
The hospital is run by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, a global charity that works in war zones. They call the attack a war crime.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, again, I wouldn't use a label like that, because this is something that continues to be under investigation.
STARR: Survivors describe the horror to the BBC.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There were flames all around me. I saw patients and doctors burn to death."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There was no place to hide.
STARR: The damage massive. An AC-130 gunship like this struck the hospital with its onboard guns.
GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL, U.S. ARMY: Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces. An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck.
STARR: Doctors Without Borders says it gave the military the exact location of the hospital weeks ago, furious with the Pentagon, saying: "Their description of the attack keeps changing, from collateral damage to a tragic incident to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government. The reality is, the U.S. dropped those bombs."
Defense Secretary Ash Carter trying to reassure the group.
ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have been in touch with them to assure them that a full and transparent investigation will be held.
STARR: Doctors Without Borders' general director says the Taliban were not at the hospital.
CHRISTOPHER STOKES, GENERAL DIRECTOR, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: If there was a major military operation ongoing there, our staff would have noticed. And that wasn't the case actually when the strikes occurred.
STARR: Contrary to first reports, U.S. forces were not under attack, just Afghan forces. But, nonetheless, a senior U.S. official says all strikes the Afghans ask for have strict approval procedures. Not all are approved.
STARR: One big problem right now, the fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces in that area remains so fierce, that U.S. military investigators have not been able to make their way to the hospital -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all of this with Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee. He's also a U.S. Army veteran.
You served in Iraq and Afghanistan, right?
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Yes, I did, Wolf.
BLITZER: What's the latest information you're getting? How could this happen, this Doctors Without Borders hospital in effect blown up and all these people killed?
COTTON: Well, Wolf, I met earlier today with General John Campbell, what is back from Afghanistan, where he is commander.
He assured me that there are three separate investigations ongoing right now, to include an Army investigation. You have been in a war zone. You know that first reports from the front are often or even usually incorrect, as we heard in that report just before we started talking.
But I also know that our commanders on the ground are intent on getting to all the facts. And if there was any negligence or any kind of misconduct, they will hold those troops accountable and they will also potentially change procedures going forward to try to avoid this kind of terrible tragedy again.
BLITZER: Because this was in Kunduz, the first city, major city in Afghanistan taken by the Taliban since, what, 2001, when the U.S. troops went in. There was a fierce battle going on, Afghan troops leaving, Taliban taking over, Afghan asking for help. They gave the coordinates. The U.S. went in.
Would the U.S., an AC-130 gunship like this, would they simply rely on Afghan troops for this kind of information?
COTTON: Well, they might rely on them in part. But as the report said, there are vetting procedures any time Afghan troops are going to call in American air support.
That's why it's important that we wait and we get all the facts. But, Wolf, you're right, that this is the first city the Taliban has taken in almost 15 years and there's major fighting. There's always fog on the battlefield. And that's why ultimately responsibility lies with the Taliban and groups like the Taliban, just like Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza, that use civilian areas to try to protect themselves from our forces.
BLITZER: But Doctors Without Borders say there were no Taliban in that hospital. And they say they specifically gave Afghan forces, U.S. forces, NATO forces in Afghanistan coordinates where this hospital is, don't go anywhere near there.
COTTON: And that all may be the case, Wolf.
Now, there could be some confusion in the moments leading up to this attack or during the attack itself, but that's why we have these investigations, to get to the facts.
BLITZER: Stand by, Senator.
We have much more to talk about and your call for a criminal investigation of the U.S. Secret Service because of what it did to one United States congressman.
Much more with Senator Cotton when we come back.
BLITZER: We're back with Republican Senator Tom Cotton.
He's now calling for a criminal investigation into a U.S. Secret Service leak of information about Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who is running to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House.
Cotton has placed a hold on three Obama administration nominees pending further investigation.
Stand by, Senator. We are going to have much more to talk about this.
But, first, our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has more on the controversy.
Jim, what is the latest?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today, the White House threw its support behind Joe Clancy, saying it was proactive of the Secret Service director to go back and correct the record of when he learned officials in his agency were spreading rumors about Congressman Jason Chaffetz.
But that won't be enough for critics in Congress.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Secret Service Director Joe Clancy, the man who planed to reform the agency, is now accused of being one of its problems by top Republicans.
COTTON: If it turns out that Director Clancy knowingly misled the inspector general, he should resign or be fired. He was hired to clean up wrongdoing at the Secret Service, not perpetrate it and cover it up. ACOSTA: At issue is whether Clancy told the truth to investigators
with the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's Office, who found that, last March, more than 40 Secret Service employees were inappropriately snooping around in the personal information of Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the committee that oversees the agency.
One e-mail that was revealed from Assistant Secret Service Director Ed Lowery said of Chaffetz, "Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out." That was just days before news reports that Chaffetz was once rejected for a job with the Secret Service.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: It's a little bit scary, Secret Service diving into my background as a sitting member of Congress. It's not about me, but it is about, what are they doing over there? These people are entrusted with guns by the president, for goodness' sakes.
ACOSTA: Clancy first told investigators he originally learned of the Jason Chaffetz rumor in early April, but last Friday he changed that to March 25.
JOSEPH CLANCY, DIRECTOR, SECRET SERVICE: And you have to consider I was interviewed four months after these events took place, and my memory was incorrect.
ACOSTA: Clancy blamed the discrepancy on his memory at a news conference with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, who is standing by the director.
JEH JOHNSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: It takes time to turn a large ship in a different direction.
ACOSTA: Chaffetz told CNN both men have called to apologize.
CHAFFETZ: That was their second round of apologies, but that ain't going to cut it.
ACOSTA: Earlier this year, Clancy told CNN the Secret Service was on the mend, after a slew of embarrassing episodes for the agency, including the White House fence jumper.
CLANCY: We have learned from our mistakes.
ACOSTA: Just last week, the agency earned high marks from the president for its protection of Pope Francis.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They all deserve a huge round of applause for being such great hosts and keeping everybody safe.
ACOSTA: The White House is still praising Clancy, but cautions the president takes the Chaffetz case seriously.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is sensitive information that we're talking about, and the thought that something like this would be politicized is wrong.
ACOSTA: Now, Chaffetz stopped short of California for Clancy to resign, saying there should be a criminal investigation. The White House says that is up to the Justice Department, but, meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General's Office has reopened its investigation into the matter, citing Clancy's changing stories -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.
Senator Cotton is still with us.
What do you want them to do with the director of the Secret Service?
COTTON: Well, I'm not going to prejudge the outcome here, but they need to take this with the gravity that it warrants. Armed agents of the executive violated the law to intimidate a congressman from doing his job.
If they will do that to the congressman who oversees them with his influence and his megaphone, what might they do to the little guy, the normal American?
So, first, Secretary Johnson needs to personally get involved and apply appropriate disciplinary action towards those 45 agents who unlawfully accessed Congressman Chaffetz's files and, second, the attorney general does need to begin a criminal investigation into privacy Act violations and potential false statements to the inspector general.
BLITZER: Jeh Johnson is the secretary of homeland security, which oversees the U.S. Secret Service.
What has happened as far as you know to those 40 or 45 Secret Service agents who knew about this and some of said, you know what, let's embarrass this U.S. congressman who chairs this committee which oversees the Secret Service? What, if anything, has been done?
COTTON: Well, it's unclear from the inspector general's report.
And that's really a decision for Secretary Johnson ultimately. He can then brief Congress on the disciplinary action he takes. But this report that we just saw in the lead-in, Wolf, talked about Secretary Clancy changing his story last week after the report was issue, which is bad.
But even if he had not misrepresented facts from the beginning, he learned the day after the hearing in front of Congressman Chaffetz about Congressman Chaffetz's application. And, apparently, he didn't ask anyone how they knew, what they learned, why they were telling him that. That's not the level of leadership that we should expect from the Secret Service.
BLITZER: When he was a much younger man, he applied for a job at the Secret Service, didn't get it. And then that's supposed to be, not classified, but confidential. You're not supposed to release it.
But why have you decided to hold up three nominees right now, put a hold on these nominees as a result of what? What is that going to change?
COTTON: Wolf, this is not just about a specific instance of misconduct, specific instance of government abuse or waste of taxpayer dollars.
This is a constitutional clash between the executive and the legislature. Executive agents tried to intimidate a congressman from doing his job. I would feel the exact same way if this was Representative Elijah Cummings. Congressman Chaffetz -- who is a Democrat.
This is about ensuring that the people's elected representatives in Congress can do our job to conduct proper oversight over the executive branch.
BLITZER: It is pretty outrageous, when you think about it, trying to embarrass a United States congressman like this.
All right, thanks very much, Senator, for coming in.
COTTON: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, "Saturday Night Live" spoofs presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton. She was there to take her jabs in person.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: It really is great how long you have supported gay marriage.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Yes. I could have supported it sooner.
CLINTON: Well, you did it pretty soon.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Could have been sooner.
CLINTON: Fair point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're now eight days away from the CNN Democratic presidential debate. The first face-off for the five Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator is posing the strongest challenge right now to Hillary Clinton, who's leading in the national polls. [18:31:13] Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is
joining us now from New Hampshire, where Sanders is ahead in the polls, where Hillary Clinton concedes she has some work to do before the first-of-the-nation primary there. Brianna, what's the latest up there on the campaign?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, part of that work Hillary Clinton is trying to do is taking on this issue of gun violence.
You look back to 2000 when she first ran for the Senate. She took the rather liberal view of supporting a national gun registry. In 2008 when she ran for president, she moderated her tone a bit.
Well, this cycle she is coming out against the NRA, and she's also today taking on Republicans, who were investigating Benghazi.
KEILAR (voice-over): Two weeks from testifying before the House Benghazi committee, Hillary Clinton is slamming the Republican-led effort as a partisan exercise.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans.
KEILAR: She's seizing on these comments from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MAJORITY LEADER: We put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today?
KEILAR: New polls show Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in Iowa by five points, 11 if Vice President Joe Biden decides not to run. But in New Hampshire, Sanders is beating Clinton by 14 points, a lead that shrinks, but only to 9 without Biden in the race.
CLINTON: I've got work to do in New Hampshire. I'm very excited to be leading everywhere else.
KEILAR: Clinton told NBC she's expecting a primary fight and pointed out what she sees as Sanders' appeal to New Hampshirites.
CLINTON: He's a neighbor here. He represents Vermont.
KEILAR: But Sanders is generating enthusiasm that Clinton is not. In Massachusetts this weekend, he drew a crowd of more than 20,000.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you!
KEILAR: But Biden remains the wild card in the field, and two senior Democrats tell CNN he seems increasingly to be leaning toward running and the decision would likely come in the next two weeks.
In the wake of the shooting at an Oregon community college last week, Clinton laid out proposals to combat gun violence.
CLINTON: It's time for us to say, "Wait a minute, we're better than this. Our country is better than this."
KEILAR: Clinton railed against the National Rifle Association.
CLINTON: Ideally, what I would love to see is gun owners, responsible gun owners, hunters form a different organization and take back the Second Amendment from these extremists.
KEILAR: She's trying to draw a distinction between herself and Sanders, who has more moderate views on guns that reflect his rural state. While Clinton's voting record on guns has been pretty liberal, her tone hasn't always been so sharp. In 2008, she made this appeal to gun-owning Democrats.
CLINTON: It's part of a culture. It's part of a way of life.
KEILAR: Clinton is also trying to show a lighter side...
CLINTON (singing): We know that there's always tomorrow.
KATE MCKINNON, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" (singing): We know that there's always tomorrow.
KEILAR: ... laughing at herself on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend.
MCKINNON: This has been so nice. You are really easy to talk to, Val.
CLINTON: Thanks. You know, that's the first time I've ever heard that.
KEILAR: Now the Sanders campaign, Wolf, out touting his gun violence proposals today, as well, saying that he also supports closing that gun-show loophole. He wants an assault weapons ban, and he wants instant background checks.
It's not very often that you see Bernie Sanders on the defense, especially here in New Hampshire. Right now he is beating Hillary Clinton in the polls by double digits, but obviously, Wolf, there's some concern on his part, on his campaign's part that his more moderate stance on guns could hurt him.
BLITZER: Brianna, stay with us. I also want to bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, you and Jeff Zeleny have been doing some excellent reporting. What's the latest that you're hearing about the possibility the vice president will jump into this race?
[18:30:09] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, Biden has not announced anything, as we know, but Jeff and I have spoken with some people who have spoken directly to the vice president.
And what they're telling us is that there seems to be a shift within the last couple of weeks and that the vice president sounds more like he's leaning towards a candidacy. He's more interested in the mechanics of a race. He's talking more about how, quote, "You'd be surprised," unquote, about how many people he's heard from who would endorse him. And he's also told people, "You know what?" -- who have said to him, "You could lose," saying, "You know what? I don't really care. I've lost twice before, and I managed to do quite well afterwards, thank you very much. So this is something that, after a career in public service as a sitting vice president for eight years, why wouldn't I think about it?"
Having said that, no decision is announced, and people in Biden world always say that, you know, don't expect anything to happen until he actually says it, because he keeps changing his mind about it.
BLITZER: Brianna, if he decides to run, and the indication is growing he might decide to run, how does that impact the Clinton campaign? How does Hillary Clinton deal with that in this race for the Democratic nomination?
KEILAR: That's really the tricky part, Wolf, because polls show that, if Biden gets in the race, he pulls from her support, not as much from Bernie Sanders' support.
So a couple of things. I think what you see as something that she would need to do -- and actually, she's already doing this and her campaign is already doing this -- is shoring up donors and making sure that this sort of big money that she has right now on the Democratic side, that she can maintain that.
I think the campaign is pretty comfortable with where her message is, that they're targeting who they need to, this Obama coalition of young people and women, African-Americans and Latinos.
The issue for her and what becomes a liability is maybe that lack of authenticity when you compare her to Joe Biden. During this sort of atmosphere that we're seeing on the campaign trail, you have Joe Biden, what's normally sort of a liability for him, his authenticity and the fact that he really shoots from the hip, may be a bit of, you know, a plus for him. So we see Hillary Clinton trying to build up her authenticity and try to connect with voters more.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, Senator Bernie Sanders, he's been amazing out there: 20,000 people show up in Boston. He's attracting huge crowds, that he raised in the last quarter $25 million and he's not doing any super PACs. He's really done well. It almost, on the Democratic side, as surprising as Donald Trump has been on the Republican side. And he's becoming a major player out there.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, you know, Brianna was just talking about authenticity, which is kind of one of the buzz words of this election cycle. The other is having excitement behind you and having energy behind you. And those are two things that you just can't buy, and those are two things that Bernie Sanders is showing that he has.
The question, of course, for him, just like for any candidate, especially at this level, is how do you turn that enthusiasm into actual votes? Because there could be a lot of people going out there, you know, I don't know, maybe half of that crowd saying, "I just want to see what all the fuss is about," and they're not necessary motivated to go to the polls and pull the lever or, in Iowa, go to the caucuses, which is a different kind of situation.
So that is the big challenge in Sanders land right now, is making sure that they have an organization that can match the enthusiasm.
BLITZER: They say the same thing about Donald Trump. A lot of people go out there. They want to see him.
BASH: Right. And that's a celebrity factor. Yes.
BLITZER: Doesn't necessarily mean they're going to vote for him. All right, guys. Stand by.
BORGER: Sanders is not a celebrity.
BASH: Now he is.
BLITZER: An important note to our viewers: all this leading up to the first Democratic presidential debate. CNN is hosting it next week, October 13, a week from tomorrow in Las Vegas.
We'll take a quick break. Much more on the race for the White House and all the day's important news when we come back.
[18:43:25] BLITZER: The Republican race for the White House is heating up, with Donald Trump's commanding lead in the GOP field narrowing a bit tonight in one key state where some of his rivals are gaining ground. Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. is still with us. What's the latest on the Republican candidates, Dana?
BASH: Well, Wolf, two Floridians -- the former governor, Jeb Bush, and the senator, Marco Rubio -- they're doing a bit better in the first two contest states, but in Iowa and New Hampshire, the top two spots are still candidates who have never held elected office.
BASH (voice-over): Donald Trump is still on top, but his grip as frontrunner not as firm.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not a masochist. And if it was dropping in the polls, where I saw that I wasn't going to win, why would I continue? I'm a realist. I'm doing great in the polls right now. BASH: In New Hampshire, though Trump's 16-point lead last month has
narrowed to five points, according to a new NBC News/MARIST poll which puts him at 21 percent in the Granite State. Hot on Trump's heels, Carly Fiorina, second at 16 percent, and campaigning today in New Hampshire, the old-fashioned way, at a Rotary Club.
CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here in New Hampshire, we are all revealed, and that's because this is a place where campaigning is intimate.
BASH: There is nothing intimate about Donald Trump's campaign style: a lot of interviews and social media.
Then there was this, a "Saturday Night Live" impersonator leading the season premiere.
TARAN KILLAM, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": It's very simple. You see, I get in there, taxes go down, everybody gets a job, salaries go way up, we build a wall, it's huge.
Over in China, they're going to say, "Now that's a wall."
[18:45:00] BASH: The real Donald Trump is going after Marco Rubio, "SNL" sketch style, taking to Twitter to retweet a boyhood picture of the 44-year-old senator that also refers to him as "Little Rube" and says he doesn't have the swagger to run the country.
But Rubio is on the rise from three percent to 10 percent in New Hampshire. No response to Trump but he is depending himself from criticism from his former mentor Jeb Bush who told us Rubio's inexperience as a first-term senator was reminiscent of President Obama.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've had a president who came in and said the same kind of thing, new and improved hope and change.
BASH: Today, Rubio pushed back saying it's about ideas, not experience.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he had been in the Senate for 50 years, I think he would have met some of the failures he's meeting because his ideas don't work.
BASH: Now, these new polls are bad news for Ohio Governor John Kasich, especially in New Hampshire where he's playing hard. He had a bump after doing well in the first Republican debate, but now, Kasich is down to 6 percent and, Wolf, that is half of where he was in New Hampshire just last month.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Trump and Bush are going after Rubio, why?
BASH: Because he's doing better. I mean, there's no question about it. You know, Trump has sort of started to go after him in fits and starts, and now, he's clearly seeing him as more of a threat and when it comes to Jeb Bush, frankly, I was surprised what he told me last week in being aggressive going after the guy that's a good friend but inside the Bush campaign, they see the fact that Rubio is doing well and they certainly are very fearful of what that could mean for Jeb Bush.
BLITZER: Trump's lead, Gloria, in New Hampshire is narrowing.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Huge.
BLITZER: I wouldn't say it's huge but narrowing.
BORGER: Yes, you know --
BLITZER: He's still on top but not as much.
BORGER: He's still leading but the air is slowly sort of seeping out of the balloon a bit. I mean, obviously, he is the front runner, but if you look at his polling in New Hampshire, for example, Wolf, he was beating the nearest competitor by 16 points. That's a huge lead. Now, he's just ahead of Fiorina by five points.
So, you see that other candidates including Rubio, including Jeb, by the way, and, of course, Ben Carson are all kind of clumped together. So, you see the field shifting, not dramatically but you can see that Trump is not in the stratosphere anymore.
BLITZER: What's your take, Sara, on his demeanor? You watch him all the time. You're out there covering him.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, I think in some ways, he's trying to be more serious, he's putting more policy out there and sort of teasing that more is still to come.
But, look, running for president is a lot of fun when you're winning. People talk about you. You're on TV all the time. It not very much fun if you're losing and that will be the big test when we start to see Donald Trump fall in the polls. He's not a long slog guy. He's building an operation in places like Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee.
But if he starts plummeting before then, the question is, do you stay in and start putting some of your own money in or do you call it a day?
BLITZER: Gloria, what about Jeb Bush using or not using his older brother, especially in South Carolina right now?
BORGER: You know, his older brother has a better favorability rating in the Republican Party than Jeb Bush has, OK? It's in the stratosphere right now, it's almost like 80 percent.
BASH: It has been for a while.
BORGER: And it has been. So, when you're looking at a conservative primary electorate or when you're trying to raise money and he uses his brother to raise money, why not use him? It's a bit more problematic in the general election, particularly on the war in Iraq, which he had a difficult time answering, as you recall, whether it was a mistake.
But I think for his purposes right now, why not use his brother? Why not use his father? It works for him.
BASH: Yes. And when it comes to some of the issues that maybe the Tea Party section of the Republican electorate are upset about like spending, you know, there is no worse word than George W. Bush because spending really increased. He didn't veto any spending bills in his entire two terms, that really infuriates that part of the Republican Party.
But places like South Carolina which has a military-rich electorate, George W. Bush obviously won back in 2000, the primary there and he's still popular even and especially among Republicans.
BORGER: And, you know, Jeb has distanced himself from his brother on spending.
BASH: Yes, he tries.
BORGER: He tries and it was easier for him to do it on spending than it was on Iraq.
MURRAY: But still, once you're out there, if you guys are out there together, you know, there is video of that and that's going to come back at you if you do become the nominee in a general election. So, that's what you weigh. You do have to survive the primaries, of course, to make it to the general and that seems like the calculations that they're going through right now.
BLITZER: When you see Trump out there on the campaign trail going to effects and attracts obviously, huge crowds, he looks to be and I'm not there watching him as closely as you are, like he's having a lot of fun.
MURRAY: I think he definitely is having a lot of fun. Look, not only does he get to go out there to adoring crowds his staff has built for him.
[18:50:01] But then he gets to go and get, he gets on his plane and he gets to watch himself on TV on a loop. That's what he does. All of the eyes are on Donald Trump.
BORGER: You don't do that?
MURRAY: Yes, that's what I do when I go home. So I think he really enjoys that.
But, you know, look, Bobby Jindal is not getting all of the attention because he's not at the top of the polls. And if Donald Trump falls --
BLITZER: And he's not afraid, Gloria, to do interviews on television, Donald Trump.
BORGER: No, he love it is.
BLITZER: Some of these other candidates, you ask, you ask, you ask -- we at CNN, we have asked Marco Rubio for nine weeks now to do an interview on CNN, we're still waiting for a "yes", right?
BORGER: So, this is free media. This is oxygen to Donald Trump. He's a celebrity television star. He's very good at it. He likes the give and take. If he makes a mistake, he just moves right now and doesn't admit it and tweets about it later. It's what he loves.
BASH: Look, it's being part of the conversation. And Jeb Bush, his initial strategy before Donald Trump arrived on the scene was to sort of stayed back, not do a lot of interviews. That's changed. I mean, the interview that I did with him in New Hampshire last week, I know that he got some positive feedback on that, not necessarily because of all the things that he said but because he was out there talking and he was part of the mix.
BLITZER: And you get some free publicity, too. Donald Trump understands you don't have to buy ads if you're going out on television making your points.
BLITZER: Ladies, we have much more coming up.
An important programming note -- once again, CNN will be hosting the first Democratic presidential debate in only eight days, next Tuesday, a week from tomorrow, October 13th, in Las Vegas.
Just ahead, campaign comedy, courtesy of "Saturday Night Live."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband, Mike Huckabee, used to be my rock, my partner, and then he got up in the middle of the night and started packing his suitcase. He wasn't making any sense. He was muttering, "Kim's in jail and I've got to go get her out of jail."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:56:37] BLITZER: We love politics and so does "Saturday Night Live." Take a look at this commercial parody skewering some of the presidential candidates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mental illness doesn't run in my family, so I never thought it could happen to someone I love. But then my husband started getting confused. He would say things that just didn't make any sense, things like --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And come next November, I, Rick Santorum, will be president of the United States!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he believed this. That's when I knew he had dementia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband, Mike Huckabee, used to be my rock, my partner. Then one night he packed a suitcase and he was muttering, "Kim's in jail and I've got to go get her out of jail", and when I would be in jail, and that's going to make me president. He didn't even know what year it was or how the world worked.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband is the love of my life but, lately, he's been having these episodes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honey, the poll has me up 1.2 percent in Iowa. White House, here we come.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yay, can I not wait to be first lady.
Do you see, he's sick and he needs help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well now there is help. Introducing Abilify for people who thinks they can be president. If taken, Abilify destroys the damaged part of the brain that says, "I'm going to be president" leading to almost an immediate return to reality.
It's the only dementia medication prescribed for 11 specific people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before Abilify, I would go on national TV and say, here's how I would eradicate ISIS. Me. It's like, what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said Jim Gilmore dropped out of the race and I thought, who's Jim Gilmore and I realized it was me. I was running for president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One time during the a debate, I cut Donald Trump off and I said, no, you listen. What was I thinking? That's our future president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ask your doctor about Abilify today, Bobby Jindal, because not everybody can be president.
CROWD: And now we know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You've got to admit, Dana, that's pretty funny stuff.
BASH: It's so funny. I kept thinking, I can't imagine being a writer for "SNL" and having to gall the entire summer in hiatus and not being able to parody everything that's happened for the past three months.
BLITZER: It's a dream come true for these writers. BORGER: Oh, it is. It's going to be a long political season and they
have Donald Trump obviously but they really found a great way to make fun of everybody else who is in sort of the 1 to 2 percent.
BLITZER: "SNL," for those of us who are political news junkies, we're going to have to watch it every Saturday night.
MURRAY: It's already DVR.
BLITZER: Like all of us.
BORGER: Of course, empty calories.
BLITZER: A lot of fun.
All right. Guys, thanks very, very much.
Remember, you can always catch us on Twitter. I'd love you to tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can certainly tweet the show @CNNSitroom.
Please be sure to join us once again tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.