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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
David Bowie Dies; El Chapo Captured; Presidential Race Tightening; Interview with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired January 11, 2016 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Three weeks to go until actual votes are cast in 2016.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Deadlocked in Iowa, new polls showing Donald Trump cannot shake Senator Ted Cruz, no matter how many maple leaves he tries to pin upon him.
Finding El Chapo, brand-new video of the deadly, bloody shoot-out that led to the capture of the billionaire drug kingpin, details on how he almost wormed his way out of this again.
Plus -- good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.
We begin with our politics lead.
Could Hillary Clinton lose Iowa again? It happened in 2008. She came in third, you might remember. And now with weeks to go before the first votes and despite her campaign's best efforts, Senator Bernie Sanders is closing the gap with Clinton in Iowa. And he's still leading her in New Hampshire.
CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar is covering Bernie Sanders in Pleasantville, Iowa.
Brianna, you interviewed Sanders today. How does he explain his rise there?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake -- and pardon me for being a little quiet. We are in the middle of a Bernie Sanders event here in Pleasantville, Iowa.
But, basically, what he said is everyone knows Hillary Clinton and that they have -- voters have had to get to know him. And he says that as they get to know him and what he's about when it comes to policies, that they choose to be with him instead of Hillary Clinton.
But I'm also told by sources close to the Clinton campaign that they're very confident when it comes to the ground game and they think that they will be able to pull this out in Iowa and also in New Hampshire. Obviously, the primary will be the key test there, but talking to
Bernie Sanders today, he was almost gleeful about the race tightening in the polls.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Clearly, they began this race believing that their victory was virtually inevitable. I don't think they believe that today. All right?
KEILAR: A new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll puts Bernie Sanders within striking distance, just three points shy of Hillary Clinton in Iowa, within the margin of error.
(on camera): And you feel that is a real three points, that you're that close?
SANDERS: Yes, I do.
KEILAR (voice-over): Sanders, meanwhile, is holding onto a narrow lead in New Hampshire, Clinton fund-raising off the tight race, e- mailing supporters in the Granite State, "It's going to be close, but I'm ready to do this."
Part of her closing pitch to Democratic voters, she is more electable than Sanders.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Think hard about the people who are presenting themselves to you, their experience, their qualifications, their positions, and particularly, for those of us who are Democrats, their electability.
KEILAR: But as polls show Sanders outperforming Clinton in general election matchups against Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, he's trying to counter her argument.
SANDERS: The recent ones in New Hampshire and Iowa, face to face with Donald Trump and the other Republican candidates, we end up doing a lot better than Hillary Clinton does. So, I think in terms of electability in the general election, I think Democrats might want to look at Bernie Sanders as the candidate.
KEILAR: But Sanders' moderate stance on gun laws has left him vulnerable in these final weeks before the early contest, after President Obama in a "New York Times" op-ed said, "I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support commonsense gun reform."
Now Clinton is hitting Sanders' record, including a 2005 vote that gave gun manufacturers and gun store owners immunity from prosecution if guns they sold were used in a crime.
CLINTON: I think that the excuses and efforts by Senator Sanders to avoid responsibility for this vote, which the NRA hailed as the most important in 20 years, points up a clear difference.
KEILAR: Facing pressure, Sanders has since signaled he is open to changing his position.
SANDERS: What President Obama is saying is that these are very important issues for him. And I agree with him. I have cast 10,000 votes in my life and there was a vote that I cast which was a complicated vote. Yes, the only response to that, I certainly am willing to reconsider it.
KEILAR: It's a response welcomed by the White House, which seemed to acknowledge that the president's threat was at least partly aimed at Sanders.
DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We have seen some movement on this since the op-ed appeared on Thursday. We think that's good.
KEILAR: It's interesting, Jake. Sanders actually dismissed the idea that President Obama was putting a finger on the scale on this issue for Hillary Clinton.
He said, no, this is just an issue that he cares a lot about. Certainly, the Clinton campaign is using this moment, though, for what they see is the major vulnerability for Bernie Sanders, his position on guns, with this Democratic primary electorate.
The question -- this was interesting. He did question Hillary Clinton's authenticity on the issue, as we have heard him do. He talked about how in 2008 she thought that then-Senator Obama was too strong on gun control. And he's sort of reviving that moniker that Senator Obama used to describe Hillary Clinton, Annie Oakley. We heard him say that again, Jake.
And, Brianna, Hillary Clinton now having to respond to questions about an e-mail she sent when she was secretary of state, one that was released Friday, I believe. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says that the e-mail -- quote -- "appears to show" Clinton instructing a subordinate to remove the headings from a classified document and send it to her in an unsecure manner.
What's Clinton saying?
KEILAR: Clinton is denying that that is what happened. She said that this was somewhat common practice, and she said no classified information was transmitted.
But this was an e-mail back in 2011 that she sent to one of her top aides, Jake Sullivan, advising him because there was a problem with a secure fax line and she was trying to get some talking points to remove the header in that identifying information.
But, again, she's downplaying that anything happened. And the other thing that's difficult here, Jake, is that a lot of this e-mail is redacted, so it's missing some context and it's hard to really get to the bottom of it.
But you see Hillary Clinton's problem. She's had to migrate from saying that there was no classified e-mails sent from her server to there was nothing that was classified at the time it was sent. And she deals with this constantly as new e-mails are released.
TAPPER: All right. Brianna Keilar with the Sanders campaign in Iowa, where he is only gaining steam.
Let's turn now to the Republican race for the presidential nomination. Donald Trump says Ted Cruz has a problem, just like he thinks Hillary Clinton does. According to the Republican front-runner, Mr. Trump, both Clinton and Cruz could wind up in court. Trump says who the hell knows if Cruz is a natural-born citizen and if he's even eligible to run for the White House?
Now, most legal experts say Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother, is constitutionally eligible and does qualify as a natural-born citizen because his mother was a citizen, an American citizen when he was born. So why would Trump be raising this issue? And why would he be turning on his best campaign bro?
Well, the polls, of course. In Iowa, a new poll today has Trump just eking out a margin of error lead over Cruz.
CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash is with Donald Trump today in Windham, New Hampshire.
Dana, Mr. Trump, even though he's in New Hampshire today, a lot of what he's said today seems directed at Iowans just as he was going after Mr. Cruz.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're Exactly right, Jake.
It is a two-man race for first place in Iowa. There is no question about that. Here in New Hampshire, Donald Trump, he has a much more comfortable lead, but he studies polls enough, talks about polls enough to know that in presidential politics especially, it is very precarious here in the Granite State, so he's not leaving anything to chance.
BASH (voice-over): Who does Donald Trump see as his stiffest competition? Here's a hint.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz is a problem. I mean, he's got a problem.
BASH: Trump used this New Hampshire rally to once again hammer at questions about Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president since he was born in Canada.
TRUMP: You can't have a nominee who's going to be subject to being thrown out as a nominee. You just can't do it.
BASH: Today, there's fresh evidence that Trump is right to hone in on Cruz.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: God bless the great state of Iowa.
BASH: In Iowa, several new polls show the two men neck and neck. One shows Cruz with a four-point lead. Another gives Trump a two-point advantage. Both are within the margin of error.
And though Trump is way ahead here in New Hampshire, with 32 percent in a new Monmouth University poll, Cruz is climbing, now tied for second with John Kasich.
CRUZ: I'm not going to be taking legal advice any time soon from Donald Trump.
BASH: Despite the drubbing, Cruz, a Harvard-trained lawyer and former Supreme Court clerk, insists he is eligible since his mother was born in America.
CRUZ: The Constitution and laws of the United States are straightforward. The very first Congress defined the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad as a natural-born citizen.
BASH: Now another influential Republican is sowing doubts about that, popular Iowa GOP Governor Terry Branstad, who told reporters -- quote -- "When you run for president of the United States, any question is fair game. So let the people decide."
Branstad hasn't endorsed, but his son runs a group slamming Cruz for opposing ethanol subsidies, critical to many Iowa farmers' livelihood. Here at Trump's New Hampshire rally, most of his supporters agreed with Cruz that his citizenship is a nonissue.
(on camera): Do you think that's an issue?
MELANIE MAX, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't. I don't think it's an issue at all with Ted Cruz. I don't.
BASH: Is that something that makes you think twice?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, because I thin he's eligible.
BASH: Now, another interesting point about where polls are, Jake, right now here in New Hampshire, the people who say that they are settled on a specific choice, they say that they're only about 40 percent, a little more than 40 percent sure. So what that means is that it is still kind of an open game.
And as you know, you have been here before covering presidential politics in New Hampshire. After the voting starts in Iowa, people in New Hampshire tend to want to put their own stamp on the presidential race, which is why what people inside this hall here were telling me, it was very, very interesting and very important, because a lot of them said although they were very enthusiastic for Donald Trump, some said, you know, we're also looking at others like Ted Cruz -- Jake.
TAPPER: Interesting. Dana Bash, thanks so much.
And joining me now, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Mr. Speaker, thanks for being here.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Hey, Jake. Thanks for having me.
TAPPER: I feel like I should be saying, Mr. Speaker, may I present to you -- just like the State of the Union that we're going to have tomorrow night.
RYAN: If you want to, go ahead. Yes, it is. It will be my first one.
TAPPER: Let's talk about, more metaphorically, the state of our union. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, last night said football has become soft, like our country has become soft. Do you agree with that? Do you think the United States has become soft?
RYAN: Here's what I agree with, not commenting on the comments of presidential candidates.
So, look, Jake, I'm speaker of the House. I'm neutral in this thing. I'm the chair of the convention. So, I just -- I have adopted the practice -- I have made a couple of exceptions -- of just not commenting on the day-to-day stuff about what these people say or don't say.
I believe that the country is in a very bad place. I believe that our economy is extremely weak. I believe that the world is on fire. Our national security is terrible. I think our economy needs to do a lot better and I don't think the president has brought us in the right direction. I think he's put us on a dangerous path and we need to get on the other path.
So, yes, I think the state of the economy and the state of our foreign affairs is terrible right now and people are really worried about national security. So, no, I don't think we're nearly as healthy as we can and should be.
TAPPER: There has been -- I mean, you know the number, it's something like 68 straight months of job growth and the Obama administration saying the economy much, much better than it was when he took office.
RYAN: Well, yes, look what he took -- he took office he took office with a big recession. But we shouldn't be measuring ourselves by where we were seven years ago. We should be measuring ourselves against our potential and we're so far from it, flat wages, 46 million people living in poverty, a debt crisis still on the horizon.
That is not what I would call a road map for upward mobility and economic growth for America. So, we can do a whole lot better, not to mention the fact our foreign policy is in absolute shambles. And that's why people are really worried and anxious about their own personal security.
TAPPER: Immigration, a big issue in the public right now, being debated on the presidential trail, but also, as you know, it's been a big issue for years on Capitol Hill.
I want to play some sound from the Republican front-runner talking about you in an interview...
TAPPER: In an interview not long ago.
Play that sound.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I was disappointed when I heard Speaker Ryan. He said a little stuff. And, you know, frankly, I'm disappointed that he's weak on immigration, he's weak on the borders and he's in favor of amnesty. So I have my disappointments with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond, but also the big question, of course, would you as speaker be able to work with a President Trump on immigration reform, when he continually says that you're weak on the issue?
RYAN: Look, I'm not taking the bait. I'm not going to get into the commenting about this and that.
I would be able to work with whoever our Republican nominee is on immigration reform, something that clearly needs to be happening. People who know my record know that I'm for border enforcement, border control, not for amnesty. And I will work with whoever our nominee is to make sure that that person wins and then to make sure that we run on a platform so that we have a mandate election, so that in 2017 we do what we need to do to get this country back on track to solve this country's big problems that are getting worse by the day.
TAPPER: You are the leader of the Republican Party, you and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell right now. I know when there is a nominee, that person will become the leader of the Republican Party, but you are that person for now.
And you have said you need to be out there giving big ideas for the Republican Party. You can't wait until there's a nominee. That's a lesson you learned as the vice presidential candidate with Mitt Romney. You are without question -- over the weekend and since you have taken
this new job -- you're out there talking about making the Republican Party a big tent party. There are Republicans openly worried that some of the parties' candidates risk shrinking the size of the tent, not just by alienating potential voters, but also pursuing an electoral strategy when it's all about rallying conservatives and not going towards moderates.
[16:15:01] Does that worry you at all in terms of your goal in expanding the tent?
RYAN: Well, I can't control what other people do. I can control what I do. And what I am trying to do is help build the conservative movement that goes out and wins converts.
Look, I come from the Jack Kemp/Ronald Reagan school of conservatism, which means you take your principles. If you don't water them down, you boldly assert them to the day to offer people real solutions. And you do it in an inclusive way. You do it in inspirational way.
On Saturday with the Jack Kemp Foundation, we had a poverty summit talking about how to fight poverty and attack root causes and restore growth and upward mobility. We had half a dozen presidential candidates there. It was a fantastic discussion on substance. And I think that these are the kinds of things that we can do to unify our country.
What I do not want us to do is talk to people in ways that divide themselves from others but talk to people in ways that unify the country. That's the opposite of what Obama does.
And so, Jake, I control my own actions. We control our own agenda. What I really believe is necessary for 2017 to be the kind of year it has to be that 2016 is a year where we give the country an alternative. We give them ideas. We give them solutions. And we run on those.
Instead of having a personality contest in 2016, we have an ideas contest. And I believe we can do that whoever our nominee is going to be. And that is what we are working toward here in the House Republicans.
TAPPER: All right. Speaker Ryan, hold that thought about an ideas contest. We're going to have much more with you after this quick break.
The opposition party responds to the State of the Union has tripped up many rising stars. How will South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley fare? We'll ask Speaker Ryan what he thinks, coming up next.
[16:20:53] TAPPER: We're back now with House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Mr. Speaker, thanks for staying with us. We appreciate it. Tomorrow night, President Obama's going to deliver his final State of
the Union Address. He's certain to touch on guns after he already took an executive action, had a town hall, had an address in the East Room.
The president says steps such as requiring licenses for all sellers who price competitively and who make a profit, that that will curb violence because it will expand background checks. Now, I know you have a big issue with how the president did this by executive action instead of letting Congress write the law.
But beyond that part of it, do you think that there is something wrong with the measures taken with the idea of expanding background checks?
RYAN: Well, I don't think that that's really what he's doing. He's sort of restating what the law is right now, which is if you are in the business of buying and selling guns, you have to have an FFL, a federal firearms license. And if you have an FFL, you have to do background checks. That's the law today. We agree with that.
So I think he's just saying that again. So I'm not really sure exactly what he's doing other than I think he's trying to create an issue.
And also, I think he's trying to distract from his failures, from his failed policies. He hasn't presented a plan to defeat ISIS. We're hoping to hear that tomorrow. He hasn't addressed the problem of home grown jihadists or the fact we have ISIS trying to infiltrate the refugee population or other issues where they're trying to come to our country to keep us safe.
So, I think there are a lot of issues left unattended. People are worried about it. And the president has been giving us more distractions than solutions. And I think really that's kind of what that's all about.
TAPPER: You've talked about the president not laying out a strategy for ISIS and how he should be more focused on that than he apparently is. Obviously, Republicans run the House and Senate and have yet to pass an authorization for use of military force against ISIS.
What's the hold up? And is that not a dereliction of Congress' duty? I know you've only had your job for a few weeks, but aren't Republicans responsible for being part of this as well?
RYAN: Well, the commander in chief is responsible for waging war. The commander in chief is responsible for executing foreign policy. We passed a bill about two months ago requiring that the president bring to Congress a plan to defeat ISIS. Then accompanying that one would think that's where such a declaration would have occurred, authorization to use force. We have not heard anything from the president on that.
So, while we debate the best way to use the authorization of use of force, we're waiting for a plan from the president to show us a plan for how he intends to defeat ISIS because his containment policy hasn't worked. It's failed. The other point I'd say is the president did send an authorization to use force last year to Congress but he did it in a way to tie the hands of the next president.
So, we're not going to sit around and allow this president to constrain and handcuff the next president whoever that person's going to be from doing what is necessary to keep the country safe. So, if he's asking for that, we're not going to give that to him.
But if he's going to give us a plan to actually defeat ISIS, then we'll clearly work with him on that because that's our objective.
TAPPER: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley set to deliver the Republican response, a lot of folks speculating that come July, she might be standing right next to the Republican presidential nominee being the vice presidential candidate. As a former vice presidential nominee, what advice would you give to anyone -- anyone -- who gets that job?
RYAN: Look, I'm really excited about this. If you want to hear an inclusive leader who's visionary, who's got a path for the future, who's brought people together, who's unified, it's Nikki Haley. That's who we're going to hear from tomorrow night. I think she's the perfect person for it. I had a hand in selecting her.
I did this speech in 2011, so believe me, I understand the stakes can be high for a person doing this speech. I think she's a natural. I spoke with her. I was with her on Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina.
The advice I gave her is put a cough drop in the corner of your mouth. It keeps you salivating so you don't go thirsty. So, there's a lot of little pieces of advice like that that I've given her, but at the end of the day, we just said be yourself, communicate to the country, represent our party as well as you have been and you'll be just fine. I think she's going to do great.
TAPPER: That speech as you know, it's like being on the cover of "Sports Illustrated".
TAPPER: It comes with a curse for some people.
[16:25:00] You somehow --
RYAN: I did it, I did it.
TAPPER: -- managed to get out unscathed. Yes, yes.
RYAN: No, no, believe me, we understand it. But I think she's a natural. I think she's a great spokesman for our party. I think the future's extremely bright for Nikki and that's why we asked her to do it.
TAPPER: House Speaker Paul Ryan, thank you so much. A pleasure to have you on, sir. RYAN: Thank you, Jake. You bet. Thank you.
TAPPER: In our world lead today, a shocking revelation from North Korea. They claim an American spy is being held there. So, why is the U.S. government not saying anything?
Our own Will Ripley is in Pyongyang. He's next.
Plus, what was Sean Penn thinking when he secretly traveled to Mexico to interview the murderous drug kingpin El Chapo as he was on the run? That's ahead too.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Topping our world lead today, the latest bizarre development in North Korea. CNN now reporting that a man who claims to be a U.S. citizen is being detained by the rogue kingdom. This man says he was arrested for stealing sensitive military secrets from North Korea, adding more twists to the story the U.S. government has yet to confirm whether this man is indeed an American citizen.
CNN correspondent Will Ripley is the only international TV reporter inside North Korea. He reported this from Pyongyang.