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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Clinton, Sanders Debate Tonight in Milwaukee; Clinton Picks Up Congressional Black Caucus PAC Endorsement; Harry Belafonte Endorses Bernie Sanders. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 11, 2016 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, friends. I'm Kate Bolduan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman.

We do begin with breaking news. Hillary Clinton picks up a big endorsement. The Congressional Black Caucus, the political wing, will endorse Hillary Clinton any minute.

This comes with a big Democratic debate airing on CNN tonight and it comes as Bernie Sanders is also picking up more and more support from influential African-American leaders.

BOLDUAN: Both sides in this primary racing to appeal to this key part of the electorate in South Carolina and beyond. And right now, as John is talking about, the count down is on to the other crucial debate. Clinton and Sanders set to battle it out tonight in Milwaukee. We're showing a live picture right now from inside.

BERMAN: Again, we're watching the Congressional Black Caucus event. The endorsement coming any minute. We'll bring you there as soon as it happens.

In the meantime, let's go to Milwaukee, the site of tonight's debate, which is airing on CNN. CNN's senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is there -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, there, John and Kate. 95 crucial minutes tonight for this debate. The narrative coming out of New Hampshire not good for Hillary Clinton, a stinging loss there. Very good for Bernie Sanders, who won on a landslide and has been on a victory lap. Hillary Clinton was down yesterday preparing for tonight. That tells you how important this is for her, trying to turn this narrative around.

We'll see tonight more of Bernie Sanders emphasizing his idea that the economy is rigged in favor of billionaires. But Hillary Clinton needs to do something. She needs to create a moment or make an impact in a way she hasn't. And we expect that she's going to be targeting, specifically, tailoring her message to Hispanic and African-American voters, so key in the Nevada caucuses and then later this month in the South Carolina primary, a very different demographic diversity in these states compared to what we saw in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Behind me at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, you'll see the debate taking place. The two on the stage at the same time. Judy Woodruff, Gwen Eiffel (ph) from PBS moderating this PBS News Hour Democratic national debate that you can watch on CNN and on your local PBS station starting at 9:00 p.m. -- guys?

BOLDUAN: Brianna, we're also hearing that Hillary Clinton campaign is going to take a much more aggressive approach to Bernie Sanders. What do you think that aggressive approach could look like on the stage tonight?

KEILAR: I think we got a preview of some of that from former President Bill Clinton in New Hampshire where he was taking aim at Bernie Sanders. I think Hillary Clinton, largely for the month, going into this period in the race where things have tightened, you saw a lot of times she wouldn't talk about Sanders by name. A lot of people who support her say this was the campaign making a misstep, that they allowed Bernie Sanders to define himself and that Hillary Clinton was sort of late to the game in defining Bernie Sanders. She's been trying to define him as unrealistic, both in the idea of single payer health care, of Medicare for all, and also in paying for public university for all Americans who should choose to want it.

So I think we're going to see more of that, but I also think she's going to try to emphasize what she has done for black Americans, for Hispanic Americans, and really try to show she's been doing this for longer than Bernie Sanders, that she's the advocate and he is not. So we'll be seeing him pushing back on that as well.

BERMAN: Brianna, stand by.

I want to add CNN political director, David Chalian, to this discussion.

David, are you with us?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I am. Good morning.

BERMAN: Fantastic. It's a TV miracle.

Brianna was just reporting something we noticed yesterday, which was Hillary Clinton was not on the campaign trail. She was down. She was not on the airway while Bernie Sanders was going around and was on "The View," on Stephen Colbert. To me, that says she was having important meetings and making important preparations for this debate tonight.

CHALIAN: Right. Certainly, part of being down is debate prep. She does that often the day before a debate. But she told us before the results were in, in New Hampshire, through her interview with Rachel Maddow, she said, it's going to be time to take stock. And I have no doubt that that was part of what Hillary Clinton was doing yesterday when she was out of the public eye. She was taking stock of her campaign, of the path forward from here.

Look, they are looking at terrain that they believe is more advantageous to them, not just in the next two state states of Nevada and South Carolina because of the Latino and African-American vote, but they're looking at march and looking at the delegate math, more closed primaries where only Democrats, not Independents can partake. That's something that the Clinton camp finds attractive, as well as states where they think she has an edge right now. They look at the delegate map ahead and feel OK in terms of securing the nomination.

They don't feel OK about the Sanders campaign claiming they've raised $6 million in 24 hours since he was declared the New Hampshire primary winner. And just clearly, the momentum that he has right now, how to thwart that and make sure they're retooled for what could be a prolonged and protracted Democratic nomination race.

[11:05:44] BERMAN: We're looking ahead to tonight's big debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Even before tonight, another big event happening any minute is the expected endorsement of Hillary Clinton by the Congressional Black Caucus, a political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus.

BERMAN: It looks like it might be happening right now.

Is someone is standing behind the lectern? Should we be listening in?

BOLDUAN: Might be filing in as we speak. We're going to bring it to you as soon as they begin. They'll probably just setting up. Could be seconds away.

But as we're waiting for this, David, the impact of this endorsement, you think, for Hillary Clinton?

CHALIAN: Listen, this is a big deal, and obviously rolling out this endorsement just after he was knocked back on her heels with the New Hampshire defeat is a key message they're trying to send as they look ahead to South Carolina and the critical African-American vote there. But it's also --

(CROSSTALK)

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK & CHAIRMAN, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS & CHAIRMAN, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE: Good morning.

CHALIAN: They're talking right now. So why don't we listen in to what they're saying.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, David.

MEEKS: -- congressional member of the fifth district in New York and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus's Political Action Committee. And I want to make sure that is clear. The Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee is the political arm, and separate and apart from the CBC, who is -- there's Republicans and others in the CBC, different than the foundation, different than other entities. But we are the political arm made up of 19 members of our board whose focus is electing Democrats around the country, because we believe when Democrats are elected, we become in the majority. And many of these members here become chair people of various committees. And the issues that are important to our constituents are better heard and made a reality when Democrats are in the majority. And so we support not only African-American members and American candidates. We support candidates across the board who will help Democrats be in the majority. That's our focus. And as a result, when we endorse candidates, we go around the country supporting the candidates so that we can make sure that the issues that are important to our constituents and we believe best for America are here in the United States Congress to set policy straight.

In our deliberations we believe that the partner that the CBC PAC has had over the years to elect Democrats across this country has been Hillary Clinton. When we needed someone to come to rally, Democrats, and especially African-Americans, and at the request of the CBC PAC, Clinton has been there. When the issues important to our constituents, Hillary Clinton has been there. She's been an outspoken person in regards of the empowerment of Democrats, and the Democratic agenda in its entirety. And so it is with that background that the CBC PAC, in its vote with no votes for Mr. Sanders and two people abstentions because of responsibilities, voted to make sure that we endorsed Hillary Clinton to be Democratic nominee and the next president of the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

MEEKS: And so she's been our partner, long term. We believe she's made a difference and she has helped us and helped this country by helping elect Democrats across the board.

I'm going to stop there for now and bring up a member of the board, G.K. Butterfield, from North Carolina.

(APPLAUSE)

[11:10:29] REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD, (D), NORTH CAROLINA & BOARD MEMBER, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE: Let me thank Chairman Gregory Meeks and the board of the CBC PAC for allowing me to say a few words today in my capacity as a member of the board of directors of the CBC PAC.

There is no part of a democracy, regardless of whether it's in this country or any other forward-thinking country, no part of a democracy that's more important than choosing the chief executive and choosing the commander-in-chief of the military. This is very serious business. This is very serious business to the CBC Political Action Committee, and that's why we're here today.

We live in the greatest and most-powerful nation in the world, the United States of America. Though we are 5 percent of the world's population, our economy is 25 percent of the world economy. We have the greatest military on the planet. But over the years, we have struggled as a nation to develop and emerge as the envy of the world. We have turned the corner in this country on race relations. No longer are African-Americans considered property as they were during slavery or second-class citizens as we were during the Jim Crow era. Through the years we have faced huge challenges, and many more challenges lie in front of us. The right to vote was given to African-Americans in 1870. It was taken away in 1900. It was restored in 1965. And the process of taking it away again began in 2013. And so we are engaged in this election as we have never been before.

We consider this election, this presidential election, to be the most important election of our lifetime. And that's why the vote on the CBC PAC board was so overwhelming and near unanimous.

Every American should pause to consider the consequences of the presidential election. We must have a president who is knowledgeable on both domestic and foreign policy. Our new president must understand that too many Americans languish in persistent poverty every day. Black lives are being lost on the streets of America from police misconduct and gang violence. Our HPCUs (ph) are diminishing because of lack of support. Joblessness continues in black community at twice the national average. Too many black Americans are unemployed and underemployed.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, we must have a president that understands the racial divide. Not someone who just acquired the knowledge recently, but someone who understands the racial divide and has lived it and worked through it down through the years, someone who has experience in bringing people together for a common purpose. We need a president who doesn't simply campaign and just promise wonderful things, but things that are politically impossible to achieve.

And so the CBC Political Action Committee as evaluated. As Mr. Meeks said, we have evaluated both Democratic and Republican candidates who are seeking the office of the presidency. After considering the entire field from top to bottom, there is no question in my mind and our minds that one single candidate, one, possesses the qualifications, the experience, and temperament to be the next president of the United States, and that person is none other than Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.

(APPLAUSE)

BUTTERFIELD: Mrs. Clinton has demonstrated her leadership skills. She's demonstrated her knowledge of not only domestic affairs but foreign affairs as well. And we care about foreign affairs in the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee. She's labored in various capacities all of her adult life, and now she's ready to serve our country by occupying the highest office in our country.

We are honored today to endorse Secretary Clinton as a Democratic nominee and the eventual president and commander-in-chief of the United States of America.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) MEEKS: Also a member of the CBC PAC board, the gentlelady from

Alabama --

[11:15:15] BERMAN: You've been listening to the members of the board of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee giving their endorsement, a full-throated endorsement to former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Words like "partner." Words like "she can make a difference." Words like "outspoken." Words like "standing up for Democrats." And we'll talk more about that in a little bit.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Let's continue on this discussion. Let's bring back in David Chalian, CNN's political director; and Paul Brathwaite, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, now a Democratic strategist.

Paul, first to you.

This is a big deal. This was a full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Your take?

PAUL BRATHWAITE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST & FORMER DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: Yeah. This is a very welcome endorsement for the Clinton campaign. Obviously, when you have members who are willing to step forward and say they're going to give not only their moral support but their time and effort and to go to the states on Super Tuesday and to go to the states in South Carolina and Nevada on her behalf, I think is welcome to her. So it's a big deal. And these members represent millions of Americans across the country. And for a large part of the African-American community, they look to members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Like on the screen there, the only elected member, Democratic member from Alabama, went to school with the president and the first lady, and is a rising star. She can only be helpful to Secretary Clinton in her efforts for the nomination.

BERMAN: David Chalian, G.K. Butterfield, who is the chair of the entire Black Caucus, not just the Political Action Committee, he said that Hillary Clinton understands the racial divide. He said we need someone who understands the racial divide, not just someone who discovered the issues. When he said that, Kate and I both were like, wow, that seemed to be a pretty harsh blow on Bernie Sanders.

CHALIAN: Clearly, trying to point out that Bernie Sanders is -- although has a history of civil rights activism that we've learned about, has not been known to be closely aligned with the Congressional Black Caucus in his days in Congress. And certainly one of the big challenges, one of the big questions about Bernie Sanders' candidacy going forward -- because he's been running in Vermont, he hasn't had to have the proven ability to court and win black votes. So no doubt that Chairman Butterfield there was trying to draw a contrast.

Guys, just looking at this event, I look at this and think back to 1998 for a moment and Bill Clinton's impeachment, and how critical the Congressional Black Congress was in terms of backing Bill Clinton and bolstering him at a time when he was knocked back.

It's interesting to see the endorsement rolled out in advance of the South Carolina primary with the critical African-American vote, but also two days after Hillary Clinton was knocked on her heels. So not only is it an important endorsement, but it's a shot in the arm for her to receive this kind of support after a pretty crushing defeat on Tuesday night.

BERMAN: And she's not there. She's on her way to Milwaukee for the debate tonight. But there was a release from the campaign making sure we were all watching this, because it's important to them.

BOLDUAN: As it happens.

BERMAN: David Chalian, Paul Brathwaite, thank you so much.

One programming note. CNN will be simulcasting the PBS News Hour debate. The Democratic presidential debate is in Milwaukee at 9:00 p.m. eastern. You'll find it on CNN and your local PBS station.

BOLDUAN: The Hillary Clinton campaign says it will be far more aggressive in the approach to Bernie Sanders. What will it look like tonight in the big debate? Fresh off the big win in New Hampshire, how does Bernie Sanders respond? We'll discuss the stakes ahead of tonight.

BERMAN: Plus, Marco Rubio's reboot includes hard strikes on his former mentor. Why Rubio says Jeb Bush might not be ready for the White House, and how the Senator is now taking on Donald Trump as well.

Also, new this morning, Russia accusing the United States of bombing Aleppo in Syria. Thousands there caught in the middle of a brutal war for years. CNN goes inside Aleppo for a very rare look, an important look. See what we discover.

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[11:53:24] BOLDUAN: Tonight, high stakes debate between Clinton and Sanders. After his big win in New Hampshire, the race turns west and south. In geography, that works in Clinton's favor.

BERMAN: Part of her plan we're told is for Hillary Clinton to, quote, "get far more aggressive" against Bernie Sanders in the debate. You're looking at live pictures of that debate site in Milwaukee, the PBS debate. CNN will cover it live. So a high-stakes debate, and also just a high-impact endorsement for the political wing of the Congressional Black Caucus. What does that mean?

Let's bring in Margie Omero, a Democratic strategist and co-host of a pollster's podcast; and with us once again, Paul Brathwaite, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And, Paul, one question on the endorsement, we heard, we heard Gregory Meeks, who in charge of the political wing of the CBC, repeat again and again and again that one of the reasons the CBC wing was endorsing Hillary Clinton was because she stood up for Democrats. We kept on hearing Democrats, Democrats, Democrats. And I'm wondering if she was drawing the distinction because Bernie Sanders is not a registered Democratic. He's been an Independent his whole career. Calls himself a Democratic Socialist. Why is the CBC drawing that distinction?

BRATHWAITE: I think that's one point. I think David pointed it out in the last segment, look, Bernie Sanders has been an Independent, and has always been an Independent. That helped him in New Hampshire where a large number of Independents were able to participate in the primary a couple of days ago. And now you're moving into states where Democrats are the only ones who will be able to participate. I think what you heard Congressman Meeks sort of pointing out is that now it's going to sort of be in the party, in the family conversation.

But, John, I think I want to go back to a larger point I think they're making as well. Many of these members have worked with her as first lady, as Senator, as secretary of state, and it isn't lost on folks who have followed many of their careers that these are all about relationships. And that's the other point I think that they were trying to draw out here, which is, look, we've been working with her now for a number of different years. Mr. Meeks is from New York. Other members worked with her and had oversight when she was secretary of state and the like. That's really, I think, another point they're trying to drill home.

[11:25:44] BOLDUAN: And on that point, how does that point play tonight? What role does that play tonight if we can make the turn, Margie, to the debate this evening? If they're hammering home on Democrats, Democrats, Democrats, is that poll tested? Is that a term that Hillary Clinton will make this evening?

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Certainly, Democrats are proud of being Democrats, and talking about Democratic values is going to work with Democrats in a Democratic debate between the Democratic candidates. I certainly expect them to be talking about things that we Democrats in the party. And I think it's fair to talk about Sanders recently becoming a Democrat to run for president, although he caucuses with Democrats and has had progressive leanings throughout his career. I think people ultimately, when they're evaluating the debate and evaluating the candidates, are going to be looking at more of a personal connection, an emotional connection to the candidates, an emotional connection to their message, and they're really looking for someone who they think can fight for them and the values and the concerns they have going forward.

BERMAN: You're talking about emotional connection. At the same time we're hearing from the CBC, the political wing, Bernie Sanders picked up a big endorsement. Harry Belafonte, a towering figure in the civil rights movement, Paul, he just endorsed Sanders this morning, said he's voting for Bernie Sanders.

Do we have sound of that endorsement?

No, we don't have sound of that endorsement.

He posted a YouTube video. You can see Harry Belafonte right there endorsing Bernie Sanders.

So Bernie Sanders is working on outreach in the African-American community and he is picking up endorsements. Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, also endorsed him.

BRATHWAITE: I think what this points out is the African-American community is not monolithic. And I've said this over and over again. When I worked for the CBC, even within the Congressional Black Caucuses, but have members from the south. You have members from Minnesota and California and New York. And they're all different in the sense that their constituencies are different.

But I think what you look to is their values, their politics, their priorities, and their strategic sort of guidance that they can give to campaigns. I mean, these are members who put their names on a ballot and they have been elected. They know how to win campaigns. Any time you have the elected officials saying they're willing to be helpful to you, I think any candidate would take that willingly. You can't be in multiple places at any one time. As this campaign spreads out now to Super Tuesday and the nine primaries and the three caucuses happening on March 1st and even beyond that, it's going to be incumbent on you to have folks who have been tested and on a ballot and can command crowds and speak and relate to people and run grassroots campaigns. If they're willing to go out and be on your side and be helpful to you, it can only be helpful at the end of the day.

But, look, there will be folks who will endorse candidates throughout this process. The question is going to be, where is their following and who can they help you bring to the table.

BOLDUAN: Is it wasn't already, it's starting to get interested.

Margie, Paul, thank you very much to both of you. We appreciate it.

OMERO: Thank you.

BRATHWAITE: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. On the Republican side, the fight is getting personal. Getting very "South Carolina," you might say. Hear what Marco Rubio has to say about his former mentor.

BOLDUAN: Plus, right now, a show down is erupting between Russia and the United States as Moscow accuses American war planes of bombing war-torn Aleppo. CNN goes inside Syria for a startling and revealing look of that city.

We'll be right back.

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