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Bush, Rubio, Kasich Trying to Make Dent in Trump Lead in S.C.; Killer Mike Clinton Comment as Clinton, Sanders Tie in Nevada; S.C. Governor Says No to Trump Endorsement as Cruz Press Conference Set. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 17, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Saying Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Congressman had, in fact, switched his decision to go with Marco Rubio and now supporting Ted Cruz. That's not true. Marco Rubio saying that calls in to major questions what Ted Cruz's campaign is trying to do.

Take a listen.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the robo-calls, it's what he did in Iowa to Ben Carson, what he's done in this state. He had the National Right to Life rebuked Ted Cruz about what he said about me on Planned Parenthood. And yesterday, he gives a speech about how he's going to rebuild the military after he's voted against rebuilding it three times in the Senate?


MATTINGLY: Attacking on tactics and Ted Cruz's record. Ted Cruz's campaign said they had nothing to do with Facebook page or the robo- calls in question. But what Marco Rubio's campaign is doing is raising questions. More than anything else, that's what they want to get out of this. The reason for this, John, is these campaigns are staring at a very similar pool of voters. While Ted Cruz is fighting Donald Trump for voters, Marco Rubio's pool very much also leaning towards Ted Cruz. Rubio's team feels like he has momentum. They want to raise those questions as they go into the final days, and hope to pull a few more over and perhaps pass Ted Cruz, who is now second, turning it into a two-person race between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio -- John?

BERMAN: Phil Mattingly for us.

If you're keeping score, Jeb just going after Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio just going after Ted Cruz.

And we're awaiting a news conference in Seneca, South Carolina. A live picture of that. Seneca, South Carolina, Ted Cruz about to take the stage and answer questions from reporters, very well might have a statement as well. We expect that he has something new to say about Donald Trump. What is it? Can it change the current trajectory in South Carolina where Donald Trump is pretty comfortably ahead? We will get you to this Ted Cruz news conference, which they just called, and we'll bring it to you in a few minutes as soon as it starts.

Meanwhile, in the Democratic race, a major Bernie Sanders supporter under fire for saying, "A uterus does not qualify you to be president." What does Hillary Clinton have to say about that? We could find out any moment. She's got a live event moments from now.



KILLER MIKE, RAPPER & BERNIE SANDERS SUPPORTER: I talked to Jane a few weeks ago, and Jane said, Michael, a uterus does not qualify you to be president of the United States.


BERMAN: "A uterus does not qualify you to be president." Those words from Killer Mike, Mike Render, who is a big Bernie Sanders supporter.

In just a few minutes, Hillary Clinton will hold an event in Chicago. This is her first chance to respond to that comment. Also, her first chance to respond to our new poll in Nevada that shows her leading Bernie Sanders by just one single, a solitary point, essentially tied three days before the Nevada caucuses.

I want to bring in CNN's senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, who is live at that event in Chicago -- Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, we're hearing a lot from the campaign about this, but mostly from the people who work in the campaign. Brian Fallon on "New Day" this morning calling those comments by the rapper disappointing. And we heard on Twitter just a little while ago from Karen Finney, communications adviser for the campaign, she tweeted, "Based on her uterus. Must be ignoring @HillaryClinton's lifetime of doing the work breaking down barriers of all."

So why this is important? It's important because Killer Mike is seen as a leading surrogate for Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail, particularly on his trips and journeys through historically black colleges and universities throughout the country, and younger people apparently really listening to him. The campaign is concerned about that, I think. And talking privately to people with the Clinton campaign, there's a sense of a bit of a double-standard in the media in the reporting of that, because they make the point that, if one of the surrogates for Hillary Clinton had said something as inflammatory as Killer Mike did, it would be all over the front pages of the newspapers and on cable tv. A good example of that, perhaps, Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright and their recent comments about women and the need to support Hillary Clinton.

So a lot to talk about. Not clear at all that Hillary Clinton is going to address this before the crowd. But if she does, we'll get back to you.

BERMAN: In Nevada, a new poll, the new CNN poll in Nevada showing her with virtually no lead at there. Just one point separating the two. And this event in Chicago, I know it's very meaningful for the Clinton campaign, Joe?

JOHNS: Absolutely. She's campaigning with the mother of Sandra Bland, the Chicago-area woman who died in the hands of law enforcement in Texas, raising the Black Lives Matter issue, among others, here in Chicago and across the country. So Hillary Clinton has been very much aligning herself with the victims of alleged police misconduct as a way to reach out to the African-American community.

You know, just yesterday, in New York City, she gave that big speech and also met with African-American leaders, including Al Sharpton, the head of the Urban League, and the head of the NAACP. So Hillary Clinton making a big play for African-American voters in the run-up, I should say, to the South Carolina primary where African-American voters are so important -- John?

[11:39:50] BERMAN: Joe Johns for us in Chicago. Let us know what happens. We'll check back in with you shortly. Thanks, Joe.

Want to bring Patti Solis Doyle, CNN political commentator and Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign manager; and Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and a former senior spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign.

Patti, I want to start with these comments from Mike Render, also known as Killer Mike, saying, "A uterus doesn't qualify you to be president." It nevertheless came out of his mouth in a Bernie Sanders event. And it's not really the type of thing we have heard directly from Sanders supporters, official Sanders supporters on the stump.

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Well, look, I think the remark is a bit silly. Hillary Clinton is not asking people to vote for her because she's a woman. She's asking people to vote for her because she's qualified. She's experienced. She's got detailed plans on how to battle systemic racism, which she talked about yesterday. She's got detailed plans on income inequality, reforming Wall Street, on college affordability. The list goes on and on and on. The fact that she's a woman and could be the first president of the United States is just icing on the cake.

BERMAN: You know, you say she's not asking people to vote for her because she's a woman. You know, it's certainly not only because she's a woman but she does bring up the fact that she's a woman a lot. Look, Madeleine Albright says women who don't help other women, "there's a special place in hell for them." Hillary Clinton brought up at the PBS debate that there were more women on the stage for the first time and brought up, how can you call her an establishment when she would be the first woman president. Mo, it's part of her campaign, to be sure.

MO ELLEITHEE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE: You know, I think you can just look at Hillary Clinton and get that message. Right?


I think she points out the historic nature of her candidacy and I think there's something there. But, you know, this isn't the first time that I agree with Patti. I've learned a long time ago to agree with her as often as I can.

She's not running exclusively on that and I think the problem with Killer Mike's comments -- yes, he was quoting someone else but he quoted it to agree with it -- is that it actually undermines and belittles, I think, the broader point that maybe he was trying to make. He's certainly not the first campaign surrogate to step in it and to get the campaign into trouble. But the fact that he's embracing it after the fact and the campaign isn't distancing itself is going to be a challenge for them.


ELLEITHEE: She's not running because she's a woman, and they are undermining their own argument, I think.

SOLIS DOYLE: Can I just jump in here, too? Back in '08, the campaign was criticized for not talking enough about the historic nature of being potentially the first woman president. Now she's being criticized for talking too much about it. So, you know, when you're Hillary Clinton, I guess you're used to the double-standard, but she can't win for losing here.

BERMAN: No. And in this case, it was a comment made from a supporter of Bernie and the comment should be directed to them to be sure.

Let's talk about Nevada, Patti. I was with you in Nevada. Now Hillary Clinton is tied in this state which isn't a white state like Iowa and New Hampshire which doesn't border Vermont. This is a big problem.

SOLIS DOYLE: Well, look, I'm not going to take anything away from Bernie Sanders and his ability to organize and his ability to raise money and he's making it very close. His appeal to new-time caucus goers, we're going to see what the turnout is. But, yes, it's a problem and makes South Carolina all that more important. She needs a decisive win. If she wins by a little bit or even loses Nevada, she needs South Carolina and she's focused on South Carolina right now.

BERMAN: She's focused on South Carolina, Mo, but Nevada, I mean, one point, they have to be a little nervous.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah. Look, let's be careful how much stock we have put in one poll. I know it's your poll, CNN's poll, CNN a few days before Iowa had Bernie Sanders winning by eight and ended up being a different result. I don't mean to discount the poll. I think something is going on there. Nevada is a very difficult state to poll because the caucus there is so -- caucus states are typically just difficult to poll. But I agree with Patti. Bear Bernie Sanders is running a heck of a campaign. The campaign on both sides know that Nevada is going to be sort of hand-to-hand combat. They are both organizing very well and it is going to be close. I don't put anything past the Hillary Clinton organization, though. They've been working the state for a long time. They've developed a lot of relationships. And I think that is -- that's going to help them on caucus day, on Saturday.

[11:45:01] BERMAN: Caucus day is Saturday. We'll be cover it live all day, both the Nevada caucuses and the Republican South Carolina primary.

Patti Solis Doyle, Mo Elleithee, thank you. Appreciate it.

Back to South Carolina, we're getting word that Ted Cruz is going to talk to the media at any moment, answering questions from reporters. Obviously, a statement. And they just scheduled this event. What does he have to say and what news does he want to make? Is it a response to Donald Trump?

Plus, it is the endorsement that everyone wants. In a big move, the South Carolina governor has narrowed her list to every candidate, but one. Learn which one, next.



GOV. NIKKI HALEY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We don't want a president that's just going to come in and bash and tell us what we are not doing right. We want a president that's going to help us fight, help us win, and help us explain why we don't want Syrian refugees, why Guantanamo Bay prisoners don't need to come to South Carolina. So I thought it was quite Obama-like.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So is it safe to say you won't be endorsing Donald Trump?

HALEY: I think it's probably safe to say that, yeah.


[11:50:03] BERMAN: I don't know if you could read the words underneath that, but she was asked, are you going to support Donald Trump? That was the hugely popular governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, and she said, no, she will not support Donald Trump. She will not be voting for Donald Trump in Saturday's South Carolina primary.

But according to the CNN/ORC poll from South Carolina, Donald Trump may not need that vote. He's 16 points ahead of Ted Cruz, dominating everywhere among ever demographic, including evangelicals, which is supposed to be the Cruz crowd.

We should tell you, by the way, that Ted Cruz set to speak any moment. His campaign called a news conference. We do not know why. Any minute now, he will take that stage and say something. I would not be surprised if it's about Donald Trump.

Joining me now to discuss, the CNN political commentator, Margaret Hoover, former George W. Bush White House staffer, who also worked on the Bush and Giuliani campaigns; and CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, a friend of Marco Rubio and a supporter now of Jeb Bush.

Margaret, let me start with you.

We're expecting to hear from Ted Cruz any minute now. Ted Cruz has been beaten up by Donald Trump on the stump a lot. Also, by Marco Rubio on the stump a lot. Is there anything Ted Cruz can say when he takes that stage any minute from now that will change the trajectory in the next few days that will make the 16-points gap we saw in the polls less?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Incredibly unlikely that Ted Cruz is going to come out and the skies are going to part, the seas will part and he'll have a path towards second-place finish. They are fighting. Cruz, Rubio, Jeb, everybody behind is duking it out over second and third. I think after this, South Carolina, Nevada and then into the SEC primary, is so fundamentally important for Ted Cruz. He has based his entire campaign and the entire reason on sweeping the south and being able to consolidate the conservative base, the evangelical vote, which he is -- it's falling away from him so rapidly in South Carolina. Our new CNN poll shows college educated and non-college educated hugely favor Trump over Cruz.

BERMAN: So you think it's a position of fear?

HOOVER: This is more shenanigans. Their firing squad pointing guns at each other, trying to come out on top and all of them are just duking it out over the fumes of Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Can we put up the poll again in South Carolina now that shows the state of the race?

It is very revealing. Look at that, 38 percent for Donald Trump. And then the next guys all grouped together, 22, 14, 10.

You know, Ana, just 10 points for Jeb Bush right now, in fourth place, after everything, after bringing his brother down, after the strong performance at the debate, after the strong performance they were happy about in New Hampshire, after changing to contact lenses. Is there anything he could do to change the race right now, Jeb Bush?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, look. I think he's doing what he's got to do, which is he's got to leave everything on the field. He's got to campaign his little heart out for the next four days. He's got to get his people out. He's got to continue doing it. He's got to -- hope that his supporters turn out on Saturday. These polls, when it comes to second and third place, in particular, are very, very close. You don't just throw up a white flag. You fight until the very end. And I think that's what you're going to see all of them try to do.

What we're seeing Ted Cruz do today is get himself some free media attention. He's having this press conference, because we're all going to cover it, we're all waiting with bated breath to see what he's going to say. It's a very smart tactic.

Look, it's something Donald Trump has been doing very successfully for nine months, getting the free media attention. So I think Ted Cruz is getting in the game, and, you know, going to see more of this WWE cage match that, unfortunately, this GOP primary has deteriorated into. I'm very surprised, frankly, by the evangelical numbers out of South Carolina. Because, you know, it's just mind-boggling that they would be supporting a guy who obviously, you know, does not -- does not have the same knowledge of the Bible, the same reliance on religion that some of the other candidates do. That uses profanity.

South Carolina has always been a state of hard-ball politics, rough- and-tumble politics, in a much more under-the-table way than what we are seeing now, where the candidates are directly, openly, overtly waging horrible insults at each other.

South Carolina is a genteel country. It's, you know, genteel people who say "ma'am" and "sir." I just can't believe they are going for this guy.

BERMAN: You're a liar, ma'am! You're a liar, sir.


I can see Margaret Hoover jumping out of her chair out of the corner of my eye. You want to get a piece in?

HOOVER: I wanted to add to Ana's point. This commentary everybody has said is not monolithic. But nobody is saying why. You have 65 percent of the population is evangelical voters. OK? 37 percent are non-college educated. 28 percent are college educated. The ones who are sort of college educated, they tend to be values voters. They tend to vote more on sort of the -- some of the religious issues, more devout, go to church, more religious and maybe more literalistic in their interpretations. Where the non-college educated care more about economic issues. That's why Donald Trump is giving voice to their issues. This is why the talk on immigration, the talk on trade has significantly impacted this cohort of the economy. And frankly, it's a part of the economy that if the Republican Party doesn't figure out how to connect to quickly, they're going to lose all together.

[11:55:38] BERMAN: Yeah.

HOOVER: This is why Donald Trump is running away with it. The Republican Party hasn't offered solutions to the people he's given voice to.

BERMAN: And South Carolina on Saturday where he's ahead in the polls. You have Nevada just a few days after that, where he's ahead in the polls. The Republican Party may have to come to terms with the fact it has to do something, if -- if they want to stop Donald Trump.

Margaret Hoover and Ana Navarro, thank you.

Again, we're watching Ted Cruz now. He's got a news conference. We expect him to take the stage. We have been waiting for about 20 minutes now. What's the delay? Could it mean the news is even bigger than we thought? Also, a lot going on right now. In just minutes, Hillary Clinton, she

has an event in Chicago. We are waiting to hear her response to a Sanders supporter saying, "A uterus doesn't qualify you to be president."