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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Attacking ISIS; Can Rubio Survive?; Democrats Square Off; Sanders Picks Up Major Win in Michigan; Trump After 3 Tuesday Wins: We Should Unify. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 9, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:12]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Democrats about to square off after the biggest upset of the season.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Bernie Sanders shocking Hillary Clinton in Michigan, pulling off a win not even his own campaign saw coming, and this right before another big debate on CNN tonight.

Donald Trump keeps rolling as questions mount about whether Marco Rubio's campaign can survive another disappointing finish. Can he stay afloat through his own home state of Florida?

Plus, breaking news in the war on terror. U.S. airstrikes zeroing in on ISIS chemical weapons after U.S. forces capture the chief of the program and he starts talking.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again today for Jake Tapper.

And our politics lead, Bernie Sanders, a big surprise winner in Michigan. It is one of the biggest upsets in any one state in recent political history. And tonight Sanders and Clinton go head to head once again. The Univision Democratic debate, it starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You can watch it right here on CNN.

Tomorrow, Republicans get their last chance to slow Donald Trump before Florida and Ohio. Jake Tapper, he moderates the Republican presidential debate live from the U.

Both events are the opening acts for the return of Super Tuesday. This time, it is Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. They are all on the line. These are some of the battlegrounds that truly matter in the general election in November.

Senator Sanders says that is a long ways off and he is vowing to fight Hillary Clinton all the way to the Democratic Convention. But he will need to pull off the kind of victory he scored in Michigan last night in other states if he wants to be a lasting contender.

CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar, she is in Miami at the site of tonight's Democratic debate.

So, Brianna, where does Sanders and his campaign believe he will be most able to repeat the kind of success he saw yesterday in Michigan?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, they're certainly eying Florida, where we are tonight, but they're especially eying Ohio and also Illinois, where the campaign thinks that Sanders can build on those attacks on Hillary Clinton's past trade agreement support.

They think that will give him the edge, especially coming off of this momentum that he got from his big Michigan win.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Both Democratic candidates preparing for tonight's debate after a major upset in Michigan.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This should scare the Clinton folks, if anything.

KEILAR: Anticipating a loss, Sanders campaign rally in Michigan was over and done before results even began to come in for Michigan. As it appeared he would clinch the win, he made a hastily arranged appearance at his Florida hotel.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just want to take this opportunity to thank the people of Michigan who kind of repudiated the polls that had us down 20, 25 points down a few days ago.

KEILAR: His final push against Clinton, attacks on her support for past trade agreements and connections with Wall Street, seemed to resonate with Michigan voters.

SANDERS: Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of these disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America.

KEILAR: Clinton's main attack line on Sanders, that he voted against the Wall Street funds that included money to bail out car companies, failed to deliver a win.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry.

KEILAR: Clinton may have split the delegate prize in Michigan with Sanders, but she handily won the Mississippi primary, picking up more delegates for the night than her opponent. The math is still very much in Clinton's favor. She has a lead of 217 pledged delegates and her outlook for the next big series of primaries is better than Sanders.

Clinton has been leading in the polls in Florida and Ohio, but polling hasn't matched the outcome in several contests, and Sanders may have found a message that will help him in Michigan's industrial neighbor of Ohio, where Clinton held her rally last night.

CLINTON: Thank you all so very much. KEILAR: Clinton may have to hit pause on her recent pivot to the

general election and turn her focus back to the primary battle with Sanders. Sanders is promising a fight as the primary contests move out of the South, where Clinton has enjoyed a big advantage.

SANDERS: We believe that our strongest areas are yet to happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: With Bernie Sanders' momentum coming off of that win, the stakes are all that higher at this debate tonight.

And you know, Jim. You were watching on Sunday night at the CNN debate. It was the most contentious debate yet that we had seen yet on the Democratic side. Perhaps Bernie Sanders will be inspired for a repeat performance.

SCIUTTO: Brianna, we will be watching tonight. Thanks very much.

Joining me now to talk about the Democrat presidential race is Karen Finney. She is the communications director for the Clinton campaign.

Karen, thank you for joining us today.

KAREN FINNEY, SENIOR ADVISER, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN: Great to be with you.

[16:05:05]

One correction. I don't want my boss to get mad at me. I'm a senior adviser and communications adviser. Jennifer Palmieri is our communications director.

SCIUTTO: All right. I just promoted you.

FINNEY: Oh, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Maybe that will come across in the next contract.

FINNEY: OK.

SCIUTTO: So, just bluntly to start off, why did Clinton lose Michigan?

FINNEY: Well, look, it was a state where Bernie Sanders outspent us. They had more people on the ground. It was clearly a must-win state for Senator Sanders. And while it turned -- it was close, he came out with the win. I think it's as simple as that.

I also think it's quite clear that the polls were wrong.

SCIUTTO: Well, no question. We have seen a lot of precedent for that.

But there were signs in his victory that could be worrisome going forward, because Sanders, he didn't just win over young people and independents. He also made inroads among blue-collar voters there. I just wonder, how does the Clinton campaign eliminate that disconnect going forward?

FINNEY: Well, look, I think we're going to take a look at the next five states and I think Senator Sanders will have the opportunity to demonstrate that he's able to put together the coalition that you absolutely must have to win, and that includes African-American voters, Latinos, women. So he's -- he hasn't quite yet demonstrated the ability to put that full coalition together.

Meanwhile, Hillary has won in the North and the South and the East and the West and put together a very diverse coalition of voters. So we're going to be working hard moving towards Ohio and those other states for next week and making sure that they understand her -- know her message about the importance of creation, how she wants to increase incomes.

SCIUTTO: And we're familiar with the message, but I do have to ask you, because there's this story. People were talking about this last night. Hillary Clinton, she is going to wrap it up last night, and again not able to do that.

I just wonder how you fight that sort of sense of disappointment or that the momentum can't build enough behind her candidacy? A lot of Democratic voters still have questions about her.

FINNEY: I mean, Jim, come on, all due respect, it was -- she trounced in Mississippi, and we still ended the night very much in the lead and frankly very much in a very strong position going forward.

At the end of the day, this is about getting to the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination. And 4.8 million people have come out and voted for Hillary Clinton. So I understand. I worked in television. I understand that we want to keep this going and we want to create the drama around it, but let's not forget the facts.

And the facts remain that Hillary is very much in the lead. And, again, our hope is that we will continue to pull away next week, and we're going to work hard to make sure that that's what happens.

SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you this, because I certainly don't want to get ahead of ourselves here. But looking ahead to the possibility of a general election, there are Democrats I have spoken with who say that let's say it is Trump vs. Clinton, that there are issues, that Trump actually matches up pretty well with Hillary Clinton, particularly blue-collar voters, who are upset about trade agreements, for instance, signed by Hillary Clinton's husband, but also the loss of jobs, that he's eating into a base that you might have expected her to be able to rely on.

I wonder how significant a concern that is, and, again, not to get ahead of ourselves, but in a potential Clinton-Trump match-up.

FINNEY: Well, but here's the thing. I understand why Senator Sanders' campaign wants to talk about the '90s and, you know, attack Hillary Clinton for the things that her husband did, rather than actually talking about her own record when she was a senator.

And in the Senate, she voted against CAFTA, the trade agreement, and she voted against other trade agreements. So I understand why they don't want to talk about that, but we're going to keep talking about that and that's part of why we're also going to keep talking about what her ideas are, all of which are paid for, all of which are very well-thought-out in terms of how we create jobs, how we incentivize the private industry to support communities that have been left behind, invest in those communities, make sure we protect health care, make sure we're increasing incomes.

So there's some very different ideas that Hillary has about those things than does Senator Sanders. And clearly I think it's pretty obvious Hillary is nowhere near ever going to run a campaign on the kind of bigotry and bluster that we're seeing from the Republican side led by Donald Trump.

So we feel good about where we are, and we think we have a message that is resonating with people. It is true to their lives. We feel good going into tonight. I think the debate will be quite interesting. And we feel good about next week.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: We will have to leave it there.

Senior adviser to the Clinton campaign -- we got that right -- Karen Finney, thanks for coming on.

FINNEY: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: I want to bring in now CNN political commentators Bill Press and Van Jones.

Bill, Van, even his own campaign thought that he wouldn't come out on top in Michigan, but Bernie Sanders, as you know, did and now in the race. To pinpoint why, a lot of insiders say his message on trade. And this ad corroded Hillary Clinton's support with middle-age voters worried about the economy.

[16:10:01]

Could that argument push Sanders to another monumental upset in Florida? Stick around. I'm going to ask our panel right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: We are back with more in today's politics lead and new momentum for Senator Bernie Sanders.

His victory in Michigan against Hillary Clinton put him on the path to boosting his tally of delegates. Next week's primary calendar includes Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, like Michigan, Midwestern states with a heavy blue-collar base, the three making up more than half of the 691 delegates that are still up for grabs.

So how do the candidates shape their messages going forward to win those delegates and into tonight's debate?

Two CNN political commentators joining me now, Van Jones here in Washington, and Bill Press, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter. He is joining us now from Chicago.

Van, if I could begin with you, how surprised was the Sanders campaign even by last night's results?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It was a shocker to everyone. Obviously, they had Senator Sanders like sneaking out of town. They didn't even wait for the results to roll him out.

Had he lost, the entire rationale for his candidacy would have completely collapsed. It would have proven this knock on him that he cannot grow among black voters and that his trade message doesn't work in the North.

[16:15:02] It turns out he did grow among black voters, his message does resonate, and also he found an issue -- a sleeper issue around the home foreclosure crisis up there that also helped him to break through. A stunner for the Clintons, who, by the way, had every Clinton ever born in Michigan. They had Chelsea, they had Bill, they had Hillary, they had Socks, they had Buddy, they had every Clinton ever and they still got beat. A stunner.

SCIUTTO: So, of course, Mitt Romney with the Michigan past didn't help him chosen candidate there on the Republican side.

Bill Press, looking at this, I mean, particularly with those blue collar voters, right, which was a big issue there and spelling some concern for Hillary Clinton going forward. But I wonder, how does Bernie Sanders capitalize on his gains in Michigan with these primaries we have coming up next week, particularly in Illinois and Missouri and Ohio, with a similar kind of a makeup?

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think it's interesting. I don't think Bernie has had to retool his campaign at all, he just keeps plugging away with the same message. And, you know, for the last, I don't know, how long, Van, six months or certainly the last week, all we've heard from the Clinton campaign is come on, Bernie, you know, it's time to fold, the math is against you, time to fold your tent, time to get out of here, it's really all over.

And Bernie kept saying, no, our best states are ahead of us. The best states, the most promising states are ahead of us, and it turns out he was right. So I think that there was some authenticity here, I believe, on the trade deals. Even the Democratic establishment don't get the anxiety among people, the pain to use Van's word, that people at the bottom feel about these trade deals, about jobs, about the economy. Bernie has been speaking to that. It carried through in Michigan.

He's -- you know, he was against NAFTA from the beginning, he was against TPP from the beginning and people know despite what Karen said, Hillary was not. And so, that's Bernie's message. I think last night's win really propels him and gives him really good momentum, of course, going into Ohio, Illinois and Missouri.

SCIUTTO: So, Van Jones, the last Democratic debate was fiery, as we know. After that kind of loss from Hillary Clinton's strategy, does she change her approach at all in tonight's debate against the senator?

JONES: This is going to be the big, big mystery everybody is going to be looking for. I thought her attempt to pretend that Bernie Sanders was against the auto bailout was one of the low moments of the campaign. I mean it's just completely not true. He voted for the bailout, he just didn't want it mixed in with the Wall Street stuff.

If she continues to go down that road, since she's still likely to win. Let's be clear, Bernie Sanders has to start winning 60-40 to overcome her, so she's still the presumptive nominee. He could catch her, but it would be hard. She's going to have to pull this party back together. If she does those cheap shots all night long, I think it's harder for her long term.

SCIUTTO: Bill, I want to ask you, so on paper you look at the economy and it seems to be improving. Unemployment remains the lowest point since 2008, gas prices as we know far cheaper than a year ago. But this last number appears to be the key.

The median income in the U.S. around $53,000, when you adjust for inflation, that number hasn't budged much in decades. A lot of people feel poorer than they were ten years ago or so. Is that really the source of the anger from the voters who are supporting Bernie Sanders?

PRESS: No, I think it is. I think Bernie has tapped into that and strangely enough, Donald Trump has tapped into that on the other side. Which, by the way, gets to your point earlier with Karen, Jim, I thought was absolutely right on. Democrats have to be thinking about that key message in November.

But, look, at the bottom and Bernie always says it, the gains have gone all the way to the top. Millions and millions of Americans in the 99 percent are really struggling with the same wages or lower wages and higher costs for college tuition just making their payments at the end of the month, and they feel that the Democratic establishment as well as the Republican establishment them.

And Bernie comes along as a champion who says, yes, let's shake up the Democratic party too. Business as usual is not good enough. I think that message is resonating.

SCIUTTO: On both sides, no question.

Van Jones, Bill Press, know a little bit about what they're talking about. Thanks for both of you to come on.

Sanders and Clinton clashing again on the debate stage tonight. It is the Univision Democratic presidential debate. You can watch it here on CNN. That is tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

And it all comes down to Florida. But after another string of losses, is Marco Rubio's campaign all but over? And will he have any home state advantage to stop Trump's momentum?

Then, there was a warrant out for his arrest, so how did the man wanted for allegedly shooting a pastor in Idaho manage to board a passenger flight here to the nation's capital?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

As the Republican candidates prepare to meet onstage at CNN's Florida debate tomorrow, Donald Trump says we may all be in for a surprise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It will be a nicer, softer, lighter debate, I hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Now, just into CNN, we're learning that ahead of the debate, former Florida governor and early Trump antagonist Jeb Bush will meet with every GOP candidate, that is except those named Trump.

CNN politics reporter Sara Murray is live in Miami, the site of CNN's Republican debate tomorrow.

So, Sara, Donald Trump's insults of his rivals, as we know, virtually defined his campaign style. Why is he promising now to be nicer in this next debate?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Jim, I think you're seeing a Donald Trump who wants to appear more presidential. He wants to prove he can broaden his appeal. And make no mistake about it, after last night, he is clearly the Republican front-runner and he's not going anywhere, Jim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:25:08] TRUMP: I was watching the news in one of the rooms, and every single advertisement was about me. And it was during my tournament. I'm turning my tournament -- I go from tournament to horrible -- every -- the most vicious ads.

MURRAY (voice-over): In the face of an onslaught of attacks, Donald Trump triumphing on Tuesday night, notching three more victories and nudging the party to rally behind him.

TRUMP: The bottom line is we have something going that's so good, we should grab each other and we should unify the party. And nobody is going to beat us, OK?

MURRAY: The billionaire businessman celebrating with a surreal election night event, responding to drumbeat of criticism about his failed ventures with an evening designed to showcase Trump branded products.

TRUMP: He said, Trump magazine is out. I said, it is? I thought I read one two days ago.

MURRAY: Now that the fight for the nomination is looking more like a two-man race, Ted Cruz isn't letting up.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have any steaks to sell you. I don't have any wine. I don't have any cleaning products.

MURRAY: The Texas senator emerging with a victory in Idaho Tuesday, and today getting another boost with an endorsement from former presidential hopeful, Carly Fiorina.

CRUZ: Carly's being with us today is just one more manifestation of what we have been seeing playing out over the last several weeks, which is Republicans uniting, coming together behind our campaign.

MURRAY: But for Marco Rubio, the night was brutal. Another winless evening and even steeper odds as he pins all his hopes on Florida.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You believed in me once, I am asking you to believe again. We can win this election and we will. I need your help next Tuesday because we're not just going to win the Florida primary, we are going to win Florida in November.

MURRAY: And today, John Kasich is still holding on, outperforming Rubio last night and fighting for victory in his home state of Ohio next Tuesday.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And with those states that have not yet selected a delegate, basically the three, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and I are dead even going into the last half of this whole match. So don't be thinking it's over yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)\

MURRAY: Now, these candidates will make their closing arguments before the March 15th date on our CNN debate stage tomorrow night. And for Marco Rubio and for John Kasich, they're going to have to prove to voters that they are still viable candidates in this race -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray in sunny Miami, Florida.

CNN's Anderson Cooper just sat down with Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who had a lot to say about the state of the race and his victories last night. Let's have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Huge night last night. Did you -- did you have any idea that you were going to win as big as you did?

TRUMP: Well, I felt good. Mississippi, I was there three or four times and it was like a love fest, so I felt very good about it. Michigan has been great. It's been great for me for a long time. I have so many friends there. I had no idea it would be that big. COOPER: Do you think it's the message on trade particularly in

Michigan that was effective? We see Sanders winning as well there with a very similar message on trade.

TRUMP: I think they want strength, I think they want military, I think they want to take care of vets, I think they hate Obamacare. But I would say, ultimately, it's about jobs and the economy. You know, Michigan has been stripped. You look at those empty factories all over the place and nobody hits that message better than me.

COOPER: Two new polls out today, Quinnipiac, also CNN, both showing essentially the same thing. You are way ahead here in Florida, almost, I think, 2-1 against Rubio and even in Ohio leading Kasich six points and seven points in each poll.

If you win Florida, if you win Ohio, is it over?

TRUMP: I think so, yes. I think if I win those two, I think it's over.

COOPER: If you win Ohio, Kasich drops out and you win Florida and Rubio is gone and it's just you and Cruz, if you don't get all the delegates needed to win by the convention --

TRUMP: Well, I think if I Ohio and if I win Florida, pretty much you're going to be pretty much assured of doing that.

COOPER: You think you'll get all the delegates?

TRUMP: I think so, yes. I don't see the convention going that route. I see probably getting the delegates. You know, it's like the fighters, that's the ultimate way of doing it. You knock them out. If you knock them out, nothing can happen.

COOPER: You want to go for a knockout.

TRUMP: I'd rather go for a knockout, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: You can see Anderson's full interview with Donald Trump tonight on "AC360" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

Steak, wine, water and magazines, sounded more like an infomercial than a victory speech but is that how the Republican presidential front-runner should act? We'll ask the national campaign co-chair right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)