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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Senator Mike Lee of Utah; In the Past, Trump and Carson Traded Barbs; New Article Dives Deep Into Obama's Policies; How Will Candidates Save Social Security? Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 11, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02] SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: Marco Rubio is a great man. He's a great friend of mine, will always continue to be.

I hope that he will end up supporting Ted Cruz. I hope that he'll get on this bandwagon and help support him. That will of course be up to him and his family as they make decisions over the next few days.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Of course we have no idea what's going to happen on Tuesday. He could well win the Florida primary, although polls seem to suggest Donald Trump will.

Do you subscribe to the theory that if he loses badly in his home state, his political career is over?

LEE: I don't know if you can ever say that someone's political career is over just because they lose one election, even if it's a presidential primary election in their home state. It certainly isn't helpful and I know that would have to be very discouraging to him if that happens. But I -- you know, I don't think anyone can say that he has no political future, if that doesn't turn out well for him on Tuesday.

TAPPER: Senator Mike Lee, thank you. It's been too long. Don't be so long coming back next time. We appreciate you being here.

LEE: I'll come back soon. Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Senator.

It's hard to forget when Donald Trump called Ben Carson pathological.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But if you're a child molester, there's no cure. They can't stop you. Pathological, there's no cure. Now, he said he was pathological. OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, it seems Trump and the good doctor are quick to forgive and forget, but are the voters?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:45] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson made up today when Carson threw his support behind his Florida neighbor. But it wasn't long ago when Carson posed a threat to Trump in the polls and the billionaire businessman was pulling no punches, mocking Carson, telling stories about Carson's childhood violence from Carson's book and Carson responded with some serious questions about Trump's faith.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have a breaking story. Donald Trump has fallen to second place behind Ben Carson. We informed Ben but he was sleeping.

So, he's a pathological, damaged, temper, a problem. But if you're a child molester, there's no cure. They can't stop you. Pathological, there's no cure. Now, he said he was pathological. OK.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, I realize where my success has come from. And I don't in anyway deny my faith in God.

TRUMP: He took a knife and he went after a friend and he lunged, he lunged that knife into the stomach of his friend, but lo and behold, it hit the belt. It hit the belt. And the knife broke.

Give me a break. Give me a break.

I have a belt. Somebody hits me with a belt going in because the belt moves this way. It moves this way. It moves that way. He hit the belt buckle.

CARSON: One of my favorite Bible versus, Proverbs 22:4. It says, "By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life." And that's a very big part of who I am, humility and a fear of the Lord. I don't get that impression with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was then, and this is now.

Let's bring in today's panel. CNN political commentator, Mary Katharine Ham. She's also a senior writer at "The Federalist". Juleanna Glover is a Republican strategist and CNN political commentator Kayleigh McEnany, who is also a conservative columnist.

Mary Katharine, who did you make of this endorsement from Dr. Ben Carson? Did you expect that he would go on to the Trump camp?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I did not expect that. And, actually, if you look at his Facebook page, it's interesting to see the response from many of his fans. I mean, you've got like a man who seems to be maybe the nicest guy on the planet and maybe this is why he endorsed Trump, he's so nice and so faithful that he's forgiven him for calling him pathological like a pedophile and endorse him.

The response from many of his fans is, like, I'm really surprised by this and not excited about it. I think many of those people are inclined to go Cruz would be my guess. Not all of them. Some of them will listen to Ben Carson, but this is quite something to get over, to stand behind him at a podium.

TAPPER: Kayleigh, let me bring you in because Trump was asked about some of these comments, especially the pathological and child molester comments and Trump said, look, that's part of the political game but that's all behind us.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that's exactly right. You know, he was playing into the larger narrative. If you turned on any news station when Donald Trump was making those comments, the narrative coming out of the news station was Ben Carson lied about X, Y or Z.

I contest that Ben Carson never lied but the fact is, that was what was being said repeatedly. Donald Trump played into that and it speaks very highly of Donald Trump that Ben Carson said despite sparring with this man, despite all of the negativity between the two of us, I am endorsing him for president of the United States.

I think what is more important than that is that today he spoke to Trump's soft underside, his soft underbelly, his Christian spirit. He validated what a lot of evangelicals are seeing, there's another side to Trump. That's why he's winning in southeastern states and winning among evangelicals.

TAPPER: Juleanna, obviously, there's still a very vocal stop Trump movement and there are questions about, and you heard him from Mitt Romney among others about how best to do it. Take a listen to Marco Rubio's communications director Alex Conant talking about a way that Trump can be stopped.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:40:05] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Rubio supporters in Ohio should vote for John Kasich. Your answer is yes?

ALEX CONANT, MARCO RUBIO'S COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. My answer is John Kasich is the one candidate in Ohio that can beat Donald Trump. That's stating the obvious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Basically you have there the Rubio campaign saying if our supporters want to support John Kasich in Ohio, go ahead and do it. That's the best way to defeat Trump in Ohio.

You heard Ted Cruz and others say this is a lot of games.

JULEANNA GLOVER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You did hear Ted Cruz say it was a lot of games, but you also heard the Kasich folks not giving the Rubio team the same type of love. Kasich's folks came back and said they didn't necessarily agree that if Rubio people voted for Kasich in Ohio, that it would help Rubio if the Kasich folks voted for him in Florida. They said that Kasich's folks would win that without Rubio's team's help.

TAPPER: Yes, they were pretty tough. It was pretty vicious, right, Katharine?

HAM: I think Kasich is about as willing to play ball as Trump is to show his humility and fear of the Lord. I mean, this is like neither one is going to happen any time soon.

But, you know, Rubio and his folks are right. In Ohio, if you want to beat Trump, then Kasich is the guy to do it. If you want to do it in Florida, likely Rubio is a better bet than Cruz but it's a close call and certainly, there's just continue fighting each other. But I thought it was not a bad moment for Rubio's people to say, hey, this is the reality.

GLOVER: But it wasn't a position of strength. It wasn't a dominant campaign act. No.

TAPPER: No.

HAM: That ship has sailed.

TAPPER: Kayleigh, let me ask you. They were talking about fighting there, they were talking about, you know, rhetorical fighting, but there's actual fighting going on at Trump rallies on occasions.

Mr. Trump put the blame for the violence on bad dudes, the protesters, and he insisted he's not the problem. But the Clinton campaign and the Sanders campaign make it very clear that they think he is encouraging violence and this is going to be a campaign issue.

MCENANY: I don't think it will be a campaign issue. I think most voters when they look at this violence, they're willing to recognize that Donald Trump is drawing crowds as high as 35,000 or more. And when you are drawing crowds like that, it's not your job to baby-sit the audience.

There are municipal authorities, there are police officers, there are Secret Service officers there who are supposed to take care of the violence. That is not Donald Trump's job to do that.

Some of the protesters are boisterous, are throwing punches, are doing violence things, and likewise, some of his -- Donald Trump supporters are doing violent things, but it's not Donald Trump's role to stop them, just like it wasn't Barack Obama's role to ensure the Black Panthers didn't show up at a polling place as they did.

TAPPER: I don't know if that's exactly the same thing.

But, Mary Katharine, I asked Donald Trump last night, I read some of the quotes that he's made, punch them in the face, if you go to prison, I'll pay your legal bills.

I mean, does he bear any responsibility?

HAM: Those are fairly clear encouragements, are they not? I mean, it's -- the easy thing to do here, and it is true that he does not have to have responsibility for every single person in his audience at every moment, but what the baby-sitter should not do is say, hey, go out in the backyard and just fight it out. That's also not his role, but that's what he continues to do.

And then you've got this other incident with Michelle Fields with this allegation against Corey Lewandowski for touching her in a scrum and they have not dealt with this in a serious manner, which is what people are looking for. Hey, something happened, it looks like it was bad. We want to deal with this in a responsible and serious manner and make sure it doesn't happen again and that's the part that's not happening.

TAPPER: All right. We have to leave it there.

Mary Katharine Ham, Juleanna Glover, Kayleigh McEnany, thank you all so much.

And this weekend, hear from the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, at the CNN Ohio Democratic presidential town hall with TV1. I will co-host it this Sunday night, 8:00 Eastern.

From red lines to Putin to China, we're getting an unprecedented look at President Obama's world view. What does he consider his proud moment? Whom does he consider an ally? Whom does he consider an enemy? His answers might surprise you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Topping our World Lead today, some remarkable insight into President Obama's world view coming from a new article by Jeffrey Goldberg in "The Atlantic" magazine. It's titled "The Obama Doctrine."

Let's talk about it with Jeffrey Goldberg. Jeff, thanks for joining us. One of the things that struck me most about this very long and brilliant article was the president's view of his 2013 decision that surprised everyone, including his secretary of state and others.

Not to strike Syria even after he declared that the use of chemical weapons by President Assad was a red line for the United States and would prompt an attack.

He says in your article, quote, "I'm very proud of this moment. The fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America's interest, not only with respect to Syria but with respect to our democracy was as tough a decision as I've made and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make."

Obviously critics, including some from within the Obama administration, point to this as not his greatest success but his greatest failure.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE ATLANTIC": Right, right. And so that's why I wanted to go at it because I thought it was a hinge moment in his presidency. You know what he explained to me is as follows.

He was following what he calls the Washington playbook, which is you use military force if somebody violates your demands or your wishes.

And he realized at a certain point in that process, even though he laid down that red line, that he didn't want to go down what he saw as a very slippery slope toward total engagement in Syria.

So at the last moment on August 30th of 2013, he decided that, you know what, I'm not going to do this. I'm not going to do what some of my predecessors might have done, I'm going to find another way to get out of this jam.

[16:50:00]It's been obviously the source of a great deal of criticism from inside Washington and obviously allies in the Middle East and Europe since then.

TAPPER: And obviously the decision looked questionable then and now with the rise of ISIS and the complete deterioration of the country of Syria, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, millions of refugees, ISIS establishing a caliphate, perhaps it looks even worse.

Does the president in any way think that that decision may have helped pave the way to the rise of ISIS?

GOLDBERG: No, he doesn't, and to be fair, I think it's a bit of a leap to think that two or three days of missile strikes at Assad regime targets would have stopped everything that has subsequently happened from happening.

What he does think and I think this is true, because of a deal that he arranged with Vladimir Putin a couple of weeks after this the chemical weapons or most of the chemical weapons came out of Syria.

So he feels that he solved the problem without going to war which is not what happened with his predecessors. So he feels good about that decision and he feels you could play this counter factual game and guess about what could have happened if he had done x, y or z, but he finds those exercises sort of pointless.

TAPPER: You have an anecdote that was interesting. The president would often compare the role and rise of ISIS to a scene in the Batman movie "The Dark Knight" where all the leaders of all the gangs in Gotham are meeting and talking about their territories.

Mr. Obama said, quote, "The Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. ISIL is the Joker and has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That's why we have to fight it." But, Jeffrey, it doesn't seemed like the strategy to fight ISIL or ISIS has been that effective?

GOLDBERG: Well, I'm not here to defend or lambast the administration. I would say that he certainly has raised ISIS to a top tier national security threat, unlike the Assad regime, which we were just talking about.

He does not consider the Assad regime a direct national security threat to the United States. I think the administration would argue that they are grinding away at the problem.

They have not succeeded in building a Sunni army, a Sunni-Arab army that will take on ISIS, but they are using a lot of the tools at their disposal, including Special Forces, special operators and drone strikes and the like to degrade ISIS is.

It's not going as fast as they would like, but one of the things that I did learn is that before he leaves office, he very much wants to see the leadership of that organization destroyed. So that has been a request or an order to his national security apparatus, to get that done, so his successor doesn't have to deal with at least a powerful is.

TAPPER: Jeffrey Goldberg, thanks so much. The article is "The Obama Doctrine, How He Shaped The World." Jeffrey Goldberg, thank you so much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

TAPPER: It's considered the third rail of American politics because if you touch it, you might die. We're talking about Social Security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KASICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are more 18-year-olds who believe they have a better chance of seeing a UFO than a Social Security check.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Well, the truth is out there. How do all the candidates plan to address Social Security and the long-term debt crisis? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:57:32]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Our National Lead now, it is time for our segment "America's Debt and The Economy." Here's a riddle, what's good for Marco Rubio's mother? Potentially less predictable than a UFO citing and is the most expensive item in the federal budget, the answer is Social Security.

Within a decade it might run out of money. We asked the Republican candidates about this last night. Here is some of what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm against any changes to Social Security that are bad for my mother and we don't have to make any changes for them. But anyone who tells you that Social Security can stay the way it is, is lying.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not to increase the age and to leave it as is. I want to make our country rich again so we can afford it.

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For seniors, anyone at or near retirement there will be no changes whatsoever. We need have for younger workers that a portion of your tax payments are in personal accounts like a 401(k) that you own, that you control, that you can pass on to your kids and grandkids.

KASICH: There are more 18-year-olds who believe they have a better chance of seeing a UFO than a Social Security check.

RUBIO: Someone my age would retire at 68. We would continue allow it to increase the retirement age for future generations until it hits 70. If we don't do anything, we will have a debt crisis.

TRUMP: We will get rid of waste, fraud, abuse, and bring back business.

CRUZ: Hillary Clinton says she'll cut waste, fraud, and abuse. You know what? That is the statement of a liberal who doesn't understand government is the problem.

KASICH: I have a plan to fix it that doesn't even require raising the retirement age. If you've had wealth throughout your lifetime, you'll still get it, it will just simply be less. For those people who depend on that Social Security, they'll get their full benefit. That's the way it will work.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: If you think the 2016 race is messy, think again. Back in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln and Steven Douglas clashed, the race for the White House was as raucous as modern day politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His weapon, race hate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He accuses Lincoln of being in favor of race mixing, in favor of black equality, calls him a black Republican. He calls him things far worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: You can watch more of the drama in the upcoming episode of "Race For The White House" Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Be sure to tune into "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday morning. Republican presidential candidate, John Kasich, will join us. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Right now I turn you over to Brianna Keilar who is next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Happening now, dignity and division --