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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With New York Senator Charles Schumer; Interview With Senior Presidential Adviser Valerie Jarrett; President Obama Names Supreme Court Nominee; Trump: "Riots" Possible If I'm Not Nominated. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 16, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Got to be honest. Was kind of hoping President Obama would go full Frank Underwood and nominate Donald Trump to the bench. THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: battle lines being drawn. President Obama makes his pick for the Supreme Court, and Senate Republicans say that is about as far as he's going to get.

Donald Trump now predicting a riot if he does not get the Republican nomination, even if he does not secure enough delegates. Is it time for the Republican Party to go from denial to acceptance after another Super Tuesday trouncing?

Plus, if anyone had a bigger night than Donald Trump, it's Hillary Clinton. Trump today answering her with a new and interesting attack suggesting that she's the candidate who's the punchline.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin today with our politics lead and what could be a monumental shift on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama nominating 63-year-old Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy left by the passing of conservative icon Antonin Scalia today. Garland currently serves as chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals here in our nation's capital.

But almost every Republican in the Senate is refusing to even consider any Obama nominee, setting up what is sure to be a bitter showdown in the weeks and months ahead.

Let's get right to CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. She's live at the Supreme Court.

Pamela, the president was under pressure to pick somebody who could really rally Democrats and get them to the polls in November, but he went with a fairly establishment consensus pick, it looks like.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. With this pick, Jake, President Obama is sending a message that it's really about his legacy and not the election and that Merrick Garland gives him his best chance of putting a third justice on the high court. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I am nominating Chief Judge Merrick Brian Garland to join the Supreme Court.

BROWN: President Obama made his case for 63-year-old Merrick Garland, chief judge for the D.C. Appeals Court.

OBAMA: I have selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America's sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence.

BROWN: An emotional Judge Garland with his family looking on introduced himself to the nation.

JUDGE MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: This is the greatest honor of my life, other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago.

BROWN: The White House touts Judge Garland as having more federal judicial experience than any nominee in history, serving nearly two decades on the bench. Before that, he prosecuted Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

GARLAND: A Ryder truck was seen there.

BROWN: The president considers the Chicago native and Harvard Law graduate a consensus nominee. He was appointed to the D.C. Appeals Court by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and confirmed by a 76-23 Senate vote with bipartisan supporters, including Republican Orrin Hatch.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Based solely on his qualifications, I support the nomination of Mr. Garland and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.

BROWN: The ball now is in the Republicans' court, and they vow Judge Garland will not get a hearing.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: And it is the Senate's constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent.

BROWN: But Democrats aren't backing down.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: If Merrick Garland can't get bipartisan support, then nobody can.

BROWN: For Garland, this day is especially poignant, having been passed over twice before for a seat on the high court.

GARLAND: Mr. President, it's a great privilege to be nominated by a fellow Chicagoan. I am grateful beyond words for the honor you have bestowed upon me.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: It's unusual for a president to nominate someone in their 60s to the high court, but for Garland this was seen as his last shot and perhaps he has less to lose compared to a younger nominee.

Also part of the calculation, Jake, could be that it's an easier pill for Republicans to swallow, having someone older, rather than someone younger, who, of course, would serve on the high court for a longer time -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Joining me now from the White House is Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama.

Valerie, thanks so much for being here. Good to see you again.

VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: My pleasure, Jake. Good afternoon to you.

TAPPER: So, Republicans say they're not going to hold a hearing on this nomination. As much as you are convinced that you're on the correct side of this and Judge Garland is fully qualified, how is this not an exercise in futility?

JARRETT: Oh, it's not at all that.

[16:05:04]

We're very confident that two-thirds of the American people support the president's nominee having an opportunity for a hearing. It's what's fair. Chief Judge Garland has outstanding credentials. As you mentioned, he's a consensus-builder. He's a true public servant who has given to his country.

By every metric, he is absolutely qualified. And by the Republicans' own words, they have supported him in the past. And so our job is to have prepared the president. He's made his decision. He's selected an extraordinary nominee. And so now we expect that the Senate will do theirs.

And so the American people's voices will be heard, and we have seen a lot of energy and excitement around the country for the president's nominee. We expect that will continue.

TAPPER: Well, I hear what you're saying, that the polls are with you and Judge Garland is qualified, but I still don't understand how this isn't an exercise in futility.

How are you going to change the minds of Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans? They're saying no way and most of them are saying they won't even meet with him.

JARRETT: Well, we're hoping that will change. We're hoping today, now that the nominee's name is out there, it's not just a theoretical, but it's somebody who many of them have supported in the past, someone whose record is unassailable, that that will change their minds. They're going home for recess.

I think they are going to hear from a lot of their constituencies when they go -- constituents when they go back home about how important it is to be fair and give the nominee a chance and we expect that their minds will change.

TAPPER: Republicans say President Obama previously played politics with Supreme Court nominees put forth by President George W. Bush by filibustering, now Justice Samuel Alito, voting to do so anyway, and voting against Chief Justice John Roberts, both of them quite qualified.

Republicans say, why should Senate Republicans act any less politically than then Senator Obama did?

JARRETT: Look, the fact of the matter is, is that Justice Roberts is on the court today. The last time we were in an election year under President Reagan, the chief justice was already there.

We had -- well, we know that during Reagan's election year, 93-0, the nominee was approved. This is a time when Vice President Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And we were able to move forward. So we have done this in an election year before. There's no reason why we can't do it now.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked what he called the Biden rule as previous precedent. You talked about when Senator Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Take a listen to what then Senator Biden, chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1982, argued about how President George H.W. Bush should not name a nominee. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is under way, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over. That is what is fair to the nominee and essential to the process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Isn't that just the Republican position today?

JARRETT: The fact of the matter is, Justice Kennedy was approved under Chairman Biden 93-0 when the Democrats controlled the Senate and when a Republican president in an election year nominated him.

So the track record, regardless of phrases being taken out of context, is clear. There is no precedent for not moving forward in an election year, and they need to do it. And, again, Jake, I would remind you that the American people support

this effort. Two-thirds of them are behind it. They think it's only fair for the Republicans who say, well, the American people should speak, well, they did when they elected President Obama three years ago.

He still has another several months left on his term. This is well within his constitutional authority. It is his constitutional responsibility, just as it is theirs to advise and consent and hold a hearing.

So those are the points that we're going to be making. And, as I said again, this is where the American people are and what we're hoping is that the Republicans will follow suit.

TAPPER: Valerie, before you go, did you vote absentee ballot in Illinois?

JARRETT: you know what? It's interesting you would mention that. I'm no longer an Illinois resident. I'm a D.C. resident. So, I wish I could have voted absentee in Illinois.

TAPPER: All right, I was going to ask you who you voted for, but I guess you haven't voted yet.

JARRETT: That's private.

TAPPER: Valerie Jarrett at the White House for us, thank you so much.

The future of President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court lies with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans say they will not hold a hearing Bush, could public pressure change their minds? We will ask a Republican and a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:41]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're just learning that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke to President Obama's Supreme Court pick, Judge Merrick Garland, this afternoon by phone. McConnell's office says that the majority leader said he didn't want to waste Garland's time -- quote -- "with unnecessary political routines orchestrated by the White House" -- unquote.

And since there will not be a vote, McConnell wished Garland well. Democrats, however, are lining up behind President Obama's Supreme Court pick.

Senator Charles Schumer of the Senate Judiciary Committee joins me now.

Senator, thanks so much for being on. Appreciate it. SCHUMER: Glad to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, some Democrats wanted President Obama to pick a nominee who might do a better job of firing up the liberal base for the election, hoping to turn out voters.

Merrick Garland seems, while very qualified, a more cautious, consensus kind of choice. You used to head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. You know how to get voters fired up. Do you wish President Obama had picked somebody who might excite Democratic voters more?

SCHUMER: No, I'm very happy with this choice.

I think Democratic voters are excited. They think he's a mainstream justice. There's no question about it, a judge above all. But I think what people are seeing is that someone who is so qualified and such a judge above all, not very political, is the kind who will get Republicans to crack.

[16:15:01] Today, we saw five or six Republicans who in the past had said they wouldn't even sit down and see Judge Garland will now sit down and see him. That's just the beginning. With such a qualified man with the American people overwhelmingly of the view that there ought to be a hearing and a vote, if people vote no after that so be it, I think that it's been a very, very strong day for this choice. And I would say there are going to be many more Republicans who will not do what Senator McDonnell did, who think it's the wrong thing to do and who will sit down with Judge Garland.

TAPPER: So, Senator Schumer, in 2007, this is what you had to say about a possible vacancy for President Bush's Supreme Court. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: Given the track record of this president and the experience of obfuscation at hearings, with respect to the Supreme Court at least, I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court except in extraordinary circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, Senator --

SCHUMER: The key word there, Jake, is confirm. No one is saying the Republicans shouldn't vote no if they don't like him, but they should hear him.

No one -- I don't know of a Democrat who recommended not sitting down and talking to the judge, not having a hearing. We've all voted no in the past. I have, McConnell has, many have. That is not the issue.

The issue is that the Constitution says the Congress shall advise and consent and these hearings are sort of magical things. When the American people see who the judge is and in this case I'm pretty confident they'll be overwhelming saying confirm him. Let's not forget the last four justices, two nominated by a Republican president, two by a Democratic president, have gotten bipartisan support and gotten on the bench.

TAPPER: One political question for you, Senator -- Hillary Clinton won at least four states last night, possibly five. She leads Senator Sanders in the delegate count. The math is going to be very difficult for Senator Sanders. Do you think it's time for him to suspend his campaign?

SCHUMER: Look, I think Bernie is doing what he believes in. He's trying to arouse the electorate and at the end of the day I think it's a good thing for Democrats. I think Hillary will be the nominee, I think she'll win. But I think Bernie will work hard to bring the people who have been devoted to him on board.

I'll say one other thing. The fact that Trump won by so much last night also hurts the Republican cause on the Supreme Court, because now, the American people are faced with two choices, someone nominated by President Trump or Judge Garland. The choice of a Trump nominee in the Republican strategy isn't a very good one. So, I think it's going to push people to tell their senators, let's see who this guy is.

TAPPER: I suppose Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders could nominate someone as well.

SCHUMER: Well, they could if they win, but the Republican strategy has been, don't do Garland, let's let the election decide. Now that the American people see that Trump might be the decider if Republicans win, that strategy loses a lot of wind, a lot of strength.

TAPPER: I see what you're saying.

Senator Chuck Schumer, thank you so much. Don't be a stranger, sir.

SCHUMER: OK, thanks, Jake. Bye-bye.

TAPPER: Coming up, we'll talk to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch who is also on the Senate Judiciary Committee. But first, he says he's going to unify the Republican Party, but then Donald Trump warned this could happen if he doesn't end up getting the nomination and he has the most delegates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): I don't think you can say that we don't get it automatically. I think it would be -- I think you'd have riots.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Plus, Hillary Clinton trying to push ahead to the general election, but is she really ready for attacks from Donald Trump?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:23:06] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's turn to our politics lead now. Donald Trump today warning that if the Republican race goes all the way to the convention and he does not have the magic number of delegates needed to secure the nomination but he's strongly in the lead and he doesn't get the nomination -- well, Trump says his supporters might riot.

CNN correspondent Phil Mattingly joins me now live in Villanova, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where Governor John Kasich spoke earlier today.

Phil, did Kasich's team have any reaction to Trump's comments?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, one Kasich advisor I spoke with said he just shook his head in grim disbelief when he heard those remarks from Donald Trump.

Look, the reality for Kasich's team is this -- those inflammatory remarks provide an opportunity for John Kasich to continue his pitch that he is the adult in the room, a pitch that will not get the biggest audience that he could possibly get in primetime just next week because of another decision Donald Trump made.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The next GOP debate no more. FOX News scrapping next week's debate after Donald Trump pledged not to come.

TRUMP: How many times can the same people ask you the same question? So I was very surprised when I heard that FOX called for a debate. Nobody told me about it and I won't be there, no.

MATTINGLY: John Kasich also balking at the Trumpless event. That decision coming on the heels of another huge Super Tuesday showing for Trump.

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Calling for the Republican party to coalesce behind him. Even as his path to the nomination remains complicated.

TRUMP: The fact is we have to bring our party together. We have to bring it together. We have something happening that actually makes the Republican Party probably the biggest political story anywhere in the world.

MATTINGLY: The GOP front-runner today issuing a stark warning, if he keeps his sizable delegate lead and Republican leaders turn to a different nominee.

TRUMP: If we're, you know, a hundred short and we're at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400, because we're way ahead of everybody, I don't think you can say that we don't get it automatically.

[16:25:11] I think you'd have riots. MATTINGLY: Just days after his rivals criticized him for encouraging

violence at his rallies.

His dominant victory in Florida, the final crushing blow to Marco Rubio's once promising campaign.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact that I've even come this far is evidence of how special America truly is.

MATTINGLY: The Florida senator leaving the race with a clear message for Republican voters.

RUBIO: America needs a vibrant conservative movement, but one that's built on principles and on ideas. Not on fear, not on anger, not on preying on people's frustrations.

MATTINGLY: Trump's only setback Tuesday night coming in Ohio, where home state Governor Kasich picked up a convincing win, his first of the campaign.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to go all the way to Cleveland and secure the Republican nomination.

MATTINGLY: Kasich hitting the trail today in Pennsylvania.

KASICH: For the first time, people are actually beginning to see my name, my face and hear my message.

MATTINGLY: Ted Cruz pulling in more delegates and holding on to a clear second place position, dismissing Kasich's claim that the GOP fight is still a three-man race.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Only two campaigns have a plausible path to the nomination, ours and Donald Trump's. Nobody else has any mathematical possibility whatsoever.

MATTINGLY: And pitching a renewed push for party leaders to unite behind his campaign and take out Trump.

CRUZ: We're seeing Republicans unite behind our campaign because we're the only campaign that is beating Donald Trump over and over and over again, and we're the only campaign that can and will beat Donald Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: Now, Jake, for all the attention and money behind that stop Trump movement, at least mathematically right now the only obvious conclusion GOP aides are coming to how they beat Donald Trump might be a contested convention. Obviously, that was what was Donald Trump was warning about.

One thing we know for certain: no matter what direction this heads, we have a long slog ahead of us, so long as there are three candidates in this race, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Donald Trump says this party will go through a healing process and rally around him but that does not yet seem to be happening.

Here to talk about Trump's next steps is a senior adviser to Donald Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Sarah, thanks for joining me. Good to see you.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, SENIOR ADVISER, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Great to see you. Thanks for having me on, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Mr. Trump said, quote, "I think you'd have riots if the race goes to the convention. He's in the lead but he doesn't get the nomination. To a lot of observers, that sounds like a threat.

SANDERS: You know, I don't think Donald Trump is inciting riots by any means. I think the only thing he's asking for is a free and fair election. And I don't think there's any doubt at this point right now if things continue on the trajectory that we're on that Donald Trump will have all of the votes necessary and hit the magic number of 1,237 before the convention takes place.

TAPPER: He certainly could hit that magic number, and we've extrapolated it and he might get it in early June. But I guess the question is why invoke riots, especially so soon after so many of your fellow Republicans were criticizing Mr. Trump for, in their view, encouraging violence at his rallies?

SANDERS: Again, I don't think that Donald Trump is inciting riots or encouraging them. The only thing that he's encouraging is a free election. Of course, his opponents and people in the Republican establishment are coming after him. They have thrown everything they can at him. Millions and millions of dollars in negative TV ads and nothing is working.

So, they're looking for any dirty tactic and trick and attack that they can come up with to come after him on. That's the best they have got and frankly, it's just not working. The more they come after him, the more and more Americans come out and vote for Donald Trump. And that's why I think he's going to be the clear victor and the nominee moving into the convention ahead of its taking place.

TAPPER: One of the ways that Mr. Trump's opponents are coming after him is they're pooling money and they formed an anti-Trump super PAC. It's running an ad quoting Donald Trump with some of the things he said about women, with women actors reading the lines. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd look her right in that fat ugly face of hers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at that face, would everyone vote for that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Sarah, I've known you and your family for almost a decade, and I cannot imagine that you would approve of those comments about women.

SANDERS: You know, I think the bigger thing is that women are voting for Donald Trump. He's not just winning with women. He's winning with evangelicals and across the board. He's breaking barriers in Republican politics.

And again, I think that people are looking for any sort of little thing that they can twist and turn and come at him. I'm a female, I'm a mother, I have a daughter and I'm supporting Donald Trump like many other and thousands of other women out there across the country that are supporting him.