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Huge Stakes Before CNN Democratic Debate; CNN Democratic Debate Moments Away. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 14, 2016 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:12] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Good evening. Chris Cuomo for our special pre-debate coverage. I'm in for Anderson Cooper. Of course, and we are live from the Brooklyn Navy yard.

In just about an hour, we are going to have the CNN debate, perhaps the biggest night for the Democrats in the presidential race so far. Just five days from the New York primary, which is more important than anyone imagined. The stakes could not be higher.


ANNOUNCER: Right now New York matters more than ever in the presidential race.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was so proud to be a New Yorker all those eight years I represented you, but I'm even prouder today.

ANNOUNCER: The Democrats are taking this contest personally.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am very proud that I was born here in New York City.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight the Democratic candidates in their only New York debate, with their eyes on the second biggest delegate prize of the primary season.

CLINTON: I need to win big here in New York.

ANNOUNCER: Hillary Clinton counting on the empire state to help her seal the deal.

CLINTON: The sooner I can become the nominee, the sooner we can go after the Republicans full time.

ANNOUNCER: Bernie Sanders aiming for an upset after a big string of wins.

SANDERS: New York will help us make it to the White House.

ANNOUNCER: With this campaign marathon threatening to go all the way to the convention, the tone is tougher, and the tension is higher.

CLINTON: Under the bright spotlight here in New York, senator Sanders has had trouble answering questions. SANDERS: Secretary Clinton appears to be getting a little nervous.

ANNOUNCER: Now the stage is set for questions about the Candidates' plans.

SANDERS: I will be damned if we're going to be the American dream die.

ANNOUNCER: And America's future.

CLINTON: New York values are really good for America.

ANNOUNCER: The New York primary is just five days away. The Democrats are in Brooklyn, and they're getting ready to debate.


CUOMO: And here we are, counting down to the big event. The debate hall behind me filling up with anxious Democrats. Hillary Clinton will take the stage here, ahead in delegates and votes. And Bernie Sanders is in the hunt and hungry to close. He is basking in the glow of night's massive rally in Greenwich Village, but also on the defensive for a supporter's comment at that event that touched off a storm.

But the New York primary may come down to what happens here on the docks tonight. Let's start a whip of what is going on in the election right now with CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns, covering the Clinton campaign, joining us from just outside the hall.

Joe, I know you've been talking to your sources. What have you learned about how Secretary Clinton has been preparing for tonight?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we do know, Chris, that she spent the day in Chappaqua, New York, preparing for the debate. Shorter preparation than she's accustomed to. She usually likes to take a couple days to get ready. It's a little bit different this time, because this debate was put on the schedule very recently. They didn't have a lot of time. My colleague Dan Merica, who has been traveling with her tells me that she has been able to fit in some debate prep between campaign events.

So this is a situation here with Hillary Clinton. They say she's rea no matter what happens. We're also told there are some concerns on the campaign about whether or not Bernie Sanders is going to come after her, as he has on the campaign trail over the last several days. They tell me she's ready and prepared in the event he does - Chris.

CUOMO: Interesting. Of course, Joe, as we see all the time talking about someone is different than talking to them. And that is one of the beauties of confrontation that we are going to see tonight. And one of the familiar patterns that we have seen established in these debates, the secretary usually deflects Sanders attacks, especially when they're of a personal nature. Any indication that she is going to try to do something different tonight so that she doesn't just wind up falling back to the only resource of saying, sounds good, but can't get it done?

JOHNS: You know, I have asked that question directly to a senior Clinton campaign aide, and what they tell me is, in the first place, this was not a strategy to deflect or try to take the high road when Bernie Sanders was attacking. Rather, they say, it was more of Hillary Clinton's political instincts. They say the question, of course, is whether he's going to come after her. All they will says she will be ready if he does. No indication about whether she's going to change strategy or attack Bernie Sanders on her own.

[20:05:23] CUOMO: All right. Joe, one of the things people are wondering is tonight will she be going with a more exciting message, try to grab his base as opposed to just try to deflate what he's selling.

All right. Thank you very much, Joe. Appreciate it.

Let's check now with the Sanders campaign. We have CNN's Phil Mattingly. He is in the spin room.

Phil, good to have you. Senator Sanders is saying now he can win in New York. He qualifies it by saying we need to have a really big turnout. But in terms of winning, what does that mean in terms of strategy tonight?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, according to Tad Devine, a senior adviser for the Sanders campaign who I just spoke with, expect Bernie Sanders to be aggressive, aggressive in getting his own message out, but also aggressive in attacking Hillary Clinton, Chris. And that means speaking fees, that means ties to Wall Street, expect him to hit those issues early and often.

Now, look. If you talk to Sanders' advisers, they are a little bit more muted in the expectations for the state here. They recognize that this is Secretary Clinton's home turf and they have started to ratchet things back a little bit as they have seen the polling come out over the last couple of weeks.

That said, tonight is a big for Bernie Sanders' campaign. He had a big rally last night. His team is hoping to build off of that. Eight of the last nine contexts Bernie has won. This would be a huge victory, a monumental victory for the sake of the campaign, but just doing well in the state. That's the current expectation for Sanders advisers, Chris.

CUOMO: You know, one of the big introductions he got last night at the Washington square park rally was from Spike Lee. And he wasn't talking about a Vermont senator. He was talking about Bernie from Brooklyn.

And you know, there's an eyebrow raiser I'm wondering if you got any insight into. So, it is all about New York, it is all about the momentum. This is make or break. And yet tonight we hear the senator is going to jump on a plane after the debate to head to the Vatican to be part of a symposium on poverty and how to make a change. Why do something so dramatic right now? MATTINGLY: Look, this isn't a move any veteran campaign adviser would

ever want their candidate to do just a few days before a crucial primary. But for Bernie Sanders, it was a simple decision, he said. He identify so much so with what Pope Francis' positions are on economic inequality, on environmental advocacy, that this just made a lot of sense. Now, clearly, taking himself off the campaign trail for 36 hours is something his team wasn't exactly thrilled with. Most of them weren't even aware he was invited to visit the Vatican. Most of his team staying in New York will continue to working on the ground.

But for Bernie Sanders, this was an opportunity that he just couldn't pass up, Chris. And look. There is some fallout from this that they think could be positive. A picture of Bernie Sanders at the Vatican with nearby a Pope that is so popular is something they will be more than happy to spread around. But Bernie Sanders will be back in the state on Saturday for the final push, Chris.

CUOMO: Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

All right. Let's go next to CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny. And he is down on the debate stage. He has more on what's about to unfold.

Jeff, the candidates are going to be taking the stage shortly. What are the campaigns saying about their expectations for tonight? What's the bar on each side?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, they are, you can see the debate stage behind me right here. Now, Secretary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are very practiced at this. They have had eight debates so far. But boy, this is a different moment. This is a different time. That's why the preparations have been slightly different.

The Clinton campaign is bracing indeed for a lot of sharp definitions, sharp attacks, if you will, from Bernie Sanders. Now, at this point in the campaign, there are very few surprises. You have seen a laundry list of things that have been thrown out there. Bernie Sanders is very transparent when he is giving speeches across New York, addressing some 50,000 or so by our count, really over the last five days or so. He goes through the laundry list from Wall Street reform for immigration, to fracking, to criminal justice reform to money and politics. He is hitting Secretary Clinton one by one by one. So they knows what's coming.

But the Clinton campaign is going to try and hold their fire a bit, but they are not going to sort of back down here. And Chris, one way you can always tell what a campaign is doing, by paid advertising. And I'm told tonight that as early as tomorrow, the Clinton campaign will start advertising based on the "Daily News" editorial we have been talking about so much here that really made the Clinton campaign's argument that she's more prepared, that his ideas don't stack up.

So the confines of that editorial will be played out tonight. If our viewers haven't read it, that will give you a backdrop of what's going to happen here. But look. Tonight, the Sanders campaign realizes that it's a moment for him to try to grow, trying to reach out to some of those people who may like what he has to say, but are not confident he can win. But tonight Senator Sanders believes that he can get some of those into his poll.

And Chris, it's so important that we are here in Brooklyn, not that far from where the 74-year-old now Vermont senator grew up - Chris.

[20:10:16] CUOMO: That's exactly right. Jeff Zeleny, with the debate on the docks we are having.

It tell you the easy part is for the candidates to be ready for tonight. They know what getting this all organized, getting this all done in just a matter of days when the campaigns finally decided to do this, that's been the big challenge. And there is some final preparations going on right now as we count down to this pivotal moment in the primary in both parties unlike any others.

So next, the history, at times the battle history that these two have had when they debate, as well as conversation with some of the best political minds in the business. What does each of the people on your screen need to do tonight? What happens here could make the difference in the all-important New York primary. Stay with us.


[20:14:45] CUOMO: Boy, you are hearing it from both sides in the democratic race for president. Tonight is a big deal. Could be the momentum swinging difference in the New York primary. Look behind us now. Less than an hour before the big debate. The room filled with anxious Democrats, whether they're Sanders, whether they are Clinton, whether they are both in the case of some of these Democrats. They are now getting in here and sitting down, last-minute preparations.

And one of the reasons that there's so much energy tonight is because what has been happening out on the trail. This race has changed, and these two candidates are now more than ever going at it.


[20:15:23] CLINTON: I really don't think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough. If you've got something to say, say it directly.

SANDERS: Secretary Clinton, you're not in the White House yet.

CLINTON: I voted to save the auto industry. He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry.

SANDERS: I am very glad, Anderson, that secretary Clinton has discovered religion on this issue.

CLINTON: I think it's time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out. Excuse me.

SANDERS: Excuse me, I'm talking. CLINTON: That is the NRA position.

SANDERS: Can I finish please?

CLINTON: It's quite amusing to me.


CUOMO: And you know what? That is when they were keeping it nice. In the last few days, it's changed in material fashion. So let's discussion. We have CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson. We have CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at the "Atlantic" Ron Brownstein. We got CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger. Also, we have our CNN political commentators here. We got Democratic strategist and pro-Clinton super-Pac advisor Paul Begala, try to say that five times. We have senior advisor - we got Van Jones here also. We have top Democratic Party official Donna Brazile and Sanders supporter Bill Press. Man, there's no time left to talk about anything. You people have to stop insisting on these intros. Negotiate something else in the deal.


CUOMO: Man, I'm going to have to start going by a symbol. Brother of the current one as the governor of New York likes to say.

All right. So let's talk about the stakes here. Nia-Malika Henderson, there is no question the race has changed the in my lifetime, a New York presidential primary has never mattered. So what is the calculus on both sides right now? What are you hearing?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think Sanders is going in essentially for the kill. It was a surprise I think early on that he was going to play so heavily in New York. Those poll show him about 12 points down. But you see from the Clinton campaign some worry that it could be closer than that.

Just minutes ago, they sent out some talking points, saying tonight on this stage Bernie Sanders is going to have to answer for the "New York Daily News" interview that happened about two weeks ago. But the Hillary Clinton campaign has been very good about keeping it in the news.

CUOMO: Sanders pushback on that has been. By the way, that was a jump interview to set up their endorsement of Hillary Clinton. They were unfair to me. They took me out of context. And the Hillary campaign run with it. Is that fair?

HENDERSON: They will. And I think wife Jane Sanders called it an inquisition.

CUOMO: But is it fair?

HENDERSON: You know, I think is his criticism fair of it?

CUOMO: Yes. HENDERSON: No. I think he wasn't prepared for the interview. And

it's oftentimes you go into an interview and a paper can release the transcript like that.

CUOMO: All right. So on the other side, Ron Brownstein, I was come to you for math. Although last night you should have seen Ron Brownstein last night at the Bernie Sanders event. He had on a hoodie. He was walking around. I mean, I thought he was there to make a buy. He was there covering the event or so he said.


CUOMO: Exactly right. It was the ambience. The math. The math, Ron. You always look at the math. We are now hearing this, hey, we are going to have Hillary Clinton. She is going to be the presumptive nominee going into the convention for you at home. That mean, she already reached the number of pledged delegates. What does that mean on the mathematical perspective?

BROWNSTEIN: That's not going to happen. Very unlikely that either of them reach the number of pledged delegates to get the majority of the convention delegates. The reasons are that super-delegates are a big part of the puzzle. They are 15 percent, as Donna has corrected me of the total. Which means as they get there on pledged delegates alone, do the math, you have to win about 60 percent of the pledge delegates, which is an unrealistic standard. What we got here is a situation which you often get to at this point in the primaries where the grooves are pretty deeply cut. The Sanders pattern of support is pretty low established. He is dominant among young people. He is very competitive among white voters outside of the south. He has won them in every state except Ohio and Iowa. But she is continuing to dominate among African-American voters. She's won Latinos in most states, although not by the same margin as African-American voters. And the path that we are on is rocky for her but probably still enough to get there. He is the one who has to change the dynamic. If not here, where it's unlikely, then in one of the couple of the other big states that are down the road.

CUOMO: Gloria, let me bounced in this side for one second. Tell me something, Donna. Why would people favoring Clinton make this statement that I think we're going to get it done before we get to a convention? I think she is going to get it done on a pledge side. Why set yourself up to have to win somewhat 56, 57 percent of pledged delegates? Why make the bar that high?

[20:20:09] DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, we outlawed segregation in this country, as you know, after 1964. But for the Democratic Party after 1984, there's no segregation of pledged or unpledged. 14.8 percent of superdelegates, we often vote like most voters. We will not overturn the will of the voters.

At this point in the race both candidates should be focused on one of the largest prizes until we get to California, 247 delegates. They're at stake tonight. Not just super-delegates, but pledge delegates, and there are more pledge delegates. Chris, these what I tell people. If you try to take superdelegates

out of the pot, you know what happens? It's like taking the roux out of gumbo. It's just soup. We're part of the prize.

CUOMO: But what they are saying is you take them out and what you're left with is the meat and potatoes, and that's what people are fighting on the Sanders side. They're saying that the people have been divorced from the system somewhat - not as much if we are hearing on the deal peace, guys.

BRAZILE: They're not divorced -- you know --

CUOMO: Separated?


CUOMO: Not talking to each other?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But the more you get to the super delegates, or even the delegates, you've got to get to the votes here in the state of New York. And what we're going to see on that stage tonight is Hillary Clinton making the case that Bernie Sanders is not only unprepared for the presidency, but he's a risk. It's risky for him to become president. And he is going to make the case that if you look at her record, as you said, you know, a resume doesn't say everything, he is going to say look at her resume and look at her judgment, and she does not have the judgment to be president of the United States.

And I think, you know, Bernie has a lot of high stakes here tonight, because he has to narrow this gap at Hillary Clinton. I would argue he needs a big win somewhere. I don't think he is going to get it here in New York, but he needs to bring his voters out.

CUOMO: All right.

BORGER: And that's what this debate can do for him tonight.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Speaking of, it's not just the person speaking, it's the audience. I know New York. You have got some of the best grassroots organizers here. You have the working families party who gave your brother fits.

CUOMO: Gave him all they could handle, and they were not organizing as they are right now.

JONES: Exactly.

CUOMO: They have redoubled efforts.

JONES: And they are for Bernie Sanders. They have a lean and hungry look. You got the transit workers union here.

CUOMO: Sixty thousands.

JONES: They have a lean and hungry look. They folks believe they can pull off another Michigan miracle in New York. They're not joking. When I look down here and saw who Bernie Sanders able to pull to his side in New York City, this is going to a real war on Tuesday.

CUOMO: All right. But on the other side, Paul, you have people looking at the calculus right now and saying, look, we know that Bernie Sanders has the stardust on him, but what he doesn't have is to appoint two million more votes, which is why Hillary Clinton has, and the 200-plus delegate lead of pledged delegates and the money advantage, and the grooming. Is that where the campaign, you know, is that where the campaign is headed? Just hey, let him talk, let him say that he is the new one. We know what works in the end.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. It ought to be about ideas. For analysts like me, that's true. It's actually 2.4 million voters that Hillary exceeds.

CUOMO: I was baiting you.

BEGALA: But she is leading overwhelmingly crushingly among voters, among pledged delegates and yes among superdelegates. If there was a fourth category, she would be leading that, too. But what she wants and needs is to get it back to ideas and issues. I think Bernie is going to come out with a blowtorch tonight. It will be very interesting to see, first off, that is not his brand. He is a smart guy. He is a good politician. He is not an attack dog. But he is going to have - I think he is going to be goaded into doing that. How does she respond? That's what I want to see.

CUOMO: All right. So Bill Press, this is one of the states (INAUDIBLE) if he will be tweet tonight. Bernie comes out and says dream big, you've got to hope, you have to shoot for the moon, that's what we have to do, no more incremental change. And Hillary Clinton is put in the position of saying, sounds good, but he can't get it done. That's deflating on its face. And yet, the flip side is Bernie Sanders more and more is getting asked how do you deliver on these promises? How do you get it done? The math is not so great when we add it up what you want to do for college, what you want to do for healthcare. Where is the balance for him to make advantage?

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, I got to say. You're excited because New York counts for the first time --

CUOMO: In my life.

PRESS: Wait. Wait for California, baby. That's all I'm saying. I'm excited, because for the first time that I can remember, California is going to count in the primary, right. So, look, here's the deal. It is true, I mean, Bernie is the inspirational one. He is the one -- that's why so many young people I think are voting for him. You know, dream big. You know, go for the moon, right? And he says, hope and Hillary says no. And I think that's really been working against her. But I think Bernie has been specific, and he will be more tonight about how to get things done. He's got to plan for how to break up the banks. He has got a plan for how to pay for free college education.

CUOMO: Why didn't he lay it out to the "Daily News" then?

PRESS: Well, I tell you. If you read the transcript --

[20:25:00] CUOMO: I did.

PRESS: I did, too, right. The persons who were screwed up in that interview were the people from "the Daily News," not Bernie Sanders. They said, well, why don't you do it through the fed? And he says I don't think the fed has the authority. We should do it through legislation or the department of the treasury, the treasury secretary under Dodd/Frank, and that's Hillary Clinton's position.

CUOMO: They then asked him, do you think that the chairman has the ability to do it? He said, I don't know. And that got him caught up.

PRESS: His first thing was do it through legislation, which is almost impossible, or the secretary of the treasury, and that was the right answer.

CUOMO: All right. Bill Press, thank you very much. We have set the table, but we still have to eat. We are going to have much more with this panel ahead.

And we are going to speak with some top Clinton and Sanders advisers next. So stay with us.

Counting down to the big debate. Look on your screen. Less than 35 minutes.


[20:29:53] CUOMO: All right. We're here in Brooklyn. The debate less than 30 minutes away, just a few ticks of the clock, as you can see right down there. The big question in the room as it continues to fill here is, will tonight be different? Are we going to see a different Sanders? A different Clinton?

Well let's ask the people who know, we have Bernie Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver joining us now. Jeff can you hear me?


CUOMO: All right. Jeff, good to have you here. So the big question you need to answer is -- are we going to see a different Senator Sanders tonight? Is he going to be more aggressive?

WEAVER: Well Chris, I think what people know about Bernie Sanders is, if anything he's been consistent not only during this debates, but also his entire career. I think you're going to hear him focusing on the big issues facing this country, issues like trade, like fracking, like a corrupt campaign finance system, I think you're hear a lot of discussion of that, and I think you're going to hear a lot of contrast between the candidates.

CUOMO: All right. Another big mystery that we've been dealing with tonight with Bernie Sanders is why, with all this momentum and this huge moment that he could have here in New York, is he leaving and going to Italy?

WEAVER: Well, he's going because he was invited to come to the Vatican to speak at a conference on the issue of moral economy, really an issue that transcends politics, an issue that's really been the work of Bernie Sanders' entire life. And as I said something trends and politics, when the invitation came from the Vatican, it really was an issue -- invitation that he felt he wanted to accept immediately and we did.

Look, he does have momentum here in New York and across the country. You know, the secretary has also left New York a number of times and last week are going to high-dollar fund-raisers all around the country. So I think it's probably a better use of time to go to the Vatican to talk about the moral economy than going to big-dollar fund- raisers and rich people sounds around the country.

CUOMO: All right, let me ask you something here, and I'm going to let you go, because we know we're wining down here and you have to get in position.


CUOMO: You know, about the controversy surrounding what the doctor said at the big rally last night, using those ugly words, were they meant directed towards Hillary Clinton or not, speculation about supporters of Bernie Sanders putting out superdelegates names. There seems to be a tinge of an ugliness to it, is this something that you're going to take ownership of and try to control?

WEAVER: Well, we always as, you know, Chris, the campaign spoke out forcefully against Dr. Song's remarks on the Twitter and the media. You know, they're inappropriate, they were insensitive, and they have no place in our political dialogue. You know, we -- when we have told the people who are interested in lobbying superdelegates that they really should be helping us lobby voters in states that have yet to voted yet. I think that makes the most sense. So we have one running issue or anything in campaign, civil campaign and we will continue to do so.

CUOMO: All right, Jeff Weaver, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Good luck to you tonight.

WEAVER: Thanks.

CUOMO: All right. Now let's get from the other side, what will be Hillary Clinton's set up as enters in and how she going to deal with whatever comes from Senator Sanders?

We have Joel Benenson, a top, top, top adviser for Hillary Clinton joining us this morning.

It's good to see you, Joel. So, Joel I don't know if you can hear what Jeff Weaver was just saying, but there's urgency, they believed there's momentum on the Sanders side and it is time to draw sharp distinctions. What is that mean to your ears and how we dealt with by the secretary?

JOEL BENENSON, HILLARY CLINTON'S CHIEF STRATEGIST: Look, I think since we got to New York we know that Senator Sanders has not held up well under the scrutiny, his got in his interview with the "Daily News" was labeled a disaster or disastrous by everybody who read it in "Washington Post" and not just the "Daily News".

And he's gotten more aggressive on the stump. There's been a different attack every day. We're expecting him to be aggressive tonight, but we want to have a debate on the issues. We think there are clear contrasts here. Hillary Clinton is a progressive who likes to get things done and make a real difference in people's lives. And I think she's going to make that case forcefully tonight, that she's the one who has real plans to produce real results and then add up, and Senator Sanders' plans, whether we're talking about health care or even his ability to answer how we break up banks that the "Daily News" his plans just don't add up.

CUOMO: Is there a change of the game tonight for you in terms of avoiding the pitfall of Senator Sanders coming out and saying dream big and talking about imagination and inspiration, and Hillary Clinton consistently put into a position where she has to say that sounds good, but it can't get done, because that's a little bit of a downer when an audience hears it. Is there something that's going to come out of her tonight that's more geared towards excitement?

BENENSON: I think what's exciting for people is a candidate who actually has plans that can work, that can get done, so that you can make improvements in their lives and when you talk about breaking down all the barriers that are holding people back right now, holding them back economically. So and building ladders of opportunity so every American can share in the promise of America.

[20:35:01] Hillary Clinton has actual plans to do that. Look, there's a reason why she's won almost 2.4 million more votes throughout this campaign than Senator Sanders, because she's making promises to people that she can keep based on real plans that will make a real difference in people's lives and that's the case she's going to make again tonight for people.

CUOMO: The difference between campaigning and poetry and governing and prose. Joel Benenson, I believed that's where your headed with that, thank you very much Benenson good to have you, chief strategist ...

BENENSON: Thank you Chris.

CUOMO: ... for Hillary Clinton. Good luck to you tonight, sir.

All right, we're counting down ...

BENENSON: Thank you.

CUOMO: ... we're now just 24 1/2 minutes away from the big CNN Democratic debate. Everybody believes in this room tonight it matters more than it has before. What are we going to see? More from our panel, when we come back.


CUOMO: Less than 20 minutes from the big CNN Democratic debate here on the Waterfront in Brooklyn. Everybody here describing it in just two words, high stakes.

Joining us, someone right now who has a lot to see happen tonight, has to manage this entire process, the head of the National Democratic Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

[20:40:09] It's good to see you. What is your expectation tonight in terms of tone? There's been a change in the state of play of this race. It has gotten edgier and it has got away from what you said you wanted. So how about tonight?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, HEAD OF NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEE: Well, I do expect that to be a little more intense, which is OK, but the stakes are not only high, but you have a lot of passion on both sides, and we want to make sure that -- and I'm confident that we will see a robust and substantive debate like we've seen from the previous eight, and certainly in contrast with the Republicans who have decedent into utter chaos and seems to be bickering and backstabbing, and engaging in many thing, but a discussion about the direction of this country should go.

CUOMO: Do you believed that the notion of superdelegates needs to be defended, given what's happening on the GOP side in this understanding that people are being divorced from the process? Do you think that applies on your side as well?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I don't. I think there's a few important things to keep in mind. We have not had unpledged delegates decide the outcome of our nomination since they've been in existence, which was way back in 1984 when I graduated from high school. So it's been a long time.

We also, after 2008, had the change commission appointed by Tim Kaine chaired by Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, my colleague, and we actually shrunk by several hundred the number of unpledged delegates precisely because we wanted to make sure that we're able to include the participation of party leaders and elected officials who have been in the trenches for many years, but also make sure they were not ability to ultimately, you know, very likely interfere with the outcome on who selects our nominee, which should be the pledged delegates who are the results as voters casting ballots.

CUOMO: All Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, I know that you are anxious to get into your seat and get ready for the debate, we got you outside, and that wasn't nice and it wasn't my decision know that right now. Enjoy the night.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That's OK. Thank you.

CUOMO: It's nice down here, but it is on the water. Let me ask you this because, you know, early this morning on "New Day" 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. ...


CUOMO: I was there this morning, and we heard from the chairwoman, and she said, I think we're going to have a presumptive nominee as we enter, now remember that means, that's a term of art. That means if someone will have reach the pledge delegate number before a convention ...

BROWNSTEIN: Of pledge sweeper.

CUOMO: Right, but so your -- but so you have to say both?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think someone is going to get there just on -- I was going to ask Donna before, has anybody gotten there unpledge alone since the superdelegates were implemented? I don't one think it's really -- it was really possible.

Look one thing we'll see tonight though, Democratic Party is moving, I mean is changing, and Van I think would agree with this. You know, Bernie Sanders when he's 70 percent of voters under 30, they are responding to agenda that most Democratic leaders was considered politically unrealistic in this climate of universal single parent healthcare, you know, tuition-free college.

But Hillary Clinton has been forced to adapt to that. She has moved to the left culturally and she has expanded her ambitions on the economic side. The question is going to be is either of them are the nominee, if either of them win, how do you go forward with that agenda, in the current political climate the decision between the parties, the stalemating Congress, the gap between what they are promising and what seems achievable appears to be getting wider.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it depends who you're running against and what the Congress looks like. There's a lot of people who say, that for example, its either Trump or Cruz are the nominees, that the Democrats could well, you know, have control of the entire Congress at a certain point. I'm not so sure about the House ...

BROWNSTEIN: That's right.

BORGER: But I do think you're making the Hillary Clinton argument, which is that her experience shows that what Bernie Sanders wants is completely undoable.


VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think that first of all, I think for the young ...

CUOMO: Make it quick points, so we can go to break.

JONES: I think that the young people, there's a double appeal here. They love his aspiration, but there's also this darker antipathy towards Hillary Clinton. And Bernie has been saying flimsy with that antipathy too much.

He needs to come out and that aspiration is a good thing, is good for the country, he needs to stick with the inspirational message, get away from that antipathy, the small ball against Hillary Clinton, and keep that coalition positive.

CUOMO: But it's hard to do that when the ring is right there ...

BORGER: Right.

CUOMO: ... and you're trying to reach for it.

Let's take a quick break, and when we come back, we are really getting ready now just 15 1/2 minutes until this big debate. We're going to end up with the panel and get some predictions. Enough of these basic opinions. Let's get some real dispositive stuff, when we come back


[20:48:36] CUOMO: All right we're just minutes away now from the big debate. It is starting to get for the introduction of the candidates. On stage Wolf Blitzer of course is going to take you through it tonight as only he can. Let's get some quick predictions. Mr. Press?


CUOMO: Your man Bernie Sanders, what do you think he's going to do tonight that we haven't seen?

PRESS: That haven't seen?

CUOMO: That's right.

PRESS: I think we're going to see a lot, but what you haven't seen is Bernie talking about the issues, is talking about his platform. A lot of people haven't heard it, he's going to be talking about his dreams for America, single-payer health care, college tuition-free college, $15 minimum wage, go down the list, the new jobs program and probably talk a little bit to about Wall Street and cracking down on the big banks and the financial firms that still has in fact.

CUOMO: All right, who's got a prediction of something that we're going to see tonight that we haven't seen?

BORGER: I think he's going to be very Bernie Sanders, his going to be very specific about raising Hillary Clinton's paid speeches, including her paid speeches to Verizon or paid speech to Verizon, which now is having its own labor dispute. And I think he's going to ask for the transcripts again. I think he's going to get more specific, it won't be the damn e-mail.

CUOMO: Does Hillary Clinton ask for his tax returns?

PRESS: Exactly.

BORGER: That's right. PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: As we say in the Catholic Church, it takes a lot of chutzpa for him to -- for her to disclose speeches which no candidates have ever going to ask to, his not pulling taxes which every major candidate has got.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It show can be very good about using debates to introduce new lines of attack that have often caught Senator Sanders off-guard, I imagine ...


[20:50:04] CUOMO: So give me something, what do you think?

HENDERSON: I don't know. I don't know if it's going to be on guns tonight. I mean that's been sort of a different, you know, attack on that with the Sandy Hook parents, something like that, so we'll have to see, but he has often not been prepared when she does that.

BROWNSTEIN: She's been in our heels the last few weeks and just lost some obviously most in the recent contest, she's now heading into a good period of primaries in the northeast that are closed primaries, Democrats only, large African-American populations. I think she is going to be very aggressive tonight, because she knows she's at a point at a pivot in the race before we get back to May and the good part the calendar resumes for Bernie Sanders.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: At this debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will stand out and say the America that Donald Trump is showing us is not the America we are and nor will we ever become that America. She's going to denounce Donald Trump tactics.

CUOMO: You see what Donna Brazile just did Bill Press? I asked her to give me something that we haven't really seen, and she went right to it, now what you did you gave me what we always think.

JONES: Bernie is on defense on the specifics.

BORGER: Right.

JONES: He came here and he stepped in it, he wasn't able on a newspaper interview to deal with the specifics of the core of his agenda. He's on national TV tonight. He's got to convince people he's thought this stuff through, because that's going to be the lens through which he seen by the people who haven't made up their mind.

CUOMO: The best use of the remainder of the time is this, Bill Press, Donna Brazile, Van Jones, what's your name, Paul Begala, Gloria Borger, Ron Brownstein and Nia-Malika Henderson, you make us better every time you on. Thank you for helping us prepare for tonight, it matter tonight.

This is the CNN democratic -- the Democratic debate. They haven't been face-to-face for over five weeks. Now we have New York next Tuesday. Nobody expected it to matter. You have the momentum right now that Bernie Sanders says is his. Who

do you think comes out on top tonight Donna Brazile, who do you think has the better debate? Give it to me quick.

BRAZILE: The Democratic Party.

CUOMO: Look at my finger Donna, look what happened? Low energy. Is it going to be Bernie's big night?

PRESS: Bernie had a great day yesterday, he's going to have a good night tonight, and goes off to Rome. Gets the Pope's blessing. Big win on.

CUOMO: Bill Press comes back strong at the end. That's what we like to see. Thanks to all of you, this is what we've been waiting for, the CNN Democratic debates starts in just a moment.


[20:56:32] WOLF BLITZER, CNN DEMOCRATIC DEBATE MODERATOR: We're live at the Duggal at Greenhouse at the Brooklyn navy yard in Brooklyn, New York, for the CNN Democratic presidential debate. We've come to Brooklyn just five days before the New York presidential primary, a very important contest for the Democrats with an enormous number of delegates at stake.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and I'll moderate tonight's debate.

Joining me in the questioning, Errol Lewis political anchor for New York One Time Warner cable, our partner in this debate, and chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Brooklyn has personal meaning for the candidates who both have been New Yorkers at one time or another in their lives, so ladies and gentlemen let's welcome the candidates. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Democratic candidates for President of the United States.

Now, please continue to stand for our national anthem sung by the Broadway performer and recording artist Morgan James.

[21:00:08] Thank you, Morgan James.