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CNN TONIGHT

War for the White House; Republicans Take Aim at Each Other; Republicans Promising Bitter Battle Over Supreme Court; African- American Vote Important in South Carolina; Two-Night GOP Town Hall Hosted by CNN. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 15, 2016 - 22:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This President's Day, the race for the White House is turning into a war. One that can tear the GOP apart.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

With just two days to go until the GOP presidential town hall, the republicans are taking aim at each other. Trump versus Cruz, Bush versus Trump and Rubio versus Cruz.

Meanwhile, all of Washington preparing to do battle over the Supreme Court. What will all of this mean in November? A whole heck of a lot. Who better to talk about politics and the Supreme Court than Hugh Hewitt, the host of the Hugh Hewitt show. He's taught constitutional law since 1995 and is a veteran of the White House Council, Counsel's Office who also served two attorneys general.

My goodness! I've gotten that out. I'm also very jealous that you're in California this evening. So, Hugh, straight to it. Trump and Cruz, Cruz and Trump, Valentine's weekend is over. But there is no love lost between those two. Here's what happened on Saturday night. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This guy will say anything. Nasty guy. Now I know why he doesn't have one endorsement from any of his colleagues.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All right, Don, can I get to respond?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, stick from the buffet there.

TRUMP: He's a nasty guy.

CRUZ: It is fairly remarkable to see Donald defending Ben after he called him pathological and compared him to a child molester. And Donald has this weird pattern. When you point to his own record he screams "liar, liar, liar."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Hugh, I mean, was it me or do you think Saturday night was a I guess little nastier than before? Was it new high new low for the GOP, what do you think?

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO HUGH HEWITT SHOW HOST: New level of intensity. I will say this. Three polls came out today all allegedly taken on Sunday, which is a bad polling day, but nevertheless, the day after the debate. Donald Trump leads them all by double digits.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the second and third place. John Kasich came in fourth. Now former President Bush appeared on behalf of his brother Jeb and gave a great well-received speech. I watched I live on CNN earlier today as I was doing my radio show.

So, things can change dramatically in South Carolina quickly. But it appears for all of the pyrotechnics on Saturday night the race hasn't moved much in South Carolina. Donald Trump is still ahead.

LEMON: Well, let me ask you since you brought up Bush. Do you think having his brother out will change anything? And some people are saying if Nikki Haley endorses him, right, they're looking for that. That could actually really help Jeb Bush. What are your thoughts on that, Hugh Hewitt?

HEWITT: Well, I think George W. Bush motivates the base. And therefore, a lot of people who might have been thinking about seeing it out and watching what happened will come out and one more time will fall the old man whenever he wants to go. White Christmas kind of thing.

But what's really interesting is the Supreme Court battle has energized the republicans. And I talked to Trey Gowdy, he's a Rubio endorser. On my radio show today, he expects record break out. Huge turnout on Saturday new South Carolina primary.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You sound like Trump.

HEWITT: I think this and I've been saying that this animates or if not galvanizes republicans more than democrats. Am I wrong?

HEWITT: No, you're absolutely right. Look, on the one hand you got Hillary Clinton who is the Willy Sutton of the class finding information running for the opportunity to appoint the next justice of the Supreme Court.

So, a person who wants standard of law applied to her. Getting to nominate the decisive vote on the Supreme Court. That will motivate republicans. And in fact, you saw Mitch McConnell take the lead yesterday and say there won't be any hearings. There's not going to be a vote. And today, Rob Portman of Ohio slings state Kelly Ayotte of New

Hampshire, swing state Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, swing state Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, swing state. Four senators all came out and agreed we're not going to confirm President Obama's nominee.

Yes. He's absolutely right to nominate whomever he wants. But I tell you what, he could nominate me, Don, and I would say no hearings, no vote. He could nominate friend, John Eastman, one of the most distinguished...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You just want the next president to get that, is that what you're saying?

HEWITT: That's it. I want the election to focus on the court.

LEMON: OK.

HEWITT: I'm tired of the court deciding this. I think it's a great opportunity for Americans to have a discussion about what the court means in their life.

LEMON: OK. Yes. Let's do this. Why play with photos, let's play this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm going to bring a lawsuit because in my opinion, based on what I've learned over the last two or three days from very top lawyers, he doesn't have the right to serve as president or even run as president. He was born in Canada. So, I will bring that lawsuit if he doesn't apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: All right. That's not what I want to talk about. But let's do talk about that. Because Trump is hitting Cruz now.

HEWITT: Sure.

LEMON: Now he's saying, you know, I think that they should intervene. That the Republican National Committee should intervene on this 'birther' issue. Where is the RNC leadership right now? Should they be intervening on a lot of these issues?

[22:05:02] HEWITT: No. The RNC leadership Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, and I always say my son works at the RNC. I want to clear the conflict. But the RNC is doing actually the right thing, which is to keep its hands off of this.

Donald Trump is one of the few people who actually does have standing to bring that lawsuit about Ted Cruz. A Secretary of State could keep Senator Cruz off the ballot. I think they're wrong. I think he's eligible to run for president. I've never wavered in that.

But Donald Trump has the right to bring that lawsuit, if anybody does. Because he would be adversely impacted by having an ineligible candidate on the ballot. But if he does bring that lawsuit I think he'll lose.

What I think he is doing there is shrewd politics. Donald Trump is a very smart campaigner. He's keeping the attention on himself. He knew he had to do something today with George W. Bush in the Palmetto State creating an enormous amount of buzz. And so he did.

He had a rather boisterous press conference, but that's just good politics. Good theater. Donald Trump has proven to us again and again he knows this game as well as anyone, better than most, than he played it well another good hand today.

LEMON: Hugh, it is not just to Trump. By Ted Cruz is going after Marco Rubio. This is from today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: If Marco wants to stand up and say in-state tuition for illegal aliens is a good idea. And that's why I and Marco Rubio support it. Great, we can have that debate. I expect to have that debate with Hillary in the fall or with Bernie. But it is not being honest or candid for either Marco Rubio or Donald Trump to pretend that their records are different than what they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Hugh, is there an all-out war in the GOP right now?

HEWITT: No. I think it's a great primary battle. Here's an interesting thing. Ted Cruz got a lift by the focus switching to the Supreme Court, which is his strong suit. He has argued nine times before the justices. He clerked on the court. He's a brilliant lawyer.

Alan Dershowitz said in the last segment he had between you and the previous hour, that Ted Cruz was his law student. He's previously said he's his best law student. Marco Rubio got a big lift at a Saturday night debate. And he's campaigning with Tim Scott and maybe the most popular politician in South Carolina and Trey Gowdy, both of them endorsed him.

Jeb Bush got his brother. Donald Trump has this extraordinary appeal to crossover voters who may have registered late in the process. John Kasich gets to play above it all and say I'm the guy who is not down in the mud. Not wrestling. Come vote for me. I'm the nice happy Reagan. Dr. Ben Carson playing that same card.

It's not a war. It's primary. And I like primaries. This is what it's all about. We will nominate the strongest candidate to, again, I came up with this earlier. I want to repeat. Hillary Clinton is the Willie Sutton of classified information. She is falling like a rock in Nevada.

There's a Wall Street story today that Bernie Sanders catching her. She is falling apart across the United States. So, I think come the end of this primary season, we will nominate the toughest, strongest most strategically place republican and we're going to win and we're going to get the next Supreme Court justice. Maybe two or three.

LEMON: Well, let's talk about this. And what about -- what about September 11th? What is your reaction to Trump using it against Jeb and the former president. Because you mentioned that, you know, the former president was out there speaking today and gave a great speech, in your estimation. You were watching it during your radio show. What do you think of Trump using 9/11?

HEWITT: Well, I was taken aback on Saturday night. But he walked it back on Sunday. And I like to be fair to candidates. Sometimes in the heat of a debate they say something or in an interview they'll say some little thing that they didn't mean and then they clarify the next day.

Jeb Bush on CNN with Dana Bash when I was on State of the Union said he didn't really care about it. It wasn't a big deal to him what McConnell did in the Senate. He clarified that and make it clear that he was speaking too quickly and that it does make a great deal to him.

Donald Trump came back and said on Sunday he didn't really mean lies as like he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction there. So, let's be fair to everyone. They all sometimes use catch phrases, as I do, as you do, that are misunderstood.

I like to consider them complete candidates. And Donald Trump clarified, Jeb Bush clarified. And I think the voters in South Carolina, these record numbers of voters are going to give us a lot to chew on. And then we're going to have a debate on CNN on February 25th. I'll be a panelist down in Houston.

We're going to another debate on March 10th. This is going to go a long time. And, Don, write it down, open convention. No one is going to have 1,237 delegates come the opening of the convention in Cleveland. So, buckle up, it's going to be one heck of a ride.

LEMON: I think you've said that before.

HEWITT: I have.

LEMON: But more emphasize this time. This time you went like this. OK. Thank you, Hugh Hewitt. I appreciate it. When we come back counting down...

(CROSSTALK)

HEWITT: Thank you.

LEMON: ... see you later. We're counting down to a two-night republican town hall Wednesday and Thursday, followed by the GOP South Carolina primary. What do voters think of all-out war in the Republican Party?

[22:10:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Republican rhetoric heating up on the campaign trail. What do the voters think about all this? Let's discuss now. Bob Cusack, editor-in-chief of The Hill, republican

strategist Kayleigh McEnany, GOP political consultant, Phil Musser, and Matt Lewis, author of -- I'm not kidding. Author of "Too Dumb To Fail."

Good to have all of you this evening. So, Kayleigh, you first, I was going, you know, I was going to ask you about Saturday night. But we don't even have to go back that far. I'm going to ask you about what happened today at the Donald Trump press conference. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I heard that he kept the country safe after 9/11. What does that mean after? What about during 9/11? I was there. I lost a lot of friends that were killed in that building. The worst attack ever in this country. It was during his presidency, and I must tell you one thing about Ted Cruz that I can say that only to a minor extent by comparison for the other politicians.

I haven't been doing this long. I've been in it since June 16th. I will tell you I have never ever met a person that lies more than Ted Cruz. I have never ever seen anything like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Kayleigh?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, I understand Donald's frustration. Because you look at Ted Cruz and some of the things he's saying in attack ads he's putting out, let's take abortion. He said Donald Trump is not support defunding Planned Parenthood. That's patently false.

[22:14:59] Donald Trump called Planned Parenthood an abortion factory that needs to be defunded. Hardly the words of someone who wants to keep funding Planned Parenthood. You look at the Second Amendment. Just today, Cruz said that the Second Amendment will be wiped out if Donald Trump becomes president and appointed a justice.

Again, false. Donald Trump supports a national right to carry. That's a very extreme position, very pro-Second Amendment position. So, I understand how on a number of issues from same-sex marriage to guns to abortion. Cruz is mischaracterizing his position at best. And at worst lying. So, I understand Trump's frustration there.

LEMON: I mean, Phil, that plays to the base, I would imagine. That plays to the base. But I think anyone who is a rationale American or thinking American knows the Second Amendment is not going anywhere no matter who becomes the next Supreme Court justice. Why would Ted Cruz say something like that? Phil?

PHIL MUSSER, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Yes. You know, Cruz is just looking to fire up different elements of the republican base and the coalition in the State of South Carolina. So, it's a critical issue especially in the northwestern part of South Carolina. He's got a strategy to motivate Evangelicals and gun-owning Second

Amendment fearing kind of conservative voters. And that's part of what he's trying to do here. It's really not a whole lot more simple than that.

And you know, Donald Trump has been just amazing with respect to how he's been able to kind of steal the thunder and shift the topic. So, it's pretty interesting to watch here as we come to the close.

LEMON: All right. Bob, let's talk about Saturday night. And I understand that you said that Saturday night was an ugly slugfest. You said it was embarrassing to the GOP. I mean, what about what happened today? Is it all out war?

BOB CUSACK, THE HILL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: It is. I mean, the candidates -- this is the crucial stretch here, and, of course, a lot of the pundits and the republican candidates thought by this point Donald Trump would be out of the race. And certainly not a topic.

And that's why I think Saturday night was so ugly. I don't think it reflected well on the Republican Party. There was a lot of shouting and yelling at each other. And that's never a good thing when you're doing that, especially in a debate.

So, I think that these candidates are getting desperate. You look at Jeb Bush and, you know, I thought he had a decent debate but he's not done well in the polls. He survived New Hampshire. Can he survive South Carolina?

Marco Rubio had a very disappointing debate. I mean, this is crunch time. South Carolina is going to, I think, lead to one or two candidates getting out. Carson probably the leading candidate, but maybe one or two others.

LEMON: South Carolina said like a true southerner. I like that. To Matt, do you think Donald Trump did this today to take the spotlight off of George W. out on the campaign trail for his brother?

MATT LEWIS, "TOO DUMB TO FAIL" AUTHOR: I don't know about George W. But look, there is sort -- there does seems to be a pattern of Donald Trump after he has a bad or mediocre debate changing the subject line. He doesn't want cable news to run ad nauseam, you know, be roll of him in a debate so he changes the subject.

And we, of course, gladly comply because he's catnip for those of us who love to talk about politics. Donald Trump is basically, I think, played us like a fiddle, and he's so fascinating. He's so interesting.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that this was -- this could have been a great republican bench. There's some very talented republicans out there. Some of whom are running for president. People like Marco Rubio. Some of whom are not. People like South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley. But instead of focusing on them it's the Donald Trump show.

LEMON: Do you think that Trump is going too far, Kayleigh, with his criticism of George W. Bush when he's talking about George W. Bush? What do you think? Do you think he is taking too far?

MCENANY: I do think -- yes, I do think he went too far in the debate. And I was pleased to see him dial back that rhetoric today. Because here is one thing I know about conservatives, and that makes up about roughly half of Donald Trump's support, the other half is independents or democrats leaning folks.

But one thing about conservatives is we love George W. Bush. He enjoys an 84 percent approval rating in South Carolina. Calling him a liar is a bit too far. So, I was very pleased to see Donald Trump pulling that rhetoric today. He has a fair criticism of the Iraq war. Most people think it was a bad idea including George's his own brother, Jeb, when he was pushed on that point earlier in the political season. But he did go too far in the debate, yes.

LEMON: Ted Cruz respond...

(CROSSTALK)

MUSSER: Don.

LEMON: Go ahead, go on.

MUSSER: Well, you know, one thing I haven't seen in the coverage is Laura Bush was there too, today. You know, I worked for President Bush and, you know, there was the first, you know, the first sister-in-law. So, she's pretty popular, a popular figure, too. They probably ought to bring her back and send her to South Carolina a little bit.

LEMON: So, OK, Phil, let me ask you this. Because I asked in the earlier show. Then why, you know, if today, Ted -- today, Ted -- excuse me, Jeb Bush seemed like a different candidate, right?

MUSSER: Yes.

LEMON: He was more energetic, he seemed more confident since he had his brother out, since he had mom out. Now he has his wife out. I mean, his sister-in-law. Why didn't he do it sooner?

MUSSER: Tricky, tricky subject. Any time your brother happens to be the former president -- you know, former leader of the free world. That's a tough dynamic in terms of where and when you insert yourself at any point in time. Let alone the fact that you're trying to establish your own -- your own candidacy, your own themes, your own rationale.

[22:20:03] In South Carolina it's one of those places where it lines up perfectly. As Kayleigh just previously said, I mean, he's enormously popular. The voter base there has got historical connection with the Bush family.

Obviously, the connection with the military. It made a lot of sense, I think. And honestly, at this point in time, I saw some private numbers today that suggested that the Bush campaign still struggling to get traction. And so, if that's the case, I think you really got to pull everything

out of the bag at this point in time. Because if you don't perform if you're Jeb Bush, after South Carolina it does gets more difficult for you.

LEMON: All right. Don't go anywhere every one. When we come right back here, republicans digging in their heels over the Supreme Court. Just how bad will that battle get?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Republicans promising a bitter battle over the Supreme Court. But how will voters react to that? Back with me now, Bob Cusack, Kayleigh McEnany, Phil Musser, and Matt Lewis.

OK, guys. Change of plans. I want to ask you this. Because this is just out from the Washington Post and this is from the Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid. Again, just out. He delivered this message on what he thinks is going to happen or should happen about Congress and naming another justice. OK"

[22:25:02] So, he says "Republicans should not insult the American people's intelligence by pretending there is historical precedent of what -- of what they are about to do. By ignoring its constitutional mandate the Senate would sabotage the highest court in the United States and aim at a procedural misery at the foundation of our system of checks and balances."

He also goes on to say, "It is easy to get caught up in the partisan world of an election year. But I would urge my republican colleagues to remember that the consequences of blocking any nominee regardless of merits would hang over their heads for the rest of their careers. If republicans proceed, they will ensure that this republican majority is remembered as the most naked, partisan obstructionist and irresponsible majority in history, pursuing their radical strategy in a quixotic quest to deny the basic fact that the American people elected President Barack Obama twice would rank among the most rash and reckless action in the history of the Senate and the consequences will reverberate for decades."

Matt Lewis your response.

LEWIS: Harry Reid is one of the most naked partisans in the business. These guys are all -- these guys are all hypocrites. Go back 120 years and you'll find republicans saying what democrats are saying today. You'll find democrats saying what republicans are saying today.

So, look, I mean, I'm sure we can go back and find what Harry Reid had to say about George W. Bush's nominees. By the way, Barack Obama joined a filibuster of Justice Samuel Alito before he became president.

So, look, there's a lot of hypocrisy on this. The bottom line is I think, you know, George W. Bush had two appointments. Barack Obama had two appointments. Now we have Justice Samuel Alito passing away. There's a chance for the liberals to redefine the court for a generation.

LEMON: Yes.

LEWIS: And I think republicans, you know, you can call it obstructionists, but they're going to argue that a lame-duck president whose already had two picks...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: He's not quite lame duck yet. He's not quite a lame duck a president yet.

LEWIS: But less than a year left to go.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: OK. Less than a year. OK. But let me get reactions from -- quick reactions from all of you on this. So, Bob, what's your reaction to Harry Reid?

CUSACK: Well, one thing that Harry Reid is not is subtle. He definitely -- he's a former fighter and he's going to be going after Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid they used to get along. They really don't get along that much anymore. And this is going to define the Senate for the rest of the year.

They really don't have much to do this. There's not much on the agenda other than some appropriations bills. So, this is going to be -- you said it. Very bitter. Both sides are going to be citing precedent. They're going to be -- and I think the key here, Don, is that which party holds.

Is there cracks in the unity of the Republican Party? All the republicans who are up for re-election, are they going to back Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell in this? I don't think that republicans are going to cave. It depends on how much pressure is put on them from the White House.

LEMON: I said quick but that's OK. Kayleigh, what's your -- what's your reaction, Kayleigh.

MCENANY: It's patently false for Harry Reid to say there's no precedent for this. In fact, the Supreme Court justice hasn't been confirmed in an election year in 80 years. And I would refer him to the words of his colleague during the last year and a half of the Bush presidency. Chuck Schumer, who said there should be a presumption against nominating and confirming a Supreme Court justice. Because George W. Bush is still president. We need to wait until this lame- duck president gets out.

LEMON: OK. Play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another Roberts or Justice Ginsburg by another Alito. 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)

LEMON: Reaction now from Phil Musser?

MUSSER: Look, I mean, I think Matt nailed it earlier that you've just kind of seen the hypocrisy kind of the parties on both sides of this thing. I think it's honestly what is wrong with Washington in a lot of ways.

I mean, this is -- the American people are trying to figure out, you know, what kind of ping-pong is going on here. I'm unclear about the politics of it, to be honest with you.

I mean, looking at the longest game, it could well go either way. It could be a base motivator for republicans where they kind of want to hang tough with the swing vote, or frankly, it could be just a chance for the president to relentlessly hammer kind of obstructionist Congress that does very little to advance the ball.

You know, overall, because at the end of the day it's the mood point. So, the jury is really out on it. And I worry about the politics of the situation.

LEMON: Kayleigh, you said that voters shouldn't fear, you know, Trump's Supreme Court nominees. Why is that?

MCENANY: Definitely not. Look, he was the only candidate in the debate to name two potential replacements. And the replacements he named Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor. In fact, Pryor came out and said that Roe v. Wade is the worse nomination in constitutional law history.

So, that's a pretty pro-life strong conservative justice if you ask me. Voters wouldn't fear who is going to pick. He named two contenders and they're great justice -- great judges, excuse me.

[22:30:00] So, Bob, what did President Barack Obama nominate Sri Srinivasan, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the district, formerly District of Columbia. He is considered to be a moderate. He is confirmed by the Senate 97 to zero, and was a court for Sandra Day O'Connor. What about that?

CUSACK: Yes. And I think that you never know, but I think that President Obama is going to pick a nominee like that or Jane Kelly from the Circuit of Appeals who is also unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

I don't think he's going to pick a controversial pick that got 56 or 58 votes. I think he's going to go with someone who got bipartisan support, bipartisan praise, and put the pressure on...

LEMON: Will it get it through though, or no? CUSACK: It remains to be seen. I think no. I think Mitch McConnell

has to hold the line and, remember, the Senate is up for grabs. So, this could become a big issue in the battle for the Senate.

LEMON: Matt, can you think of any nominee who both sides might agree on?

LEWIS: Get Ted Cruz out of the presidential race, maybe. Cruz on the court. There you go. First news here.

You know, there is a theory that the west wing theory which would be President Obama gets Ginsburg to step down, names a young liberal to replace her, and an old conservative to replace Scalia as a compromise. That's the west wing theory. I don't think it's going to happen but who knows.

LEMON: OK. Wow.

LEWIS: OK. Well, let that one hatch. That one will hatch down into the Senate into the court.

LEMON: Yes. That sounds like you said the west wing theory. It sounds like a plot out of west wing. Phil, continue what did you say?

MUSSER: No, I just -- I think it's great. Let's see.

LEWIS: You know, I think the one point that really has to be made here is that the stakes are so high of. This is a lifetime appointment. Very well it could be that this becomes the defining legacy of the president. Because the Supreme Court usually outlives any decision they make. So, it's a big, big deal, obviously.

LEMON: All right. This is -- I really need a quick answer for this one, please. Who do you think -- what do you think I should say, will be the first new president or justice, a new justice on the Supreme Court? Who do we get first?

MCENANY: Bill Pryor.

LEMON: No, a new president or a new justice of the Supreme Court, who do we get first?

MCENANY: Oh. New president, for sure, for sure.

LEMON: Yes. New president. Phil?

MUSSER: New president, yes.

LEMON: Bob?

CUSACK: Unanimous, president.

LEMON: All right. Well, there we have it. Thank you, guys. I appreciate it. See you soon.

MCENANY: Thanks, Don. LEMON: Coming up, can the battle over the Supreme Court backfire? And what will it mean to undecided voters?

[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both demanding the Senate consider President Obama's eventual nominee for the Supreme Court.

Joining me now to discuss is CNN contributor, Bakari Sellers; also Bill Press, the author of "Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down," and Mr. Charles Blow, New York Times op-ed columnist and author of...

CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, "Fire Shut Up in My Bones." I'm never ready to say that "Fire Shut Up in my Bones." Articulate.

LEMON: So, OK, Charles, since I throw you out here. Justice Scalia's death now a big part of the political conversation. Do you think it's going to change how people think about their vote now when they go into the booth?

BLOW: I don't think -- well, I do believe that electability just moved up in people's considerations.

LEMON: How so?

BLOW: Meaning that the idea that you might have a Supreme Court nomination during your presidency is no longer theoretical consideration. It is an absolute. And if the Senate holds to what Senate leaders are saying now, meaning that they will not allow conformation vote on whoever Barack Obama submits, that means that the next president whoever democrat or republican will have that in their seat first day.

That means that who can actually get elected becomes a very real pressing concern.

LEMON: And should be. And should be. So, Bill, is that you agreeing? I heard you say yes.

BILL PRESS, "BUYER'S REMORSE" AUTHOR: Yes. Absolutely. I've always said that voting for presidents, the number one reason to cast your vote for president is thinking about the Supreme Court nominees and who is going to be making them.

But I think this totally shakes up not just the presidential race in 2016, but also the race for control of the United States Senate all the more important that democrats retain control of the Senate. They will see it that way.

And, of course, it puts the court in gridlock for the next year. So, you know, Antonin Scalia liked to stir up trouble. I'm sure that wherever he is somewhere there's a smile on his face today because he has certainly stirred a lot of trouble. LEMON: Is it a mistake to turn this into a political battle. Had

republicans made a mistake, you know, just anyone of you can answer that.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not at all. I think everything we see now is a political battle. I mean, I hope Justice Scalia, rest in peace, and I wanted to give him and his time enough, him and his family enough time to grieve and do all those things necessary. But now we quickly pivot and move on to the politics.

LEMON: It happened as seriously about 30 seconds after the man died.

SELLERS: About 30 seconds.

PRESS: Yes?

SELLERS: Yes. But I mean, that's the kind of -- that's the society we live in today. But I do just want to comment that, you know, I think that the republicans are not playing the long game. I think there's a way where by, you know, the president can push through a nominee and get a nominee on the bench and rile up their base, which will eventually benefit them in the long run.

I'm not certain that this gamble will pay off if you have Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders as the 45th President of the United States.

PRESS: Hey, Don, let me...

(CROSSTALK)

BLOW: The other -- the other consideration...

LEMON: Charles first and then Bill Press.

BLOW: The other consideration is you don't know exactly how the chess game plays out, right? So, if Obama nominates someone who is relatively moderate who's already gotten majority or all votes or conformation on lower court that may be palatable to them, to the republicans but they still may not may hold off.

Obama could take the alternate route and say I'm going to put someone on the ballot who I think will help to energize the democratic base. You basically being at that point because you know that they will not be confirmed. You're putting them on the ballot with whoever the democratic nominee is.

PRESS: Right.

BLOW: So, that, you know, and how that plays, however, is not clear. It could energize democratic base but it could also energize the republican base.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Energize the republican base, right.

BLOW: So, how is that is not exactly clear to me.

LEMON: But the best person who gets in the White House if that person is a democrat then they can, you know, put someone up who is very liberal. So, you really don't know how it weighs out. But go ahead.

SELLERS: But that's also, but just to Charles point, that's also something that the president has never done before.

[22:40:03] LEMON: Yes.

SELLERS: He's always done someone who is moderate enough. Someone who would get through, who would actually pass the vetting process. I think that someone the president will look at is someone like Loretta Lynch whojust went through this process who just bore the scars of going through this process.

LEMON: But no one has mentioned her. No one -- no one is mentioning her as a serious contender. Go ahead. Go ahead, Bill. Go ahead, Bill.

PRESS: Yes. I was just going to say I was just going to mention her.

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: So, there we go. Me and Bill, we mention her.

PRESS: There we go. Her campaign starts right here. I think this thing could really turn around and bite the republicans in the ass, if I can say that in cable television.

LEMON: You just did, go ahead.

PRESS: Number one, it is going to energize -- it will energize the republicans. Everything does. But it will energize the democratic base. Again, they'll see they've got to get the Senate back from those swing states that they lost the last time and they got to hold on to the White House.

And if the president does nominate, let's say, Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman ever nominated in the Supreme Court. Do republicans really want to fight that for the next 10 months in the negative partnership? I don't think so.

What if he nominates Sri Srinivasan, the first Asian-American, first Indian-American ever nominated in the Supreme Court. Do the republicans want to go into the general election and make that their whole battle for this year? I think they will fold if President Obama nominates the right person.

BLOW: I think as attractive as Loretta is, I don't think she has a shot.

LEMON: Yes. As African-American candidate people are mentioning Judge Paul Watford.

PRESS: He's a great nominee.

LEMON: He sits in the 9th Circuit Court...

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: They would all be great. I mean, all the three that we just named would be great.

LEMON: Yes. Do you think, Bakari, that this could push an undecided voter to throw their support behind any one specific candidate?

SELLERS: I actually do. I think that going back to Charles' point, again, electability is a major issue. And the candidate who has the largest question mark about electability in this process is Bernie Sanders. And I think that Bernie Sanders as his campaign is growing and evolving is beginning to answer those questions.

He still has to come through Nevada, he still has to come through South Carolina and Super Tuesday. But as of right now, if there's a question in voters' minds, I think that people do deem Hillary Clinton, whether or not that's right or not, I think it's a right choice. But whether or not that's right or not to be more valuable, more valid candidate moving into November. I think that will -- that will hurt Bernie Sanders going forward.

LEMON: OK. We have a unique -- thank you, every one. We have unique two-night event on CNN this week for the very first time in this campaign. All six republican presidential candidates will answer questions from the voters of South Carolina. It's our live televised town hall moderated by Anderson Cooper and seen only CNN this Wednesday and Thursday night beginning at 8.

Ben Carson and Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz take it on Wednesday night and then, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump, they will fill questions from voters on Thursday night. Don't miss the CNN GOP presidential town hall alive -- a live two-night event Wednesday and Thursday beginning at 8 p.m. right here on CNN. Whew.

Charles is sitting here. How do you do it as I'm reading. Stay with me, everyone. When we come right back, will Hillary Clinton's support from African-American voters put her over the top in South Carolina? We'll be right back.

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: South Carolina's democratic primary is a little over a week away. And African-American voters could be the key.

Back with me now Bakari Sellers, Bill Press, and Charles Blow. So, Bakari, Hillary Clinton has got a comfortable lead in South Carolina. That's according to recent polls. And among African-American voters, her lead is even bigger.

But do you think that these results that we're going to see in the primary, you know, on the primary night where African-American voters guarantee a big win for her?

SELLERS: Well, I don't want to speak too soon. But I do think she's doing well with African-American voters. I think even more specifically the key to this election, the key to this democratic primary, and I've said it until I was blue in the face, so we can see to say is African-American women.

That is where Hillary Clinton does extremely well. And that's where she'll continue to do extremely well. I'll always say that it's going to be my mom and her friends are going to be the ones to decide this democratic primary. And those women are supporting Hillary Clinton in this election.

Even here in South Carolina, we're seeing that. We're seeing that outpouring of support. And we look forward, I mean, we look forward here in South Carolina to having the next two weeks of nothing but excitement in Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tearing up the roads here.

LEMON: Well, Hillary Clinton had a, shall we say a unique moment on the campaign trail today. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They actually with a straight face say that the great recession was caused by too much regulation on Wall Street. They actually say that. You know, I remember when, you know, I supported my husband through all of his races in Arkansas.

And I -- one of my favorite, favorite political ads of all time was a radio ad in rural Arkansas where the announcer said "wouldn't it be great if somebody running for office said something? We could have an immediate reaction as to whether or not it was true or not?" Well, we've trained this dog and the dog -- if it's not true, he's going to bark and the dog was barking on the radio.

And so, you know, people were like, barking at each other for days after that. I'm trying to figure out how we can do that with the republicans. You know, we need -- we need to get that dog and follow them around and every time they say these things, like, oh, you know, the great recession was caused by too much regulation, "aw, aw, aw," you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SELLERS: Charles Blow, be nice. Don't come to me.

BLOW: Oh, yes.

LEMON: I'm coming to you. Is Hillary barking at me? I mean, is it finding her -- is this her groove, do you think?

BLOW: Well, it certainly sounds like comfortable person.

LEMON: A comfortable person.

BLOW: Right. I do think that she is experiencing some comfort going into South Carolina. Less in Nevada, however, where the polls seem to show that the race is maybe getting a little bit tighter.

But as Bakari says, you know, 25 percent of the people who voted in the democratic primary in 2008 in South Carolina were black.

LEMON: Yes.

BLOW: There are fewer young voters in South Carolina than in Iowa and New Hampshire. Only about 14 percent in South Carolina will be below the age of 30.

[22:50:07] There are more women voters in South Carolina than in Iowa and in New Hampshire. In 2008, only 39 percent of the people who voted in the South Carolina democratic primary were men. All of those factors kind of give her a slight edge.

LEMON: Yes. Bill, I have to ask you about before we move on. She has had, you know, I guess a criticism is been that she's too buttoned up sometimes. She seems programmed. And for her to be out there, you know, barking on the campaign trail, now that is a sign of some degree of comfort or a higher degree of comfort.

PRESS: Let me just say it's a side of Hillary Clinton I've never seen before. I don't think anybody of us have ever seen before. And it's good to see her loosen up, it's good to see her loosen up a little bit. Maybe she's going to do more of that.

Let me jump in if I can about South Carolina, if I can. The gentleman you have there can speak much better of course to the African-American voters than I ever could.

LEMON: Yes, go ahead.

PRESS: But I'm glad Charles mentioned Nevada. Because I think what happens in Nevada could have a big impact. Bernie Sanders has some advantages in Nevada, right? It is 20 percent Latino. It's 13 percent -- 14 percent African-American. But it's a caucus state. People can register on the same day.

Bernie has a huge operation there. He's spending a lot of time there. And if he does -- if he wins, if he does very well in Nevada, I think that gives him -- will give him a real boost in South Carolina.

Look, we all know the -- we all know it's an uphill battle for him there. I think he made some inroads with some younger endorsements like Killer Mike and (Inaudible) and Ben Jealous. And I wouldn't go as far as to say...

(CROSSTALK)

BLOW: I don't think -- he said that he was an endorser.

PRESS: Yes, I know. What he said -- if somebody says they're going to vote as far as I'm concerned that's an endorsement.

SELLERS: Bill Press recognizes Killer Mike tonight. That's a great night. LEMON: Come on, everybody knows Killer Mike.

PRESS: Yes. It's a great night. It's a great endorsement. But I just want to say something. So, I go as far as to say that Hillary will probably win South Carolina. Bernie is not going to lose it by 22 points. That's my prediction. It's going to tighten up.

BLOW: I think that's probably true.

LEMON: Do you think, Bakari, I want to ask you, you said it was more important as we've been saying this, it's more importance on the vote now what you take to the voting booth with you because of the Supreme Court justice decision now. Do you think African-Americans in South Carolina take that into the voting booth with them?

SELLERS: No doubt about it. I mean, we're talking about Voting Rights Act. I mean, we're talking about issues that are very near and dear to the hearts of many African-Americans. I mean, you know, we think about all the sacrifices that were made so that we can make it this far.

In South Carolina always tell people that you don't have to go far to find your civil rights hero. I mean, you can go to different people's kitchens and you understand that they were the ones who sacrifice who struggle, who were in prison, who were chit, who were beaten.

South Carolina are very different culture. And one thing we do understand is the role that the Supreme Court plays. And we do understand that sometimes we need that validity, and we do understand that the president fought hard to get the Affordable Care Act and it was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court and we understand the role in importance.

So, I think that that is a big deal, especially in South Carolina among African-Americans.

LEMON: Yet, Charles, you wrote in your column today, right? And I don't know if this sort of contradicts what he's saying and you can explain but you said, "Saying to people who believe in Sanders' vision that is a mirage is injurious to their sense of wonder and determination. It says stop believing that the impossible is possible. That lands like a wet blanket. It's antithetical to the American ethos. The country's lore at its image is its own greatness and is rooted in doing what have never been done. What no one thought could be done."

Is that the two -- you can go into the voting booth thinking about who is actually can stand a better chance of winning and think about the impossible becoming possible?

BLOW: Right, right. I think you know, to add to Bakari's point, I think that in addition to understanding what the Supreme Court will mean in terms of civil rights, I think a lot of people will taken to that spurning of the president and they will not be happy about it.

SELLERS: Exactly. BLOW: Right. This idea that you're going to say make this particular president wait out 11 months and not give him the chance to appoint someone and take a vote on it, I think they'll take that spurning into the booth.

But in addition to that, I do believe that the idealism that young people are naturally idealistic. I think that when we get older like us, you know...

LEMON: You take it for yourself.

BLOW: ... you take it a couple of knocks and couple of bruises and you kind of -- you kind of moderate to some degree. And I think that's why we're seeing a generational divide in terms of whether or not people are generally buying into the idealism or the practicality of these two candidates.

LEMON: Speak for yourself. I'm a millennial.

BLOW: Yes. Whatever.

LEMON: I'll be 30. Whatever. I'm younger than Bakari Sellers. Thank you, Bakari. Thank you, Bill Press. Thank you, Charles.

PRESS: All right. Thank you, Don.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Thank you for doing this thing. Thank you, Charles. Let's give him a chance. All right. Thank you, guys. We'll be right back.

SELLERS: All right.

[22:55:07] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Let me tell you, we have a unique two-night event on CNN this week. For the very first time in this campaign, all six republican presidential candidates will answer questions from the voters of South Carolina.

It is our live televised town hall. It's going to be moderated by Anderson Cooper. Can be seen only on CNN, this Wednesday and Thursday night that begins at 8 Eastern Time.

Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz will kick it off on Wednesday night. OK. And then John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump will fill questions from voters on Thursday night.

Don't miss the CNN GOP presidential town hall. It's a live two-night event. It's Wednesday and Thursday night, 8 Eastern right here on CNN.

That is it for us tonight. I thank you so much for joining us. I'm going to see you right back here tomorrow night. If you're watching in the United States, AC360 is next. If you're watching internationally, Amanpour airs in just a moment.

Good night from New York. Thanks for watching.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us. And welcome to the battle lines.