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Obama Takes Questions on Supreme Court Vacancy; Obama Speaks to Press on Year Ahead in 2016. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 16, 2016 - 17:00   ET



My question is about the Supreme Court.


SUPERVILLE: What recourse do you have if Leader McConnell blocks the vote on your Supreme Court nominee?

[17:00:00] And do you think that if you choose someone moderate enough that Republicans might change course and schedule of vote?

And as you consider that choice and who to nominate, what qualities are important to you in this diversity among them? Thank you.

OBAMA: First of all, I want to reiterate heartfelt condolences to the Scalia family. Obviously, Justice Scalia and I had different political orientations and probably would have disagreed on the outcome of certain cases, but there's no doubt that he was a giant on the Supreme Court, helped to shape the legal landscape. He was, by all accounts, a good friend and loved his family deeply, and so you know, it's important before we rush into all of the politics of this to take stock of somebody who made enormous contributions to the United States. And we are grateful not only for his service but for his family's service.

The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now. When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president of the United States is to nominate someone. The Senate is to consider that nomination, and either they disapprove of the nominee or that nominee is elevated to the Supreme Court.

Historically, this has not been viewed as a question. There's no unwritten law that says that it can only be done on off years. That's not in the constitutional text. I'm amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it, a whole series of provisions that are not there.

There is more than enough time for the Senate to consider, in a thoughtful way, the record of a nominee that I present and to make a decision. And with respect to our process, we're going to do the same thing that we did with respect to Justice Kagan's nomination and Justice Sotomayor's nomination. We're going to find somebody who is an outstanding legal mind, somebody who cares deeply about our democracy and cares about rule of law. There's not going to be any particular position on a particular issue that determines whether or not I nominate them, but I'm going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat and any fair-minded person, even somebody who disagreed with my politics, would say, would serve with honor and integrity on the court.

Now part of the problem that we have here is, we've almost gotten accustomed to how obstructionist the Senate's become when it comes to nominations. I've got 14 nominations that have been pending that were unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee. So Republicans and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee all agreed that they were well- qualified for the position.

And yet we can't get a vote on those individuals. So in some ways this argument is just an extension of what we've seen in the Senate generally and not just on judicial nominees.

The basic function of government requires that the president of the United States, in his or her duties, has a team of people, cabinet secretaries, assistant secretaries, that can carry out the basic functions of government. It requires -- the Constitution requires that we appoint judges so that they can carry out their functions as a separate branch of government.

And the fact that we've almost grown accustomed to a situation that is almost unprecedented where every nomination is contested. Everything is blocked. Regardless of how qualified the person is, even when there's no ideological objection to them. Certainly, where there are no disqualifying actions by the nominee that have surfaced.

[17:05:09] The fact that it's that hard that we're even discussing this is, I think, a measure of how unfortunately the animate rancor in Washington has prevented us from getting basic work done. Now this would be a good moment for us to rise above that.

I understand the stakes. I understand the pressure that Republican senators are undoubtedly under. The fact of the matter is that what the issue here is, is that the court is now divided on many issues. This would be a deciding vote. And there are a lot of Republican senators who are going to be under a lot of pressure from special interests and various constituencies and many of their voters to not let any nominee go through, no matter who I nominate.

But that's not how the system's supposed to work. That's not how our democracy's supposed to work. And I intend to nominate in due time a very well-qualified candidate. If we are following basic precedent, then that nominee will be presented before the committees, the vote will be taken, and ultimately they'll be confirmed.

Justice Kennedy, when he was nominated by Ronald Reagan and Reagan's last year in office, a vote was taken, and there are a whole lot of Democrats who, I'm sure, did not agree with Justice Kennedy on his position on a variety of issues, but they did the right thing. They confirmed him.

And if they voted against him, they certain didn't mount a filibuster to block a vote from even coming up. This is the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. It's the one court where we would expect elected officials to rise above day-to-day politics. And this will be the opportunity for senators to do their job.

Your job doesn't stop until you're voted out, or until your term expires. I intend to do my job between now and January 20th of 2017. I expect them to do their job, as well.

All right. Let's see who we got here. Jeff Mason.

JEFF MASON, JOURNALIST: Thank you, Mr. President. Following up on that, should we interpret your comments just now that you're likely to choose a moderate nominee? Would you...



OBAMA: I don't know where you found that. You shouldn't assume anything about the qualifications of the nominee, other than they're going to be well-qualified.

MASON: All right.


MASON: Following up...


MASON: ... would you consider a recess appointment if your nominee is not granted a hearing?

OBAMA: I think that we have more than enough time to go through regular order, regular processes, I intend to nominate somebody, to present them to the American people, to present them to the Senate. I expect them to hold hearings. I expect there to be a vote.

MASON: That means no recess?

OBAMA: Full stop.

MASON: And lastly, as long as we're doing this in a row, how do you respond to Republican criticism that your position is undercut by the fact that you and other members of your administration, who are in the Senate at the time, tried to filibuster Judge Alito in 2006?

OBAMA: You know, the -- look, I think what's fair to say is that how judicial nominations have evolved over time is not historically the fault of any single party. This has become just one more extension of politics. And there are times where folks are in the Senate, and they're thinking, as I just described, primarily about is this going to cause me problems in a primary? Is this going to cause me problems with supporters of mine?

And so people take strategic decisions. I understand that. But what is also true is Justice Alito's on the bench right now. I think that, historically, if you look at it, regardless of what votes particular senators have taken there's a basic consensus, a basic understanding that the Supreme Court's different, and each caucus may decide who's going to vote where and what, but that basically, you have taken there's a basic consensus, basic understanding that the Supreme Court's different, and each caucus may decide who's going to vote where and what, but that basically you let the vote come up and you make sure that a well-qualified candidate is able to join the bench, even if you don't particularly agree with them. And my expectation is, is that the same should happen here.

Now, this will be a test, one more test of whether or not norms, rules, basic fair play can function at all in Washington these days.

But I do want to point out, this is not just the Supreme Court. I mean, we have consistently seen just a breakdown in the basic functions of government, because the Senate will not confirm well- qualified nominees even when they're voted out of committee, which means that they're voted by both parties, without objection.

We still have problems, because there's a certain mindset that says we're just going to grind the system down to a halt, and if we don't like the president, then we're just not going to let him make any appointments. We're going make it tougher for the administration to do their basic job. We're going to make sure that ambassadors aren't seated, even though these are critical countries that may have an effect on our international relations. We're going to make sure that judges aren't confirmed, despite the fact that Justice Roberts himself has pointed out, there's emergencies in courts around the country because there are just not enough judges and there are too many cases and the system's breaking down.

So this has become a habit, and it gets worse and worse each year. And it's not something that I have spent a huge amount of time talking about because, frankly, the American people on average, they're more interested in gas prices and wages and issues that touch on their day- to-day lives in a more direct way, so it doesn't get a lot of political attention. But this is the Supreme Court, and it's going to get some attention.

And we have to ask ourselves as a society, a fundamental question, are we able to still make this democracy work the way it's supposed to, the way our founders envisioned it. And I would challenge anyone who purports to be adhering to the original intent of the founders, anybody who believes in the Constitution coming up with a plausible rational as to why they would not even have a hearing for a nominee made in accordance with the Constitution by the president of the United States with a year left, practically, in office. It's pretty hard to find that in the Constitution.

All right. You've gotten at least -- you've gotten four now, Jeff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. Two different topics. First on Syria. Last year, when President Putin was about to enter into Syria, you said that he was doing so from a position of weakness and that he would only get himself involved in a quagmire there. Now, with Aleppo about to fall, it seems like President Putin is

basically getting one of his goals, which is to bolster Assad and to take out the rebels, by which the U.S. is backing. How do you respond to critics who say that you have been outfoxed by Putin, and what is your plan if Aleppo does fall? Do you plan to step up military action to help the rebels in Syria you have said are key to taking on ISIS?

And secondly, I wanted to ask you about 2016, as well.

OBAMA: OK, Davy (ph). It's getting to be a lot of questions here. You asked me a big question right there. How about I -- how about I just answer that one?


OBAMA: All right. The -- first of all, if you look back at the transcripts, what I said was that Russia has been propping up Assad this entire time. The fact that Putin finally had to send his own troops and his own aircraft and his -- invest this massive military operation was not a testament to great strength. It was a testament to the weakness of Assad's position, that if somebody's strong, then you don't have to send in your army to prop up your ally. They have legitimacy in their country, they are able to manage it their self and you have good relations with them. You send in your army when the horse you're backing isn't effective, and that's exactly what's happened.

Now, what I said was, is that Russia would involve itself in a quagmire. Absolutely it will. If there's anybody who thinks that somehow the fighting ends because Russia and the regime has made some initial advances, about 3/4 of the country is still under control of folks other than Assad. That's not stopping any time soon.

So I say that, by the way, with no pleasure. This is not a contest between me and Putin. The question is how can we stop the suffering, stabilize the region, stop this massive out migration of refugees who are having such a terrible time, end the violence, stop the bombing of schools and hospitals and innocent civilians, stop creating a safe haven for ISIS, and there's nothing that's happened over the last several weeks that points to those issues being solved. And that is what I mean by a quagmire.

Now, Putin may think that he's prepared to invest in a permanent occupation of Syria with Russian military. That's going to be pretty costly. That's going to -- that's going to be a big piece of business. And if you look at the state of the Russian economy, that's probably not the best thing for Russia.

What would be smarter would be for Russia to work with the United States and other parties in the international community to try to broker some sort of political transition.

Now John Kerry working with his Russian counterpart has, on paper, said that there's going to be a cessation of hostilities in a few days. This will test whether or not that's possible. It's hard to do, because there's been a lot of bloodshed. And if Russia continues indiscriminate bombing of the sort that we've seen, I think it's fair to say that you're not going to see any take up by the opposition.

And, yes, Russia's a major military, obviously much of rebels are not going to be able to compete with the hardware of the second most powerful military in the world. But that doesn't solve the problem of actually stabilizing Syria. And the only way to do that is to bring about some sort of political transition.

We will see what happens over the next several days and we will continue to work with our partners who are focused on defeating ISIS to also see how we can work together to try to bring about a more lasting political solution than aerial bombardment of schools and hospitals are going to achieve. But it's -- it's hard. I'm under no illusions here that this is going to be easy.

A country has been shattered, because Assad was willing to shatter it and has repeatedly missed opportunities to try to arrive at a political transition. And Russia has been party to that entire process. And the real question we should be asking is what is it that Russia thinks it gains if it gets a country that's been completely destroyed as an ally, that it now has to perpetually spend billions of dollars to prop up. That's not -- that's not that great a prize.

Unfortunately, the problem is it has spillover effects that are impacting everybody. And that's what we have to focus on.

One thing that I do want to add, though. This has not distracted us from continuing to focus on ISIL, and we continue to press them hard, both in Iraq and Syria. That will not stop. And if we can get a political transition in Syria that allows us to coordinate more effectively with not just Russia but other countries in the region to focus on the folks who pose the greatest direct threat to the United States. All right?

Andrew Beatty.

ANDREW BEATTY, JOURNALIST: Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask you, first of all, whether you think that military intervention will be necessary in Libya to dislodge the Islamic state from Cert. And as an extension of that, do you think that, by the end of your presidency, the Islamic State will still have geographical strongholds throughout the Middle East?

I'm sorry. I can't resist asking a third. How is the stadium course? What did you shoot?

OBAMA: The last, for non-golfers, a reference to PGA West. Very nice course; very difficult. My score's classified.

With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after al Qaeda, wherever they appeared. And the testament to the fact that we are doing that already is that we took out ISIS -- one of ISIS's most prominent leaders in Libya.

We will continue to take actions where we've got a clear operation and a clear target in mind. And we are working with our other coalition partners to make sure that, as we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them.

At the same time, we're working diligently with the United Nations to try to get a government in place in Libya. And that's been a problem. You know, the tragedy of Libya over last several years is Libya has a relatively small population and a lot of oil wealth and could be really successful. They are divided by tribal lines and ethnic lines, power plays.

There is now, I think, a recognition on the part of a broad middle among their political leadership that it makes no sense to unify so that there's just some semblance of a state there. But extremes on either side are making it difficult for that state to cohere.

If we can get that done, that will be enormously helpful, because our strong preference, as has always been the case, is to train Libyans to fight. And the good news in Libya is that they don't like outsiders coming in telling them what to do. There's a whole bunch of constituencies who are hardened fighters and don't ascribe to ISIS or their perverted ideology, but they have to be organized and can't be fighting each other. And so that's probably as important as anything that we're going to be doing in Libya over the coming months.

Carol Lee.

CAROL LEE, JOURNALIST: Thank you, Mr. President.

The Democratic race, to replace you, has gotten pretty heated lately. And you have Hillary Clinton saying that, casting herself as the rightful heir to your legacy and the keeper of your legacy while also saying that Bernie Sanders has been disloyal to you. Is she right?

OBAMA: Well, you know, that's the great thing about primaries is everybody is trying to differentiate themselves when, in fact, Bernie and Hillary agree on a lot of stuff, and disagree pretty much across the board with everything the Republicans stand for.

So you know, my hope is, is that we can let the primary voters and caucus goers have their say for a while, and let's see how this thing plays itself out.

I know Hillary better than I know Bernie, because she served in my administration, and she was an outstanding secretary of state. And I suspect that on certain issues she agrees with me more than Bernie does.

[17:25:13] On the other hand, there may be a couple issues and where Bernie agrees with me more. I don't know. I haven't studied their positions that closely.

Here's what I have confidence in: that Democratic voters believe in certain principles. They believe in equal opportunity. They believe in making sure that every kid in this country gets a fair shot. They believe in making sure that economic growth is broad-based and everybody benefits from it, and if you work hard you're not in poverty. They believe in preserving a strong safety net through programs like

Social Security and Medicare. They believe in a foreign policy that is not reckless, that is tough, and protects the American people, but it doesn't shoot before it aims.

They believe in climate change. They think science matters. They think that it's important for us to have some basic regulations to keep our air clean and our water clean and to make sure that banks aren't engaging in excesses that result in the kind of thing that we saw in 2007, 2008.

So there's a broad convergence of interest around those issues.

I think what you're seeing among Democrats right now is a difference in tactics, trying to figure out how do you actually get things done. How do you actually operate in a political environment that's become so polarized? How do you deal with the power of special interests and, frankly, how do you deal with a Republican Party right now that has moved so far to the right that it's often hard to find common ground? And so that's, I think, the debate that's taking place right now. It's a healthy debate.

Ultimately, I will probably have an opinion on it, based on both being a candidate of hope and change and a president who's got some nicks and cuts and bruises from, you know, getting stuff done over the last seven years.

But for now I think it's important for Democratic voters to express themselves and for the conditions to be run through the paces. I -- the thing I can say unequivocally, Carol, is I am not unhappy that I'm not on the ballot.

Ron Allen, NBC.

RON ALLEN, NBC REPORTER: Let me continue the 2016 questions. On the Republican side, a lot of your guests were very intrigued by the fact there's a candidate still winning who's called for a ban on Muslims and different sectors of the population...

OBAMA: Intrigued is an interesting way of putting it. Struck.

ALLEN: Well, what was the reaction? That's one of my five questions. But the point is...

OBAMA: Ron, let's stick to two.

ALLEN: The point is in the past you've explained that as anger, resentment, insecurity, economic insecurity. The question is, how much responsibility do you accept for that reservoir of feeling in the country that's propelling that sort of candidate?

And a couple of weeks ago, you told Matt Lauer that Donald Trump would not win the presidency. Do you now think that he will not win the nomination, as well? What about Rubio? What about Cruz?

OBAMA: I think foreign observers are troubled by some of the rhetoric that been taking place in these Republican primaries and Republican debates.

I don't think it's restricted, by the way, to Mr. Trump. I find it interesting that everybody's focused on Trump, primarily just because he says in more interesting ways what the other candidates are saying, as well. So he may up the ante in anti-Muslim sentiment, but if you look at what the other Republican candidates have said, that's pretty troubling, too. He may express strong anti-immigration sentiment, but you've heard that from the other candidates, as well. You've got a candidate who sponsored a bill that I supported to finally solve the immigration problem, and he's running away from it as fast as he can.

[17:30:07] They're all denying climate change. I think that's troubling to the international community, since the science is unequivocal. And you know, the other countries around the world, they kind of count on the United States being on the side of science and reason and common sense, because they know that, if the United States does not act on big problems in smart ways, nobody will.

But this is not just Mr. Trump. Look at the statements that are being made by the other candidates. There's not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should do anything about climate change. That thinks it's serious. That's a problem. The rest of the world looks at that and they says, "How can that be?"

I'll leave it to you to speculate on how this whole race is going to go. I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president. And the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people. And I think they recognize that being president is a serious job. It's not hosting a talk show or a reality show. It's not promotion. It's not marketing. It's hard. And a lot of people count on us getting it right.

And it's not a matter of pandering and doing whatever will get you in the news on a given day. And sometimes it requires you making hard decisions even when people don't like it. And doing things that are unpopular and standing up for people who are vulnerable but don't have some powerful political constituency.

And it requires being able to work with leaders around the world in a way that reflects the importance of the office and gives people confidence that you know the facts, and you know their names, and you know where they are on a map, and you know something about their history, and you're not just going to play to the crowd back home, because they have their own crowds back home. And you're trying to solve problems.

And so, yes, during primaries people vent and they express themselves and if it seem like entertainment, and oftentimes it's reported just like entertainment. But as you get closer reality has a way of intruding. And these are the folks who I have faith in, because they ultimately are going to say, whoever is standing where I'm standing right now has the nuclear codes with them and can order 21-year-olds into a firefight and have to make sure that the banking system doesn't collapse and is often responsible for not just the United States of America but 20 other countries that are having big problems or falling apart and are going to be looking for us to do something. The American people are pretty sensible. And I think they'll make a

sensible choice in the end. All right?

Thanks, everybody. Thank you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The president of the United States wrapping up a news conference in Rancho Mirage, California, where he was attending the ASEAN meetings. I want get reaction from all of our panel. Jake Tapper, you're with me. You're watching very closely. First of all, on the Supreme Court, the president made it clear he's going to abide by what the Constitution says: he must go forward right away with a nominee.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes. And when he was asked if, in his arguments that he was going to bring somebody who is definitely qualified and somebody whom even his political opponents would say -- would not dispute will serve with honor and distinction, he was asked if that meant he was going to appoint a moderate, somebody who might have an easier time in this very contentious political atmosphere. And the president shot that down pretty quickly and said, "I don't know where you're getting that from. I didn't say that. I just said he would be qualified, he or she would be qualified and would serve with distinction." So the president not giving at all there.

One other point that I thought was pretty remarkable was how much time the president spent going after Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, talking about his confidence that the American people were too sensible to elect somebody like Donald Trump.

[17:35:08] He wouldn't wade into Democratic Party politics at all, but boy, he went -- he went neck deep into Republican Party politics and said that you can't govern the way that Mr. Trump is campaigning, that's what he was suggesting, anyway. You can't play to the crowd. This isn't entertainment. You need to actually try to get things done. So I thought it was remarkable.

I don't think I can recall a time that a sitting president went after an opposing party presidential candidate, not even nominee, in such a strong and vociferous way.

BLITZER: He says, "I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president of the United States." Then he went on to explain that it's just not promotion and marketing that can result in someone becoming president of the United States.

Hillary Clinton, he did say that she was an outstanding secretary of state. And he said he knows her a lot better than he knows Bernie Sanders.

TAPPER: He did. But then he also said and so there might be a lot of issues where he and Hillary Clinton agree more than he agrees with Bernie Sanders. But then he also acknowledged or allowed the possibly there were some issues where he might agree more with Bernie Sanders than with Hillary Clinton. So he did really try to stay out of it, even though Dan Pfeiffer, I believe it was -- I'm sorry, Jay Carney, former press secretary, last week on CNN, saying he thought it was clear that President Obama supported Hillary Clinton. President Obama trying to not give that impression today. Maybe he suggested he knew Hillary better, maybe he agreed with her a little bit more but tried to stay out of. But boy, did he enter the Republican primary contest.

BLITZER: Yes. He really went after Donald Trump by name, and he said this is not entertainment. This is someone who has access to the nuclear codes, can send 21-year-olds off to war, can save the banking system, if necessary, and protect friendly countries. And he was basically making the point he didn't think Donald Trump had those characteristics.

TAPPER: Not only that, but he said that you have to know who these people are. He said this conference for Asian Pacific world leaders right now, you have to know who these people are. You have to know what the issues are, and he was suggesting that Donald Trump doesn't.

BLITZER: He was making that very, very clear. He was stepping right into that Republican frame. Also saying it's hard for him to believe, and people all over the world to believe, they don't believe in climb change, that they don't accept, in his words, science.

TAPPER: He was going after all the Republican presidential candidates there. I'm not sure if fairly so, because I do believe that John Kasich and Jeb Bush have at least given a nod to some climate change beliefs.

I would hardly say that they're on the page of the climate change scientists, who overwhelmingly believe that this is at least partially man-made. But he did paint them all with the same brush. And he in fact painted all the Republican presidential candidates with the same brush when it came to Donald Trump and his proposed ban on any Muslim entering the country, saying that all of the Republican candidates have made suggestions, maybe not that extreme, but along those lines.

Again, I'm not sure if that's entirely fair, but you certainly see that no matter what happens, whether or not Donald Trump gets the nomination, Democrats starting with President Obama, but all the way down, are going to try to paint all of them with the Trump brush.

BLITZER: But it's clear that the Supreme Court nominee, whoever the president picks to be the next justice of the Supreme Court, this is going to be a hot political issue over the next several months.

TAPPER: The big question right now, I think, for President Obama, does he appoint somebody who is without any sort of political issue? Is there somebody that just is so upstanding, and nobody can take issue with him or her. There are really no fingerprints as to whether or not this person has any sort of alarmingly liberal view, at least in terms of the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee?

Or is he going to pick somebody thinking no matter what, the Republicans are going to shoot this person down and make him or her an issue. Is he going to pick somebody that might have more significance in a political realm? That is to say somebody from a minority group not currently represented on the Supreme Court, perhaps another woman, somebody who might have more appeal beyond just his or her legal mind. BLITZER: And there was one awkward moment when a reporter recalled

when he was a United States senator he was in favor of a filibuster against Samuel Alito, now an associate justice of the Supreme Court, even though he basically said in the beginning there shouldn't be any filibusters when it comes to nominees for the Supreme Court.

TAPPER: Very interesting moment. President Obama was in the Senate for the nomination of John Roberts. He supported that. He voted against them, but he supported it coming to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

When it came to Samuel Alito, he did join with 24 of the Democratic senators, including Vice President Biden, former secretary of state Clinton and current soon will be Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in staging a filibuster. It was not one that was successful. Only 25 Democrats supported it. You need at 41 people to actually pose a successful filibuster.

But he did take that position. And he basically seemed to acknowledge in his comments, asked about that today, President Obama basically seemed to acknowledge, one, this idea of filibustering nominees is not just the fault of Republicans. The Democrats have done it, too. And it's become a tradition that has gotten out of control.

And, two, that sometimes it happens because people do it for political reasons. They don't want to take heat on their left or right flank, depending on what party you're in. He didn't say that he was talking about himself, but he certainly seemed to suggest that he understood why people do it, and he looked back on it. He didn't express regret but he understood.

BLITZER: Seemed to suggest both parties had some problems when it came to this type of issue, they both engaged in these kinds of actions in various years.

Let's get some more reaction. S.E. Cupp, what was your bottom-line reaction to what we just heard from the president as far as 2016 is concerned?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'll tell you this. I agreed with him 100 percent on one thing, when he said that he does not think Donald Trump will become president. I've been saying that for quite some time.

In fact a couple of months ago I had a conversation with another analyst who said, "Wow, you don't -- you have that much faith in the Republican establishment?"

And I said, "No, I have that much faith in the electorate." I just think that the 30 percent of the Republican Party that has coalesced around Donald Trump will not ultimately decide the fate of this election.

Now, look, we've all been wrong about Trump and we'll see, but I heard myself in the president talking about the sensibility, the sensibleness of the American electorate when big issues are at stake. It's why, when you have foreign policy problems, the electorate tends to vote conservative. They take big problems very seriously. And I just don't think that the American electorate ultimately is going to push the button for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, the president did say, "I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president," and he said, "Because I have faith in the American people." Your reaction?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he did inject himself hugely into the Republican primary. I mean, he kind of ducked the question on the Democrats, as Jake was pointing out.

But you know, he made the case -- he didn't mention Marco Rubio by name, but he also said, you know, "You have somebody who is a co- sponsor of an immigration bill that I supported who has run away from it as fast as he can."

So not only did he -- did he criticize Donald Trump outright, but all Republicans whom he says are climate change deniers.

This is a president who clearly believes that his legacy is with the Democratic nominee and victor in this -- in this upcoming race, and he made it clear that he intends to get involved at some point. Obviously, while there's a hotly contested Democratic primary, maybe not so much.

But he was not shy at all about talking about the Republican primary. And also in regard to the Supreme Court nomination, he made it very clear -- and I think this was in regards to Ted Cruz -- that those who believe they are -- adhere to the original intent of the Constitution, he finds it odd that now they want to hold off on a Supreme Court nominee until after the election, making the case that where is that written in the Constitution. And I think that was a pretty direct hit at Ted Cruz and some of the others.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, what was your reaction? He reported -- he mentioned the Anthony Kennedy confirmation that happened in the final year of the Republican presidency.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, these confirmations are really about power and how much the party cares. Republicans in recent years have cared more about the Supreme Court than Democrats have. That's why you have virtual unanimity to deny any Obama appointee a vote here.

Remember, in order to get an Obama nominee through this process before the end of Obama's term, you will have to get all 46 Democrats and 14 Republicans. There is just no way 14 Republicans are going to join in to invoke cloture and have a vote on a Obama nominee.

Now, compare that to the situation, which was made reference to in the press conference, which was the Alito hearings, where 24 Democrats, including then-Senator Obama, suggested that they were maybe going to filibuster, but you can't filibuster with 24 people anyway. So it was sort of a theoretical filibuster.

It just shows that Republicans have been more motivated by Supreme Court appointments than Democrats have.

BLITZER: The president also cited, he said there were 14 nominations that have already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee to the appellate court, to the court of appeals for judges, but you can't get a vote on the Senate floor. First of all, do you -- can you confirm that?

[17:45:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Have you checked that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the numbers that at least that I've been able to determine may say 13 or 14 but clearly there are a number of judicial nominees waiting. And this is one of Harry Reid's biggest legacies during his period as majority leader in the Senate is that he said look, we are not passing any laws with a Republican House. So what we are going to do is we are going to process judicial nominations and the president was enormously successful in the last two years -- the first two years of his second term, pushing judicial nominations through the Senate with Harry Reid's help. They even changed the rules with so the called nuclear option.

One of the things Republicans vowed to do when they retook the Senate is to slow down judicial nominations confirmations, that is, to a virtual halt. That's what they have done. So it is unquestionably true that Republicans have way slowed down judicial confirmation since they retook the Senate.

BLITZER: Everyone, stand by. With the analysis is only just beginning. A lot more going on including brand-new CNN poll numbers, Democratic numbers and Republican numbers in South Carolina. Much more coming up right after this.


[17:50:34] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news that has just concluded news conference, President Obama called on the Senate, Senate Republicans specifically, to follow the Constitution, he said, and to take action on whomever he nominates to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

We're back with our entire panel and, Jake, you were making the point that this is going to be a tough moment right now for the president to get this through given the Republican majority in the Senate.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It might be impossible. I mean, it's hard to imagine, as Jeff Toobin was just outlining. The math of it all, you need 60 votes, and it is impossible to think -- but I think you need 14 Republican, you said? 14 Republican senators. You already have Republican senators who are running for re-election in so-called blue states, states where the Democrat will likely win the White House. Ohio, Rob Portman, Pennsylvania Pat Toomey, Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire, and some others, and they have already said that they have closed ranks. They will oppose President Obama's nominee even though one hasn't even been introduced. BLITZER: Even if he nominates someone with impeccable credentials?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I thought there was a moment in this press conference that was really funny, when asked, you know, are you going to nominate a moderate, he said no, and of course that's really, really silly, this idea that he put someone out there who's completely scrubbed of ideology. That would make no sense. Because what Republicans would say -- Republicans would call it a moderate, he would call it a moderate, and then Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have to go out on the campaign trail defending to their incredulous progressive voters this moderate un-ideological pick at such a crucial time.

So I think he's going to pick someone who's pretty darn progressive. Now the only thing that change the calculus for whether Republicans would consider an Obama nominee, is whether Donald Trump wins the nomination. The senators you just mentioned who are very concerned about what a Trump nomination would do down ballot, I think -- I think would make a lot of Republicans concerned that once we -- if we lose the Senate under a Trump nomination, if we lose the Senate, then we're stuck with a Democrat Senate, picking -- overseeing this nomination process potentially under a Hillary Clinton administration, may be better to do it while Republicans still have control.

BLITZER: The president did say, Gloria, that this is not how our democracy is supposed to work. And presumably if -- whoever he nominates is not confirmed and just left out there hanging for whatever reason, that's going to be a huge issue in the race for the White House and on these down ballots as S.E. just said.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, the Senate has every right not to confirm a nominee, if it so chooses. I think the president was completely sort of piqued at the notion that perhaps his nominee would not even get a hearing in committee. And Senator Grassley has said, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, that he wants to wait and not make a decision on that until he sees who the nominee is.

Over the weekend I was speaking with a Democrat who has been involved in shepherding many judicial Supreme Court nomination, and this person said to me, look, everything is contextual. Just hold on for a minute, let's see who it is, who the president nominates, and then we'll have to take it from there. Sure, there are going to be plenty of people who will say, of course not, I'm not going to approve, or even vote on anybody that President Obama nominates.

And there'll be people on the other side of that ledger. But I do think who he nominates matters to a great degree particularly in terms of whether this person is even going to get a hearing in the Senate at all. And you know, I think that's a big question and I -- you know, I think that it's going to get some play in those blue states Jake was talking about.

BLITZER: You've studied that, Jeffrey Toobin, in the Supreme Court for a long time. If there is a vacant seat for a year, let's say, eight members instead of nine, how will that impact the Supreme Court's work?

TOOBIN: Well, it would certainly impact it but it wouldn't stop it. You know, most decisions that come out of the Supreme Court, certainly more than half, are unanimous or close to unanimous so that means that those decisions really wouldn't be affected that much. The justices would have to do somewhat more work because it's -- the work would be divided up eight ways instead of nine.

[17:55:07] But the real problem would be in the cases that are divided 4-4. The rules state that if there is a 4-4 decision, the Lower Court decision is affirmed but it only applies in the Circuit, that is in the group of states where the decision came out of. You know that can work for a while. But if you follow the Supreme Court you know that there are a lot of 5-4 decisions. And you -- and the court cannot function indefinitely with all the hot button issues simply being kicked down the road. So yes, it can function for a year, it could function for two years. It would function worse as time passed.

BLITZER: All right.

TOOBIN: But it wouldn't go out of business.

BLITZER: All right, everyone, stand by, we have much more coming up including our brand-new poll numbers in South Carolina. Much more right after this.