tv NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt NBC January 17, 2016 5:30pm-6:00pm PST
that'll do it for us at on this sunday night, fight night. clinton versus sanders in tonight's crucial democratic debate. what they're saying about key issues like guns and health care with a tight race in the first primary states where the candidates stand nationally in our brand new poll. deadly tornadoes. the unusual january storms that tore through parts of florida. we're there tonight in neighborhoods hit hard. new problems. millions of gm cars recalled because of a defective part suspected in more than 100 deaths, now possibly facing more issues. our nbc news investigation into the new complaints. and recess time. we'll go to a school where the kids are getting a lot more breaks during the day, and the results may surprise you. "nightly news" begins now. >> announcer: this is nbc
kate snow. reporting tonight from charleston, south carolina. good evening. from the gilyard center where they're putting the final touches on the big stage behind me for the big night in politics. the final democratic debate before the voting starts in iowa, just two weeks from tomorrow. our new nbc news/"wall street journal" poll sets the stage. it shows hillary clinton with a comfortable lead nationwide. 59% of democratic primary voters pick clinton. bernie sanders is at 34%. and martin o'malley trailing at just two. but in hypothetical head-to-head match skrupz with donald trump bernie sanders does better than hillary clinton. and with polls in iowa and new hampshire tightening over the past week there's a lot at stake here tonight. all while donald trump and ted cruz continue to battle it out on the trail. we have all of it covered. let's start off tonight with more on what to expect here. kristen welker is here with us in charleston.
good evening. you can feel the anticipation building. officials with the clinton and sanders campaign telling me their candidates have been prepping a little bit today and relaxing because with 15 days until iowa there is no room for error. it's fight night in south carolina. >> we have differences. >> they see that we have the momentum. >> reporter: with the democrats in a virtual dead heat in the early voting states, tonight's debate is pivotal. >> i always thought this was going to be close. i've worked as hard as i can to build an organization in iowa. >> they're losing ground. we started this campaign off at 3% in the polls, and now we are closing in in wa woo. >> reporter: two of the big issues, health care and guns. with the debate just steps away from the church where a gunman killed nine people in june. 24 hours ago senator bernie sanders seemingly reversed course on a gun law, announcing he supports a bill he once opposed, stopping legal protections for
>> there were things in it that i did not like, and i was willing to rethink. we have rethought it. >> reporter: that reversal comes after continuous attacks from hillary clinton painting sanders as soft on guns. >> i am pleased that senator sanders has flip-flopped on legal immunity for gun makers and sellers. >> reporter: and the "new york times" reporting clinton's inner circle including former president bill clinton thinks her campaign made serious miscalculations by not attacking sanders sooner. today a clinton aide disputed that. still tonight is clinton's last big chance before iowa. >> secretary clinton has to show that she is in command of this race. senator sanders has to prove that he is electable. >> reporter: high stakes with voters about to have their say. kristen welker, nbc news, charleston. i'm hallie jackson in new hampshire. against ted cruz donald trump's done playing nice. >> he's a nasty guy. nobody likes him. nobody in congress likes him. nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him. >> reporter: a new attack not on policy but personality. new york papers furious cruz hit trump's new york values. >> our friends in the media, seems like they
fire. they were very confused. what are these new york values of which you speak? i would say in the rest of america people know exactly what that means. >> reporter: cruz arguing he's just using trump's own words from more than 15 years ago discussing abortion and gay marriage. >> i lived in new york city and manhattan all my life. okay? so my views are a little bit different than if i lived in iowa perhaps. >> reporter: trump now fighting back against rivals who say he's too liberal. >> he's running for the conservative party's nomination. he should be a conservative. and he hasn't shown it. >> i'm conservative, but when it comes to different elements of what i believe in, that's what people really understand. i'm going to solve our trade problem. i'm going to solve our military problem. i'm going to get rid of isis. >> reporter: the front-runners fighting for first in iowa. but as trump targets cruz, trying to pull away, he could risk alienating some in the grassroots. as he found out in south carolina. the reception from tea partiers there? nasty.
he didn't report bank loans. [ booing ] that's okay. >> reporter: both trump and cruz will be on the campaign trail here in new hampshire tomorrow. a state where trump dominates by double digits and where cruz hopes to surprise with a second-place finish or even better if his strategy to win over libertarians and the relatively smaller slice of evangelicals here works. kate? >> hallie jackson up in new hampshire. kristen welker right here in charleston. thanks to you both. you can watch tonight's debate here on nbc. lester holt moderates along with andrea mitchell. that's at 9:00 eastern time, 6:00 pacific. the other big story we've been following this weekend, five americans who'd been held in iran released as part of a prisoner swap. as a nuclear agreement with iran took effect and some western sanctions were lifted. tonight most of those newly freed americans are in germany, and we get the latest from nbc's keir simmons. >> reporter: freedom for five americans imprisoned in iran. three of them arriving
transferred to a u.s. base. the climax of a historic weekend. in texas a group of iranians walked free. a cold war style prisoner exchange just a day after a nuclear deal. >> today we're united in welcoming home sons and husbands and brothers who in lonely prison cells have endured an absolute nightmare. >> reporter: one of the five finally free is "washington post" reporter jason rezaian. brett mcgurk, the u.s. official who led the prisoner exchange with iran, tweeting "thrilled to see jason rezaian land safely." his editors traveled to germany to greet him. >> we have been waiting for this day for such a long period of time. >> reporter: saeed abedini, a christian pastor from boise, idaho, had been jailed for three years. >> i woke up my kids around 7:30 and told them that daddy's coming home and he's out of the prison and they were just so shocked but they were jumping up and down. >> reporter: sarah hekmati, the sister of former marine amir
be reunited with her brother. >> we have been on pins and needles, dying to see him. we haven't seen him in 4 1/2 years. >> reporter: there's excitement too in the iranian capital. their president declaring the deal with the u.s. has opened new windows. but not everyone is celebrating. iran will gain billions of dollars' worth of assets. israel's prime minister warning iran still wants nuclear weapons. while american bob levinson disappeared in iran in 2007. iran says they don't know where he is and have even made offers to help find him. his family said tonight he's been left behind. "we are devastated." tonight the freed americans are inside this u.s. base in germany. we're told the plan was to take them to the hospital for medical and psychological evaluation before they can finally head back to the united states and their families. kate? >> keir simmons, thank you. an unusual set of
ripped through neighborhoods in central florida overnight killing two people and injuring several others. sarah dallof is in that part of florida where residents have begun the process of rebuilding their lives tonight. >> reporter: they struck hard and they struck fast, in the middle of the night. at least two tornadoes and storms with winds up to 132 miles per hour slamming into neighborhoods on florida's west coast. >> everything it touched you'd see like just power lines exploding and debris flying through the air. it was scary -- one of the scariest things i ever witnessed. >> reporter: a family living in this now destroyed mobile home in mourning tonight. two people killed. their son and four grandchildren hurt and in the hospital. the first tornado-related fatalities in the state since 2012. the destruction everywhere. roofs blown off entire buildings. downed power lines leaving thousands in the dark. this morning people were out trying to salvage whatever was left of their home and their lives.
it was shocking. that's all i can say. >> reporter: in sarasota first responders rescued a woman from the wreckage of the collapsed home. >> she was coming up through the hallway. she said when all of a sudden the house just kind of exploded and that's when she was trapped. >> reporter: and while this severe weather has moved on meteorologists warn this could be the beginning of a dangerous 2016. >> in a year where you have el nino, a whole weather pattern, systems like these are probably going to be continuing. in the pattern that we're in for this winter we are not out of the woods. >> reporter: and florida's governor toured the damage this afternoon, praising first responders and pledging support. initial estimates put those damages, kate, at $12 million. back to you. >> sarah dallof, thank you. when "nightly news" continues on this sunday, an nbc news investigation into claims of new problems in cars already
recall. we're back with an exclusive nbc news investigation into this question. are there new problems with gm cars that were part of a massive recall to fix a problem with ignition switches that could cause them to stall and potentially crash? there are more complaints now about stalling in gm vehicles already repaired as part of that recall. gm says the recalled part is not to blame. here's gabe gutierrez.
lortie was driving her two grandchildren to school in upstate new york in 2014 when she says her chevy cobalt locked up at this intersection. >> at a three-way stop my car just stalled out right in the middle of the intersection. it was very terrifying to think that i could have, you know, injured my grandchildren. >> reporter: sandra's car was one of the 2.6 million vehicles that gm had recalled earlier that year to repair a safety defect in their ignition switches that caused some vehicles to stop running and stall. the claims program gm established has reported 124 deaths potentially related to that defect. sandra and her husband raymond had the ignition switch on their 2006 cobalt replaced as part of that recall. the stalling incident at the intersection happened after the repair. >> when it got fixed, they said that this is what's causing it. you won't have any more issues with this.
she reported stalling problems following the repair, she says gm did not inspect the car. gm says it did offer to pay for a diagnostic service. but sandra claims she declined the service because gm did not offer to pay. in response to nbc news's questions, gm has acknowledged that some of its customers have been reporting stalling problems in their recalled cars after getting the ignition switch repaired. gm says it's very concerned about these reports. it told nbc news its engineers have thoroughly inspected about 50 other such vehicles but have found no connection between ignition switch repairs and stalling incidents. sandra lorty's cobalt model is on a consumer safety watch list that gathers raw government data about vehicle incidents nationwide and analyzes it for trends in death and injury claims. for the most recent year of data gm vehicles are well represented on that list. in the aftermath of the ignition switch recall, which likely increased the reporting of such claims. all but one were models that had been part of that recall. most on the list for electrical problems. and consumer complaints registered with the industry's regulator include accounts similar to sandra lorty's.
received my car back after it was fixed and the same problems are occurring still. i was going 60 miles per hour when my car completely lost power." another, "the vehicle stalled intermittently on several occasions. but after undergoing the ignition recall repair the failure soon recurred." sean kane, who founded the group that created the list, says all this raises questions. >> is the recall adequate? did the switch really fix the problem? are there other electrical issues that need to be addressed in these vehicles? >> that's a trend that needs to be further investigated. >> reporter: working with the safety institute, attorney lance cooper. he represented the parents of brooke melton, who died when the ignition switch in her cobalt failed in 2010. their lawsuits helped prove gm knew of the defect for years yet failed to act. the meltons are now using the settlement money to fund the watch list. >> what we really hope is for other families to be able to use this information and prevent accidents.
lives. >> we're hopeful that this data can be used to get to the bottom of what's going on with these cars. >> reporter: gm points out that the government views the data analyzed for the watch list as unverified allegations. but gm told nbc news it has found other electrical and fuel issues in some of the 50 vehicles it inspected and believes vehicle age and mileage may be factors. the lorties' vehicle had about 100,000 miles on it. it shares its findings with the national highway traffic safety administration, or nhtsa. both gm and nhtsa told nbc news they found no pattern. in a written statement gm said, "we are a company focused on a zero defect mentality when it comes to safety and the changes we have made since the ignition switch recall in 2014 are working." it's not yet clear what exactly is causing the new complaints of stalling or whether the cobalt poses a larger risk. but sandra lorty wants to know. >> i would like them to be accountable for their vehicles. >> reporter: even though she's gotten
big democratic debate. good evening. it is a big night in american politics. we are less than ten minutes from tonight's democratic debate between the three top candidates. i'm chuck todd here at the gaillard center in charleston, south carolina where the three candidates, hillary clinton, bernie sanders, and martin o'malley are backstage, about to take their places at the podiums. clinton and sanders have been setting some of the broad themes of this debate. earlier today they went all over the sunday morning shows, including "meet the press." the themes of change versus experience and change versus continuity. this will be their final showdown face to face before the iowa caucuses, which are two weeks from tomorrow. when the first votes of the 2016 presidential race will finally be cast. tonight's debate, by
moderated by our own lester holt, and he'll be joined in the questioning by andrea mitchell. throughout the debate all of us, including our correspondents and experts, will be providing real-time analysis. so go on over for a second screen experience at nbcnews.com. but right now let's get into a little bit of the predebate action. we'll go down to andrea mitchell and kristen welker who are backstage. kristen, take it away. >> hey, chuck. i am with the great andrea mitchell just moments before this debate. you're excited i'm sure. >> we are so excited. i mean, this is the opportunity. and just before iowa the last debate before iowa to see the candidates, see hillary clinton, you know, bernie sanders, and martin o'malley, hear what they have to say about big issues and what their contrasts-r what are their differences, and help the voters decide. >> and i don't want to give anything away about the debate, but set the scene of the backdrop of this debate. you've been on the campaign trail, i've been on the campaign trail. a lot of sharp attacks. >> a lot of elbows. the timing con be better, kristen, as you know.
the intensity of the campaign. she has been acknowledging to supporters that perhaps they underestimated him. he's got so much support, but here we are in south carolina, where she has the enthusiasm and the passion and much deeper roots with the african-american voters. so this ironically could be her firewall if he as current polls would suggest, as it turns out that way, he could win iowa. he has a shot at that. he certainly has a strong neighborhood connection to new hampshire being from vermont. so this could be the place in south carolina. that tests whether he has legs to go further. >> so much at stake for each of these candidates, andrea. just break it down for us by candidate. what are you going to be looking for? >> well, we want to hear hillary clinton and see how -- does she go after him? how tough is she going to be? obviously, there are big foreign policy questions at stake as well, as we see this weekend. and for bernie sanders
this going tonight the polite democratic campaign or is it going to be what we've seen on the campaign trail? >> and let's just pause. we have secretary clinton entering right now, shaking some hands. >> governor o'malley. >> and governor o'malley following her. shaking debbie wasserman schultz's hand. of course the chairwoman of the dnc. the stakes could not be higher. as they walk out onto the stage. and here is senator sanders. so we have all three candidates now walking out onto the stage preparing for this pivotal debate, just 15 days before the iowa caucuses. the last time these candidates face off. before the voters have their say. so talk about the anticipation that you feel just being here, andrea, that we all feel. >> well, it's so exciting. we see them on the trail. we shout questions. we try to ask them questions. we see them at rallies. you can hear the cheers from inside the theater. but this is the chance to get into the policies with them and really talk about the things they care about and how they handle
>> well, there's no one better to do that than you and lester, and we are very excited about that. and chuck, i'll toss it back to you. >> thank you, kristen. the candidates are on stage right behind me. [ cheers and applause ] you hear the cheers there. by the way, we went from all those red ties at the republican debate last week. and it's nothing but blue on stage with our three candidates. let me go to another veteran political observer who's watching tonight. it's none other than my pal dan balz. he's of course the chief correspondent of the "washington post." and dan, boy, i'll tell you, in the last 72 hours suddenly the democratic campaign became the republican campaign. there's fighting. there's all sorts of exchanges. there's a debate that people are actually anticipating with bated breath. what a 72 hours for hillary clinton. >> it's been a real roller coaster for her. and chuck, what we're looking at tonight is the opening of the closing arguments in this campaign for these two candidates. martin o'malley's on the stage, but all the focus is on sanders and clinton. we know that she's going to be tough on him.
the last couple of days. he's got a new plan on health care that he put out just before the debate. there is a lot of substance on the table tonight that they're going to go after one another on. >> ultimately, dan, this feels like this is two candidates that have to try to convince the democratic electorate that either you want radical change or basically continuity with a little bit of change. and it seems as if that's been the struggle for hillary clinton. bernie sanders has had a bit of an easier time making that change, radical change argument. >> very true. i think the other issue is electability. she's going to push that question on him throughout not only the debate but the final weeks before the iowa caucuses in new hampshire, raise questions in voters' minds about whether bernie sanders can actually win a general election. he is going to try to show that he's got a grassroots movement. we know he's got some significant following. but what he's going to try to do is say he
in november that she can't do. >> how much -- you know, it's interesting, this electability argument. you've spent a lot of time in iowa and new hampshire. i have too. electability is a word you don't often hear in iowa and new hampshire. you'll hear it in future primaries but not in those first two contests. >> well, is that right. and i question how much it will have an effect in iowa and new hampshire. those states are somewhat immune to the kinds of arguments that we hear from candidates at later points in the campaign. i think that in iowa and new hampshire they've gotten a very close look. and really it's a cliche, but there is so much effort now going into the ground game, into identifying the last hard supporters for each candidate and making sure they get out. so the question of electability in iowa will probably be less important than it is later. >> all right, dan balz, i'll let you get to your seat so you can start writing and reporting. thanks very much. let me go back to kristen welker. she spent much of the
campaigns ahead of tonight's debate. she's backstage. we see everybody getting wired up. what are you hearing back there? any -- do you see nervousness? do you see jitters? smiles? what are you seeing? >> chuck, you can feel the anticipation back here. there certainly aren't a whole lot of smiles. this is game time. the candidates are talking to their top aides. they're getting miked up. they're going over their last-minute thoughts and ideas before they step out onto that stage as we've been reporting all night. this is the most pivotal debate yet. it's coming just days before the all-important iowa caucuses. before the voters weigh in. and it comes about 24 hours after vermont senator bernie sanders changed his position on a key piece of gun legislation and just two hours after he released the pay for plan of his health care plan. so expect secretary clinton to draw sharp lines with him over both of those issues but also to paint him as a flip-flopper. we've seen that in her language.
conversation, of course, with mr. bennett he signaled that would be her line of attack as well. and for martin o'malley the staxzkes could not be higher. he's polling in the single digits. this is a chance for him to have a breakthrough moment. based on my conversation with senator shaheen earlier, it doesn't seem he's going to be in attack mode but he might need to draw these sharp lines if he really wants to break through and get on the map of this very competitive race. chuck? >> kristen, i am curious here. i feel like this entire predebate few hours has all been about bernie sanders. it's about him releasing this plan. it's about him changing his position on guns. it's about him releasing a tax plan. this is a debate that's going to be about bernie sanders for better or for worse unless something changes, no? >> what an incredible tactic, chuck. he has essentially tried to knock the clinton campaign off of its game. is he successful? we'll have to see when they take the stage. chuck? >> all right. kristen welker backstage. it's going to be a doozy.
so what are we going to see tonight? this is a democratic electorate that is not quite as antsy as the republican electorate is. democrats are trying to do something that hasn't happened very often. that is, elect a president for a third straight term. hillary clinton being seen more as the continuity candidate with barack obama, sort of progressive change, pragmatic change. i think she described that herself. bernie sanders trying to tap into the progressive idealistic movement. we've seen it. he's got energy in new hampshire. that's a neighboring state of his. but he's also got energy in iowa. this is the final showdown between these candidates before iowa and new hampshire take place. so after this they are going to be racing to iowa, and i guarantee you it is going to be nothing but wall-to-wall campaigning. we're at the time where every day is a week and every week will feel like a day. all right. so coming up, it is the nbc news/youtube democratic debate moderated by our own lester holt and andrea mitchell.