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Interview with Governor John Hickenlooper; Interview with Mike Rogers, Adam Schiff

Aired September 15, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: A U.S.-Russian game plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Today, will it play in Damascus?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have committed here to a standard that says verify and verify.

Can Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, be trusted to comply? And even if the deal collapses, has Russia succeeded in making a U.S. military strike more difficult? Questions for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, along with committee member, Adam Schiff.

Then, what's old is new again.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: It's time for the president and his party to show the courage to work with us to truly solve the spending problem.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is still important to recognize that we got a lot of -- more stuff to do here in this government.

CROWLEY: Stuff like making sure the government doesn't run out of money or credit. Joining us, our congressional panel, Utah's Jason Chaffetz, and Maryland's Elijah Cummings.

Plus, our political gurus on whether the president has been outmaneuvered by Putin and the Obamacare battle between the White House and its union allies.



CROWLEY (on-camera): Good morning from Washington. I'm Candy Crowley.

First this morning, at least four people dead, more than 500 unaccounted for in flooding across more than 150 miles of Colorado's Front Range. Record breaking rains have touched an area roughly the size of Connecticut. Late this week, it was so bad the National Weather Service issued an update for the foothills reading major flooding, flash flooding event under way at this time with biblical rainfall amounts reported in many areas.

Whatever that means, they got the picture. Roads and homes have been demolished. Entire towns evacuated under double danger of floods and mudslides, and Boulder County is bracing for an additional four inches of rain this afternoon. Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper, joins me now from Denver. Governor, where is the danger now? What worries you the most?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, obviously, if they get four inches back in Boulder County, the ground is already saturated. So, that's going to just really magnify the problems we've had so far. We're still trying to evacuate people. We moved almost 2,000 people out of Boulder and Larimer counties out of their -- I mean, many cases up these little valleys.

The road is intermittently completely washed away, right? No road, all river now. And so, the challenge is how do we get those people that have been marooned and stranded for -- a lot of these people lost their telephone, their power Wednesday night. And today, if the weather forecast holds, we probably won't be able to fly very far with the Blackhawks.

CROWLEY: So, your account of those who are unaccounted for at this point, stranded and in need of rescue is how many?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, there are 500 who are actually missing and unaccounted for. A lot of those, since they don't have cell phones and a lot of them come back into, you know, already gotten out or staying with friends, we just don't know about it. But we're still bracing. I mean, there are many, many homes that have been destroyed.

A number have been collapsed, and we haven't been in them yet. So, we're still dealing with that. How do we save lives first?

CROWLEY: It's still a rescue thing, not even looking at the damage. Have you gotten everything you need from the federal government at this point?

HICKENLOOPER: Yes. President Obama declared a major disaster last night. They have been incredibly responsive. FEMA has been terrific. We got a joint -- still have a joint command with the army down in El Paso County. Our National Guard has been spectacular. We were flying yesterday with them and watching them in action.

The first responders, you know, Sheriff Pelley (ph) is the individual in Boulder County who's done a remarkable job. Pretty much everyone stood up, but, I mean, this is a heck of a storm, right? You look at the -- if this had been snow, we would have, you know, close to 15 feet of snow if it would have been a cold day. It's a lot of precipitation.

CROWLEY: It is that. Let me turn your attention to another thing that happened on the political front from Colorado. Lots of national implications being taken from the fact that two Democrats, the head of the state Senate as well as another Democratic state senator were recalled over their support for further gun control regulation in Colorado. What are we to make of that on the national scale?

HICKENLOOPER: Oh, you know, I mean, definitely was what we called a line item recall. But it was in two districts, and these are very specific districts. I'm not sure it has a national message or even a statewide message. You know, certainly, in El Paso County, where Senate president, John Morse, was very close was a few hundred votes. So, I think the parts and sides are still very entrenched.

CROWLEY: One of the things that one of your predecessors said, Governor Bill Ritter, who's also a Democrat, said that he thought that the recall showed that there is unease with the broader Democratic social agenda. He meant the Bush for gay marriage as well as gun rights. Do you not buy into that?

HICKENLOOPER: No. I saw most of the campaign literature in both of those recall campaigns. To the vast majority, it was very specific about universal background checks, high capacity magazines. That seemed to be what people were really trying to turn out the vote on to recall the two individuals. So, I mean, that's certainly possible. But I haven't felt that.

CROWLEY: Mayor Bloomberg, of course, heads up a mayor's group that is pushing for more gun control. He sunk a lot of money into trying to save these two Democratic state senators. Was it helpful?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, you know, it's funny. Colorado, like a lot of western states, we love to, you know -- we're very self- determinant, right? We like to solve our own problems with our own people. If you look at the website for the flood, right, and yet most of contributions come in from Colorado. Coloradans are like that.

So, there is a certain resentment when any outside money whether it's from Bloomberg or from National Rifle Association. But outside money coming in is generally not welcomed from, you know, the middle of the road voters who help decide these things.

CROWLEY: Governor Hickenlooper, thank you so much for taking sometime today. We hope to talk to you later in the day and get an update. Good luck to you and all our thoughts, of course, with the residents of Colorado. Thank you.

HICKENLOOPER: You bet. Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: Now to that U.S.-Russia deal to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons. Secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart announced the framework this weekend. It includes Syria providing a list of its chemical arsenals within a week. That's paving the way for international inspectors to be on the ground by November.

Also by November, Syria must destroy the equipment that uses to make the deadly gases. The aim, all chemical weapons to be eliminated in the first half of next year. If Syria fails to comply, the United Nations Security Council considers the matter.

I want to bring in CNN's Jim Sciutto. He's our chief national security correspondent traveling with Secretary Kerry who met earlier today with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Jim, lots of speculation in Washington as to what brought Putin to this moment where he wanted to forge a deal.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, of course, the administration says it's all about the threat of force, but both the Russians and the Syrians wanted to avoid a U.S. military attack and that's what brought them to the table. But I think you can also see a broader calculation here by the Russians that Assad went too far with this chemical weapons attack and that he's getting weaker.

I think coupled with the broader discussion of a peaceful end to the Syrian civil war, peace talks and so on that you could see this as a first step towards a future in Syria without Assad. Of course, meanwhile, this deal very much depends on Assad's cooperation. He was the absent party at the talks in Geneva. So, it all depends on the Russians keeping Assad to his word.

CROWLEY: It absolutely does, and that brings up the second question in the wake of this framework agreement that a lot of people are asking. Is the timeline realistic?

SCIUTTO: Well, it's remarkably ambitious. You have by November the completion of inspections, the destruction of the production equipment for chemical weapons. By the middle of next year, the complete elimination of all chemical weapons and just next week, six days from today, the Syrians are due to give a full accounting of all their chemical weapons.

So, lots of tests of their sincerity, but also lots of opportunities to gain the system along the way and stretch this out. And there's some skepticism, I'm hearing, even from inside the administration. One senior U.S. official told me, quote, "The proof is in the pudding." It depends on whether Syrians do what they haven't shown a propensity to do in a long time which is to act in good faith. Then, you're going to have a lot of tests of the Syrians' good faith coming up very soon -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Jim Sciutto, a story that is moving along but certainly is far from an end. Thanks so much. He, of course, is our chief national security correspondent. I appreciate it, Jim.

I'm joined now by Mike Rogers. He is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. What do you think of the plan?

ROGERS: Well, obviously, I'm skeptical. But any day that we can do something to take chemical weapons off the battlefield, take them away from Assad, and/or stop them from being -- from falling into the hands of Hezbollah or al Qaeda, it's a good day, but here's the problem with where we're at. The Syria plan has been confusing at best over the last two years. Last week, it was more confusing to the American people and more confusing to members of Congress about our national security interests. The president couldn't quite close that deal. So, that indecisiveness, I think, gave the diplomatic advantage to the Russians. They saw it. They stepped in. This is a Russian plan for Russian interests. And we should be very, very concerned about --

CROWLEY: Who cares? If it has a chance to get rid of chemical weapons, do we really care that Russia got the diplomatic edge? ROGERS: Well, if it were just, that's true. But if the president believes like I do that a credible military force helps you get a diplomatic solution, they gave that away in this deal. I'm really concerned about that. If you believe there's broader national security interest in Syria, I know the president does, I know, I clearly believe that, we have al Qaeda pulling in the west.

We have Hezbollah operating there. It's a proxy fight. By the way, the Russians have been here the whole time and our complicit, in my mind, in allowing chemical weapons to be used. They got exactly what they wanted. They wanted Assad here for a year, or at least, extended for a year. They got that.

ROGERS: And there's not one ounce of chemical weapons in this -- remember, it's a framework.

There are a lot of shoulds, not a lot of hard dates. All of this has to go to the U.N. So, not one ounce of chemical weapons came off the battlefield, but we have given up every ounce of our leverage when it comes to trying to solve the broader Syrian problem, because we've taken away a credible military threat. The Russians said we maintain that right to oppose it in the national security council. And they've said that they would.

CROWLEY: So let me -- I want to bring in your fellow committee member, Congressman Adam Schiff, your colleague on the intelligence committee and ask you what you think of this deal. I know that you have been certainly open to trusting the Russians to bring something usable to the table.

SCHIFF: Well, I don't know that I trust the Russians, but I think this agreement is a very positive step. And, if we step back six or nine months ago and said we'd be in a position today where Syria would sign the chemical weapons treaty where U.S. and Russia be on the same page in disarming under U.N. supervision Syria of all these chemical weapons, without a single shot being fired, we would have said this is a phenomenal breakthrough.

Now, it's been ugly getting here and trying to disarm the dictator has always been to be an ugly process. But look, if your goal is to use military force to decide the outcome on the battlefield and you don't mind risking and tangling us in the civil war, it's a bad deal. But if your goal is to make sure these chemical weapons are never use again, if your goal is to make sure that when the regime falls that in that chaos, these weapons don't get in the hands of Hezbollah or al Qaeda. This is about as good a deal you can get. Now, it's going to be tough. The timetable is aggressive. We can certainly expect the regime to delay and obfuscate. So, it's going to be hard. But this is, I think, the best pathway we've seen in the last couple of years.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a two-part question. First to you, Mr. Chairman, and that is we have constant reports of Assad since this all began and since the Russians and U.S. got together for some sort of agreement. Assad's been moving his chemical weapons around from post to post. Is that true? And what does it tell you about their intentions? ROGERS: Well, one of the things that the Russians wanted was breathing space. And this has never been about anybody. I don't believe the president wanted to get entangled into a military mess in Syria. But by having a credible military threat, it gives you leverage in negotiations. I think that's a very important distinction.

And again, if chemical weapons are it, then this is a great day and everyone should high five. Even though there's no agreement. It's a framework very different, has to go to the U.N. That's not what we have here. So, clearly, they're going to take advantage, not only Russia is going to take advantage of this and we believe that they are, so is Hezbollah and so is Iran which is part of the whole problem that we have in Syria.

We have to have a broader approach. The chemical weapons is a good thing and I believe it was in our national security interests to secure them. That's great. We also have very sophisticated conventional weapons. So, if we wanted a transition with Assad, we just fired our last round and we have taken our ability to negotiate a settlement from the White House and we've sent it with Russia to the United Nations. That's a dangerous place for us to be if you want an overall settlement to the problems --

CROWLEY: If you agree with the congressman and you said that you thought that the threat of the use of force certainly brought everyone to the table. And you believe that this agreement without the threat of the use of force, you know, leaves open the chances it might not be followed. So, why not have the president come back to Congress and say I need you to vote so I can continue to have the threat of the use of force?

SCHIFF: Well, that would make sense if you were confident of the vote. And as the president said the other day, I don't think he can be confident of the vote. Right now, the Russians take that threat credibly and serious. So, I think we should leave them with that idea and I don't think we should undermine the negotiators who are sitting at our side (ph) of the table.

But look, you know, people have been saying that Putin is this master chess player and describing all kinds of missions to our adversaries. I think Putin is more like a lawyer who's lost control of his client. That should have told Assad some time ago, look, you have the military edge on the battlefield now. Don't screw it up by doing something stupid. And what happened here was I think Russia lost control of its client. As much interest now in working with the United States to try to make this framework work, to try to, you know, save the client from itself. So, I don't think that we have this master strategist thinking five moves ahead. If they fought five moves ahead, they never would have gotten to the point where Syria was dragging us into this conflict.

CROWLEY: Congressman Schiff, I want you to hold on a minute. Congressman Rogers, I'm going to give you a chance to respond of that because I know you will. So, stay with us, because when we return, we'll be joined by two of your House colleagues, one is a strong ally of the president who is skittish about Syrian intervention, the other, a pierce opponent of President Obama. Stay with us.


CROWLEY: Washington faces two of its own, averting a government shutdown before October 1st and increasing the debt limit a few weeks later. Jump ball (ph) when we return.


BOEHNER: We have a spending problem. It must be addressed, period.



CROWLEY: I'm back with Congressman Mike Rogers and Adam Schiff. Joining our conversation, Congressman Jason Chaffetz. He is a Republican from Utah and Congressman Elijah Cummings, Democrat from Maryland. Chaffetz, sorry.

I want to bring you two in, but I promised Congressman Rogers a reply here.

ROGERS: I do think Putin's playing chess and we're playing tic- tac-toe. Think about where he is and what he wanted out of Syria. He got everything he wanted, including taking away the president's advantage of a guaranteed or at least a credible military strike. That happened. It happened this week. It happened with a framework of which we don't really know the conclusion of it.

And think about who Putin is. He has more intelligence officers in the United States today than at the height of the cold war. This is a guy that did a crippling cyberattack on the country of Estonia, invaded South Ossetia, the country of Georgia, preempted by a cyberattack, is not living up to its nuclear treaty obligations. Many believe, according to public report, he's not living up to his chemical convention obligations.

And this is the guy that we put in charge in helping us get out of a sticky wicket here at home politically to manage the fight in Syria. He wanted Assad there. He gets to keep his warm water port. He gets to keep his military contracts. And, he gives breathing space to both Hezbollah, which is fighting up half of Assad and Assad and he creates a problem for us with al Qaeda operating in the east. This was a big win for him.

CROWLEY: I'm going to ask you all to respond to that in this way. When you look at this deal, it is true, Congressman Cummings, that we are now sort of relying on a man that President Obama said two years ago, you know, ought to be out and not running Syria. And then the Russian president who last month he wouldn't have a one-on-one with because he's keeping Edward Snowden, the NSA spy.

So, we weren't talking too much, you know, a month ago and a guy we want out of office seems like pretty tenuous place to put your hopes that chemical weapons will be -- CUMMINGS: Yes. I'm cautiously optimistic about this deal, Candy. But let's not be distracted. Just a week ago, we were in a situation where we had Russia and Syria saying, not even admitting to date, they had the weapons. And now, we are sitting down at the table very aggressive agenda, sitting down at that table trying to resolve this issue without a bullet being fired.

That's very significant. So, I want us to -- keep in mind when they came into this deal, folks were talking about a month, a month to give the inventory of chemical weapons. That tells me something. Something is happening over there. Now, everything that my -- that the chairman said I understand.

But at this point right now, I think that we're in a situation where we can again, get these chemical weapons out of his hands. We'll know what they are. Get them destroyed, and then, perhaps, we can begin to deal with some other things like this civil war.

But I think -- and by the way, a lot of people don't give the president credit. He made two decisions that were major. One, he decided to go with force.


CUMMINGS: And, two, he decided that enter into this diplomatic negotiations.

CROWLEY: On the other hand, there are those that made him look like he didn't have a foreign policy.

CHAFFETZ: Well, I think history will show that Syria didn't just sneak up on us three weeks ago. This goes back two years and the failing of the president and then Secretary Clinton failed to deal with this. We knew they had the large caches of chemical weapons. And where we are today, look, I want to make that they're never, ever used again, but we have over 100,000 people that are dead, over a million people in camps.

CROWLEY: This is not going to solve the Syrian civil war. That will go on.

CHAFFETZ: It doesn't solve the problem. CROWLEY: Which wasn't the point, actually of -- and I want to sort this up (ph) and get you all to sort of jump in when you want. When -- how long is everyone willing to wait to see if Damascus is serious? Does he get until -- does Assad get until mid-next year, though?

SCHIFF: I think we're going to get a really good indication even within a week or two when the Assad regime has to declare what kind of stockpiles they have. And as early as November, those inspectors are supposed to be on the ground. So, I don't think it will take too long. If I can make one other point though, I think it's dangerous to overestimate both the incompetence, and sometimes, the competence of our adversaries if we were drawn in to this conflict. If we start with military strikes and we're arming the rebels and we're drawn into the civil war, the same folks that are calling Putin such a genius now will call Putin a genius for drawing us into Russia and drawing us into another conflict we don't want to be a part of, weakening us. So, I think that's a mistake.

CROWLEY: What happens as far as you're concerned, three weeks -- you know, Assad is not serious. He's not going to do it. Then what? Are you going to let it sit in the seat at the U.N.?

CUMMINGS: If president goes to the U.N., but he's already said that even if he can't get a force resolution out of the U.N. that is a strike, that he still holds that option open. And, you know, I just believe that it is what the president has done so far I think has been right on course.

And keep in mind, keep in mind, our constituents didn't want a strike. Members of Congress oh, they were so happy when they found out this deal was on the table. They didn't have to vote. But then, when the president does something, he is the one person that made a decision.

CROWLEY: In the end though, does this -- let's say we find out Syria is not serious. Is the president's hand then strengthened to come back to Congress and say I got to strike now or does he even have to come back to Congress?

ROGERS: I think the war powers act gives him the ability to act. I will tell you, however, I think his hand would have been strengthened significantly if Congress would have given him the authority to -- for a surgical strike to degrade their chemical weapons use and he look like a commander in chief.

All of that confusion allowed Putin to step in and fill the void. I think that's a problem. And here's the problem here --


ROGERS: But here's the problem here.

CROWLEY: -- were Democrats, right?

ROGERS: This was a bipartisan failing. But it was also a lack of credibility that the president couldn't present the national security case.


SCHIFF: I have to say one thing, Candy, and that is that, this agreement, as tough as it is, holds the promise of taking these weapons off the market. And now, if we went with a military strike, that might have deterred and degraded his ability to use them again, but wouldn't prevent those weapons from falling into the hands of al Qaeda, al Nusra, and others when that regime falls.

This agreement may do it. Now, it may not. It may fall flat on its face. But, this is the only thing we've seen thus far that has the potential of being our core national security interests and that is taking those weapons off the battlefield.


ROGERS: Chemical weapons are important to remove from the battlefield, absolutely agreed. They fire well over 100 scud missiles at civilians. So, we needed it to step up. We needed, I think, that credible threat authorized by Congress not so he could take a strike, but so, he can lead the negotiation.

Right now, we are being led by the nose by Putin through this horrible (INAUDIBLE) we call the United Nations. That stops us from the higher national security interest, which is chemical weapons, yes, also, conventional weapon sophistication that is dangerous if it falls into the hands of al Qaeda and Hezbollah.

CROWLEY: Congressman Chaffetz, you were trying to get in here.

CHAFFETZ: I do buy into the idea that if President Putin's credibility is largely on the line, there has to be a ceasefire sooner rather than later in order to get those inspectors in. So, we're going to know fairly quickly. I don't know how many days or weeks that is, but it can't go on. It has to happen immediately.

CUMMINGS: I think we'll have a pretty good idea of where we're going this week. And Candy, this is going to be a step-by-step situation. I think they have deadlines to meet. Strict deadlines.

CROWLEY: Next week.

CUMMINGS: And then -- next week. So, I think we'll begin --

CROWLEY: But then someone comes in-- sorry -- it wasn't enough. We'll be ready (ph) in three days.


SCHIFF: I think we have to expect what's going to happen. There are going to be delays. But when you look at how these inspections have worked in the past, even with Saddam Hussein was obscuring, delaying, obstructing, nonetheless, those inspections were largely successful. This is going to be a long, hard road, but it's the most promising road we found yet. And I think for one other reason, and that is, this does hold the potential of leading us to a broader talk, to bring this to a negotiated end. And that, I think, is a window of opportunity we may to see --

CROWLEY: I have to stop it here, but i need a yes or no off of what Congressman Cummings just said, which is no delays, not one day, not two days, not three days, no delay. Everybody agree with Syria?

SCHIFF: I think we've already had one too many red line. I'm not going to draw one here. (LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Congressman.

ROGERS: I think you have to have an enforcement mechanism, somebody standing behind a diplomat, maybe the fifth fleet would work, to enforce their ability to get to a settlement.

CROWLEY: Congressman Mike Rogers, Adam Schiff, Jason Chaffetz, and Elijah Cummings, thank you all so much for being here.


CROWLEY: Coming up, Secretary of State Kerry contradicts himself and may have helped the president getting out of the Syria mess. Our political panel next.


CROWLEY: Up next, was this diplomacy or did John Kerry box himself in?


KERRY: He can turn over every bit of these chemical weapons to the international community in the next week and turn it over, all of it without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it. And it can't be done, obviously.


CROWLEY: Things have changed a bit. Cornell Belcher, Newt Gingrich and Neera Tanden are next.



KERRY: I purposely made the statements I made in London and I did indeed say it wasn't impossible and he won't do it. Even as I hoped it would be possible and wanted him to do it. And the language of diplomacy sometimes requires that we put things to the test, and we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: John Kerry either making the impossible possible or trying to cover up a sizable gaffe. Joining me around the table, CROSSFIRE host, S.E. Cupp, CNN commentator, Cornell Belcher, Newt Gingrich, also a CROSSFIRE host and Neera Tanden, president and CEO of The Center for American Progress. So who buys what explanation for how this administration got itself to the table with Russia?

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't think -- look, I think we get tied up in the explanation. The truth of the matter is, and I know there is a lot of talk of whether it is good or bad, the president is getting what he wants. Because like he said, I didn't run for office to get us more involved in wars. I ran for office to get us out of wars. And we're not going to be dropping bombs over there. And the slouching (INAUDIBLE) kid at the back of the classroom as the president described is now involved and he's at the table. He has skin in the game. In the end, he's going to get rid of the chemical weapons. We're not going to war. The American people don't want to I think it's a victory.

S.E. CUPP, CNN CROSSFIRE HOST: I can't believe how naive that sounds. In the end, whether the president ran for office to do this or not is irrelevant. There is so much more at stake than the president's legacy on that. There's obviously what's going on in the ground in Syria, there's Iran, there's North Korea, our other enemies that are watching what we do, watching this confusion, this lack of clarity, this spinelessness on red lines that don't get met. The whole point of going in and having these limited strikes, I was told, was to punish Assad for those chemical weapons strikes. Now we're willing to saying, well Russia is on it. We don't need to punish them anymore. Let's get rid of the chemical weapons. And I'm sorry, Cornell, no one believes that that's actually possible. They've been moving chemical weapons. Hezbollah probably has them already. This is a farce. It's Kabuki Theater. And we're all in for a very rude awakening.

BELCHER: So we should go and start dropping bombs. Is that your point?

CUPP: Yes, absolutely. We need to put our muscle where our mouth is.

BELCHER: That is clearly not where the American people are.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: (INAUDIBLE) actually think that those statements are naive. I think the idea that you're just going to say that Hezbollah has chemical weapons is kind of outrageous. Nobody says that. None of -- if Hezbollah had chemical weapons, Israel would be moving them.

CUPP: Who would help?

TANDEN: With all due respect I think the question at the end of the day is what is in United States' national security interest and what is in the United States national security interest is insuring that chemical weapons are not (INAUDIBLE) used. That's been the goal. And I think what is depressing is that instead of seeing this as an achievement for American national security interest, conservatives are looking at another way to score points against the president.

CUPP: What is the achievement? Nothing has happened. What have we achieved so far?

CROWLEY: I've never seen you quite so shy.

NEWT GINGRICH, CNN CROSSFIRE HOST: I'm listening because I think we're at a very interesting point for America. 85 percent of the American people were against getting involved in the Syrian civil war. That is the highest number I suspect since before Pearl Harbor. And people are sick of the violence. They are sick of the Middle East. They are sick of where we are as a country right now. What you have strategically, and I think Mike Rogers got it just - Congressman Rogers got it just right. You have Putin playing chess. You have Obama playing, frankly, a very lucky game of tic-tac-toe. They were going to lose in the House badly. They were not going to be able to execute air strikes without causing a huge convulsion in the United States. Putin stepped in. But he didn't step in to save Barack Obama. Putin stepped in to maximize Russian influence in the Middle East. That is strategically the defeat for the United States, the biggest defeat for us since the 1970's.

CROWLEY: I want to throw something in here. I want to throw a little more gasoline on the fire. This is from Joe Klein, "Time" magazine. A friend of President Obama certainly sympathetic with a lot of Obama policy. Speaking of the president, "he has damaged his presidency and weakened the nation's standing in the world. It has been one of the most stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I've ever witnessed."

TANDEN: He wrote that before the end - before we actually got this deal.


CUPP: There's no deal.

TANDEN: The thing - the thing I would disagree with (INAUDIBLE) is just that if you look at this deal or this agreement between Russia and the United States, this deal is really much more in the U.S.'s interest. The U.S. -


TANDEN: Yes. If it happens.

TANDEN: And you know what is amazing about it is we will be able to test this in a month because the big issue with chemical weapons use is the mixing of equipment and mixing of equipment is what they have to turn over or actually destroy in the next month. So we're not talking about three years in testing this. We're talking about testing this in the next month.


BELCHER: The truth of the matter is frankly the president's threat of using military action got this out of the back of classroom. Guess what? He looks bad as Americans are dropping missiles on his allies. He (INAUDIBLE) as well. He has skin in this game also.

CROWLEY: Fifteen seconds.

GINGRICH: The fact is Russian influence in the Middle East increased dramatically. We are now relying on the Russians. We're now following from behind, not leading from behind. This is not a good long term position.

CUPP: It's terrible. It's terrible.

CROWLEY: I've got to take a quick break. When we come back the vice president blasts House Republicans for (ph) dragging their knuckles on a re-authorization vote.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last year we ran into this sort of Neanderthal crowd that, you know -- you know what I mean?


CROWLEY: Back to politics as usual. More with our political panel next.


CROWLEY: Coming up, back to politics as usual on Capitol Hill. Where if you can't say something nice, make sure I say it on the Senate floor.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: The anarchists have taken over. They've taken over the House now the (INAUDIBLE).


CROWLEY: Weighing in on the anarchists and Neanderthals next.


CROWLEY: We're back with S.E. Cupp, Cornell Belcher, Newt Gingrich and Neera Tanden. I want to pick up on something that Newt was talking about which is the enormous percentage of the American people who said, do not strike Syria. So the question then becomes how does this affect the president's ability to get things through on Capitol Hill which matters because the government's going to run out of spending authority at the end of the month and they're going to go up against our credit ceiling sometime next month. So I want to set this off by just showing you a couple of polls. This was 6th to the 8th. So after the Syrian crisis began. And our CNN ORC poll question was how is the president handling the economy? 43 percent approve. Not great. But that's like 44 percent in April. So well before this happens -- so no substantial change in how the president is handling the economy. Next question, who is more responsible if the government shuts down? Obama 33 percent. That's actually down about five points from March. And Republicans, they'll blame 51 percent. And that is up 11 points. So it seems to me Syria might be a one off.

CUPP: But look, 35 percent approve of the way the president has handled Syria. And those 35 percent would probably approve of the president coming in and stealing their cat. So I think while Syria might be treated as an isolationist issue, they also disapprove of Obamacare. They have not passed the president's initiatives on gun control. Immigration has stalled. So I think what Democrats are trying to do and you saw Harry Reid and - Harry Reid and Joe Biden trying to do, they say don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain. The problem with your life are these Neanderthals and anarchists in the Republican Party. And it just isn't where the country is at right now.

TANDEN: I think the reality of where we are on the budget deal whatever people want to say. The reality of where we are in the budget which we saw last week was, what can the House produce to avoid a government shutdown? And I think Boehner showed - Boehner and (INAUDIBLE) showed that so far they can't lead their caucus to a deal. They were embarrassed once again by having to pull down another veil. This now happens all the time in the House Republican caucus. And I think what Reid and vice president Biden were saying was that there is, you know, this very -- this group of very far right political leaders in the House that are just making it impossible to come to any kind of deal. And that's where we are.

BELCHER: Here's the problem is they were dysfunctional before Syria and they're dysfunctional now. And we talk about --

CROWLEY: The question is whether the president's hand has been strengthened or weakened on Capitol Hill.

BELCHER: It doesn't matter. They'll try to block everything the president did before Syria and they're going to block everything he did after Syria. That has been - that has been the fundamental problem. You know actually who didn't want to vote on Syria is speaker Boehner? Because you know what's going to happen? His caucus was going to go on retreat. Say what you will about this guy. Actually, he had more control over his caucus than Boehner does right now. Boehner has no control over his caucus.

CROWLEY: Democrats were going to vote against it too.


BELCHER: If they lost, it wasn't because Nancy Pelosi didn't deliver the votes that she needs. Let's be clear about that.

GINGRICH: (INAUDIBLE) I don't think anyone ever controls a Republican conference. You can lead it but you can't control it.

CUPP: You just led it more effectively.

TANDEN: Disagree.



GINGRICH: I think there are two - well remember I led it to two government shutdowns. And I led it to first re-election since 1928. And this is great crisis for the Republicans. They can't say everything is wrong with Obamacare and fund it. Yet the president clearly is going to go to the mat over Obama care. This is his last great effort to take over a 5th of the economy.

TANDEN: Obamacare passed Congress years ago and you're still litigating it. And the president was re-elected.

CROWLEY: Republicans are out going, hair on fire, we need to stop part of this.

GINGRICH: I'm just saying, we can't argue -


BELCHER: We're trying to compliment you, Newt.

GINGRICH: No. But I'm trying to describe where I think we are. The president hurt himself significantly by the way he maneuvered. The Joe Kind (ph) kind of comments are rampant. And you end up for example three Democrats in the finance committee who have already come out and said, they vote no on Larry Summers if named to be head of Federal Reserve. That wouldn't have happened six months ago. You see a fraying of all sides. You see -- Harry Reid having to dance around and suddenly postpone the vote he was arguing passionately for, pivoting in a matter of hours. And so I do think it's more complicated. I think we are drifting towards a very fundamental fight. I think it's unavoidable. And I think that it's going to happen. And I think that the president has a huge decision to make. In the end, this country takes the governing party which is the presidency, and holds them accountable and the problem they have got is the economy is not growing very much. Things aren't very good. Obamacare's implementation is very painful. And I think that's all coming together to cause - yes, you can blame Republicans. Fight next year is between the pain of the Democratic presidency and the described radicalism of the Republicans (ph).

CROWLEY: By next year you mean mid terms. Go ahead.

BELCHER: Yes. Here's where the problem is. You show president's numbers. (INAUDIBLE) poll this week showing Congress' numbers. Do you think -- know whose numbers are worse than the president's? Congress and by a lot. And you know who is going to be on the ballot in a year? Not the president. It's going to be Congress. I mean this number -


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats and Republicans. BELCHER: Congress is going to be on - they're going to be on the ballot and you know who controls Congress right now? Republicans are in control. I know they have gerrymander districts right now but even -


CROWLEY: They don't control the Senate.

BELCHER: Well the Senate isn't the problem. The Senate isn't blocking everything. Actually the Senate keeps passing bills and then send them to the House where they're going to die. And that's the fundamental problem of Congress.


CUPP: Real quick about Obamacare. Because I think the analysis of where Republicans are and this has been a little easy and superficial. The Republicans oppose Obamacare on both political and principle stances. They don't want to help implement it because they know once you give away benefits it's impossible to take them back. So there's some preplanning here. There's also the idea they feel like it's a moral hazard helping people to implement this law is like helping them to sign up for loans that they can't afford. It's a crisis of conscience.


CROWLEY: Carry on with all of you. We're running up against somebody else's show. Thank you all so much. When we return, President Obama just spoke about Syria. We have details and at the top of the hour, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski join Fareed Zakaria for a live discussion on the state of play between the U.S., Russia and Syria.


CROWLEY: An update now on that agreement reached between the U.S. on Russia on how to remove chemical weapons from Syria. That agreement has been criticized by many who said there are no teeth in it. No way to enforce it. Secretary of state Kerry who is now traveling in Israel and then to Europe to talk with allies came out and pushed back telling reporters the threat of force remains real. We of course are following that story as well as another. This one out of Colorado.

The Governor Hickenlooper told me earlier this hour that he's pleased with the amount of help he's receiving from the federal government but his state isn't out of trouble yet. Nearly 500 people are still unaccounted for. More rain is expected today which could hamper further rescue efforts. Rescuers have moved almost 2,000 people out of boulder in the past few days. Even though most roads have been completely washed away.

Thank you so much for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Fareed Zakaria GPS starts right now.