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President Obama and Iranian President Speak By Phone; Budget Battle; Obama: 'Do Not Shut Down the Government'; Louisiana Congressman Calls Obama Care Dangerous

Aired September 27, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: President Obama may not be making much headway with his Republican opponents right now, but he has broken important new ground in America's relationship with a dangerous adversary.

Just a little while ago, he told the world about his phone call to Iran's president during remarks that were expected to focus almost entirely on the potential government shutdown threat here in Washington. We're following both breaking stories this hour.

First, the historic phone call. Just a little while ago, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, spoke with our Fareed Zakaria on how that phone call came about.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Susan, can you give us a sense of how this phone call happened? Who called whom?

SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Fareed, I think as many people know, we had indicated earlier in the week an openness to a brief informal encounter when President Obama was in New York at the General Assembly.

And while we were open to that, the Iranians indicated that it was complicated for them in their context, and so it didn't occur. And then today, somewhat surprisingly, we were contacted by them to say that President Rouhani would like to speak to President Obama on the telephone on his way out of town, and we were able to make that call come together and it was a constructive conversation.

ZAKARIA: How long was that call?

RICE: About 15 minutes, but of course, with translation, so it was a brief call, but sufficient to convey messages from both sides.

ZAKARIA: Was it friendly or businesslike? RICE: I'd say cordial and constructive. Obviously, when you have two leaders from two countries that haven't communicated at that level for almost 35 years, it's something of a groundbreaking event.

But they both conveyed their commitment to trying to explore in a constructive manner the diplomatic path. We've made very clear, and the president has long reiterated -- including this week at the General Assembly -- that the United States will not tolerate Iran with a nuclear weapon. But our strong preference is that this problem be resolved through diplomatic means.

And obviously as a consequence of international pressure, the international community being united -- of course the sanctions and the economic pressure, and the election of President Rouhani -- there is an opportunity now to test the proposition of that diplomatic settlement.


BLITZER: Susan Rice is the president's national security adviser, and she was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Fareed's full interview, by the way, with Susan Rice airs Sunday morning, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." That's at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, also at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. You will want to see it.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, right now for more on what is going on.

This is really, historic dramatic stuff we're seeing happening in this U.S.-Iranian relationship.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. After all the disappointment earlier in the week about the handshake that wasn't, now we have the surprise phone call. It truly was a surprise.

We only got word via President Rouhani Twitter feed even before the president, President Obama, was able to announce it. It came at the very last moment, the president calling President Rouhani as he was the way to the airport, the first communication of its kind between the U.S. and Iranian presidents since 1979.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): It was just a 15-minute phone call, but one that was 34 years in the making.

OBAMA: The very fact that this was the first communication between an American and Iranian president since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.

SCIUTTO: The prospect of reaching an agreement on Iran's nuclear program seemed out of reach just weeks ago.

OBAMA: While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution.

SCIUTTO: A sentiment echoed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who tweeted word of his call with Obama before the president confirmed it. Rouhani ended a weeklong charm offensive in New York with the promise to submit a plan on Iran's nuclear program by next month.

HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT (through translator): I assure you that, on the Iranian side, this will is there fully 100 percent that in a very short period of time, there will be a settlement on the nuclear issue.

SCIUTTO: Where there is not settlement is Syria, where the fighting rages on, but the U.S. can tout diplomatic progress on that front as well. Tonight, the U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution to remove or destroy all of Syria's chemical weapons, a development President Obama today called -- quote -- "a huge victory."

OBAMA: This binding resolution will ensure that the Assad regime must keep its commitments or face consequences.

SCIUTTO: Military action, however, is not part of the U.N. resolution. In fact, no specific sanctions are. If Syria does not comply, the Security Council would have to vote again, or the U.S. act on its own, a step President Obama has so far avoided.


SCIUTTO: The two presidents spoke through an interpreter, though President Rouhani bid farewell in English, saying, have a nice day, and President Obama said goodbye with a Farsi farewell, "Khodahafez," which means may God be with you.

All of these details coming out via President Rouhani's Twitter feed. The next meeting between U.S. officials, U.S. and Iranian officials will be in Geneva next month that at the political director level, but a senior administration official said don't expect there will be regular interaction between the presidents, so this clearly a very special day. But we're not going to see it that often.

BLITZER: Earlier, they exchanged some letters, and now there's a phone call. We will see what happens. It's interesting that Susan Rice now says it was really an Iranian initiative. They sent word through a channel that the president of Iran would like to speak with the president of the United States on his way to the airport, and the president of the United States said, OK, I will call him.

SCIUTTO: Well, I think it's possible that the Iranian president said all the disappointment to the handshake not happening and the questions that followed, wait, does he really have the backing of Tehran, can he really deliver on these promises, and probably wanted to demonstrate that by saying, yes, I can deliver and I can even talk to an American president.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff we're watching. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto. As a candidate, President Obama back in a CNN debate in 2007 that he would agree to speak with other leaders, including leaders of Iran. Listen to this.


OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.

Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them, they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we have the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.


BLITZER: It was in that same debate, by the way, that the other Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, offered a different response. Listen to this.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort, because I think it is not that you promise the meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.

I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse, but I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration. And I will pursue very vigorous diplomacy.


BLITZER: Let's go to Iran right now, get some reaction to this historic contact today between President Obama and President Rouhani.

CNN's Reza Sayah is joining us from Tehran, the Iranian capital, right now.

You told me before Reza folks there seem to be pretty happy, pretty excited that there potentially could be a breakthrough in this relationship.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. It's about 1:45 a.m. Saturday morning.

Word came that President Obama and President Rouhani had spoken on the phone late Friday night about 11:00 p.m. We tried to talk to as many Iranians as possible. Every single of them was ecstatic, thrilled. They loved the fact these two presidents had made contact. They view this as a golden opportunity for Washington and Tehran to improve relations.

One Iranian I spoke with told us he wants his president, President Rouhani, to do whatever it takes to improve relations and get Iranians out of this difficult situation. With that, he was referring to 34 years of economic, political isolation, the economic sanctions that Iranians have suffered through.

If this path continues, and if these two countries improve relations, obviously the Iranian people have a lot to gain, but it's important to point out, it's important to remind everyone that 34 years of mistrust, of conflict, of bluster and finger-pointing on both sides by politicians and leaders is tough to overcome.

There's going to be major obstacles ahead, but certainly a good start here, a positive start. Presidents Rouhani and President Obama speaking on the phone, the first time this has happened in more than a generation, Wolf.

BLITZER: On Tuesday, when they were both in New York, there was a lot of speculation they would at least meat informally, have a handshake, a photo opportunity, if you will. It didn't happen. The president of the United States wanted it to happen. The Iranians said it was too complicated, they need more time to prepare.

There was a lot of speculation that hard-liners inside Iran didn't want the Iranian president to meet with the leader of what they used the evil empire, i.e., the United States. How will they react, these hard-liners, to what Susan Rice, the national security adviser to President Obama, just said, it was Hassan Rouhani's idea for this phone call today?

SAYAH: Obviously, there are still a lot of anti-U.S. hawks here in Iran, just as there are anti-Iran hawks in Washington.

They are wary about Hassan Rouhani's new moderate, centrist strategy. However, what's remarkable is the hard-line factions have been relatively silent. We haven't seen any faction here in Iran be critical of Hassan Rouhani. Some say that's an indication that the supreme leader behind the scenes had gathered all the factions and told them to say united, essentially telling Hassan Rouhani that this is your campaign, and do what you can, and we're going to back you.

So hard-line factions remaining silent. But, Wolf, what's critical to point out is that despite the optimism, Iran's core issues when it comes to the nuclear program have remained the same. They're the same as they were during President Ahmadinejad's tenure.

First and foremost, they are not going to stop what they call the peaceful nuclear program. And they're not going to stop uranium enrichment. There's speculation they might suspend uranium enrichment at 20 percent or open up some of their facilities, some of their military facilities to perhaps broader inspections, but they have made it clear in these negotiations, whatever happens, they don't want to be viewed as appeasing Washington or backing down to demands.

Whatever they do, they want something substantial in return. They want to be treated as equals. They want their nuclear program to be recognized, maybe most importantly for Iranians here they want some of those tough economic sanctions to be eased.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah on the ground for us in Tehran, thanks very, very much.

Up next in our THE SITUATION ROOM special report, is Iran's president really serious about better relations with the United States? I will talk to a man who spent hours with President Rouhani this week in New York.

And we will also have the latest on the federal government shutdown threat here in Washington, the president's news warning to Republicans, as the fight moves back to the House of Representatives.


BLITZER: The presidents of the United States and Iran made contact in a historic phone call today, even though they never did meet face-to-face at the United Nations this week.

Let's discuss what's going on with international security analyst Jim Walsh. He attended four hours of meetings with President Rouhani in New York this week. Also joining us, Colin Kahl, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security here in Washington.

All right, Jim Walsh, four hours you spent with him? What do you think? Is this guy for real? Is it fake? What's your bottom line?

JIM WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think, you know, actions speak louder than words. We will have to see where it goes.

We don't want the expectations too high, but, Wolf, but what impressed me was not the phone call, which will be in the history books, probably, not the phone call, but what each president said over this past week. President Obama in his U.N. speech really puts it out there and says he expects, wants a comprehensive agreement.

He's leaning forward. Then you have President Rouhani say the same thing in a private dinner event with me, saying, he wants an agreement, he wants it quick, he wants to move, he wants something to take back to the electorate there. That's both presidents saying we want something. That's important when the top person makes that a priority.

BLITZER: You recently worked, Colin, over at the Pentagon as deputy assistant secretary of defense during this Obama administration. Do you believe the hard-liners, forget about this current president right now, but the hard-liners in Iran will really be willing to give up any ambitions to have a nuclear bomb?

COLIN KAHL, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think that Rouhani believes he has the leeway at the moment from the supreme leader, from Ali Khamenei. There hasn't been a lot of vocal criticism yet, but I say yet because the devil will be in the details. Obviously the United States is going to expect some pretty stringent restrictions on Iran's nuclear program and pretty full transparency if we're ever going to move past this impasse. Any of those restrictions would put Iran pretty far away from a nuclear weapon, so it remains to be seen whether hard-liners would accept a deal like that, and whether the supreme leader will listen to them or listen to Rouhani's team.

BLITZER: If the supreme leader, Jim, says it's OK to go forward on a more moderate, reasonable path in part to ease some of those very painful international sanctions led by the United States against Iran, then the hard-liners will follow whatever the supreme leader tells them, right?

WALSH: I think that's right.

And I think the early indications that we have gotten are that the supreme leader is giving Rouhani the chance here. That's what this is about, is both sides want to move quickly. You know, and let's have no delusions here. You know, Colin is right to want to wait and see what the details are.

I have been at this for more than 10 years. I have seen this movie before. There have been periods in the past when there was an opportunity to put things on a different direction, and one side or the other, both of them, one side or the other has missed that opportunity. That could yet happen.

But I must say that I really don't want remember -- I don't want to layer expectations on them right now, but I think the Iranians are willing to do something on 20 percent, and on some of the other issues. In meetings, they mentioned a number of different things they would be flexible on. And so, you know this is as good a shot as we have had in a long time, so the main thing is let's not do anything to mess this up. Let's follow this to see as far as it goes.

BLITZER: It's interesting that when the president made the announcement that he had this phone call, Colin, among other things he said, "Throughout this process, we will stay in close touch with our friends and allies in the region, including Israel."

You know that the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be at the White House on Monday. He addresses the United States on Tuesday. I'm sure the Israelis are pretty nervous when they see what's going on right now in this beginning potentially of a rapprochement between the United States and Iran.

What's the Israeli reaction likely in this entire situation?

KAHL: I think the Israeli view -- there is no one Israeli view, but to the degree that there's a dominant view, they have a lot of skepticism about Rouhani.

Some believe that he's a wolf in sheep's clothing. Look, I think the Obama administration has its eyes wide open on this, too. A lot of effort has been put in, in the last several days to really change the tone of the conversation to maximize the chances of diplomacy, but what -- we're not going to lessen the pressure on Iran to move away from its nuclear weapons ambitions just through fancy words.

They're going to have to actually agree to a meaningful agreement that puts substantial limits on their nuclear program. I think if they do that and the Obama administration can communicate to the Israelis that it's real, that the Obama administration can walk Netanyahu and others off the ledge on this.

BLITZER: Colin Kahl, Jim Walsh, guys, thank you very much. Good insight from both of you.

When our SITUATION ROOM special report continues, the other breaking story we're following, the looming government shutdown here in Washington, brazen taunts on both sides. I will talk to a Republican who was mocked by President Obama for his words.

But, first, Michaela Pereira tells us how a rock legend is impacting our world.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Decades in the spotlight has given rocker Roger Daltrey a lot of opportunities to work with charities. But after talking to his own doctor, Daltrey found a unique need.

ROGER DALTREY, LEAD SINGER, THE WHO: We just recognized that teenagers with cancer, there's kind of no provision for them. And this is nothing to do with medicine, this is to do with the environment. There's fabulous children's hospitals. There's fabulous, you know, things for adults. But when you actually look at what a teenager is, which is neither a child nor an adult, there's nothing.

PEREIRA: Daltrey and band mate Pete Townshend created Teen Cancer America, based on a program they've both been involved with for years in the U.K. The charity creates teens-only cancer wards in hospitals.

DALTREY: You've got enough psychological problems as it is with just being a teenager, without having that lumped on top of you. So we provide specialized environment where they can be comfortable being teenagers. How about a life of privilege? And it was supplied by some teenagers supporting it.



BLITZER: Former Vice President Al Gore is lashing out at Republicans over the threat of a government shutdown.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. We have a list of demands. If you don't meet them all by our deadline, we will blow up the global economy.


BLITZER: Up next, I will speak with a Republican congressman who's also making some pretty brash statements, claiming Obamacare is the most dangerous legislation ever, ever passed by Congress.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our THE SITUATION ROOM special report. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight, so we can bring you the breaking news coverage of President Obama's historic phone call with the Iranian president, as well as the looming government shutdown.

President Obama went in the White House Briefing Room within the past few hours to announce that phone call with Hassan Rouhani and to deliver this warning to Republicans here at home.


OBAMA: My message to Congress is this.

Do not shut down the government. Do not shut down the economy. Pass a budget on time. Pay our bills on time. Refocus on the everyday concerns of the American people. There will be differences between Democrats and Republicans.

We can have all kinds of conversations about how to resolve those differences. There will be areas where we can work together. There will be areas where we disagree.

But do not threaten to burn the house down simply because you haven't gotten 100 percent of your way. That's not how our democracy is supposed to work.

Every day that this goes on is another day that we're not focused on doing what we need to be focused on, which is rebuilding this great country of ours, so that our middle class is growing and everybody has got opportunity if they're willing to work hard. That's what I'm focused on. That's what Congress should be focused on as well.


BLITZER: All right. Let's check in, see what's happening on Capitol Hill now. The fight over the budget and defunding Obama care, shifting from the Senate back to the House of Representatives. Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by with the latest. So where do we stand right now, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really unclear. But first, I just want to read to you and our viewers what the responsibility to that statement by the president was from the speaker through a spokesman. Here's what he said. He said, "The House will take action that reflects the fundamental fact that Americans don't want a government shutdown and they don't want the train wreck that is Obama care. Grandstanding from the president, who refuses to even be a part of the process, won't bring Congress any closer to a resolution."

So let's just start there. There is no negotiation going on. There has not been any phone call from Capitol Hill, the speaker's office, to the Oval Office or vice versa. Nothing at the lower level.

Where things stand right now, frankly, is that the speaker and his fellow Republican leaders are trying to negotiate with their own caucus. It seems pretty clear in talking to lots of Republican sources over in the House that the rank-and-file Republicans say that they want to fight, meaning they're not -- they're not just going to pass the -- what they call a clean funding bill, that passed the Senate, without trying to attach something else on it. They want to put their own mark on it.

The problem is, Wolf, the Senate Democrats said today, "If you send us anything that has anything to do with Obama care, we're not going to touch it," which gets us up to the deadline with absolutely no clear idea of how this is going to end.

BLITZER: The deadline being midnight Monday night.

All right, Dana. You're going to have a busy weekend and a very busy Monday, especially. All of us will, of course, be quite busy. Thanks very much.

We're hearing a lot of name-calling and exaggeration on both sides in this fight over de-funding Obama care. Republican Congressman John Fleming recently was quoted as saying this: "Obama care is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress. It is the most existential threat to our economy."

President Obama marked -- mocked Congressman Fleming's remark yesterday.


OBAMA: One congressman said that Obama care is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed. Ever in the history of America, this is the most dangerous piece of legislation.


BLITZER: Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Did you actually say those words?

FLEMING: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You believe this is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever?

FLEMING: Yes. I mean...

BLITZER: In all the years of the United States of America?

FLEMING: Yes, this legislation, Obama care, removes $716 billion...

BLITZER: Going back to legislation that approved slavery and all of that, this is even more dangerous than that?

FLEMING: Yes. Yes. This affects millions. In fact, it's going to affect probably every single American. It covers one-sixth of the economy. People are being laid off.

Seventy-seven percent, Wolf, of every job created today is a part-time job as a result primarily of Obama care. As you know, the numbers have just been released. And the exchanges on average, the cost of health care, premiums are going to go up 99 percent for males, 65 percent for female.

BLITZER: This is worse than the pro-slavery legislation?

FLEMING: I can't think of anything right now that could be more damaging for our economy than passing, and putting into effect and implementing Obama care.

BLITZER: I understand you think it's dangerous now, but you said it's the most dangerous piece of legislation in the history of the United States.

FLEMING: Yes, I think so. I believe that, yes.

BLITZER: I'm asking if you think it's even worse than pro- slavery legislation.

FLEMING: Well, I haven't drawn any comparisons between Obama care and any specific law in the past, and certainly, archaic laws like that that are no longer in effect I can't really comment to. But the point is that Obama care is hurting Americans. Hospitals are cutting way back on their employees.

BLITZER: But you know it's not even got into effect yet.

FLEMING: That is the problem. That is the problem.

BLITZER: It's not got into effect yet. Children can be on their parents' insurance plans until they reach the age of 26. That's gone into effect...

FLEMING: In exchange for increasing the premiums, and that's the problem. The premiums are going -- they're skyrocketing.

BLITZER: Don't you think that 30 or 40 million Americans that don't have any eligibility to get health insurance...

FLEMING: We could have raised those premiums years ago to accomplish that. And if we let individual Americans actually look at that on the marketing basis, I don't know where they would stand.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this, because you're a physician.


BLITZER: You understand medicine, you understand the needs. In Massachusetts they have a very similar plan that Mitt Romney as governor pushed through. And people over there seem to like it. It seems to be working.

FLEMING: Unfortunately, their per capita health-care costs and their premium costs are the highest in the United States by far. Their waiting lists to get into see a doctor have grown since that was implemented. And half of people of Massachusetts cannot find a primary care doctor.

BLITZER: But if you ask people in Massachusetts IF they're satisfied with what's going on, It's pretty popular right now in Massachusetts.

FLEMING: Well, again Massachusetts loves big government. But I can tell you in my state of Louisiana, Louisiana does not love big government. We love a growing private sector that allows people freedom of choice, to choose their health plan, to choose their doctor, to choose their hospital.

BLITZER: You know where this whole concept for these forced -- these mandates, the mandate that people who can afford to buy health insurance, they should buy health insurance instead of just being freeloaders, going into emergency rooms and getting free medical treatment, you know where the idea originated?

FLEMING: I think you're referring to the Heritage?

BLITZER: That's correct. A conservative think tank here in Washington.

FLEMING: And that was -- and that was in response to a law passed in 1986 called EMTALA which requires hospitals and doctors to treat people for free for showing up. And so what they were trying to do is float an idea, how do we get responsibility back to the American public? But there are many problems with it, and we...

BLITZER: Shouldn't people be responsible, though -- if you can it, if you can afford to buy health insurance, shouldn't you buy health insurance?

FLEMING: I think absolutely, but the problem is this law makes it unaffordable. That is the basic problem.

BLITZER: But for a lot of healthy young people it's relatively...

FLEMING: We're hearing again as companies approach this, more and more people are finding themselves taken out of the company plan, thrown into the exchange. Employees who are full-time are being moved to part-time. So not only are they losing their health-care coverage from their company, but they're losing their full-time job. That's -- to me, I think that's a tragedy.

BLITZER: Well, let me just ask you a question, because you're a physician.


BLITZER: If somebody can afford to buy health insurance, they don't buy health insurance, they get into a car accident and they're critically ill, they need to be treated, obviously, who should pay for that?

FLEMING: Well, what happens under Obama care is they...

BLITZER: Well, right now.

FLEMING: They'd then join -- and then as soon as they get well, they'd get off again, and that causes adverse selection. And that makes...

BLITZER: But they'd have to pay a penalty if they don't buy their health insurance.

FLEMING: It's very tiny.

BLITZER: There's a tax they have to -- they have to pay.

FLEMING: Very small.

BLITZER: Not that small.

FLEMING: And collecting it is going to be very difficult, because IRS really doesn't have the power to do anything but withhold a credit.

BLITZER: But you're OK with you and me and others who pay a lot of taxes giving these freeloaders a free ride when they get sick?

FLEMING: Well, there's a massive transfer of wealth and income in Obama care. So any way you look at it, whether it's Obama care or what we have today, people who do better are going to be exchanging and giving things.

But the problem with Obama care is that people who decide not to take care good care of themselves are going to get the preferential treatment, and people who are healthy, and try to do what they can to prevent disease are actually going to be paying the cost of that.

BLITZER: All right. Let me talk -- you read another quote and you tell me if this is accurate. "The New York Times" today, quoting you: "Economists, what they have been -- what have they been doing? They make all sorts of predictions. Many times they're wrong. So I don't think we should run government based on economic -- based on economists' predictions." Explain what you meant by that.

FLEMING: Well, first of all, economists disagree, so you've got to decide which economist that you want.

No. 2, remember all of the hysteria that happened with sequester. Oh, the stock market was going to crash. Interest rates were going to skyrocket. Well, the stock market is actually up 3,000 points since sequester, and the annual deficit has gone down tremendously.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, if the Senate language, which passed today in the Senate, comes to the House, and the speaker of the House allows an up or down vote on that so-called clean bill that will allow the government to remain in business, not doing anything with Obama care...


BLITZER: ... you will vote...?

FLEMING: I will vote no, and I don't think the speaker has the votes to pass it as a clean seal (ph).

BLITZER: But if all the Democrats vote yes, will there be a whole bunch of Republicans who will support the Democrats?

FLEMING: I really don't think so, Wolf. I really think that -- that he won't bring it to the floor that way, because it won't pass.

BLITZER: But if he does, what would happen?

FLEMING: I think it wouldn't pass.

BLITZER: You think the Democrats -- you don't think there would be enough Republicans?

FLEMING: You might get a few Republicans but not enough to get it passed.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

FLEMING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Congressman John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana.

When we come back, not everyone is happy President Obama made that historic phone call to Iran's president. Could it end up backfiring? We have more analysis. That's next.


BLITZER: At the time, he was criticized for his stances on Russia and Syria, but what a difference a year makes. Now some of Mitt Romney's positions as the Republican presidential nominee seem to be insightful to a whole lot of people out there.

CNN's Jake Tapper, the anchor of "THE LEAD," is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You had a chance for an exclusive sit-down with him up in Boston today. What did he say?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we talked about fiscal policy and the showdown, obviously. We ran some of that sound earlier on my show. But then we talked about foreign policy, because as you know, Wolf, he was attacked many times by the Obama campaign for his views. He said he felt pretty good about his positions back then and today.


TAPPER: Your name has been mentioned a lot in recent weeks and months. A lot by your supporters, who say remember when Governor Romney was mocked for saying Russia was our No. 1 geopolitical foe? And remember when Vice President Biden went after him for wanting to start a war in Syria?

And I think there's a feeling among some supporters that you've been vindicated to a large degree. How have you looked at the events regarding Syria and Russia in the last few weeks?

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't spend time looking back, and I'm vindicated in my own mind from the beginning, so obviously, I wouldn't have said what I said if I didn't believe it was right.

And I think we recognize increasingly that Russia is not an enemy, certainly not a military combatant foe, but it is a political foe. The world's worst actors -- whether it's North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran -- are all supported or protected to some degree by Russia.

TAPPER: So are you skeptical of this U.N. Security Council resolution? Or do you think there's potential there that it could work when it comes to Syria's chemical weapons?

ROMNEY: Oh, I think there's real potential that Syria will eliminate their chemical weapons, catalog them. That, I think, is -- is a positive outcome from this -- you know, this whole effort in Syria. But would I place my life on it without verifying it? Of course not.

This is something which is going to have to be thoroughly vetted and evaluated, and assured that neither Syria nor Russia does anything to allow these weapons to escape, for instance, to Iran, to ultimately be brought back or to be used there.

TAPPER: Do you think President Obama did the right thing by threatening to use force against Syria?

ROMNEY: I think it was very clear that, once he had indicated that there was a red line that we would not go beyond without some kind of retaliation or some kind of effort, that there had to be, in effect, a follow-through on that commitment. And so the president needed to do something.

But gosh, helping the group that's associated in some way with al Qaeda didn't look right. And helping Assad certainly wasn't right, so we had no good choices. That's what comes of not being involved at the critical moment, and not being able to see what is the critical moment, and I'm afraid that we missed that opportunity.

TAPPER: The president was criticized a lot, not only by Republicans but by Democrats and independents and analysts for zigzagging a few weeks ago. What was your reaction watching him that Saturday, when he came out and said that it was his desire to strike, but he wanted to go to Congress first?

ROMNEY: It was not the president's finest hour. Dealing with the Syria development, and the use of chemical weapons there, he looked like he hadn't thought it through and hadn't considered the right course in advance. And I think we -- we lost some respect in the region, and certainly lost respect with friends and allies around the world. When you have Great Britain, for instance, say, "Look, we're not going to get behind this."

TAPPER: But do you think that's a manifestation of President Obama's leadership, or just a very war-weary British public, in the same way we have a war-weary American public here that doesn't support action in Syria?

ROMNEY: Well, I think the president of the United States, as he plans what action he thinks is appropriate, needs to think through all the options from the very beginning, settle on the one he considers to be the most effective, and communicate that aggressively with whatever audience he thinks needs to hear it, and that was not done.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Iran, because that's also a situation that's going on right now. Do you think that Rouhani, the new president of Iran, could be legitimately ushering in a new era? He came out very openly, said, "We don't want nuclear weapons. We only want nuclear power, and that's all we've ever wanted."

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, you have to be skeptical when people say "We're just looking for nuclear power," when their nation is on a lake of oil. All right, so that's part one.

Part two, he really doesn't set the nuclear policy of his nation. That's done by Ayatollah Khamenei. And so he doesn't -- he doesn't actually have the capacity to call those shots.

But is he a moderate voice? Perhaps, but let's -- let's pursue this, of course, as aggressively as we can, but recognize again that there's a great deal of skepticism with regards to Iraq's intentions, in part because of their energy wealth and the likelihood that what they're trying to do is to become the superpower in the Middle East with dire consequences for other nations in the region.

TAPPER: Even before the Syria crisis, people were questioning Russia and the relationship with the United States, because they granted -- because Russia granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower or leaker, whatever your -- whatever your view. If you were president, is the NSA surveillance a program that you think is worthwhile?

ROMNEY: Well, there have clearly been errors made in the way the surveillance was carried out and policies that were not followed. I read this morning a story about individuals having followed their love life and...

TAPPER: Love interests and...

ROMNEY: Yes, and so these kinds of things are unacceptable and have to be -- there has to be punishment associated with that, and you have to follow the rules and procedures of an organization.

That being said, do you want to have an organization, which is -- which is -- has computers looking at millions of e-mails and tweets and phone calls looking for patterns in words that suggest there may be terrorist activity going on?

And the answer is, in my view, yes. You want to have that information. You want to protect this country.

TAPPER: As a major party nominee for president, you received security and national security briefings. Have you also learned things that reaffirmed your belief in these NSA programs? Or was it just always what you thought?

ROMNEY: No, you're right, Jake, which is that after I became the nominee of the Republican Party, the intelligence community provided me with the kinds of briefings that are provided to the president, so that in the event I became elected, I would be prepared to move forward with whatever decisions had to be taken.

And I came away with the recognition that we face very substantial security threats from terrorist organizations and individuals.

TAPPER: Worse than you thought before? I mean, obviously, you had a realization.

ROMNEY: Yes. The answer: Of course. A great deal worse than I thought. In that I was given more specifics as to the types of technology and the times of organizations that could pose a potential threat. Either here or to our friends and to our citizens living abroad.

And that continues to be the case. Look, we only have to look around us in the world to see that there are very dangerous things occurring.

And the idea that somehow we can stop them with a magnetometer at the entrance to a mall or at the entrance to a stadium or at the entrance to an Olympics is not real. The only, and by far the most effective way of preventing terrorist attack is intelligence. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And speaking of the Olympics, Wolf, I asked him, as somebody who ran the 2002 Olympics, what did he think about the calls to boycott the Olympics in Russia because of their anti-gay legislation.

He said he didn't think the Olympics were a place for politics. He disagreed with Jimmy Carter boycotting the 1980 Olympics. It was about the athletes and the pursuit of excellence on the field -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those Winter Olympics in Sochi will go forward as planned.

Good interview, Jake. Thanks very, very much.

Coming up, we'll have more insight into the historic phone call today between President Obama and the Iranian President Rouhani. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's get some more right now on the history that was made, a phone call between the presidents of the United States and Iran.

Joining us now, Vali Nasr. He's the dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, my alma mater.

Vali, thanks very much for coming in.

It's very dramatic. When you think about it, 1979. Americans held hostage, the diplomats, for 444 days. No contact at the presidential level for all of these years, more than three decades. All of a sudden, a phone call. What does it mean?

VALI NASR, DEAN, SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Well, it means a lot. It certainly means a lot for Iran, because in Iran, the idea was that they rejected the legitimacy of the United States. They believed that by not engaging the U.S. at any level, in a sense, it gives them their domestic legitimacy. So this is a major shift within Iran. It's very symbolic to the Iranian population. It's very symbolic to the Iranian leadership, as well.

BLITZER: It's interesting that President Obama was ready to meet with President Rouhani Tuesday when they were both at the U.N., but it was Rouhani decided they needed more time to prepare, that it wasn't going to happen.

But then, as he was getting ready to leave the United States today, according to Susan Rice, the president's national security adviser, the Iranians sent word to the White House he'd like to speak on the phone with the president, and the president, of course, responded positively to that. What's going on here in this? He didn't want to meet directly, the Iranians, but now they wanted to have a phone call.

NASR: No, I think they wanted to meet. They didn't -- they were afraid that the meeting had no agenda, and they were afraid of going into the meeting and then it's interpreted in the press as -- in the wrong way. And then Rouhani would lose face at home, and the whole thing would fizzle away.

So then they backed away from the meeting. And then I think they thought that they needed something concrete to take back home. He has gone out on a limb on this trip. He's launched his charm offensive. He has said things that have been controversial in Iran, including his statement on the Holocaust.

He has to show the supreme leader that he's getting something from this trip that Ahmadinejad never got. And I think it's very important that President Obama did give him something. It was a cordial call. And I think Rouhani was very quick to tweet immediately, because I think there was a sense that maybe, you know, the white House might spin this in a way that might affect him negatively, so he got the story of the...

BLITZER: He broke the news on the Twitter account, yes.

NASR: On his own terms.


NASR: So he basically said what happened on the call before the White House had a chance to say what happened on the call. So he's going to go home telling the Iranian people, "I got -- I was flexible with the Americans. I got flexibility in return."

BLITZER: What he said about the Holocaust, why is that so controversial in Iran? I understand Ahmadinejad was a Holocaust denier. But don't you think that most people in Iran understand what happened during World War II?

NASR: They do. But he is, in a way, undermining his predecessor. Because basically, this was sort of an official line of the Iranian government. So he's basically saying, I disagree with my predecessor. I'm acknowledging something that he had denied.

And this is basically a very open and public break among the leadership in Iran. And he's doing it not inside of Iran. He's doing it in the United States. And for that reason, the hardliners were very shocked by this. And they also did not want to show to the west that there is this break and there is this breach between the hardliners and Rouhani.

BLITZER: And earlier he had even sent out a tweet wishing a happy new year to the Jews. Not only in Iran but around the world. What does that say? When you saw that tweet on Rosh Hashanah, what did that say? What was he trying to achieve?

NASR: Well, he also brought a Jewish member of the Iranian parliament with him on this trip to the U.N.

BLITZER: So what does all that mean?

NASR: Well, he's basically trying to change the conversation. He's trying to tell -- to change the context in which negotiations with the United States happens.

He wants to basically move away from, "We want to annihilate Israel. And not only that, we also want to deny something that's very sacred and important to the Jews around the world. We want the American people not to think the worst about Iran. We want to create a situation in which President Obama would have political latitude to actually engage Iran."

So in some ways, they are trying to help President Obama engage with them by lessening resistance in the United States to engaging Iran.

BLITZER: It's an important event. And we'll see what happens. We'll see if this is serious or it's not. We should know fairly soon, right?

NASR: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Vali Nasr of SAIS, the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Thanks very much.

NASR: Good to be here.

BLITZER: That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching. Remember, you can always follow us, what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. On Twitter, go ahead and tweet me, @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show, @CNNSitRoom.

That's it. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.