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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama to Reveal ISIS Strategy; Unmasking the ISIS Executioner; ISIS Shows off Jets, Drone, Artillery; Poll: Worried Country, Weakened Leader
Aired September 8, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN GUEST HOST: Thanks, Jake.
Happening now, plan to defeat ISIS. As President Obama gets ready to reveal his strategy, ISIS reveals shocking new images that may show what the U.S. and its allies are up against.
Hunting the ISIS executioner. Are investigators getting closer to unmasking the brutal killer of two Americans?
And presidential buddies. Their public relationship was chilly, but we're learning how behind the scenes, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush built mutual respect and a warm friendship.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Americans are worried about ISIS and not convinced that the president is strong enough to do something about it. We'll have full details of our new stunning poll ahead.
But first, the president is getting ready to lay out his plan to destroy the terror group. He'll speak to the nation this week just ahead of the 9/11 anniversary as a reminder of what the United States and its new coalition must confront. ISIS has put out a new propaganda video, showing savage fighting and heavy weapons, including captured fighter jets.
Our correspondents and guests are standing by with complete coverage. And we begin at the White House with CNN correspondent Michelle Kosinski.
Michelle, are we getting any sense of what the president may propose on Wednesday?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, a lot of discussion today. But it is still hard to divine what exactly this big presidential address on Wednesday will tell the American public about the overall ISIS plan, especially since it still seems like the bulk of the strategy, as the White House defines it, is still laying this groundwork for making a decision moving beyond Iraq.
So the White House says this will be a conversation with the American people, following another conversation with Congressional leadership tomorrow about what is the best way moving forward and what tools are at America's disposal.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): The White House brings President Obama's speech to the country, the world on the ISIS threat which he will deliver on the eve of September 11, like this.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To make sure that people understand what the clear stake is for the American people and our nation in this ongoing violence we're seeing in Iraq and Syria. He also wants to describe what sort of tools are at the disposal of the American government. Does that mean the president may have something new to say in the speech? He might.
KOSINSKI: But will that mean striking ISIS in Syria? That remains to be seen. Here's how the president reviewed the speech.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll make a speech and describe what our game plans are going to be going forward. But this is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq War. What this is, is similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years.
KOSINSKI: A new CNN/ORC poll today shows 50 percent of the American public are ready and willing to use military force. That's up from 34 percent a year ago.
When asked directly today has a decision been made yet on air strikes inside Syria, the White House would say only the U.S. is willing to go wherever necessary to deal with the threat, comparing it to the decision to go after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and saying, if that decision is coming, it would be the president who would announce it.
What is becoming clear is that all of this is going to take a while. Secretary of State Kerry told the new international coalition against ISIS at the NATO summit that it could take three years to defeat ISIS.
Also, this last week from the deputy national security adviser.
TONY BLINKEN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It's going to take time, and it will probably go beyond even this administration to get to the point of defeat.
KOSINSKI: As of right now, the White House is keeping it something of a secret as to whether there will be news coming out of this address on Wednesday. But in this latest poll, 67 percent of the respondents answered no when asked if they think President Obama has a clear plan for dealing with ISIS -- Brianna.
KEILAR: That is a big number. Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thank you.
Now, we are learning that investigators may be getting closer to unmasking the ISIS executioner who brutally beheaded American James Foley. Let's turn now to CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown.
How close are they to solidly identifying this person?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, according to sources I've been speaking with today, U.S. authorities as well as British authorities say they have a pretty good idea of who it may be. But it's not 100 percent yet. They're trying to narrow it down.
But they do have a possible suspect of who they believe is this Jihadi John, this man we see in the video, the masked man we saw in the execution video of James Foley put a knife to the throat of James Foley in that video. And this has been a top priority for officials, Brianna, to -- to identify this person.
We heard him in the video. It appears he has a British accent. And sources tell me that they believe this man in the video is actually linked to a group of extremists based in London. Officials are not yet naming the suspect publicly, citing the ongoing investigation, because there's a lot they have to take into account. They want to figure out who else may be conspiring with this person, who else is within his network and also take into account that ISIS has other American hostages right now as we speak.
So, again, officials have a pretty good idea of who it is. They have been using human methods, technical means, analyzing the metadata on that video, Brianna, using voice analysis to try to pin down who it is.
KEILAR: And there are unfortunately two videos. Steven Sotloff, as well, was killed by ISIS. Is the thought that the executioner in that video the same as the one in the Foley video?
BROWN: Well, I think that initially, Brianna, was what everyone thought because a lot of the mannerisms seemed very similar, the accents seemed the same. But I'm being told that it's just too premature to draw that connection, that it's only been a week since that video was released. And officials are still trying to figure out who the executioner is in that video, as well.
KEILAR: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.
Let's go in depth now. I'm joined by the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA), VICE CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Sure, Brianna. Good to be with you.
KEILAR: Are you getting a sense? We've heard this. We shouldn't draw conclusions that the executioners in these two videos are necessarily the same person. It seems that U.S. officials are pretty confident that they're very close to making a positive I.D. in the Foley video. How close do you think the U.K. is to making an identification here?
CHAMBLISS: I think we're getting pretty close. Technology is an amazing thing, and I got an updated brief this afternoon. And I'm very hopeful there's going to be some positive news on who these two awful criminals are within the next several days. But I don't know exactly when that's going to be. But we're getting close.
KEILAR: OK, several days. Certainly, we'll be waiting for that information. And Senator, we're obviously awaiting the president's plan, his strategy for how to deal with ISIS in Syria. He'll be addressing the nation on Wednesday. He said yesterday on "Meet the Press," he said that he will go wherever is necessary. What do you take that to mean?
CHAMBLISS: Well, I hope it means exactly what he says. And I hope that on Wednesday, first of all, we have an explanation to the American people as to why ISIL is a threat to the United States on domestic soil, because it clearly is. And he's got to lay that out, because a lot of people simply don't understand it. This is something that's happening in a faraway land.
Secondly, he's got to state what his goal is against ISIL. What do we want to do? This maintaining them is not acceptable. We've got to destroy them.
And then thirdly, obviously, he's got to lay out his strategy for how he's going to accomplish that goal. And who are going to be our allies in this? He cannot rule out ground troops.
But we need our allies to support us with air strikes with boots on the ground. I hope all of that is being worked right now by the administration. In my conversations with him over the weekend, I think that is the case. But he's going to have to be very clear and very direct with the American people that this is a situation where, if we don't destroy them, whether it's Iraq, whether it's Syria, or wherever they may run and hide, that they're going to be an American soil and we're going to have to deal with them here.
KEILAR: You said your conversations with him, with President Obama over the weekend?
CHAMBLISS: No, with his staff that I talk with regularly and the intelligence world.
KEILAR: Between what you're learning from them and also from this briefing, you were just saying that you were in a briefing, what more can you tell us that you're learning?
CHAMBLISS: As far as the situation regarding the individuals that killed Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff, like I say, they are just exploring every single avenue that technology will allow. And they're going to get there. That's why I say it could be a matter of -- it could be a matter of hours; it could be a matter of days. I don't know the exact time line. But we're going to get there. We're going to find out who these guys were. And they're going to be brought to justice.
With respect to where ISIL may go, we don't know. These are a bunch of cowards. And as soon as we strike them at the heart of their operation center, their logistics center, they're going to run and hide somewhere else. And wherever they go, we're going to have to follow them. And if that leads into Syria, then I hope the president has not taken that off the table. If it leads elsewhere, we've got to be prepared to follow them.
KEILAR: I want to ask you about Congress' role in this. It seems that a lot of Republicans are saying the president has the ability to go ahead without Congressional approval, i.e., a vote approving either an authorization or something like that.
The president has said that it's important for Congress to have a buy- in. Today we heard from the White House press secretary. He said the president is committed to what he called intensive consultation. But let's listen to what President Obama said a year ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific Congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate. Because the issues are too big for business as usual.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Now, that was the president when he was talking about pursuing Congressional approval, a vote, for strikes against the Assad regime in Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people. The sense that I get, senator, is that we're not going to see a repeat of that. It does not appear that the president will be seeking congressional approval for this.
CHAMBLISS: Well, that's when the president caved, if you'll recall, on his having drawn a red line with Bashar al-Assad. We've lost that battle inside of Syria today because he caved. We've got to recapture the battlefield. And we can't afford to allow ISIL to make any further progress.
We're obviously having great success with our air strikes. Otherwise, you wouldn't see the reaction that we're seeing from ISIL. But we have simply got to continue to pursue them, irrespective of where they go, because these are the nastiest people we've ever dealt with.
And when he talks about counterterrorism, this goes beyond counterterrorism. This is an army that we're dealing with. They're in the thousands. We don't even know what the number is. So the president's got to be prepared to do more than what he was talking about against Bashar al-Assad.
KEILAR: But Senator -- but Senator, is Congress being relegated to a consultant role here?
CHAMBLISS: Well, I just got back from a trip to Europe, where I visited with a number of our NATO friends. The constant message I got from those NATO partners is, where is the United States that we have known forever and we signed up with? Where is the leadership coming out of the United States on these serious national security issues? The president has an opportunity once again to lead. I hope he does
it this time. He will be in consultation with Congress. As I said, they talked to me over the weekend. I know they talked to other members of the leadership team. Our leadership is going to the White House tomorrow to have a conversation with the president. And based on what he's heard, I'm sure that's going to formulate his speech on Wednesday.
So it's not like we're out of the game. And believe me, we're back in session this week. You're going to hear an awful lot about ISIL, about what's been happening in other parts of the world from a national security perspective on the floor of the United States Senate.
KEILAR: All right. And we will be listening for that. Senator Saxby Chambliss, the vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, thank you, sir.
CHAMBLISS: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: Next, what the U.S. may be up against. ISIS shows off captured artillery, warplanes and aerial video taken by a drone. And the president says that he'll go wherever necessary -- his words -- to defeat ISIS. Does Congress have to go along? I'll ask Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
KEILAR: As President Obama gets ready to lay out his new plan to fight is, the terror group has released a new propaganda video to show what the U.S. and its allies were up against. It shows savage fighting as ISIS scores a key battlefield victory, and it shows a stunning array of captured weapons. CNN's Brian Todd is here with a closer look -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, a U.S. official calls the capture of the air base depicted in this video significant. The official says each base ISIS overtakes gives them more equipment, like what you see here. Though it's not clear how ISIS is going to use the heavy weaponry it now has.
But this video is a chilling indication of the battlefield gains the group is making.
TODD (voice-over): ISIS in combat, newly-released video from the battlefield and posted by ISIS shows what appears to be actual combat footage of ISIS fighters taking over a key air base in Syria. We matched this drone video of the airfield to existing satellite images of the Altab base overrun by ISI two weeks ago. What's significant and has many U.S. officials concerned are the images of heavy weaponry captured, even Syrian fighter jets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether they'll be able to use them to put them in the air, whether they can pilot them, refuel them, rearm them, repair them, that's still an open question. Could there be former Iraqi air force pilots, former Syrian air force pilots or from somewhere else that are able to fly this? Perhaps.
TODD: A U.S. official tells CNN the ISIS capture of this base completed the group's takeover of Rata (ph) Province, the region that currently serves as their stronghold. A captured tank is displayed, heavy artillery and a stash of weapons and ammo.
(on camera): The capture of a munitions depot could be significant?
DOUGLAS OLLIVANT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICER: Deep inside the munitions bunkers of any bases, you can find all types of explosives, all types of weapons. Obviously, the thing that would concern us most is if they've captured surface-to-air missiles which could be used somewhere else in the region, particularly as the U.S. starts air strikes.
TODD: Iraq war combat veteran Douglas Ollivant says some of the fighting video may be staged, because it doesn't show anyone firing back at ISIS. But he says the fact that ISIS fighters are dispersed, not bunched together, shows good combat discipline. It also may be a reflection on Syrian forces.
OLLIVANT: It could be an indicator of a lack of leadership in the Syrian army, as well. If your leaders leave any kind of military organization, if the leaders aren't there sharing the toughness, sharing the combat and they leave the soldiers up to their own devices without any leadership there, the soldiers will sometimes give up.
TODD: Now, there's also a question of whether some elite Syrian forces may have been killed in that battle. At one point in the video, an ISIS fighter displays the arm insignia and an I.D. of a killed Syrian soldier. One patch, as you can see here, says "commandos."
Now analyst Douglas Ollivant says he could not find anything online, any real Syrian commando badges which looked like this and any I.D.s which looked like this one. He says that could mean that Bashar al- Assad's regime is now creating new Syrian commando units, or he says it could mean that what we see in these patches is a Syria -- is an ISIS propaganda tool -- Brianna.
KEILAR: And Brian, there's video near the end of this of captured Syrians being executed, many being shot as they lie on the ground. Despite whatever sick propaganda ISIS gets from that, what they did there could have actually hurt them, right?
TODD: Right. That's right. Some of these things that they show in the video, they're so kind of euphoric about the capture and the kill that they don't think ahead. Douglas Ollivant says in that video, they may have inadvertently killed people who might have been able to help them get those fighter jets up in the air, some technicians or others that keep those planes maintained, fueled and armed.
KEILAR: All right. Thank you so much, Brian.
Let's dig a little deeper on this now. Joining me now, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. He's also the chairman of the foreign relations committee in the -- in the Senate.
And, you know, I think the big question here, Senator Menendez, is we heard it's pretty clear coming from the administration, no U.S. combat boots on the ground. So then the question becomes, if the U.S. continues and maybe amps up its military aid to moderate rebels, are these moderate Syrian rebels going to be in a position strong enough to really take on ISIS?
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I think what we're going to have to hear the strategy as it unfolds, but I get a sense of where we're headed. Air strikes, drone strikes in the Iraq context, having Iraqi forces and Kurdish/Peshmerga forces be able to follow on, on the ground and take advantage of those strikes.
And then in Syria -- and I presume we are going to hear about air strikes in Syria. Because if you want to destroy ISIS, you're going to have to go after them in Syria, as well. That strengthening the moderate vetted rebels in a robust way, which hasn't happened sufficiently enough, can be an opportunity for them on the ground to take advantage of the air strikes that will be coming from U.S. and other forces.
KEILAR: You think that's going to be enough -- I mean, you've said that you see a plan coming together. That would be air strikes coming from the U.S. and its allies. You think that's enough, coupled with some aid to moderate rebels, to really turn the tide against ISIS?
MENENDEZ: Well, we're going to have to listen to the military planners and advisers and hear what it takes to destroy ISIS. And we have to be open-minded about what it takes.
If we think, as I do, that ISIS is a savage terrorist organization which we have to defeat before they have the operational capacity to perform a September 11th-like tragedy, then we have to be willing to take various options to ultimately achieve our goal. And that has to be dictated by what the military leadership tells us will be necessary to achieve that goal.
Now, the prevailing belief is that that can be done by a combination of air, drone strikes and the use of other forces from these countries in the region, both in Iraq and Syria. That remains to be seen.
KEILAR: Will Congress vote on this, Senator?
MENENDEZ: Well, right now, I'm comfortable with the actions the president is taking as it relates to his strikes to protect U.S. personnel at our embassies and forces that remain in Iraq.
But if this is going to be a prolonged fight against ISIS, it seems to me that there is no way to avoid coming to the Congress for an authorization for the use of military force, which comes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Now, we're not there yet. Part of considering such an authorization will depend upon the strategy that the president outlines. That will start tomorrow with congressional leadership. Wednesday when he speaks to the country. Next week, we have a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And then we'll be able to move forward based upon what we hear.
KEILAR: But we expect this to be something other than just a few months of work to try to push ISIS back. It seems that the expectations are being put out there by the White House, by the president, that this is something that will take years.
So the expectation there would be that Congress would need to have more than a consultant role here, that Congress would have to have a vote on this. But do you think the American people would support something that could take that much time?
MENENDEZ: Well, I think you have to make the case to the American people of why ISIS is a threat to the United States of America, why it's a threat to our national security, both here at home and our interests abroad.
And when you make that case to the American people, then I think even though there may be weariness about this reality, as we commemorate the 13th anniversary of September 11, we are reminded of what happens when, in fact, we don't stop terrorist organizations like this.
You know, the terrorists have to only get lucky once. We have to do it right 100 percent of the time. That's a tough challenge. And that's something we have to remind the nation.
KEILAR: Do you think that the president -- that the nation, that Congress should be open to American combat boots on the ground?
MENENDEZ: I think we have to listen to what the military advisers, the people who understand how to defeat a terrorist group like ISIS, will need. And I don't think we should preempt what they have to say. We have to listen to that, make our judgments based upon what they say, and then the Congress will act accordingly based upon what the administration is asking for.
You know, we've never had an authorization for the use of military force that a president has not asked for. By the same token, it is unlikely that the administration, in my view, would not come to the Congress if we're talking about a long-term engagement. That means laying out the case to the American people. It also means clearly defining the strategy as to how we achieve the goal of defeating ISIS.
KEILAR: All right. Senator Menendez, thank you so much. Really appreciate you joining us.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
KEILAR: And next, we have a new poll. It shows a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who want military action against ISIS. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KEILAR: Forget what you've heard about Americans being war weary. An eye-opening new CNN poll shows people are angry and worried because of the threat from ISIS, and they're very unhappy with President Obama's response.
CNN chief national correspondent John King has the numbers, and we're also joined by CNN political commentator Peter Beinart, a contributing editor for "The Atlantic" and "The National Journal."
First to you, John. You've been looking at these numbers, and they're pretty stunning.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is stunning, Brianna. And how quickly and how profoundly American views about terrorism and their willingness to change military force -- use military force have changed.
Let's look at the numbers. Right now, what's the most important issue facing the country? Terrorism has jumped to No. 2, if you look at the numbers here, at 14 percent.
Now you might not think 14 percent is a lot, when the economy at 30 percent is No. 1. But if you go back to September 2012 or September 2010, just 3 percent then said terrorism was the No. 1 issue. So clearly these barbaric videos have convinced the American people this is a serious threat.
Should the United States be willing to project (ph) military force to deal with this threat? Still a divide in the country, Brianna, but look at that: 50 percent now say the United States should be ready and willing to use military force; 48 percent say be very reluctant. But again, look at the jump from just one year ago, up from 34 percent.
Here's what's damning for the president as he prepares to give this speech Wednesday night. Sixty-seven percent of the American people do not think the commander in chief has a clear plan to deal with ISIS. Now, the president made some of that problem himself by saying he did not have a clear strategy. That's a number he has to turn around if he wants the support of the American people going forward. Two-thirds say he doesn't have a clear plan.
But if you look -- if you look throughout this, you know, should he ask for congressional approval, should Congress give him that authority? The American people, A, think he should ask Congress and, B, that Congress should give it to him.
KEILAR: It really is surprising. And Peter, this is something the White House, the Congress is paying attention to. When you look just to a year ago, highlighting some of what John just spelled out there, it was basically people now evenly split on whether the U.S. should do something. And a year ago, it was 2 to 1 against. You wrote recently about this. You said it was those beheadings of two American journalists that really turned the tide here in public opinion.
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. If you remember last year, when we were talking about President Obama intervening against Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons use, the debate was about the terrible things that Bashar al-Assad was doing to his own people and about the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. And Americans may have thought that was terrible, but they didn't necessarily think it was a threat to them.
What's changed is those beheadings, those videos of Americans has resurrected some of the spirit that we saw after 9/11, this fear that these are not just bad people who are doing terrible things in the Middle East. But these people actually want to kill Americans. Really nothing could have been designed more to make Americans willing to use military force than those horrific videos, and they have dramatically changed the political climate in Washington.
KEILAR: They're really certainly feeling more of a threat. I think that's the sense you get from people.
And John, we've been talking to -- we've just talked to two senators here in the last few minutes about where Congress fits -- fits into this. A year ago, President Obama made one of the biggest pitches to Congress that I have seen of his presidency. And this time, it feels as if Congress is being sort of relegated to a consultant role.
KING: You've had some members of Congress say, "Mr. President, come ask for our authorization. Constitutionally, we think it's the right thing to do. Politically, we think it's the right thing to do, as well." But that's the minority. Most members of Congress, perhaps remembering the Iraq debate, where the safe vote seems to be yes; a lot of them did it and then look what happened. A lot of them would rather be -- they'd rather be in an advisory or a consulting role.
And that would be an interesting going forward, to watch which leaders in Congress step up to say, "Let us vote, Mr. President," and which leaders either publicly or privately cajole or beg the president, "Not in this election year. Don't put us there. We'll help you out. We'll get you the money."
And the Congress can give the president support short of a vote. A lot of people think that's clear; it's more specific. But just appropriating the money, otherwise non-binding resolutions, that's another part of the dynamic. It's not only a good chance for the president. It's will Congress get ahead of the cart or behind it?
KEILAR: Do Americans want Congress to be involved here?
KING: In this poll, they do. That is a very interesting question, when you look at it. Eight-two percent say Congress should give the president authority. And 72 percent say the president should ask Congress.
So I think, again, in part we've had these limited military actions over and over again where people say the president has the authority. But you do have, like, a Rand Paul, for example, a leading Republican voice right now saying, no, the president should always ask Congress. We've had Tim Kaine, the senator from Virginia -- from Virginia, an Obama ally, saying the president should come and ask the Congress.
So you have had some vocal voices saying, "Come get it," and they -- they seem to have the support of the American people.
KEILAR: Peter, you look at these polls where American public opinion has shifted so much. But you're seeing Congress, particularly Democrats, be very reticent to wade into this.
And Republicans, who are more hawkish on this issue overall, seem to be prepared to say, "You know what? The president has the authority to just go ahead." And they're not really demanding anything more than what he's -- to provide them what he said, I guess the consultant role that we heard from the White House today.
Are you surprised -- I guess you're not surprised by what Congress is doing. But do you think Americans really want Congress to be more involved?
BEINART: Yes, I think the Americans would like Congress to be involved. But you know, this is a pattern throughout American history.
When Americans become more hawkish, the president gains power, and Congress tends to recede. And when you have a public mood like this, where there's support for public action and people are angry, it tends to empower the president; and members of Congress themselves, as John was saying, tend to basically say, "It's OK, Mr. President, you go and do it on your own authority,: partly because they're afraid of standing against a public tide, which is now moving strongly in support of war.
So I think as John was saying, what we'll probably see is that Congress will do something that gives the president some signal that they're on board. But the president won't risk a full vote, in part because, of course, of the bitter memory of what happened when he went that route last year and then had to pull the vote, because he was going to lose.
KEILAR: You look at this poll, John, and something striking is that a lot of Americans aren't feeling as good about the direction of the country in general as they were a year ago.
KING: So the president is facing this huge challenge, and we are inevitably and politics come into play, because we are eight weeks from an election.
If you look at the poll, look at this right now: how are things going in the country right now? Badly, 55 percent. That's up a bit from April. That is a recipe for a big Republican year, Brianna.
The president's poll numbers are stagnant in the 40s. The president's poll numbers are personally weak. People think the country is heading in the wrong direction. That is a recipe for a Republican big ripple, if not a wave come November. And it's also just a reminder: as the president confronts these global
challenges, he has a very, very difficult -- and he's a weakened president in the domestic department.
KEILAR: Yes. It's unclear if that's going to be enough to tip the balance in the favor of Republicans.
I want you guys to stay with us. We have to take a break right now. But I want to ask you about President Obama's admission that it didn't look good for him to play golf right after talking about the ISIS executions.
And in the next hour, the deeply disturbing new video of an NFL star player punching his fiancee in the face and dragging her from an elevator.
KEILAR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, and you're looking at live pictures from the State Department. We are awaiting a statement from the secretary of state, John Kerry. He will be coming out to speak and make comments on some significant news coming out of Iraq today, that parliament has sworn in a new government.
Let's bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. She is there. What are we expecting for Secretary Kerry to say, Elise?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I think the secretary is going to come out and say this is very good news. This is really the linchpin in the administration's strategy to combat ISIS. It felt that it first needed an Iraqi government in power that would promise to be inclusive and bring along the Sunnis who feel disaffected, which is really one of the reasons why ISIS was able to advance through the country.
So now that Secretary Kerry can come out and say that there's a new Iraqi government, he'll be leaving tomorrow on a coalition-building tour, if you will, really trying to enlist Sunni support for this new fledgling government. They're going to need military support. They're going to need arms, training, intelligence, money.
But you're also going to need efforts to dry up the financing, dry up the funding, close the borders to make sure that there are no foreign fighters coming across. This is the kind of support that Secretary Kerry will be looking for these gulf countries, leaders in the region. He'll be going first to Saudi Arabia and Jordan to enlist that type of support as this Iraqi government gets on its feet.
KEILAR: Yes, but certainly he's looking positively at this more inclusive government which has been seen as a key part certainly of what the Iraqi government needs to do to really combat ISIS.
We'll be watching this with you, Elise, when Secretary Kerry comes out.
Well, a dramatic new CNN poll shows that 90 percent of Americans consider ISIS a serious threat while 59 percent disapprove of how President Obama is responding.
We are back now with CNN chief national correspondent John King and CNN political commentator Peter Beinart.
You know, one of the things we were talking about that's striking in here is how many Americans find that the country is on, I guess, the wrong track, you would say. Do you think that that is something that is -- it's certainly very bad when we're looking at a midterm election here.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means the president is going into --
KEILAR: For Democrats, I should say.
KING: Yes. It's bad for the Democrats going into the midterm elections. We're talking about the president trying to deal with the ISIS threat. You could call them disconnected. What do people think about, the other state of the United States economy, increased fear of terrorism. As Peter noted the horrific reaction to these beheadings, these barbaric beheadings, of course that puts people in a bit of a funk, right?
If you're already feeling a bit down about the economy, then you see something like this, and then if you don't think, as in our poll, we see the evidence, the president has a clear plan to deal with it, you get into a bit of a funk. So there's no question that is a move that helps the Republicans, it hurts the Democrats in the election.
And there's no question it's a headwind in the president's face as he tries to get the country that's not really with him right now. Only a 43 percent approval rating. They don't think he has a plan. The president needs to look the country in the eye Wednesday night, forget about the election for a minute, ladies and gentlemen, say this is a huge threat, it's going to take years to confront it. Here are my first few steps. I need your help and support. It's just harder in a tough political environment.
KEILAR: Peter, I want to ask you what you think about the president talking about after his statement that he gave on the beheading of American journalist Jim Foley. He talked -- he went and played golf. He caught a lot of flak for that and he addressed this yesterday and said that he shouldn't obviously -- that that was something he was sort of insensitive to the optics.
What did you of his reaction to that? He sort of blamed it on the theater of politics.
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he said that he -- that he has to be more aware of the theater of politics. You know, and he was right. It was a mistake. And I think it was a mistake that became larger because of the other PR mistakes that followed when he said he didn't have a strategy and then when it seemed like they couldn't decide whether they were going to try to destroy ISIS or simply manage it and shrink it. I think it all created the impression of an administration that really
wasn't on top of this, maybe wasn't taking it seriously enough. And I think they were caught a bit from behind in terms of the public and congressional reaction in response to the beheadings. Now I think they're a little bit more in control of it. But as John was saying, they're already in a very, very difficult political climate. And it's possible this is just another ingredient that will mobilize the Republican electorate and also potentially help the Republicans, vis- a-vis, women.
Very interesting to note, if you go back to the 2004 election.
BEINART: That the terrorism issue helped George W. Bush among women. That could be a particularly important element in the way this plays out politically.
KEILAR: We will be looking to see if that is the case.
Peter, thank you so much. John King.
And let's go now to the State Department where John Kerry is at the mike.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Good afternoon, everybody.
Tonight we mark what is unquestionably a major milestone for Iraq in what President Obama has made clear will be a cornerstone of our efforts against ISIL. Just a few hours ago, overcoming the obstacle of ethnic and sectarian divides, the Iraqi parliament approved a new and inclusive government, one that has the potential to unite all of Iraq's diverse communities for a strong Iraq, a united Iraq, and to give those communities the chance to build the future that all Iraqis desire and deserve.
Now is the time for Iraq's leaders to govern their nation with the same vision and sense of purpose that helped to bring this new government together in the first place. And in that effort, they should know the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqis as they implement their national plan to overcome the longstanding political and economic grievances that have for too long divided their country.
Tonight Iraq has a unity government. Tomorrow, I will travel to the Middle East to continue to build the broadest possible coalition of partners around the globe to confront, degrade, and ultimately defeat ISIL. On Wednesday, President Obama will lay out in even greater detail our coordinated global strategy against ISIL.
As we build this coalition, I want to underscore that almost every single country on earth has a role to play in eliminating the ISIL threat. And the evil that it represents. For some that will mean military assistance. Both direct and in the form of training, arming, and advising, equipping. For some it will mean contributing to the desperately needed humanitarian relief effort. For some, it will mean helping identify, track and cut off ISIL's
funding and prevent the flow of foreign fighters. For still others, it will mean demolishing the distortion of one of the world's great peaceful religions and counteracting the propaganda ISIL uses to recruit new supporters. And for all, it will mean publicly supporting the new inclusive government in Iraq.
Make no mistake, these are efforts that we and our partners around the global are already taking. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have poured millions into humanitarian assistance. The UAE has agreed to take on ISIL support networks and beat back against its militant ideological propaganda. But we also have Canada sending over members of its military to help advise and assist Kurdish forces. We have Estonia and Albania providing military equipment.
Our close allies in France and the United Kingdom are contributing in a number of important ways, including by providing military assistance and humanitarian airdrops. And well beyond the region in Europe, we have partners in places like Japan, Australia, committing millions in humanitarian aid, and Australia agreeing to take in thousands of refugees from Iraq and Syria and to assist in our military efforts.
Our global coordinated campaign with a global coordinated coalition will be built not just in a matter of days or weeks, but it will be built to endure for the months and perhaps even the years to come.
Much more will be done at the U.N. General Assembly later this month. But our work together will grow and it will coalesce well beyond this month. What we're working to accomplish will require hard work, sustained commitment and unwavering focus from all of us. But we are clear. President Obama and I and the entire team, absolutely understand this is something we must achieve and we will be successful.
KEILAR: Secretary Kerry there wrapping up at the State Department.
Elise, after this, he heads out overseas looking for a little help from his friends, from U.S. allies. Is he going to get it? And what kind of help?
LABOTT: I think he's going to get a lot of help, Brianna. And, you know, he talked about this global coalition, but it's really the countries in the region, immediately surrounding Iraq that pose -- that ISIS poses the greatest threat to, that are going to be most important to that fight. And so when he talks to the leaders from the Gulf, from Jordan, everybody is going to be doing different things. As we said some are going to be helping with military support. The UAE, for instance, said that it could help militarily.
The Saudis are really seen as having that religious credibility in that region and they're going to be looked to, to help dismantle and kind of break out the ISIS ideology, to make sure that Sunni Arabs know that ISIS is the enemy. And so everybody is going to have to do their part. But clearly this is going to be a regional and global effort. And I think that you've seen the Arab League and other nations come together say that this is something that the region and the world really needs to come together and fight.
LABOTT: And I think Secretary Kerry has an open door there.
KEILAR: And, John, key moment for President Obama on Wednesday. He addresses the nation. He makes his sell for how to take on ISIS in Syria. What does he need to say?
KING: Well, he needs to connect the dots actually to what Secretary Kerry just talked about and he's likely to do in the short term which is more military strikes in Iraq, a possibility with some allies of airstrikes in Syria, but then the president needs to connect and also bring up this political piece.
Because the point about why is this a five-year challenge, a 10-year challenge, maybe a 15-year challenge, because if you don't have a political environment on the ground that can snuff out the support for ISIS inside Syria, inside Iraq, because of religious strife, because of tribal strife that goes back to the bible days, and because of the dysfunction of governments, the political problem still exists, so the political part of this is as important if not in the long term more important for the military part.
KEILAR: All right, John King, Elise Labott, thank you so much.
Coming up, President Obama getting ready to reveal his strategy against ISIS. While the terror group reveals shocking new images that may show what the U.S. allies are up against.
And after shocking video emerges of NFL star Ray Rice knocking out his future wife, his team and the league take very strong action.
We have all the details ahead.
KEILAR: Happening now, ISIS fighters boast about their victories and their carnage, as President Obama prepares to reveal a plan to attack the terrorists. We have new information about his strategy.