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Interview With U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk; Heightened Terror Threat Level; Interview With Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. Aired 9-10:00a ET

Aired May 10, 2015 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. military on alert, as ISIS threatens America.


The Senate Homeland Security chairman on ISIS hitting the heartland, the point man for the U.S. fight against the terror group in the Middle East, Jeb Bush's stunning admission, and remembering victory in Europe 70 years on.

Good morning from Washington. I'm Jim Sciutto.

U.S. military bases today are on heightened alert due to concerns over potential terror attacks by ISIS supporters here in the U.S. The FBI says hundreds, perhaps thousands of ISIS sympathizers may be here in the homeland right now.

Joining me now is Senator Ron Johnson. He's chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Senator Johnson, thanks for joining us on this Mother's Day.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Good morning, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Appreciate having you here.

We have talked a lot in this fight against ISIS about the wisdom of having U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq. Today, you have ISIS threatening -- threatening military bases in the U.S. Is the U.S. the new front line in the fight against ISIS?

JOHNSON: Well, we're certainly vulnerable. And this is all part of ISIS' strategy of conveying a winner's message to try and inspire more types of acts of violence, as we saw in Texas last Sunday.

So, from my standpoint, I think the best strategy that the U.S. could employ to defeat this is to actually defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, so that the reality actually is conveyed that this is not a winning organization, it's a losing organization, because, Jim, as long as they are not losing, as long as the -- these individuals who might be drawn to jihad don't perceive ISIS as a losing organization, they will be perceived as winning and they will continue to inspire this type of jihadist activity and extreme violence, even here in America.

SCIUTTO: I wonder, looking at the response to this Texas shooting, the shooter there, Elton Simpson, was on law enforcement's radar scene. They had him under monitoring. They had even given his name as someone interested in this Prophet Mohammed cartoon event. And yet he was able to get through, thankfully responded to very quickly by law enforcement on the scene.

Now the FBI is going back and taking another look over at everyone on the radar screen to see if they missed something else. I wonder, as you look at this, do you consider this an intelligence failure, and are you confident that the FBI, law enforcement here have the resources to track those perhaps hundreds, maybe more in the U.S. who have sympathies with ISIS?

JOHNSON: Well, one of the witnesses in our hearing called Jihad 2.0 has really been trying to assess, you know, how big of a following does ISIS have here in the U.S.?

And he estimated that, probably best guess, 46,000, maybe as high as 90,000 overt ISIS support accounts on Twitter. Now, Twitter is starting to shut those things down, but just consider maybe 90,000 people drawn to this barbaric ideology. So, we have got a very large haystack. We're looking for a needle in it, and, of course, the FBI had an informant talking to Mr. Simpson 330 times.

They spent about $132,000 to pay that informant. Got a conviction for Mr. Simpson lying to the FBI, but he was placed on probation, and knew he was tweeting about activities later on. How can we track so many people that might be drawn to this? So, that's where I go back to my main point, is our number one strategy needs to be actually -- to be -- we need to actually accomplish the goal President Obama stated, degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS, the sooner, the better.

SCIUTTO: Three hundred and thirty conversations, that sounds like a pretty serious failure here, to have that much contact and still let him those the guns, buy that body armor and carry out this attack.

JOHNSON: Jim, the problem is, what do you do with the not guilty yet?

We do have laws. We have a Constitution. And it's extremely difficult for law enforcement officials. When you might have tens of thousands of sympathizers, how do you track them all? The FBI has less than 15,000 field agents. And all those field agents aren't concentrating solely on the threat of Islamic terror. There's all kinds of different domestic crimes that the FBI has to trace and track and try and keep track of.

So, again, you have to go back to the root cause. And, right now, the root cause is that ISIS was allowed to rise from the ashes of al Qaeda in Iraq. We are not adequately defeating them. We are not conveying to the extent they are weakened, but as long as they control territory, as long as they have this caliphate, that's going to be continue to inspire this type of activity, which is why we have got to get back to that root cause and we actually need to defeat ISIS.

SCIUTTO: You have been on the record about ISIS' ability with social media. It's really twofold here. They're very slick. They know how to talk to young people to get them involved in this fight, but it's also the way they use encryption, the way they message to people.


They may start public, but they go private in a way that is impossible really for law enforcement to track. You said to our own Wolf Blitzer earlier this week we are losing the capability of monitoring this to keep ourselves safe. What does the U.S. intelligence community do about that if they have now moved to communication that cannot be tracked?

JOHNSON: Well, there is a real misperception that the federal government has perfect knowledge, that we are just -- you're providing surveillance or conducting surveillance on everybody who might be a suspect and we have perfect knowledge.

I know individuals trying to engage those communities are pretty surprised that the individuals of those communities believe we have that perfect information. We don't. And so the bottom line is, people do need to be alert. If you see something, you do have to say something.

And, as Americans, we also need to realize this threat is real. And our first line of defense is an effective intelligence-gathering capability, combined with a robust, continuous monitoring and oversight of our intelligence agencies to make sure that we are not violating civil liberties.

So, I think the demagoguery, the revelations of Edward Snowden have done great harm to our ability to gather that information.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about that. You mentioned our ability to -- a federal appeals court ruled this past week that the National Security Agency's, the NSA's bulk collection of phone metadata is illegal. You have a debate,a vote coming up on the renewal of the Patriot Act. You have competing bills in the Senate and the House.

As you have this problem, really less ability to track, with all the NSA's capability, you have terrorists modifying their behavior, their communication to get around that, how does it affect the debate on Capitol Hill? Is it more likely that the Patriot Act will be as it is, as it stands, be renewed, or do you see more restrictions being placed on the intelligence community's ability to track these kinds of communications?

JOHNSON: I hope the reality of the situation, the reality of the threats we face will actually play a big part in terms of exactly how Congress responds.

It's important to note that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule it unconstitutional. They just said it was not being applied properly based on the law that was written. So we need to take a very careful look at the way we write these, quite honestly, very complex laws, and always keep in mind that these threats are real.

And let me repeat, our best line of defense, trying to keep this nation safe and secure, is an effective intelligence-gathering capability, with robust congressional oversight. And this is what should give people comfort. Protecting civil liberties is not a partisan issue. From the extreme right to the extreme left and everywhere in between, we all want to guard and protect American civil liberties. But we also have to keep this nation safe and secure.

SCIUTTO: Senator Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, thanks very much for joining us this Sunday.

JOHNSON: Have a great day.

SCIUTTO: Hitting ISIS at its source is clearly just as critical as protecting the homeland.

For more on the U.S. efforts to combat the militant group overseas in Iraq and Syria, I am joined now by Brett McGurk. He's President Obama's point man on the coalition to counter ISIS.

Thanks very much, Brett, for joining us.

We talk a lot about the front lines being over there, and they are, but now you have U.S. bases under threats -- under threat here. Is this the new front line, in your view, in the fight against ISIS?

BRETT MCGURK, U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Jim, look, the threat of the challenge is enormous. And it's really something we have never seen before.

I will give you some numbers. We have 22,000 foreign terrorists fighters have gone into Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS and affiliated groups. About 3,700 of those are from Western nations. We have had -- about 180 Americans have tried to travel to Iraq and Syria. And just in the last few weeks, 15 Americans, the Justice Department has filed charges for supporting ISIS.

So, this is a multifaceted, international, federal, state, local challenge. And that's why we have put together really a multifaceted, multilayered approach to combat it. Since September, we built the global coalition to combat ISIS. And myself and General Allen, as the president's envoys on this challenge, we have been to about 25 capitals over the last six months.

We were in Paris when the "Charlie Hebdo" attack was ongoing. We have been to Ottawa. We have been to Canberra. We have been to Brussels. We were in Amman shortly after Captain Kaseasbeh, the brave pilot, was brutally assassinated by ISIS.

SCIUTTO: Jordanian pilot.

MCGURK: And in every -- Jordanian. In every single capital, we have seen the populations respond

with resiliency. We have seen the government double down against ISIS. So, long term, we're going to degrade and defeat this organization. But we have been clear from day one, it's going to take years. It's a long-term challenge. We have not seen this before, and it's going to take a very long time to defeat them.

SCIUTTO: Isn't one of the ironies here, that the harder you and the U.S. and coalition hits them on the ground there, the more they are spurred into action over here, because they want to -- they want to draw blood, in effect, do they not on the U.S. homeland?

And how do you -- how do you counter that? They want to show their strength and they want to draw blood here. How do you counter that, because, really, the danger almost rises here as the campaign becomes more intense there?


MCGURK: Well, that is what they are trying to do.

And I agree entirely with Senator Johnson. We have to defeat them in the heart of their self-proclaimed, their falsely proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria. And we're doing that. We are taking back territory from them, particularly in Iraq. I was just talking to our commanders this morning, and in Anbar province now, we have thousands of tribal fighters organizing to fight -- to fight ISIS. And that's going to be ongoing over the coming weeks. We had 1,100 of them volunteer just two days ago in Anbar province near Fallujah.

But as they are defeated and degraded in Iraq and Syria, they are going to try to inspire attacks around the world. We have been seeing them do this here. And they are trying to do it all around the world.

SCIUTTO: Sydney, other places as well.

But let me ask you. You talk about gaining territory back. I want to show you and our viewers the map of ISIS-controlled and ISIS- influenced areas in Iraq. This is today. The red lines are under ISIS control, the orange lines under ISIS influence. And I want to show you the battlefield three months ago there -- two months ago, rather. It's not a big change.

And we have seen -- in fact, I can't really identify the change there, and we have seen some back and forth. Yes, coalition forces, Iraqi forces gained back Tikrit. Ramadi is still under contention. Baiji, the key oil refinery, had been taken back from ISIS, but ISIS is now penetrating there again.

It looks like a seesaw from abroad. So, where are the victories? How do you quantify success on the ground?

MCGURK: Well, first, again, this is a long-term campaign. It's not going to be 20-yard pass plays down the field. It's three yards, hard yards every single month, month to month, and it's going to take years. But I was in Iraq about 11 months ago to the day today, when

Mosul fell, and when ISIS was a military force able to mass and maneuver force all around Iraq Syria. The capital of Baghdad was under threat. And we responded immediately, and beginning in August with our airstrikes, we really began to significantly degrade their capabilities.

If you look at the map overall, we have taken back about 25 percent of the populated areas that ISIS was controlling back then. But it's going to take time. But we are building up security Iraqi capabilities. We have thousands of American special forces and trainers built -- trying to re-professionalize the Iraqi forces.

And they are now getting out on the front lines. Ramadi, Jim, was under threat from January 1, 2014. ISIS moved into Ramadi six months before Mosul. That capital has never fallen. The tribes there, the locals are fighting. They are going to continue to fight. And now we are helping them.

And as we organize the Anbari tribes, as they are starting to do, we are going to push back.

SCIUTTO: Sunni tribes, yes.

MCGURK: The Sunni tribes in Anbar, we are going to push ISIS out of those populated areas in Anbar.

But, again, Jim, I just to have stress it's a long-term challenge. It's a long-term campaign. The focus is Iraq and Syria, but it's also global. We have to cut down the foreign fighter networks. We have to cut down the financing networks. We have to counter them in the messaging face. And that's why we have this global coalition of 62 nations to do that.

But all these nations and every capital we are in, they understand this is a long-term, multiyear challenge that will be with us for a long time.

SCIUTTO: So, years, not months.

I spoke earlier this week. You mentioned training of both Iraqi forces, but also Syrian rebels, moderate rebels that is just beginning, a company-sized group announced by Secretary of Defense Carter this week with 90 troops.

I spoke earlier this week with the president of the Syrian Opposition Council. Here is what he had to say about U.S. support. We will play that clip now.


KHALED KHOJA, PRESIDENT, SYRIAN NATIONAL COALITION: As I mentioned, we have the capability and the ability to fight against the terrorism and against the terror led by Syrian regime, but we need to include much more fighters from the FSA in this program. And we need to have it much more faster. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: He described U.S. support earlier in that interview as too slow and too small. They want thousands of fighters. They're getting 90, maybe another 90. How does that change the military calculus on the ground?

MCGURK: Well, the training just started last week, as Secretary of Defense Carter noted.

But we have about 3,400 volunteers now that we are in the process of vetting. We hope to have 3,000 trained by the end of the year, 5,000 trained 12 months from now. But it's going -- it has to run in due course. And as Congress said when it passed the legislation, be very careful with the vetting and make sure we have moderate fighters who are ready to fight ISIS on the ground in Syria.

We had a very good conversation with President Khoja at the State Department this week about the training program, about what we are trying to do. And in Geneva this week, my colleague, the special envoy for Syria, Daniel Rubinstein, will be in Geneva with the U.N., with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, to try to reinvigorate a political process to wind down the Syrian civil war.

And thus far, the Assad regime has not agreed really to negotiate in good faith. We hope now, with the changing conditions on the ground, that we can have an opening, because we have to find a political solution to that conflict. But, as we do, we are going to train up the moderate opposition forces. We hope to have about 3,000 by the end of the year.

But it started last week, Jim, and that's -- that's promising that's finally getting under way.

SCIUTTO: Brett McGurk, thanks very much for joining us on this Sunday.

MCGURK: Jim, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Are we less safe now than we were in the days just after 9/11?

The former House Intelligence Committee chairman and the nation's first secretary of homeland security, they are both with me right after this.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

And with me now, former Governor Tom Ridge. He was the first homeland security secretary for the U.S. He is now CEO of Ridge Global, which deals with security and crisis management. We also have former Congressman Mike Rogers, one-time chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, two very strong minds on national security and counterterrorism.

Governor Ridge, if I could begin with you.

Compare the threat to the homeland today, the terror threat to the homeland today, to when you had your job just after 9/11. Are we safer today? Are we less safe?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: Well, unfortunately, when it comes to the nature of the threat, we are in much more serious circumstances today than we were after 9/11.

Remember, back then, we thought about al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a few other places. Well, we have seen al Qaeda has metastasized. It's now a global scourge. And you have the ascendancy of ISIL, the combination of those two groups, their appeal to the lone wolves.

And we have seen them acting in Belgium and in France and in Canada and the United States. So, the threat vectors and the nature the threats are far more complicated and far more serious today than on September 12, 2001.

SCIUTTO: Mike Rogers, that's a remarkable and alarming statement. What do we do about it?


MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, you have to get after the safe havens.

So, think about two problems. We have some 20 al Qaeda affiliates, some of them relatively new, some old. They just opened up one in India. So, these are all new threat vectors that we have to put in that threat matrix. And they have big swathes of ungoverned space of which they have claimed to retrain, recruit and plan operations.

SCIUTTO: Libya, Yemen.

ROGERS: And getting worse.

And you have ISIL, who has all of Eastern Syria, a good chunk of Iraq, and, candidly, very little disruption activity to their operations. So, they have this global reach with the -- with social media that we never saw before, including 2001, that is having an impact.

And what you saw happen in the United States, they're -- that is exactly the plan that they had for terrorists activities in Western countries.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, though. You say to go after the safe havens. There's already significant U.S. military operation in Iraq. You have training of moderate rebels in Syria. Are you talking about U.S. military action in a place such as Libya? More -- I mean, there are limited strikes in Somalia and Yemen, but are you talking about military intervention in these places necessary?

ROGERS: We don't need boots on the ground unless this thing continues to spill over.

The longer it goes, the higher risk it is that the United States will have to interfere, unless you are willing to accept what we had happen in Texas. Now, fortunately, it was not successful. I would argue, if you think about this, there are -- is an investigation against ISIS possibilities in all 56 offices of the FBI.

At what point does this boil to the point where we decide we are going to have to be serious about stopping the fact that the people who are getting self-recruited in the United States believe that ISIL is winning in the Middle East? Because that's the message they are receiving on social media. Despite this notion that there is this large-scale effort, it really isn't very accurate, which is what -- we can help with that.

The intelligence isn't great. We can help a lot with that. And we will need some special capability soldier involvement if we're going to make sure that our allies are more impactful. All of that can happen without boots on the ground.

SCIUTTO: Governor Ridge, in the case of the Texas shooting, Elton Simpson, the main gunman, he was on the FBI radar screen. They had an informant speaking to him, as Senator Johnson said a few moments ago, 330 times. So they were already looking at him in a way that they might be looking at other potential sympathizers.

Was that a major law enforcement failure? And do you have confidence that the FBI has the resources to take a harder look at the hundreds, perhaps thousands of others who may or may not go that way?

RIDGE: There are two very important questions here, and I think you raise them very effectively.

One, this individual was given probation by a judge, in spite of perjury, in spite of lying. But we had our eyes on him. But at what point in time in a democracy do we say, you are -- we are so fearful, you are so suspect, we are very, very concerned, but we don't quite have the ability to take you off the street? That is something that we are going to have to figure out as we go...

SCIUTTO: Legally.

RIDGE: ... and deal with this.

Well, they better start thinking about it now. And I think it's -- in a democracy, it's a lot more complicated than people think. Does the FBI have the resources? No, they don't. But I'm not sure that necessarily means we have got to double or triple the number of people in the FBI.

One of the challenges I think we have had since 2001 is integrating the knowledge and the capabilities that the FBI has and blend them with the state and local police, local law enforcement agencies. And there has always been some institutional reluctance. There's an inertia..

SCIUTTO: Still today?

RIDGE: Pardon me?

SCIUTTO: Because this was supposed to be corrected after the 9/11 Commission, this kind of intelligence-sharing and information- sharing.

RIDGE: I think the intelligence-sharing is good. It's not exactly where it needs to be.

And the fact of the matter remains is, is that I talked to Commissioner Davis in Boston, and he was aware of the Tsarnaev brothers after the bombs went off. Now, I am not saying that the FBI did -- should have advised him then, but one wonders.

Well, actually, I am saying, what happens if you, in advance of that incident, advise the commissioner of these two suspected terrorists? You got -- it's not like Russia picks up the phone every day and calls us and says, look, we think you have got some terrorists in your midst. How are the wife and kids? That doesn't happen very often.

SCIUTTO: It was a warning, yes.

RIDGE: And so I think the burden on the FBI, it's just too enormous. It's too great. They cannot do it by themselves.

And I think, hopefully under Jim Comey and these terrorism task forces, that they begin to even share more information and then call upon the state and locals to do some of the legwork, to keep their eyes on some of these folks.

SCIUTTO: Mike, you have a background in the FBI. I wonder, do we raise the expectation unrealistically that U.S. law enforcement can stop every attack like this?

It's easy to carry out a lone -- you don't need 19 hijackers in flight school to carry out a lone wolf attack like this. You just need to buy a couple guns, right, walk -- as these gentlemen did, or any other target.


Is it unrealistic to tell Americans that we can keep you safe 100 percent of the time from this kind of threat?


Anybody that tells you that they can keep America safe 100 percent of the time is not telling the truth or doesn't understand what they are talking about.


ROGERS: They are at their limit.

And what we find, even in our foreign intelligence service friends and their domestic law enforcement national agencies, Britain, others, they are at water's edge right now. They can't keep up with the volume, which is, again, why the strategy can't be, if you treat this as a law enforcement issue that you are going to deal with, we are going to lose, we are going to lose badly.

If we treat it for going after a group that has declared war against the United States in a way that doesn't put troops on the ground, and which we can, I think we will have a much more successful effort at stopping violence here at home. Without it, you can't just -- you cannot take those two things apart and expect success.

I think the FBI is doing as best as they can. The recent appeals court decision is probably going to make it more difficult. We have taken one more tool off the table for them to use to try and track people, folks in Syria calling back into the United States. The more we make this more difficult, the higher likelihood it is we are going to have an event that we are all going to be sorry for.

SCIUTTO: Governor Ridge, you recently celebrated great moments of civility in American history, Washington political scene not particularly civil today.

I wonder if this issue, counterterror, fighting extremism, giving law enforcement the tools they need to do so, is that an issue that could bring people together, bring people to the table in a more cooperative, bipartisan way?

RIDGE: I want to thank you.

Yes, we did celebrate civility. Allegheny College in Western Pennsylvania celebrated Police Chief Kevin Murphy giving his badge to John Lewis in reconciliation in 2013 after the beating that John Lewis took in Montgomery, Alabama, a very powerful notion.

And it's a notion that I think we need to understand. There are causes and issues that are bigger than either party. And if we can't rally behind our intelligence community, the law enforcement community -- and don't get me wrong, I don't think the FBI can do it -- I know they go to work hard every single day to try to keep us safer and secure. I don't want my remarks to be misinterpreted.

But they can't do it alone. And we really need to integrate their capability, along with the dedicated professionals we have at the local level. That is what kind of drove -- listen, this is a global scourge, and we are going to be at this for a long time. And we need the Congress of the United States between now and the end of the year to deal with that opinion that we got with regard to Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

It would be irresponsible to eliminate that. But I think the court gave us a very good pathway. You need to connect the information you seek with a specific request. And I think it would pass muster. But then we are going to have to deal with First and Fourth Amendment challenges as well.

SCIUTTO: Well, we're going to know next month.

Thanks very much, Governor Ridge.

Mike Rogers, great, as always, to have you on.

And happy Mother's Day.

ROGERS: Happy Mother's Day.

RIDGE: Same to you. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Who is running for president in 2016? More like, who isn't? Our political panel on the field that just keeps growing -- when we come back.



MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: I am a candidate for president of the United States of America.

CARLY FIORINA, FORMER HEWLETT-PACKARD CEO: I am Carly Fiorina, and I am running for president.

BEN CARSON, JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL PEDIATRIC NEUROSURGERY DIRECTOR: I am Ben Carson, and I am a candidate for president of United States.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I am putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I announce my candidacy for president of the United States.


SCIUTTO: So the official 2016 Republican presidential field is now up to six. Half of those announcements from just this past week.

Joining me now around the table, Kevin Madden, he's a Republican strategist. He worked for Mitt Romney's campaign. CNN political reporter, Sara Murray, and Steve McMahon, he has worked on dozens of campaigns throughout his career including three Democratic presidential campaigns.

So, you saw them there just this week Fiorina, Carson and Huckabee. Any of (ph) them (ph) serious candidates?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think all of them are serious candidates. I mean, particularly when you look at the polls, you also look at

where the party is. You have a great deal of frustration by some grassroots against the establishments, and some of these -- many of these candidates provide a voice to a lot of those conservatives. So, this is -- this is, I think, one of the great things is, for voters out there that want options, particularly in the Republican side, they have a lot of them. It's a very strong field.

SCIUTTO: Steve, who do the Democrats worry about most in that group -



I think, the candidates that the Democrats worry about most were not in the clip. Marco Rubio is one. Jeb Bush is the other. I think to some degree Scott Walker gets some -- he presents an interesting challenge. Although I don't think most people think he has a lot of staying power.

I was struck by Kevin's response because I think it depends on how you define serious, right? There are serious among a certain core group of constituencies within the Republican Party, but I think for most voters in the middle and for the people who are going to decide this, none of those candidates are serious.

SCIUTTO: Sara, a number of the GOP presidential hopefuls (INAUDIBLE) at the South Carolina Freedom Summit this week missing Rand Paul and Chris Christie. Why was that? What does that tell us?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, first of all I think there are a lot of these cattle calls and you need to pick and choose which one you will go to.

I think Rand Paul and Chris Christie weren't as concerned about being there and kind of making this evangelical pitch. We are seeing a lot of that going on. I mean, Jeb Bush with that Liberty University as well yesterday is sort of making his pitch to evangelicals. So, I think you'll see them all around the table.

I think Rand Paul has done a little bit of this, but, you know, from the candidates who did speak, I think this was a good opportunity to get in front of an early state and make your pitch to evangelicals voters. And I think that's what we saw.

SCIUTTO: Jeb raised some eyebrows this week and this is Sara's reporting when he mentioned that George W. Bush is one of his Middle East advisers. That raised some eyebrows. Damaging?

[09:35:01] MADDEN: No, of course not. Why would that raise eyebrows? I think it would raise eyebrows -


SCIUTTO: Hold on. Hold on.

MADDEN: Here's the thing. Here's the thing. Right. But it would raise eyebrows if he was not taking counsel from somebody who is a Republican, who was previously in office.

That's would be -- that would be, I think, a more problematic answer if he would denied that.


SCIUTTO: But in the Middle East...


MADDEN: No. Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: ...has acknowledged -


MADDEN: I will (INAUDIBLE) that there is a challenge in that.

One of the big challenges that Jeb Bush has had, he said this previous, right? He said, I am my own man. And he wants to make the case that this is about his vision. It's about his agenda for the country, and it becomes problematic. That where it would become a challenge for him is that when you are trying to talk about what your plans are for the future, when you are going to be forced by Democrats and other critics to litigate the past, it becomes a challenge.

MURRAY: I have to say that people in the room were surprised to hear these words come out of Jeb Bush's mouth because he has been so careful in public to try and distance himself from his brother.

But I also think the way Jeb Bush's staff reacted to this gives you an indication of the fact that they think it's damaging. They were saying, look, he was just talking about Israel. He wasn't talking about the Middle East. He wasn't talking about foreign policy more broadly.

One, that's not what our -


SCIUTTO: A little bit.

MURRAY: That's not what our sources (INAUDIBLE). Right. It's not like he's going to call up his brother and say, look, I want to -- I called (INAUDIBLE) about Israel, but do not mention Iran. Do not mention Iraq. We could not possibly talk about them.

MCMAHON: George W. Bush would not speak to his father about foreign policy, which would have actually made Americans feel better about the decisions he was making, and now his brother saying that he listens to him. I think, the deal that the Clintons offered the public in 1992,

the two for one deal, right now looks a little bit better than the two for one deal that the Bushes are offering.

MADDEN: Hillary Clinton is going to (INAUDIBLE) or not. She would listen to or take counsel from Barack Obama who has very low foreign policy ratings right now as well. And it will be interesting to see whether or not see runs from President Obama --

MCMAHON: Have you seen Bill Clinton's numbers? We are talking about people in the same family now?

MADDEN: The only numbers I have seen from Bill Clinton are all the money that he's getting from big speeches for the foundation.

MCMAHON: You should look at credibility (ph) -


MURRAY: But I do think, Hillary Clinton is going to have to answer to Barack Obama's policies because she was the secretary of state at that time. So, I think this is problematic on both sides of the aisle. But I think right now if you look at the American public, they still have -- they still look at the war in Iraq and they still have very divisive views about that. (INAUDIBLE) that's very unpopular and that's something that Jeb Bush is going to have to carry forward especially if he's telling people when -


SCIUTTO: Yes. Does that (INAUDIBLE)? Particularly does the terror threat bring it home? Because as often as we talk about it, for many Americans, it's at arm's length and over there, and a lot of names in Iraq and Syria that, you know, that can't, you know, can't quite, you know, get their heads around. Is that a major issue in this campaign?

MCMAHON: I think it's a major issue and you look at the candidates on the right, and I won't call it a clown show, but when you look at the folks that we just -- that we just looked at and some of the others who are running, they will make people feel a lot better about Hillary Clinton and her experience and a lot better about having Bill Clinton around and nearby. His numbers are extraordinary.

I mean, he's the most popular former president who is living today, and there's a reason for that. It's because people respect him and they like the decisions he made when he was president. I think, they are comforted by the fact that he'll be a phone call away at any moment if Hillary Clinton is in the White House.

SCIUTTO: We're going to get a chance to talk to the Democrats about this. So, stay with me, Kevin, Steve and Sara. I want to ask you about President Obama taking on one of the most popular members of his own party as well. That's right after this break.


[09:42:33] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Elizabeth is a politician like everybody else. And she has got a voice that she wants to get out there. I understand that. And on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don't stand the test of fact and scrutiny.


SCIUTTO: Strong words from the president against a fellow Democrat. Back with Kevin Madden, Steve McMahon and Sara Murray.

Steve, smart for him to be taking on a Democrat, Elizabeth Warren, this is in her criticism of the Trance-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but a Democratic who's arguably more popular than he is with his base. Those were strong words.

MCMAHON: Well, they are strong words but I think it's honest of him to do it.

I mean, one of the things that happens when you become president is you have to look at the entire world and you look at it sometimes a little bit differently than when you are a progressive senator from Massachusetts. They each have a job to do. They are different jobs.

Elizabeth Warren is a strong voice for, you know, for workers and for progressive causes, and we need that in our party. The president is the president. He is negotiating a trade deal, and he is not going to sell out progressive policies because he's, you know, one of the biggest proponents of progressive policies we've ever had in the White House.

SCIUTTO: She is popular though, Sara Murray, and we are -- you're (ph) (INAUDIBLE) from election and (inaudible) party is not Obama running of course (INAUDIBLE) he is out on a limb there?

MURRAY: Talk about strange bed fellows on this issue though. I mean, you have President Obama and a lot of Republicans who are running for president saying that they are in favor of this trade deal. And then you have Elizabeth Warren who says she is against it. Mike Huckabee who said he's against it. But this gives you an idea that there is this sort of economic populism moment and crowd and that is what these guys are trying to talk to. And that's going to carry over to the election and these candidates are going to have to find a way to sort of walk this line.

Yes. Do you need to get trade deals done? You do and they're going to have to say that. But you also want to make sure that you talk to those workers in manufacturing states, states like that I'm from, in Michigan, and they don't feel like they're getting (INAUDIBLE) to the deal.

SCIUTTO: Let's ask about another issue that candidates have to walk the line, that is immigration. Hillary Clinton taking a very strong position saying she supports

a path to full and legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants. You see the reaction from Chris Christie, called an extreme position (ph). Ted Cruz says her stand shows she's running for Obama's third term.

Let me ask you, Kevin Madden, you know, this is a big issue with Latino voters. Who is on the right side of this?

[09:44:52] MADDEN: Well look, I think, this is one of those an issue where Republicans have to be careful because the Clinton campaign tactically is been very smart here. They are laying bait on an issue that they suspect that Republicans are going to overreach on. That we will come out very quickly and criticize the Democrats reflexively in a way that totally defines our stance on this issue by what we are against versus what we are for, saying we are anti- amnesty, we're against this or against that, and Hillary Clinton is wrong.

Now, she may be wrong on her policy, but we have to make sure as a party that with those key voting demographics, those key Latino voters, that are really important (INAUDIBLE) states, that we tell them what it is that we're for. How a modernized immigration system fits in with a globe annual economy and how we want to invite people -- invite people to this country who are aspirational Americans.

SCIUTTO: Steve, when you heard the words from Cruz and Christie did you see an opportunity there -


MCMAHON: Absolutely.

George Will had a great column in "The Washington Post" today and at the end of it -- the piece where he otherwise basically eviscerated Huckabee for being (INAUDIBLE) reckless and irresponsible. He made the following observation which is most Americans at this point don't pay very much attention to politics but they do pay attention to presidential campaigns from either party. And that helps them to define what that party stands for, what that party believes and what that party might do were they in power.

It's the reason Republicans have a 29 percent favorable rating right now among most voters. And it's a real challenge for Republicans. Kevin, you know, says it exactly right, the Clinton campaign is tactically very smart. They are setting a trap. The Republicans will overreach because they always do and they'll define themselves with most voters in a way that is negative.

SCIUTTO: Steve McMahon, Kevin Madden, Sara Murray great to have you back again this week and welcome again to CNN.

MURRAY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Appreciate you joining us on mother's day.

Coming up next, the veteran who fought in two of the most momentous battles of the Second World War. Had a chance to meet with him on the 70th anniversary of the V.E. Day.


[09:50:08] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of the war, World War II, in Europe. Washington, D.C. commemorated the day with an aerial tribute to veterans. I spoke with a 96-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, Nick Zuras. He fought in Europe and in Asia along with historian Alex Kershaw. He's the author of "The Bedford Boys," a group of Virginia soldiers who suffered horribly on that D-Day invasion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: World War II veteran, Mr. Harry Miller.

ALEX KERSHAW, AUTHOR, "THE BEDFORD BOYS": Over 40,000 Americans died. That's why we're here today to celebrate the end of that war but also to commemorate that loss. (INAUDIBLE) you could possibly be in Europe was Omaha Beach on June 6th, 1944.

SCIUTTO: What were your chances of surviving?

KERSHAW: In company A to which the Bedford boys belonged, company A 116th division, they landed on Dog Green sector, the deadliest sector of Omaha Beach which was the deadliest beach. Out of 180 men, 112 were killed. By lunchtime on D-Day, maybe 10, 12 guys could actually stand and fight.

SCIUTTO: So 10 out of 180.

KERSHAW: Yes. I mean, you have to go back to the civil war to experience a loss like that.


KERSHAW: So it was a huge sacrifice.

SCIUTTO: Veteran Nick Zuras shared memories from D-Day. He commanded a seven men crew on a U.S. Navy rocket boat.

NICK ZURAS, VETERAN: It's not easy to talk about. (INAUDIBLE) unnecessary (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: Zuras and his men came before the first wave of troops who stormed Omaha Beach, the deadliest stretch of the French coastline. Under fire, the rocket boats shelled the beach to try to soften up German defenses ahead of the landing troops.

ZURAS: It was tragic. Nothing we could do. As I turned around to head away from the beach, I saw them (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) had those army guys going up metal ladders and the Germans were shooting them off the metal ladders. (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: You saw the rangers climbing up -- ZURAS: Yes. They were climbing up the damn metal ladders and

they were being fired on --

SCIUTTO: Today Zuras still gets emotional recalling his frustration at not being able to do more to save American lives that day.

KERSHAW: I interviewed veterans who landed on the first wave, on Omaha Beach. And they said that when you fired your rockets they were in their landing craft and they cheered as those rockets came over head because it gave them hope. They're like, oh, my god, maybe the defenses can be destroyed.

ZURAS: After we started back, we were damn near hit by the light cruiser and the destroyer coming in and firing on the beach. So something happened in the meantime after all that tragedy took place that gave them, the troops, a chance to make the landing. Otherwise they would be annihilated.

SCIUTTO: I wonder today, 70 years later, there was a poll we saw that most young people in Europe and the U.S. don't even know what V.E. Day is. Do you think that people remember?

KERSHAW: I think that's a tragic fact if it's true. I'd like to think the opposite. I think most people of an older generation certainly -- I'm in my late 40s. I remember. Most Europeans remember. I'd hope that's wrong.

I think the difference is that during your time, sir, it was an all or nothing fight. It was really all or nothing. Over 14 million Americans in uniform. You fought in Europe until you were killed or wounded.

SCIUTTO: You know, it strikes me that in your time this was a national fight here in the U.S. and in Europe as well. Everybody contributed.

Today, you know, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq are fought on the backs of a very small portion of the population. I wonder if people today can identify with that same sense of a national -- frankly, an international mission. What do you think?

KERSHAW: I don't think so. I'll be honest. World War II, everybody pulled together. It was a case of national survival. World War II I believe was won by the housewives at home as much as it was by gentleman like yourself, sir. Everybody gave everything they possibly could.

(INAUDIBLE) was the fight for national existence, the preservation of everything we care.

SCIUTTO: Could we do so again today?

KERSHAW: I think so, definitely.

I think that you have to (INAUDIBLE) very, very controversial day. You have to bring back a draft. You'll have to make sacrifice national and shared. When everybody -- when every congressman's son and every senator's relative is also fighting the good fight. Then we could do it again, absolutely. We're doing our best now, but we only have a very small minority of the American population fighting -


[09:55:10] KERSHAW: It's important.

SCIUTTO: Repeated tours?

KERSHAW: And the same groups of Americans today are making the greatest sacrifice as before. The National Guard units, the American working class are still the ones that we use when we want to fight wars abroad.

SCIUTTO: Our generation remembers, our parents' generation remembers, but are those memories fading?

KERSHAW: That's a horrible question because I would hate to think that. My son remembers because I made him remember. I think if we celebrate these events, if we make sure it's part of our history, if we make it a core of our culture, then, no, we won't forget, and we should never forget. We should never forget because we owe everything to these men.

SCIUTTO: That's why we're here, so we don't.

KERSHAW: Yes. We can vote, we're not in a concentration camp. We have freedoms that we take for granted.


KERSHAW: You know, it's something we should never forget. It's why we can be who we are today.


SCIUTTO: Some 70 million people fought for the allied and axis nations, a war that affected the entire globe at such great human cost the likes of which we hope we will never see again. We'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Before we go, I want to wish a very special Happy Mother's Day to my wife, Gloria, mother to our two boys, soon to be mother to another little girl. I spend every day in awe of what she does and the love she shows. I know there are many other fathers and sons and daughters out there who feel the same way.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts right now.