Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Pope Francis Begins Historic U.S. Visit; Massive Security for Pope's Visit; Fiorina Trying to Build on Debate Performance. Aired 5- 6p ET
Aired September 22, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:24] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Pope in America. The people's pope lands on U.S. soil for the first time and is greeted by the president and vice president. Will he bring controversy with him to the White House and Congress as he tackles some tough political and social issues?
Unprecedented security. The pope's visit will have parts of three U.S. cities on lockdown. It's one of the largest security mobilizations in American history. Can 50 U.S. agencies keep the pope safe?
Cease and desist. Donald Trump demands that a conservative group stop attack ads as he trades new attacks with Carly Fiorina and steps up his feud with the news network.
Plus, un-control. And North Korea warns it's ready to use nuclear weapons and tries to hide activity at a launch site. We have an exclusive look at control center for Kim Jong-un's satellite program.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. President Obama was waiting at bottom of the stairs as Pope Francis stepped off a plane for his first-ever visit to the United States. The first family was there. Also, the vice president, Joe Biden, who's Catholic, and his family. It's a very rare honor for a U.S. president to be on hand to welcome a visiting dignitary.
Pope Francis also will have plenty of opportunities to interact with ordinary people, schoolchildren, families, immigrants, and the homeless. He addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Thursday morning.
Tomorrow morning, the pope visits the White House for important discussions with the president. We'll be speaking live with the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, in just a few minutes.
Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they have full coverage of the day's top stories. Let's begin with CNN's Jim Sciutto. He's at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C.
So how did it go? The folks just arrived a few minutes ago. Tell us about the arrival, Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was an arrival, a visit by a world leader unlike one we've ever seen before. And we can say that without exaggeration.
A first to have a president and vice president greet the world leader here at Joint Base Andrews here in the U.S. That is a first.
Unprecedented security for this visit, a cast of thousands, tens of thousands behind the scenes to keep this pope safe on his first visit ever to the U.S.
But also touches and scenes and gestures here that only this pope can generate and that only this pope is capable of. Part of the pomp and circumstance here, a red carpet, of course, an honor guard but 300 children, chanting his name, high school band playing songs, everything from Neil Diamond hits to Pharrell's "Happy" that captured the energy, the anticipation, welcoming the pope here to America and then the pope making gestures of his own, like driving into the city in that tiny little Fiat. Not a Cadillac limo for him, not a giant SUV, a gesture of modesty.
This is a pope of gestures, meaningful gestures. We're going to see a number of those in the days coming as he seeks to connect with the American people on his first visit here in a way, Wolf, that only he can do.
BLITZER: We just saw him arrive at the diplomatic residence here in Washington. That's right across the street from the vice president's residence up on Massachusetts Avenue. So what's on tap? What happens next?
TAPPER: I'll tell you, it's a very quiet first night in the United States for this pope. And in large part, because tonight is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. We're told that, in light of that, he's going to have a quiet night. He's going to rest, remain there at that residence there, which is right across from the vice president's residence, under tremendous security. A number of the roads around there are closed.
Before tomorrow, he really dives into his schedule, including that crucial meeting at the White House later, of course, the joint meeting of Congress, speaking before the U.N. General Assembly.
But tonight, on his first night in America, at the age of 78, a quiet night at home for Pope Francis.
BLITZER: At the Vatican's diplomatic residence here in Washington, Jim Sciutto. Thanks very much.
And as Jim said, the Catholic -- the Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that the pope would have no public events out of respect for the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, which begins tonight at sundown.
Tomorrow morning he'll become the third pope in U.S. history to visit the White House following in the footstep of his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, who's got a preview for us -- Jim.
ACOSTA: Wolf, there's a rock star here in Washington, and his name is not Barack Obama; and he's going to get a rock star welcome tomorrow here at the White House.
And just getting back to that arrival you saw at Andrews, this certainly was one of the biggest symbolic moments of the Obama presidency with the president, first family, plus the nation's first Catholic vice president, Dr. Jill Biden, all together greeting Pope Francis. It did make for an unprecedented welcome to the U.S.
Now day two, the pope's visit will be a sight to behold. For starters, 15,000 people are expected to squeeze onto the White House South Lawn to witness the pope's official arrival ceremony. After the president greets the pope, the two leaders will speak to the world, and then they will have that crucial one-on-one meeting inside the Oval Office. We believe there will only be translators in the room.
The vice president, Secretary of State John Kerry, they'll be in a different room with Vatican officials, and all of this before Pope Francis addresses Congress Thursday. Biden will be in attendance for that. The president will not.
And even though the president and the pope are allies on issues ranging from climate change, to income inequality, to Cuba, even the Iran nuclear deal, the White House is not saying they won't reveal what these two men will discuss. Perhaps that's because this pope can be full of surprises.
Wolf, after their last meeting in Rome, we asked the president whether any hot-button social issues were raised and President Obama told me, at that news conference, the pope unexpectedly brought up immigration reform. So the pope can be full of surprises, and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told me earlier in the day that these two leaders may have more business to tackle in the president's final months in office. They are very much on the same page on a whole slew of issues, Wolf.
BLITZER: Tell us a little bit, Jim, about the diversity of the invitees who are coming to the White House tomorrow to welcome the pope.
ACOSTA: That's right. And with 15,000 people, the White House says, you know, there are going to be people coming from all parts of the world, all shapes and sizes, from all political stripes. And you are going to see people who have been invited to the White House are pro- choice, who are pro-gay rights.
I've spoken with a couple of them in the last couple of days. They are coming, and there were anonymous Vatican sources criticizing the White House, saying that this is not how it should be.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said it was another example of how this White House is an anti-Christian administration. But when I talked to Valerie Jarrett about that, she said they are proud of the diversity of the crowd that will be in attendance and that it reflects the entire Catholic church, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.
The pope's visit involving three major U.S. cities has led to one of the largest security mobilizations in American history. And in New York, his visit coincides with the gathering of world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly. It's like protecting a Super Bowl, a political convention and a presidential inauguration all at the same time.
Let's go to our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick. She's got more on this part of the story. A major, major challenge.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really is. The Secret Service really has its work cut out for them.
You know, there's no specific credible threat, and that's what we've been hearing all along. Whenever you have somebody of the pope's stature in town there's an implied threat because it is such an attractive terror target for anyone who wanted to do something bad.
What this has been designated is a national security special event. What that means is extra resources have been thrown at this event to make sure that the pope's visit here is a safe one.
FEYERICK (voice-over): It happened in a split second, several people breaking from the crowd, one of them able to reach into the Popemobile in Havana. The sudden security breach, handled quickly by the pontiff's security detail, underscores how high the stakes are. And how much greater they will be when the pope arrives in New York City to address some 170 world leaders, all with security details of their own.
Security will be tight in the air, on the rooftops, the waterways, the city streets, all eyes zeroed in on Pope Francis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The implied threat is significant. Nobody wants to have a protectee go down on their watch.
FEYERICK: The United States Secret Service is coordinating some 50 agencies in a massive security operation. For a two-day period from Thursday night through early Saturday, Pope Francis will visit six locations, all of which will be swept, secured, and locked down, long before he arrives.
BILL GAGE, FORMER U.S. SECRET SERVICE AGENT: It's almost like a military operation. They're going to post this up with agents and officers. They're going to kick everybody out, and then they're going to sweep it for security threats.
FEYERICK: Bill Gage, a former Secret Service agent who protected Pope Benedict on his 2008 U.S. tour.
(on camera): You've still got balconies over here. You've got rooftops. You've got trees. What's not to say that somebody can simply hide in those areas and wait?
GAGE: Each one of these buildings, someone from the Service is going to visit, and they're going to do an assessment. Do the windows open out; do they open in? Do the windows even open? How do you get on the roof of the building? Who controls roof access? There's also going to be plainclothes agents as well as NYPD officers patrolling some of the roofs.
FEYERICK (voice-over): The NYPD will provide manpower, protect the city, coordinate street closures and, as in this drill, respond to potential attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another IED explosion. We're getting a report of 48 DOA and 200 injured.
COMMISSIONER WILLIAM BRATTON, NYPD: They're out there trying to kill us, the terrorists, al Qaeda, ISIS, Islamic radicals, and we need to be constantly mindful of that.
FEYERICK (on camera): Only ticket holders are going to get close enough to St. Patrick's Cathedral to actually get a glimpse of the pope. They're going to have to go through multiple security checkpoints, including magnetometers. But because there are so many office buildings here, so many pedestrians, there be a fence set up. And that's to ensure that nobody slips through any kind of contraband like a weapon.
ROBERT SICA, U.S. SECRET SERVICE: Fencing is used by the Secret Service routinely to identify those that have been screened versus those that haven't been screened.
FEYERICK (voice-over): Along with the joint operations center, every agency will also have its own command post, with teams monitoring intelligence, social media posts, and the comings and goings of people on various target lists. Surveillance cameras are posted throughout Manhattan. And radiation detectors will be positioned at bridges and tunnels. The FBI's most recent bulletin said there's no known threat surrounding the events.
FEYERICK: And Wolf, we're going to see a lot of security. A lot of it will be visible, but a lot of it will be invisible. There will be SWAT teams, specialized units. You're going to have plainclothes officers. And there's also going to be staging areas with thousands of federal agents and extra police officers in the event something does happen. And if it does, there is an evacuation plan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Deborah Feyerick, for that report.
The first big security test of the papal visit comes tomorrow morning, a huge crowd expected for the pope's open motorcade along the Ellipse part of the National Mall after he meets with President Obama.
Joining us now is the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest.
Josh, thanks very much for joining us. I know you've got a lot going on. Have there been any specific threats against the pope?
EARNEST: Well, Wolf, the Secret Service has taken all the necessary steps that they believe will be required to ensure that the pope can do a couple of things. First is travel safely in the United States.
This pope also, as part of his trademark, is making sure that he can have the opportunity to spend some time with the people who live in the country that he's visiting. And he has this innate desire to try to make a connection with the population.
And so we certainly have been working hard to try to accommodate his desire to make that kind of connection, even in the very physical way, while also making sure that all of the necessary precautions are taken to keep him safe.
BLITZER: Why does the pope require this huge level of security? It's at least equal, if not exceeding, the security that the president receives?
EARNEST: Well, pope [SIC] -- Wolf, the pope is an international symbol, and what we want to do is we want to make sure that he can participate in all the wide range of activities that he has planned for his visit here in Washington, D.C., and also give the American public the opportunity to hear his message and to really give him the opportunity to feel the warm welcome that we expect that he'll receive during his visit here to the United States.
BLITZER: I'm sure it will be very warm.
As you know, the president, for the arrival ceremony tomorrow at the White House, invited thousands of people, about 15,000, but some are seen as controversial. You heard that report earlier: an openly gay episcopal bishop, a transgender activist are a few of them, a nun who heads up a social justice organization that's at odds with the Vatican over several issues, including abortion. So why did the president decide to invite these specific guests?
EARNEST: Well, Wolf, I think in general what you can expect are thousands of people representing a variety of communities all across the country who are eager to welcome the pope, not just to the United States but to the White House.
There's no theological test administered to people before they got tickets. Our goal here is to invite people who are just as inspired by the pope and his message that the president himself is.
And I think this will be an opportunity for the pope to receive that warm welcome from a genuine cross-section of the American people, Catholics and non-Catholic alike, who have been inspired by his message of social justice and caring for the least of these.
BLITZER: Was the president trying to send a message?
EARNEST: Absolutely not, Wolf, and we've even seen a number of on- the-record statements from senior Vatican officials that have totally debunked these -- this anonymous griping that has been -- popped up in some reports.
BLITZER: All right. Josh, I want you to stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. Other issues, as well. Much more with the White House press secretary on this historic day here in the nation's capital right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. President Obama and Vice President Biden welcoming Pope Francis for his first ever visit to the United States. The papal jet flew in from Cuba just a little more than an hour or so ago. The pope's spending the night at the Vatican's diplomatic mission here in the nation's capital. He goes to the White House tomorrow morning for talks with the president.
We're back with the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest.
[17:20:02] Josh, Pope Francis, President Obama, they have very similar views on climate change, income inequality, I should say, as well. Pope helped the U.S. restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Does the president consider the pope a political ally?
EARNEST: Well, pope [SIC] -- Wolf, the pope, in the mind of the president, is somebody who is a moral and spiritual leader around the globe, and he's somebody, as I mentioned earlier, who has inspired Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
And what the president is looking forward to doing when he welcomes the pope to the White House tomorrow is to talk about shared values.
And ultimately, this is a president who has been animated, even before he started running for public office, by the idea that we need to fight for social and economic justice, both in this country and around the world.
And this has been a hallmark of Pope Francis before he arrived in the Vatican, as well. He was somebody who had a reputation for reaching out to the poor and serving the poor.
These are the kinds of values that they share.
The president is not meeting with Pope Francis to advance a political agenda, but rather, it's an opportunity for him to sit down and talk about some values that they have in common and how the two men in the very different roles that they have in the public can advance those shared values together.
BLITZER: There's other news we're following, Josh, including these new satellite images we're getting of Russian planes in Syria. Will the president ask the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to pull that aircraft, the tanks, the other military hardware, the Syrian -- the Russian troops out of Syria? Or does the U.S. see those troops as useful in combatting ISIS?
EARNEST: Well, Wolf, we've been quite clear that any Russian effort to double down on their support of President Bashar al-Assad would be a losing bet.
And the fact is, this is a broader trend and a broader -- a broader challenge that the Russians have to confront inside of Syria. For years Syria has essentially been a client state of Russia, and that's why Russia has had a military presence inside Syria for some time.
But they've worked for a long time to try and prop up Bashar al-Assad. And what they actually are trying to do is to make sure that they can protect the investment that they have inside of Syria.
So this additional deployment of military resources is not them responding from a position of strength but actually responding from a position of weakness, concerned about the investments that they've made inside of Syria.
What we want to do is we want to make sure that Russia has the opportunity to make a constructive contribution to the international coalition that the United States has built to defeat and ultimately destroy ISIL.
Hopefully, that's what they'll be willing to do. We've certainly asked them to do that. But right now, their intentions inside of Syria are quite unclear.
BLITZER: Just a little while ago, moments ago, in fact, the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, came out against the Keystone Oil Pipeline. She had deferred; she had not said, what her position was all these many months. Is the president going to agree with her, because he's still on the fence, right?
EARNEST: Well, there's still an ongoing process at the State Department to consider the -- whether or not the construction of this particular pipeline is in the national interest. And this is a study that has been under way for quite some time. It was delayed for a year, at least, based on legal proceedings that were under way.
So this is a process that's still under way at the State Department, and once the State Department has put forward a recommendation, the president will consider it, and he'll make a decision. But right now that policy process rests at the State Department.
BLITZER: One final question, government shutdown. There's talk if funding for Planned Parenthood continues, there could be a government shutdown by the end of this month. What's the assessment at the White House?
EARNEST: Right now, Wolf, what we would like to see is we'd like to see Republicans in Congress sit down with Democrats in Congress and negotiate a bipartisan solution that would avoid a government shutdown, but also make sure that we're adequately funding both our national security and our economic priorities.
For months, Democrats have said they're ready to have those kinds of conversations with Republicans, but Republican have put off those conversations.
The problem, really, Wolf is this: Republicans have been trying, time and time again, to pass appropriations legislation strictly along party lines without trying to work with Democrats. And the fact is they have failed in every single effort to do that.
So what's now obvious is they're going to have to work with Republicans -- Republicans are going to have to work with Democrats to pass that legislation. Republicans haven't even really been willing to start those negotiations yet.
So I think the next step is, hopefully, we'll be able to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open and buy a little bit of time for Democrats and Republicans to sit down together and negotiate a broader budget agreement, do it in fiscally economic way but also a way that makes sure that our economic and national security priorities are adequately funded.
BLITZER: Josh Earnest, thanks very much for joining us.
EARNEST: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And stay with CNN for complete coverage of the pope's historic visit here in the United States including a special report tonight, "The People's Pope." That airs at 9 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
[17:25:04] Coming up, you saw them go at it during the CNN debate. Now Donald Trump is on the attack again. Will Carly Fiorina respond in kind?
And as North Korea tries to hide activity at a launch site and says it's prepared to use nuclear weapons, we'll give you an exclusive look at Kim Jong-un's secret space control center.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's go to politics now. The GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, is threatening to sue a conservative group, the Club for Growth, if it does not stop running attack ads against him. The Club for Growth is telling Trump, quote, "grow up."
Meantime, Trump is launching new attacks at Carly Fiorina. According to the polls, she's in second place, after her strong showing in the CNN debate, and she's on the trail right now, trying to capitalize on that. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is joining us now live from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with the latest -- Sunlen.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the start of a three-day big push by Carly Fiorina here in South Carolina, trying to keep that momentum from her post-debate performance going now that she's pushed up to second place.
CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, you're up there. I'm sorry.
SERFATY (voice-over): After rocketing up in the polls...
FIORINA: I love it.
SERFATY: ... today Carly Fiorina is fighting for votes in South Carolina.
FIORINA: We have always assumed that this would be a very long race. And so we have built a staff that will go the long haul. One of the things that I am keenly aware of is that debates do not win elections, voters do.
SERFATY: The campaign eager to show off her substance...
FIORINA: This is a time for a real reset with China. I have no confidence this president will even attempt such a thing. Will be all gesture and protocol. President Fiorina will do it.
SERFATY: ... and style.
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Putin is saying he wants to meet with Trump when he comes here and that he wants to sit down and have a conversation with him. You've met Putin.
FIORINA: I have. Well, the two of them have a lot in common, actually. But we'll just leave it at that.
SERFATY: This as GOP front-runner Donald Trump continues ramping up his criticism of Fiorina.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via phone): I find her to be very robotic, and I think a bigger problem, frankly, is her horrible tenure at various companies that, frankly, were destroyed.
SERFATY: Fiorina shrugging it off.
FIORINA: I don't spend a lot of time on the campaign trail thinking about Donald Trump. I really don't. And so I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing.
SERFATY: But her campaign telling supporters in an e-mail, "We get the point, Mr. Trump. You're worried. You should be. You'll be seeing a lot more of that face."
Trump also renewing his war against FOX News on Twitter, tweeting, "I am having a really hard time watching FOX News."
And after seeing his poll numbers slide, following last week's debate, Trump telling "New York" magazine, "I wasn't treated fairly by CNN, and it shouldn't have been three hours long. It was too long." A departure from what Trump initially said following the debate.
TRUMP (on camera): They were very professional the way they handled it. CNN did a very good job.
SERFATY: And the Fiorina super PAC is touting that the night of the debate they say 112 percent uptick in views on the Fiorina website. They're also out touting that they've seen a significant increase in donations and in volunteers signing up for the campaign. But, Wolf, the campaign did not provide hard numbers to back up either of those claims.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen. Thank you.
Joining us now, our CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp; our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny; our political commentator, Ryan Lizza -- he's the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" magazine; and our CNN political commentator, Dan Pfeiffer, former senior advisor to President Obama.
S.E., can Carly Fiorina keep up this momentum?
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. In the short term, what she needs to do is show that she can fundraise off of these great performances. It's not enough to just have a great night, and she knows that.
In the long term, she's got to make sure she avoids the Mitt Romney problem of getting defined too early. You can hear already hear her opponents on the right and the left talking about her failed record at A.P. -- at H.P., her failed Senate race.
Instead of getting locked down in that, she needs to position herself as the fighter: the woman that fought her way up the corporate ladder, the woman who fought cancer, the woman who fought her way onto the debate stage. That's the sort of momentum she needs.
And she needs to talk about her personal story. Her rise from secretary to CEO, that's incredibly compelling. Talk to women about how difficult that was; talk to women about the sacrifices you had to make. I think that will really resonate.
BLITZER: She seems, Jeff, to be avoiding getting into a real battle with Donald Trump. He's hitting her, but she's been restrained. Is that going to continue? Does she have to hit back at some point?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think she'll hit back in a different way. We heard her on the late-night show last night sort of hitting back, saying that Donald Trump has a lot of similarities to Vladimir Putin, so I think that was a clever way.
I don't think she's going to respond to everything he says. Some of the things he's been saying about her, he said, "You listen to her for five minutes, you get a headache; she's grating." Those are loaded things. I think she's more than happy to let him just keep talking, perhaps, just keep digging with those women voters out there who may not like what he's saying.
But I think on substance, she will have to hit back. But on the other attacks, I think she can let those go for now.
BLITZER: And you heard in Sunlen's report, Ryan, he's criticizing CNN now after originally saying it was a good debate. He's criticizing FOX News. He's going after the Club for Growth, saying their ads, that say he's got the highest tax increase in history, he says are false and defamatory, threatening to sue them. Is this a strategy?
[18:35:05] RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I don't know. Imagine if any time that Donald Trump said something that was arguably false or defamatory, someone sued him in this campaign.
You know, he's really shaking up politics, changing politics, and now he's bringing lawsuits to politics. That's -- that's pretty rare.
A lot of us have predicted Trump's demise over and over, and he's had more staying power than I think most pundits believed he would have. I do think you see, for the first time, a slight dip in his polls. He has gained two points every week since he started in this race. And for the first time in that CNN poll, after the debate, he went down.
Now, in 2012, when a candidate who was surging in the polls started to go down, that trend continued.
CUPP: Fatal, yes.
LIZZA: We'll see now if this sort of period of intense scrutiny changes things.
BLITZER: In our poll it went down a little bit, but he's still No. 1.
LIZZA: He's still No. 1.
BLITZER: For the Republicans.
The Club for Growth, Dan, they issued a statement, quote, "Tough guy Donald Trump starts whining when his liberal record is revealed. We suggest that Donald grow up, stop whining and try to defend his liberal record." Can these outside groups do to Trump what some of these Republican candidates themselves are reluctant to do?
DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they can start the process. Really, what the Club for Growth is, a stalking horse for the other candidates. It allows them to -- for every minute that Donald Trump is fighting with the Club for Growth is a minute he's not attacking Carly Fiorina or, you know, sort of pounding Jeb Bush into submission, as he's been doing for weeks. And so it serves that purpose.
Ultimately, if anyone wants to knock him off of the top perch, the candidate themselves is going to have to do it, whether that's Bush, Rubio, Fiorina, anyone else. The Club for Growth, I think, is trying to say, "Look, it's OK. Get in the water. You can get attack Trump and survive." And we'll see if the other candidates do that. BLITZER: See if other outside groups do that, as well.
Guys, stand by for a moment. Lots more to discuss. Much more politics. We'll be right back.
[17:41:22] BLITZER: Talking about 2016 presidential campaign. We're back with S.E. Cupp, Jeff Zeleny, Ryan Lizza, Dan Pfeiffer.
Ryan, Ben Carson, he spent part of today trying to clear -- clarify or even change his position on whether he could support a Muslim as president of the United States. Listen to what he said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the program on Sunday, I said very clearly, I said anybody, regardless of their religion, if they are willing to subjugate that to our Constitution and to abide by our American values, I am for them.
And then he said, "Well, what about a Muslim?" As, you know, obviously implying that they did not fit into that category.
As far as I'm concerned, anybody can fit into that category. I said it doesn't matter what their religion is. But obviously, if we're talking about people who don't fit into that category, I'm not going to advocate for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Did he go far enough?
LIZZA: That's -- first of all, that's not exactly -- that's not what he said the other day. So he's changing what he said.
Did he go far enough? He's basically now saying what -- you know, what some people said about JFK, right? That a Catholic president couldn't -- a Catholic couldn't be president, right, because they would be under the sway of the pope, right? And some evangelical Christians said this about Mitt Romney in 2008, that you know, a Mormon couldn't be president because of their religious beliefs.
I think if you read between the lines, what he's saying is certain Muslims could not be president, because their faith would somehow conflict with the Constitution or conflict with American law. So I suppose that's a minor improvement from what he said the other day.
But he's still in the same place of, in my view, making an anti-Muslim bigoted case against an entire class of people based on religion. So as far as I'm concerned, no, it's not much better.
BLITZER: S.E., is this going to stop some groups for calling for him to drop out of the race?
CUPP: Probably not. Look, as much as you can make sense of what Ben Carson has said at the time and is saying now, it seems that he is suggesting one must check their faith at the White House door. I'm assuming, unless that person is Christian. And then I think he seems to believe that Christianity and the Constitution are one in the same, or at least compatible in ways that other faiths aren't. I don't know.
It's very difficult to understand what he means. I don't think he's done a good job clarifying.
And as much as religion should matter, I mean, we have this debate. We want to know about the president's faith. That's why we were interested in whether Scott Walker believes in evolution or what Sarah Palin's church was like or Barack Obama's church. That's important.
But I think, to have a presidential candidate suggesting that Muslims should be excluded from, you know, being in the White House, from being president, is alarming, is disturbing, should be disqualifying.
BLITZER: All right, Dan, from the Democratic perspective you say?
PFEIFFER: I say that Ben Carson has done terrible damage to the reputation of brain surgeons as very sharp people, because what he said on Sunday was horribly offensive. What he said on Monday was terribly offensive and completely senseless. It was sort of word salad.
Look, this is a problem. "The New York Times" had a very good story how sort of Islamophobia has creeped into the Republican primary. And you don't have a figure like George Bush who was willing to step up and say that we are at war against terrorists not war against the religion of Islam. And hopefully, they'll step forward and do that.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the political story, at least one of the major stories over the next few days: the pope's historic visit here to Washington. Jeff, how is that going to play out politically in this race?
ZELENY: It's so fascinating it's coming up this moment. The pope is an outsider, and it's -- he's stepping into a political season of where outsiders are sort of central here.
It is a Catholic moment in this country. The majority of Supreme Court justices are Catholic. Seven out of 15 Republican candidates running for president are Catholic.
But when he speaks before Congress on Thursday, the first pope ever to address a joint session, he's going to have, I believe, some tough medicine for both sides, perhaps for Democrats on abortion but for Republicans, on climate change, on social justice issues, so I think that this is a very good moment for the Pope to be here.
Some Republican presidential candidates are running away from this a little bit. A couple of members of Congress are boycotting or one member is. But Jeb Bush, I thought, this is kind of a good moment for Jeb Bush. He's been able to use this as a time to explain why he is a Catholic, he'll be at a mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral tomorrow. So I think it's a fascinating moment, a time of discussion. We'll see after he speaks what these candidates actually do, what will Marco Rubio do, what will Jeb Bush say about this climate change of his. Maybe it will give him some cover on immigration and other things because this is central to the Pope's message.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And we'll hear extensively from the Pope when he addresses that joint meeting of the United States Congress Thursday morning.
Guys, thanks very, very much.
This important programming note, CNN will host the first Democratic presidential debate, that's on October 13th in Nevada.
Coming up, as North Korea warns it's ready to use nuclear weapons it tries to hide activity at a sensitive launch site. We the exclusive look at Kim Jong-Un's satellite control center. We're going to Pyongyang.
And it's one of the largest security mobilization in American history. The Pope's visit allowed parts of three U.S. cities on lockdown. Can dozens of police agencies keep him safe?
[17:51:13] BLITZER: The CNN exclusive as North Korea tries to conceal feverish activity at a launch site and says it's prepared to use nuclear weapons at any time.
CNN's Will Ripley has gotten an extraordinary look at what the regime says is the control center for its satellite program. He's joining us now live from the communist capital of Pyongyang.
Will, what's the latest?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for first time North Korean officials here in Pyongyang are confirming to CNN what U.S. intelligence has suspected for a while, that significant upgrades are under way at their launch pad near the country's northern border with China and they're preparing to launch multiple rockets and multiple satellites very soon.
RIPLEY (on camera): We're at North Korea's brand-new Satellite Control Center. This is a facility that the government tells us no foreign media has ever been allowed to visit before.
(Voice-over): Sitting in a residential neighborhood, there's little visible security for a facility said by some to be at the heart of North Korea's ballistic missile program. The Satellite Control Center's director says his team of 300 is working nonstop to meet an ambitious goal set by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un who visited the facility in May to make North Korea a space superpower. A team of mostly young researchers handpicked from top universities.
(On camera): How much pressure are you under to succeed here?
(Voice-over): "We young scientists are working full steam," he says. "Day and night with no rest, especially these days."
North Korea claims to be on the verge of what they call a national triumph, launching rockets and multiple satellites into space, the first since this launch in 2012. They say their launch and satellite technology is improving all the time but insists their purpose is peaceful.
"Our launch is no threat to the U.S." says this 21-year-old researcher.
A claim disputed by some international observers who say a rocket large enough to carry a satellite could also carry a nuclear warhead.
(On camera): What can you say to the world to prove that this is not a ballistic missile program in disguise?
(Voice-over): "Why on earth would we have any intention of trying to drop nuclear bombs on the people of the world including the United States," says the director of Scientific Research and Development.
But just this month North Korea's own state media said it's fully ready to use nuclear weapons at any time, triggering a harsh warning from Washington. North Korea is already under severe sanctions for its nuclear program, but the cash-strapped country continues investing heavily in its space agency. Even as the nation faces food and electricity shortages.
(On camera): Could you take us inside?
(Voice-over): While no question is off limits, the control center itself is.
"I'd love to take you inside," the director says. "But if that happens and we hear the same old stereotypes, foolish Western media propaganda, our young scientists will be angry."
"Our peaceful launch was not a threat to you yesterday," he says. "It's not a threat today and it won't be a threat tomorrow."
RIPLEY: Wolf, you may remember back in 2012, the last North Korean satellite launch, that rocket actually flew directly over U.S. military forces stationed in Okinawa. It caused great concern internationally. You may have noticed that the facility looked pretty empty at least on the outside. The space officials tell us that's because the majority of their employees are scattered around North Korea right at observation centers making the final calculations before these launches which they say are imminent -- Wolf.
[17:55:03] BLITZER: Will Ripley joining us live from Pyongyang with that exclusive report.
Will, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, it's like the Super Bowl of political convention and a presidential inauguration all at the same time. The Pope's visit to three U.S. cities comes in an unprecedented security. So what are the risks?
And polls have him well back in the Republican pack, but should Senator Rand Paul leave the race to give another candidate a better chance as some of his colleagues are suggesting? I'll ask.
BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Papal arrival. Pope Francis sets foot on U.S. soil for the first time. Greeted on the tarmac by President Obama and Vice President Biden. Huge crowds turning out to welcome the pontiff to Washington.
Will his meeting tomorrow at the White House go stir some controversy?