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Interview With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; Capitol Chaos; Interview with Chris Christie; Growing Concern About Syrian Refugees Crisis. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 8, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Capitol chaos, a bombshell in the most important election besides the election.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

Breaking news in our politics lead today: speaker stunner, the heir apparent, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, taking himself out of the race for House speaker. What kind of "House of Cards"-style drama is going on behind closed doors there? Who is going now to be second in line to the presidency?

Also in politics, he is the guy who would be known as the guy with no filter if Donald Trump weren't around. I'll ask Governor Chris Christie what he thinks of what's going on, on Capitol Hill, about Dr. Ben Carson's budget plan, and senator Marco Rubio's excuses for missing votes.

And just five more days until the first Democratic debate right here on CNN, Senator Bernie Sanders hoping to funnel the energy of his fan base onto that national stage, as candidate Hillary Clinton takes a position placing her firmly opposition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I think I shocked some of you, huh?


TAPPER: Oh, indeed, you shocked some out of us.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our politics lead, yes, Congressman McCarthy, we can confirm you shocked, well, all of us. The front-runner to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House quitting this afternoon. It was supposed to be all but assured, but it just got undone in front of our very eyes.

Today, after insisting he would have the 218 votes on the floor of the U.S. House to become the top Republican in the country, second in line for the presidency, Congressman McCarthy pulled the rug out from under everyone. And he told the Republican Conference behind closed doors that he wasn't their guy. Republicans need a new face, he said, to lead them into the future.

Let's get right to CNN's chief congressional correspondent up on Capitol Hill, Dana Bash.

Dana, what happened?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the end of the day, Jake, it seems that the same undercurrent of conservative outrage that helped push out John Boehner swept away his number two, but nobody saw it coming.


BASH (voice-over): There's congressional chaos, then there's this, the Republican meeting to vote for a new speaker ending abruptly after the front-runner, Kevin McCarthy, shocked everyone, suddenly dropping out of the race.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: People were absolutely stunned.

BASH (on camera): I mean, you were behind him. Are you stunned?

KING: Yes, totally stunned, no idea it was coming. No one did.

BASH: You were just in there. What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kevin McCarthy, just like John Boehner did, put the country and the Congress and the conference before his own interests. It was a very honorable thing to do. I think he recognized and shared with the conference that he was afraid his candidacy might further divide the caucus and further divide the party across the country.

BASH (voice-over): Behind closed doors, that's exactly what Kevin McCarthy told his colleagues.

MCCARTHY: I think I shocked some of you, huh?

BASH: And what he repeated to reporters after the news got out.

MCCARTHY: If we are going to unite and be strong, we need a new face to help do that. So, nothing more than that.

BASH: That and raw numbers. Despite McCarthy's public confidence only an hour earlier, sources close to McCarthy say he realized getting approval from a majority of the House, 218 votes, was going to be tough. And CNN is told McCarthy decided the demands many conservative members were making in exchange for votes, those in the so-called Freedom Caucus, would have made him too weak to be effective.

Tim Huelskamp's camp is one of some 40 Republicans in that House Freedom Caucus. REP. TIM HUELSKAMP (R), KANSAS: We were looking at, how do we work

together? We're looking for a speaker who works with conservatives rather than against us. And we presumed that Kevin was going to reach out to us and say, what do we need to do, what changes do we need to make?

BASH: Moderates like Charlie Dent worry it will be hard to find a Republican member who will appeal to those conservatives, but still actually lead the entire House as the Constitution requires the speaker to do.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The next speaker should not appease those who make unreasonable demands. There are a number of members of our conference who simply cannot get to yes on anything.

BASH: Daniel Webster and Jason Chaffetz, two other Republicans in the race for speaker, are a bit speechless.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Did not see that coming.

BASH: But still in.

CHAFFETZ: Because we need to find somebody that our whole body can unite behind and do what we were elected to do.


BASH: And, Jake, there was also this letter sent by Republican Congressman Walter Jones this week in which he urged the caucus to make sure that whoever is running for speaker of the House or other positions does not have any misdeeds committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself or Republicans in this House of Representatives.

And he spoke with our own Manu Raju about this just a short while ago. Listen to this.


REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I think when a person has been a member of the Congress, which is a very sacred duty, quite frankly, in my opinion, and they are elevated to become a leader of a party, it could be either party, Republican or Democrat, that those in leadership must be above reproach.


BASH: Now, Jones also added that he was not trying to single anybody out.

And, Jake, Kevin McCarthy was asked point-blank about this letter, whether it had anything to do with his dropping out of the race. And he responded no -- Jake.

[16:05:03] TAPPER: So, of course, echoes of Congressman Bob Livingston, who was

once supposed to be speaker, but then there were some indiscretions in his private life that took him down from that.

But more -- looking more forward now, Dana, what now? They need a speaker.

BASH: They need a speaker. And that is the $64,000 question here.

At this point, there just doesn't seem to be anybody who can get not only the 218 votes, but, more importantly, in the wake of McCarthy dropping out, the goal here among all sides of the Republican Conference is to find somebody who can get the majority, the most conservative to the most moderate.

And it is very, very difficult to do. It's going to take a lot of time searching to try to find that. There is some talk about kind of a caretaker person, somebody who can bridge the gap while John Boehner is gone who everybody can rely on just for a short while, while they work through their issues in the Republican Party here.

TAPPER: Dana Bash for us on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

CNN's Sara Murray is in Las Vegas for us. There, some of the Republicans in the other race we're all watching, the one for president of the United States, they're campaigning there today.

Sara, Donald Trump just mentioned Kevin McCarthy dropping out of the race. What was his particular Trumpian take on it?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Donald Trump, the political newcomer who, as we know, is leading the Republican field, says he actually deserves a little bit of credit for McCarthy getting out of the race.


MCCARTHY: I think I shocked some of you, huh?

MURRAY (voice-over): The force behind today's shock on Capitol Hill also driving emotion in the Republican presidential race, voters yearning for a Washington outsider fueling the rise of candidates like Donald Trump.

Today, the billionaire business mogul was quick to capitalize on the Washington turmoil.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Kevin McCarthy is out. You know that, right?


TRUMP: And they are giving me a lot of credit for that, because I said you really need somebody very, very tough and very smart.

It's bedlam in Washington right now, bedlam. It's a mess. I have never seen anything like it. I have doing this for a long time.

MURRAY: A distaste for politicians also propelling Dr. Ben Carson, who's applauding McCarthy's decision.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I say kudos to Representative McCarthy for putting others before himself. This is not something that we see very often in Washington.

MURRAY: Leaving establishment candidates like Jeb Bush looking to cast himself as anything but.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to interject myself into a political vote inside the House caucus. Washington seems so removed to everyday life. It's just -- they talk about things that -- they talk in language with all the acronyms and stuff that doesn't make any sense. They just don't seem to be relevant to people right now.

MURRAY: But Carson is feeling the scrutiny that comes with the spotlight, today refusing to say whether he believes President Obama is a Christian.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you believe he's a Christian?

CARSON: He says he is.

BLITZER: But I know he says he is. But do you believe he is?

CARSON: I have to take him at his word.

BLITZER: Why can't you just say he's a Christian? If he goes to church, he believes in Christ, why can't you just simply say he's a Christian?

CARSON: I can simply say that I'll take him at his word.

MURRAY: And suggesting that the death toll in the Holocaust could have been minimized if more citizens had weapons.

CARSON: I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to establish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.

MURRAY: Carson also raising questions about whether he fully understands fiscal issues like the upcoming fight to raise the debt ceiling, which allows the U.S. to pay off debts it's already racked up.

After stumbling through a radio interview...

CARSON: If we keep raising it, it's sort of like, OK, you have reached the limit for your fourth credit card. And I will tell you what. Why don't we get a fifth credit card? And if we keep raising it, that's not solving the problem. So, no, I am not in favor of continually raising the debt ceiling.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY: Now, I think you can see there Trump still speaking to this crowd in Las Vegas. Before he went in, a number of reporters asked him what he thought of some of Ben Carson's recent comments. He said he's looking forward to reading Ben Carson's book. So, it appears their truce is holding, at least for now, Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray in Las Vegas with the Republicans, thanks so much.

Another Republican candidate says flat out that no one in America could care less about who will become the next speaker of the House. It's New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He's joining me to explain how he would get work done in Washington if you vote for him for president.

That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's stay with our politics lead.

Today, the establishment lost. That's the message coming from Tea Party conservatives in the House after Congressman Kevin McCarthy decided to end his bid for the big job, speaker of the House. It's just the latest example of outsiders throwing a giant wrench into the establishment's plans.

We have watched outsiders such as Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina dominate the 2016 race. It all makes the Republican contest, not to mention the speaker's race, and -- as unpredictable as the plot twists on "How to Get Away With Murder."


TAPPER: Joining me now from Granite State Manufacturing in Manchester, New Hampshire, the Granite State, is the governor of New Jersey, Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie.

Governor Christie, good to see you, as always. Thanks for joining us.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Happy to be back, Jake. Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Are you worried about how fractured your party is on Capitol Hill right now? One member of the Freedom Caucus called this a circus.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I was in a town hall meeting last night here in Raymond, New Hampshire. And I told folks that this is "Game of Thrones" time.

This is an inside Washington, D.C. game that I have to tell you the truth, Jake, nobody in America could care less about. They don't care who the speaker is going to be. What they want is a Congress that's going to do something. That's going to reform the tax system and put it on the president's desk, reform -- repeal and replace Obamacare, get it on the president's desk. Defund Planned Parenthood, put it on the president's desk.

Have the courage to make the president veto those things if that's what he's going to do. Then the American people will at least see Congress as working and trying to get things done they promised to do.

But as for this "Game of Thrones" business, nobody cares. They could care less, Jake. And so could I.

TAPPER: But if you become president, this "Game of Thrones" business is going to be your business. These difficulties we've seen, Republican congressional leaders have in controlling members of Congress of their own party, they're going to become your problems. There are members of Congress of your party who don't want to raise the debt ceiling for debts already incurred.

How do you convince your fellow Republicans to put governing and God forbid compromise ahead of these ideological imperatives?

CHRISTIE: The same way I've done it for six years, Jake -- with a Democratic legislature in New Jersey, who every morning wakes up trying to make my life difficult. But you develop those relationships, you lay out a clear plan, and you exert strong leadership. And you work with those folks. And that's what needs to happen.

Let's face it, part of the problem of what's going on here is not just inside the Republican caucus, it's the dysfunction of Washington, D.C. that Barack Obama's permitted to happen. This is a guy who doesn't have relationships with Democrats in Congress let alone Republicans. That's not the way I've done it in New Jersey. And I will take strong, bold steps necessary to bring people together. And I've done it in New Jersey. People have seen it with Democrats. I can do it in Washington.

TAPPER: Let's talk about getting spending under control, which is something you talk about a lot on the stump. Last night in an interview with Public Radio International, Dr. Ben Carson, repeatedly refused to offer any specific government programs that he would cut. He said his approach to balance the budget would be a 3 percent to 4 percent reduction, what he calls fat, across all government agencies and programs.

Now, you've handled state budgets before. Is it that simple?

CHRISTIE: That doesn't work. It doesn't work. And it winds up hurting programs we don't want to hurt.

But here's the bottom line, Jake. I'm the only person in this race that has put forward a meaningful entitlement reform plan that will save $1.2 trillion over the next ten years in the area where there is 71 percent of all federal spending, entitlements and debt service. And so, I'm the only candidate in this race who's given specific plans

on what they would do. They're on my website at People should look at them. They're tough. They're tough choices, but that's what we have to make to get our budget in balance. That's what I did by reducing or eliminating 800 programs in New Jersey as governor. And I will take the same approach, a scalpel, not a meat ax, to cut out the path of government and to get us spending money on the right type of fence.

TAPPER: Senator Marco Rubio has been criticized quite a bit by Donald Trump and Jeb Bush among others for missing a lot of Senate votes.

Here's how Senator Rubio responded to those criticisms.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These votes that are happening in the Senate, we're not going to be able to make a difference unless we have a new president and a better president. That's why I'm running for president. And that's why I'm out there every day campaigning. When I miss votes in Washington, it's because I'm running for president.


TAPPER: Is that a valid excuse, you think?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, Marco and the people of Florida are going to have to decide whether they think that's a valid excuse or not. I just tell you, that's the same kind of defeatist attitude that's putting Washington in the place it's in.

I mean, why not put tax reform, Republican tax reform on his desk? If he wants to veto it, let him veto it. Let's put repeal and replace of Obamacare on his desk with a market-based, state-based system of health care on his desk. If he wants to veto, let him veto.

I just think that Senator Rubio on this one misunderstands the positive role the Republican Congress can make in framing the issues for the American people so they see a clear choice between what a Republican Congress would do with a Republican president and what they can't do with a Democratic president.

So, I think he's missing the point on this one, but as to whether it's a valid excuse or not, that's up for Marco. He's the senator, and the people of Florida who he represents.

TAPPER: You've also missed some time in New Jersey to campaign, according to five out of every nine days this year.

CHRISTIE: Yes. And I'm governor every minute. I'm on my phone. I'm on Skype. I'm doing all the things that I need to do to be able to communicate and make decisions.

And when I'm there I'm doing exactly what I need to do. When I'm here I'm doing the job I need to do as governor. And when we had a potential crisis in our state, like Hurricane Joaquin, I canceled my entire time and was back in the state managing a potential reaction to a storm.

[16:20:05] So, I can do these things. I've done these things as governor. It's not like being in the Senate or House where you have to be there for votes. I'm at work every minute of every day. And unless I threw my cell phone in the ocean, Jake, I couldn't be away from being governor, and wouldn't want to be.

TAPPER: Governor Christie, stay right there. We're going to take a very quick break. When we come back we're going to talk about some national security issues.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake tapper. We'll hear more from Republican presidential candidate, Governor Chris Christie, in a minute.

[16:25:01] But first, today's national lead, a serious warning issued by the country's top officials entrusted with keeping us safe. The heads of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center all testifying earlier today on Capitol Hill. And they say ISIS terrorists could infiltrate the flood of Syrian refugees seeking asylum here in the U.S.

Let's get right to CNN's Pamela Brown.

Pam, what do intelligence officials have to say?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, bottom line here, Jake, as the officials said, that they don't have as much data as they would like to screen Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. despite improvements in the vetting process. So, this highlights the intelligence gaps in Syria and the concern that the ISIS threat is only growing.


BROWN (voice-over): In his most extensive comments about the thousands of people fleeing ISIS-controlled areas, FBI Director James Comey expressed concern today about bringing some of those refugees to the U.S.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: My concern there is that there are certain gaps, I don't want to talk about publicly, in the data available to us.

BROWN: So far, the U.S. is planning to take in 10,000 refugees from Syria over the next year, and 100,000 refugees from all over the world by 2017. Law enforcement officials want to prevent what happened in 2013 when these two Iraqi refugees in the U.S. were arrested on terrorism charges after the FBI found their fingerprints on bombs used against U.S. soldiers. Despite that, officials say intelligence for screening Iraqi refugees was much better than it is now in Syria.

NICHOLAS RASMUSSEN, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER DIRECTOR: The intelligence picture we have of this particular conflict zone is not as rich as we would like it to be. But you can only review against what you have.


BROWN: Out of the hundreds of homegrown violent extremists the FBI is following in the U.S., Director Comey acknowledged the bureau has lost the ability to track dozens of them.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We cannot see what's being said between that ISIL recruiter and someone who would kill where they are.

BROWN: That's because ISIS terrorists overseas are targeting Americans online and trying to recruit them into a space law enforcement can't track.

COMEY: They find a live one, someone who might be willing to kill where they are, they will move them off of Twitter where with lawful process we can see the communications, and move them to an end to end mobile messaging app end to end encrypted. So, the needle that we may have found disappears on us once it becomes most dangerous.


BROWN: And officials also expressed concerns about the number of teens trying to leave the U.S. to join ISIS in Syria. Director Comey saying today the fight is spewing incrementally younger, and there are more girls with whom the ISIS message seems to be resonating -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Still with us in New Hampshire, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

Governor Christie, if you heard all those dire warnings in a closed door briefing in the oval office, what policy changes to the current fight against ISIS might you make?

CHRISTIE: Well, first off, Jake, I wouldn't leave fighting ISIS to Russia, as some in this race have suggested, and quite frankly as the president appears to be doing. America's got to engage in the fight with ISIS with our allies.

And so, I would work on four things, Jake. First, is making sure that we arm with the best armaments and most modern armaments our allies in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis. Two, make sure we train them all the way down to the battalion level to fight effectively with those weapons against ISIS. Third, make sure we give them the best intelligence information we can to find where the ISIS leadership is and get it moving forward. And fourth, I would make sure we give them the air cover they needed to soften those targets before they went into move.

We need to empower our allies to do it. They need to know America is all in. They don't know that now because this president's done nothing but run away from this problem.

He called the ISIS the jayvee. He said they weren't a real problem. We now know once again he was wrong.

The way he was wrong about the Iran deal. The way he's been wrong about so many things in foreign policy including inviting Russia to come in to prop up Assad and bomb American-trained Syrian rebels. It's a disgrace. He's a disaster.

TAPPER: You don't mean that he literally invited Putin in. Obviously, the United States doesn't want Putin there.


CHRISTIE: No, no, no. Jake, let me stop you. He literally invited Putin in back when he drew the red line. When he drew the red line and said if Assad uses chemical weapons against his people, that we'll take him out. And then he used them.

He invited Putin in to broker an agreement with Assad to give up his chemical weapons, which Assad has not done. Once you invite Putin in for that part of it, you can't then pick and choose given the Obama approach what you do.

So he did invite him in, Jake. And it was wrong. It was wrong headed. And everything that's happened with Russia and Syria since then is the creation of this president and his former secretary of state.

TAPPER: President Obama obviously is concerned that the United States would be drawn into a quagmire in Syria. You don't share that concern at all?

CHRISTIE: The concern I share, Jake, is you're watching the entire Middle East go on fire.