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Interview With New York Congressman Peter King; ISIS in America?; Capitol Chaos; Interview with Ben Carson. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired October 8, 2015 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: GOP shocker. The top candidate to be the next House speaker suddenly drops out of the race minutes before a critical vote.

This hour, we're learning how -- about John Boehner's new attempt to fight the right Republican to replace him.

ISIS in the U.S., new warnings about secret messages to terror recruits and the threat to the U.S. homeland. Top counterterrorism officials admit they are losing track of potential attackers on American soil.

Sanders' strategy. Hillary's toughest challenge breaking with tradition as he warms up for their first debate just days from now. Will it help him pass a huge test for his campaign?

And power on parade. North Korea ready with a massive show of force to mark an important milestone for Kim Jong-un and for his family's legacy of ruling with an iron fist.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news.

CNN has learned that retiring House Speaker John Boehner is trying once again to convince Ways and Means Committee chairman, the former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan to run for the top leadership job, this after a jaw-dropping surprise in the race to replace Boehner.

The leading contender, the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, suddenly bowing out just as a preliminary vote was about to take place behind closed doors, and, tonight, there is new turmoil, division and uncertainty within the GOP-led House.

We're also following new setbacks in the fight against ISIS- inspired terrorism here in the United States. Top U.S. national security officials are admitting that they have lost the ability to track dozens of ISIS sympathizers what could be plotting attacks right now here in the United States.

I'll ask Republican Congressman Peter King about those stories. He's a top member of the Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees. And our correspondents and analysts, they are also standing by with all the news that's breaking right now.

First, let's go to our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She's got more on Kevin McCarthy's stunning announcement to drop out of the race.

At first, Dana, a lot of people thought it was a joke.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I got a text from a source inside the room the second it happened and I responded, come on, stop it, as if it was a joke, but obviously it was not.

The same undercurrent of conservative outrage that helped push out John Boehner from his speakership swept away his number two from the spot. No one saw it coming.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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?

REP. DAVID JOLLY (R), FLORIDA: 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: So the question is, now what? Is there anyone who at this point can get enough support from the Republican Caucus that they can actually govern?

[18:05:00]

The answer to that question is yes. His name is Congressman Paul Ryan, the former vice presidential candidate, but he has repeatedly said he does not want the job. CNN is told that John Boehner, the current House speaker, tried again today to convince him to change his mind, but a source close to Ryan tells me he is still a hard no -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, stand by.

Kevin McCarthy has been under fire in recent days for publicly suggesting the House Benghazi hearings were an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton's poll numbers.

Our senior political reporter, Manu Raju, asked McCarthy about that shortly after he announced that he was dropping his bid to become speaker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: How much did your comments about Benghazi last week play into your decision to step aside today?

MCCARTHY: Well, that wasn't helpful.

Yes, I could have said it much better. But this Benghazi committee was only created for one purpose, to find the truth on behalf of the families for the four dead Americans. I should not be a distraction from that. And that's part of the decision as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Manu is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

McCarthy was also asked about a letter from a North Carolina congressman that appeared to be a veiled threat of some sort. What are you learning about that?

RAJU: Yes. This is from Walter Jones. He's a congressman for 20 years from North Carolina and he's seen numerous scandals over the years engulf his own party.

And what Mr. Jones did over the last few days that really got a lot of people's attention on Capitol Hill was that he publicly asked of any candidates who have "misdeeds" that could embarrass the Republican Party, that those candidates should step aside from their leadership post, should abandon their leadership bid.

McCarthy was asked about that letter, if it played into his thinking and he dismissed that suggestion. But I got a chance to talk to Walter Jones about why he did that and why he offered that letter and here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, I was here when Newt Gingrich stepped down as speaker of the House.

We were in the process of impeaching Bill Clinton and then Newt had to acknowledge that he had an issue. Then the conference, the Republican Conference, elected Bob Livingston to follow behind Newt as speaker of the House. We were all believing that we were moving in the right direction and two days later he steps down before we even have a vote on the floor of the House.

And there have been some other things that have happened over the past few years that 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, I got a chance to ask Mr. Jones if he thought that

Kevin McCarthy had any of those misdeeds in past that prompted him to step aside. He also does not think that that was the case.

And what McCarthy aides have been saying all day, and people that are close to him, is that, look, he did not want to put his conference through a very tough vote to put him in the speaker's chair.

A lot of these members from very conservative districts knew that this could be a primary challenge, could hurt them with the right, with these outside groups that don't like the party's leadership. And it really just goes to show you that if you're a member of leadership, it's just so toxic these days with the conservative base that does not believe that the Republicans in Washington are fighting hard enough, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much.

Joining us now, a prominent House Republican, Congressman Peter King of New York.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

KING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You said you were totally stunned by Kevin McCarthy's withdrawal. Now several hours have passed. How do you explain his decision? Was it simply his misstatements or his blunt statements about Benghazi, about that select committee and Hillary Clinton?

KING: Wolf, I don't think so.

Kevin spoke at a party conference we had at 8:00 this morning and he was very forceful. He was intent on going, you know, running as hard as he could. And I would say that he would have gotten 85 to 90 percent of the votes, maybe more.

That wasn't in question. He admitted he made a mistake on Benghazi. But that was not enough to stop somebody from being speaker of the House.

BLITZER: What do you think it was?

KING: I really don't know.

Now, one story is that the Freedom Caucus basically told him that they were not going to vote for him no matter what, that he would be under 218. And Kevin didn't want to put the party through having no speaker, in effect, having -- being stuck below 218 and just going ballot after ballot and he just felt that it was going to divide the party.

I really don't know. I was as stunned as anyone. In fact, when he first said it, I wasn't sure that I had actually heard what he said, because the microphone was sort of muffled and a lot of people weren't paying attention, because it just seemed to be a routine introductory speech he was giving, something about party unity.

And, all of a sudden, he says, I'm not the man, I'm not running. And I would say close to half the room didn't even hear him say it. And then suddenly John Boehner said, in view of Kevin's statement, there won't be any votes today.

[18:10:00]

And it was just, again, confusion, shock. And, again, Kevin is the type of guy, he's a very popular guy. There was nobody gloating, except maybe a few people in the Tea Party.

BLITZER: And you also heard Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican of North Carolina, had this letter saying if anyone has committed any misdeeds, his word, misdeeds, since being elected to the House of Representatives, he said they should not have a leadership position, speaker, majority leader. That was sort of a stunning development, wasn't it?

KING: Again, I don't think that's a thing we should get into at all. I know nothing about what Walter Jones might be talking about.

And, quite frankly, I would say -- I take from the Bible that you shouldn't be throwing stones, because everybody lives in some kind of a glass house. To me, unless you have something to say, I wouldn't say it. Unless you have something definite, don't say it at all. And to put any kind of cloud out there, to me, is wrong.

I have a great regard for Kevin McCarthy and I will just leave it at that.

BLITZER: What about Paul Ryan? You know the pressure the speaker, the outgoing speaker, John Boehner, is putting on the former Republican vice presidential nominee to run, the congressman from Wisconsin. Is he the guy? Is he your candidate?

KING: I would certainly support Paul, because he's certainly conservative. He should be agreeable to all sections of the party. And the Freedom Caucus would have a very hard time opposing Paul Ryan.

Just on the way over here tonight, Wolf, somebody in the leadership, not John Boehner -- and I have not spoken to Paul -- but somebody in the leadership did tell me that they are thinking more and more that Paul might say yes. There's a lot of -- I shouldn't say pressure, because Paul isn't the kind of guy you pressure, but really convincing Paul that it's essential for the party, that he might be the only one who could bring the party together. He represents Republican core principles.

Obviously, he ran for vice president of the United States. So, he certainly has the class and the stature that is necessary. So, right now, I think there's a very good chance Paul would do it. But, believe me, this is not from talking to Paul or anyone on his staff, just some different things that I'm picking up on the House floor and just on the way over here tonight. BLITZER: I know that conservative wing, that Freedom Caucus as

it's called, Tea Party supporters in the House -- and I know you're not a member of that -- they are open to the possibility. They say, if they don't get what they want, they are ready for a government shutdown.

What do you make of that? What's your reaction?

KING: Well, first of all, I don't even consider them conservative.

You are talking about less than 10 percent of the Republican Party. You're talking about 5 percent of the House of Representatives and they're trying to blackmail the party and hijack the Congress. And this has never happened before and it shouldn't.

Kevin McCarthy would have had the support of 85 to 90 percent of the Republican Party, yet they are willing to hold out their votes to keep him under 218. That's the stuff that goes on in banana republics. It goes on in some European parliaments where governments topple.

The speaker of the House is a constitutional officer. And for these people who say they respect tradition and the Constitution, you know, fight it out, go in that conference, and say whatever you want about anybody. Have the vote and then unless you have some severe moral objection, unless you have some crisis of conscience, you are obligated to vote for the choice of your party.

Listen, I have gone against the party on different votes, on different issues. The fact is when you are talking about organizing the Congress of the United States, with the person second in line to be president of the United States, you better have a damn good reason to vote no. And these guys don't.

I have been listening to their reasons all week. And it's a new one every day. I think the main one seems to be they want -- more of them want to be on top committees and they're holding the House hostage to that. It's wrong and we can't allow that to happen.

BLITZER: They also don't want to raise the nation's debt limit next month when the U.S. has to repay, has to pay all these loan obligations, all these commitments the U.S. government has already made. They are ready to shut down the government as far as that is concerned. They don't want to raise the debt limit, even if the U.S. goes into default. You're not with them on that.

KING: No, and I don't think any reasonable person could be.

And that's not a conservative position. This is money we owe. Since when does it become conservative to be a deadbeat, to default on your debts, to risk the U.S.' credit rating? This is wrong. These guys are posing as conservatives and I don't know what they really are.

But I don't consider them conservative at all. This is not the party of Ronald Reagan or the party of Henry Hyde or, for that matter, the party of Robert Taft. These are guys are off their own. And we can't allow this to go on. It's bad enough they brought down a speaker. It's even worse now that they have brought down the person who was the choice for speaker.

We have to get this behind us. And I think that Paul Ryan, despite all that I have just said, he's totally acceptable to me and I think he would even be acceptable to the people I have just been criticizing.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, stand by. We are going to shift gears when we come back. We're talking about a new ISIS threat right here to the U.S. homeland, new information coming in.

Much more with Congressman Peter King right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:33]

BLITZER: We're back with Congressman Peter King. He's a leading member of the House Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees.

Congressman, stand by. I want to ask you about these disturbing new warnings about the ISIS threat on American soil. Many potential attackers in the U.S. are dodging detection right now, new information coming in.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us.

Pamela, what did the nation's top counterterrorism officials tell Congress today?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, both the FBI director and the head of Homeland Security raised concerns today that ISIS is rapidly spurring more homegrown violent extremists in the U.S. who are becoming increasingly more difficult to track.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[18:20:10]

BROWN (voice-over): Top U.S. national security officials told Congress today the ISIS threat is growing.

NICHOLAS RASMUSSEN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: In our judgment, ISIL has over taken al Qaeda as the leader of the global violent extremist movement and the group does view itself as being in conflict with the West. And that conflict is being played out not just in Syria and Iraq now, but also in a number of other locations around the world.

BROWN: FBI Director James Comey acknowledged the bureau has lost the ability to track dozens of ISIS sympathizers in the U.S.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We cannot see what's being said between an 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: What ISIL has been doing over the last year is when they found a live one, someone who might be killing 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 that is end-to-end encrypted act, so the needle that we may have found disappears on us once it becomes most dangerous.

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

COMEY: There is risk associated with bringing anybody in from the outside, but especially from a conflict zone like that. My conservative is that there are certainly gaps that I don't want to talk about publicly in that, 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

BLITZER: That's very, very worrisome. Pamela, thanks very much.

Congressman Peter King is still with us.

Congressman, you heard the FBI director, Comey, expressing deep concern about bringing those Syrian refugees to the United States. He referenced what he called gaps. Could ISIS exploit this? How worried would you be? Is the U.S. equipped to vet all these refugees?

KING: Well, Pamela Brown's story, it's highly on point.

And I have great concerns about the Iraqi refugees coming in, the Syrian refugees, any refugees from that part of the world, especially Syria, because we don't have databases to check them against. And when you talk with officials in counterterrorism and law enforcement, they will tell you that they really cannot determine whether or not a person has terrorist connections. They do the best they can, but it's a very inadequate search.

And I'm very concerned and it bothers me, when you raise these objections, somehow people say you're racist or you're a xenophobe. The fact is, these are real issues and the last thing we need is to get five, 10, 15 people in this country who are actually ISIS operatives. Look what happened with the Boston Marathon bombing and you just multiply that by the number of potential terrorists that could be coming in.

It's a humanitarian crisis. But my main obligation is to protect the people of the United States.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what Russia is doing in Syria right now.

Iranian state TV, by the way, is just denying a report, a CNN report, by the way, that Russian missiles, cruise missiles launched from Russia supposedly going after targets in Syria, they had a serious problem and they actually crashed in Iran. What are you hearing?

KING: Wolf, I can't go into details on this. We have been briefed on Russian's involvement in Syria.

Let me just say, though, that Russia, you know, you have seen the press reports, how they are basically attacking resistance forces that are allied with the U.S. or the U.S. supports or the U.S. has expressed support for. They are not going after ISIS yet or they are in very small numbers.

They are mainly going after the anti-ISIS forces. They're going after ones who are not affiliated with ISIS. And so this is clearly a power grab by Russia. It's to consolidate their hold in the region. And you have Russia, you have Iran, the threat it's caused to Turkey, to Israel, to Egypt. And that's why you find countries in the Middle East now are gravitating towards Russia.

The Egyptians are dealing with the Russians or are considering dealing with the Russians, the Saudis. Even prime Minister Netanyahu has gone to meet with Putin, because they don't trust the U.S.' word here. And Russia, their main goal I see right now in Syria is to -- not to defeat ISIS. That's secondary. But it's to defeat the rebel forces who are fighting against Assad.

[18:25:05]

BLITZER: Peter King, the congressman, thanks very much.

KING: Wolf, thank you very much.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news, the leading candidate to be the next speaker of the House calling it quits. We're getting new information about the chaos within the Republican Party leadership right now.

Also, my interview with Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson. He's defending his controversial remarks about that Oregon college shooting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. A huge curveball in the race to become the next speaker of the House, curveball that most Republicans, almost all of them, did not see coming. The House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, simply dropping out of the competition.

Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She's getting new information. Also joining us, our CNN contributor, the former Republican congressman, our national security commentator, Mike Rogers; our CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson; and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. He's the editorial director of the "National Journal."

Dana, you're getting new information on what's going on, the maneuvering to find a new candidate. What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, if you ask any member of Congress, they will give you a different name on who they think could be the person, kind of the white knight to come in and maybe even be a caretaker. I've heard that term bandied about. People like Tom Cole, for example, who is somebody who certainly is well-liked. The problem is he's also very close to John Boehner, so that might not work.

Look, the issue is, to a person, whether you're the most conservative in the House or the most moderate, they say Paul Ryan is the guy. The only guy who could bring together 247, all members of the House Republican conference. I'm told that John Boehner tried again to push him today. Other members are continuing to push him to do it. He's cancelled a couple fundraisers for the next couple of days, because he doesn't want to be in the thick of it. But sources close to Paul Ryan insist he is a no and a hard no. We'll see if that changes.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, is it all -- and you know about Benghazi, the comments that Kevin McCarthy made, the admission that there was some political role, trying to bring down Hillary Clinton. That's why they created a select committee. Is that what this is all about?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I think it's more than that. I think, you know, Kevin McCarthy said today that wasn't helpful. I think he got it exactly right. I think that magnified his problems, but I don't think that was the core problem. And I'll defer to some of my experts here, who cover the House more closely than I.

I think the core problem is that you do have a group of House Republicans who are fundamentally alienated from the leadership and want to pursue a more confrontational strategy on every issue that arises. It is essentially the same problem we saw on the fiscal cliff a couple years ago, that comes up constantly on the debt limit. And you do wonder, no matter what individual can unify, can get

to 218 votes, even if it's Paul Ryan, whether anyone can function effectively as a speaker at a point when such a big portion of the caucus is willing to drive the train off the tracks in order to advance their agenda and make their point.

BLITZER: Mike Rogers, you left the House of Representatives. Who do you think could get enough votes, A, to win and unify the party?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: A, I think Wolf, it's going to change minute by minute.

If Paul Ryan says yes -- and there is some indication that earlier he was a solid no; now he's a maybe. If it even gets to maybe, that will nullify all of the other candidates. He is the one person in the House that can unify both the moderate faction and this Freedom Caucus, if you will, into a place that he can effect 218 votes.

If they show up to Paul Ryan with 218 votes, I don't see that he says no. The trick is, can they show up with at least 218 votes? And really, it really would be, needs to be a unanimous vote on the House floor.

Remember, two parts of this: one is the Republican Conference. You only need a simple majority to win that. And Kevin McCarthy won that simple majority, by the way. He would have been the nominee to go to the floor.

I think Paul Ryan -- I know Paul Ryan. He's a very smart, very savvy guy; he's a very policy-oriented guy. If they show up and say, "We will not contest your race on the floor of the House of Representatives; we'll all be with you," I think he at that point says yes.

BASH: Smart, savvy and policy-oriented, which...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Exactly.

BLITZER: As you know -- let me bring Nia into this conversation. Nia, Donald Trump saying some people are giving him credit for all of this. How much of McCarthy's withdrawal does play into the whole presidential narrative on the Republican side that voters want outsiders?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think that's right. I think the person who's probably giving Donald Trump credit for this is Donald Trump and probably not many other people.

But yes, I think it does speak to this outsider drive that he's in the Republican Party. And the sense of frustration on the Hill that here you have a House that's controlled by Republicans, a Senate that's controlled by Republicans, but still, they didn't really have their say. And this is their big sort of temper tantrum in wanting to gain control and throw out the establishment and have one of their own in this leadership role.

And I do think you're going to have, obviously, presidential candidates weigh in on this and talk about this. You had some when Boehner -- when Boehner announced that he was stepping down. You had them go before these audiences, conservative audiences; and people would cheer that Boehner is leaving.

So I do think it plays into that. And also, I think, the face of the Republican Party and House is important for branding in chaos that we're seeing now certainly isn't good for the larger brand.

BLITZER: Nia, all of you, thanks very much.

Coming up next, my interview with Ben Carson. Did he mean to suggestion the victims of that Oregon college shooting should have done more? Fought back? Does Ben Carson agree with a critic of President Obama's claims that the president is not a real black president? Tough questions for top White House contender when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:15] BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is trying to tap down controversy he's generated by his own remarks. In a one-on-one interview I had with him earlier today here in New York, I asked him to clarify what he meant when he told an interviewer that, unlike some victims of last week's mass shooting in Oregon, he would have fought back against the gunman. Listen to part of the conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You seem to suggest the victims should have done more.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, not suggesting that at all. What the original question was, was if you were there and someone was holding a gun to you and asking you about your religion and they had shot other people, what would you do?

And knowing that you were next to be killed and that they were going to continue to down the line killing people, I would much rather go down fighting. And if all of us attack the shooter, the chances are very strong that not all of us will be killed. To me that doesn't seem like a very controversial thing.

But when you take it out of context, and you try to make it look like I'm criticizing the victims, that's when it becomes controversial. And that's one of the things I'm hoping that the news media will stop doing.

BLITZER: One of the victims, a guy by the name of Matthew Downing, he was offended by your comments. He told CNN, "I'm fairly upset he" -- meaning you -- "he said that. Nobody could truly understand what actions they would take like that in a situation unless they lived it."

CARSON: I suspect he probably has had it fed to him by somebody who misconstrued it. And I think, if he had heard the complete explanation such as I gave, he would know that I'm not complaining about any of the victims; and he would know that I'm trying to plant the seed. Because this may not be the last time that this occurs. And if it occurs again, and there's a bunch of people, they might start thinking, "You know what? We're not going to just take this." And that's one of the things that was learned from Flight 93 on 9/11.

BLITZER: One of the heroes, one of the survivors, he was shot seven times. He resisted. He's relatively OK right now. He's been released from the hospital, but he's a military veteran. Not everybody is a military veteran and has experience in dealing with a gunman like this.

CARSON: You don't have to be a military veteran. Do you remember the Virginia shooting on the college campus? Afterwards, I'm told that they came out with guidelines for the students to tell them what to do if a situation like that arises again, and it included throwing everything you could possibly throw at the shooter. You know, he's not going to be able to deal with all of it. In a sense, they were saying attack him.

BLITZER: The other controversy you've erupted on this issue, is in your new book, "A More Perfect Union: What We, the People, Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties," is this, a reference to guns and Nazi Germany.

You're familiar with this. I'm read a couple sentences from the book: "German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s, Hitler's regime had mercilessly slaughtered six million Jews and numerous others whom they considered inferior. Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance."

So what is the -- what is the point you're trying to make: if there had been guns in Germany, there might not have been a Holocaust?

CARSON: Right. There were a number of countries where tyranny reigned, and before it happened, they disarmed the people. That was the point.

Noah Webster said, when he was talking about tyranny, that the people in America would never suffer tyranny, because they are armed.

BLITZER: So -- but just clarify: If there had been no gun- control laws in Europe at that time, would six million Jews have been slaughtered?

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

BLITZER: Because they had a powerful military machine, as you know, the Nazis.

CARSON: I understand that.

BLITZER: They could have simply gone in, and they did go in and wipe out whole communities.

CARSON: But you realize there was a reason that they took the guns first, right?

BLITZER: So you believe that, if they had guns, maybe it could have been eased? Is that what you're saying?

CARSON: I'm telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first.

BLITZER: Rupert Murdoch, switching gears, tweeted this, praising you and your wife. I'll put it up on the screen, clearly taking a swipe at President Obama. "Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black president who can properly address the racial divide and much else?"

That's a pretty shocking statement. He's now apologized, in effect, but that was pretty ugly.

CARSON: Well, I know Rupert Murdoch. He's not a racist by any stretch of the imagination. He's just expressing his opinion. I think it's much to do about nothing.

BLITZER: But he's suggesting that President Obama is not a real black president. At least he did in that initial...

CARSON: Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I believe what he was making reference to was the fact that here was a man who is a black president that the black community was very excited about, who came in and whose policies have not really elevated the black community, has not been beneficial.

[18:45:14] There is more unemployment, more poverty and I believe that's what he was really referring to.

BLITZER: You believe the president is a real black president, though, right?

CARSON: I wouldn't everyone get into such a conversation.

BLITZER: It's a simple question, is President Obama a real black president?

CARSON: Well, he's the president and he's black.

BLITZER: Because there is a whole history of these acquisitions as you well know of President Obama. Do you believe he was born in the United States?

CARSON: I do believe that.

BLITZER: 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 --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right.

He was basically refusing to say at that point that he is ready to say he's a Christian. He says I'll take him at his word.

Let's bring in our CNN anchor Don Lemon, as well as our senior political reporter Nia Malika Henderson.

Nia, are you surprised Dr. Carson wouldn't simply say yes, President Obama is a Christian. He says, if he says he's a Christian, I'll take him at his word.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: No, I'm not surprised by him making that sort of too clever by half assessment of President Obama. You seen that from others, Scott Walker did that as well. It's almost as if he doesn't want to vouch for Barack Obama's relationship with God relationship to his faith and to his church. It's not surprising.

Ben Carson is someone very unfiltered. At times his advisors told him to dial it back, particularly in talking about Nazis and Hitler and this may be the last time he actually talks about that because they don't think it's very not beneficial. But in terms of talking about Obama, he did sort of vouch for his blackness, vouch for the fact he was born in America.

But on the Christian part, it might be a bridge too far because this is Carson's sort of strength with the evangelical community, on many ways, those are the same kinds of people who might have questions about Obama's faith.

BLITZER: Don, were you surprised he wouldn't flatly say President Obama is a real black president?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I don't know if he vouched for his blackness. Nia and I may differ on that point. He did say he was born in the United States.

I was actually a bit surprised. Nia may not have been surprised but I was surprised especially since and we talked about this last night, Nia, especially since as a conservative black person, a conservative black man, often times his race is called into question and how he feels about black America, if he were a real black person, then he wouldn't perhaps be conservative. So, yes, I was surprised he didn't come flat out and defend the

president and say, of course, he is a black president, of course I am a black man who is a conservative Ben Carson who is running for president. He of all people should have defended the president's blackness. When you asked him that question, as much respect as I have for Dr. Carson's accomplishments as a neurosurgeon and him as a person, I think he should have said, yes, he is a real black president.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Nia.

HENDERSON: I think Carson in some ways -- part of his appeal is that he is African American and Republicans for awhile now have wanted sort of their version of Obama who is black, but also the anti-Obama. He, of course, got his start opposite Obama at the national prayer breakfast in 2013 and very much is playing into this hope among Republicans to sort of rebrand their party as more diverse and elevate sort of their own black candidate and we seen that in the example of Herman Cain and to a certain extent Michael Steele when he was elevated to lead the RNC.

So I think for Carson, a race does come into play here in terms of his appeal among many Republicans. He's number two in some polls, nipping on Donald Trump's heels but they also like the fact that he doesn't quite go there in terms of talking about race and in terms of a grievance and talking about a structural racism that doesn't get into the weeds in terms of talking about race and racism.

BLITZER: He's very popular indeed among Republicans and almost all national polls among Republicans and almost all of the key state polls, he comes in second. Sometimes relatively close second to Donald Trump, the Republican front runner right now.

Guys, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, please be sure to catch Don Lemon later tonight 10:00 p.m. Eastern when he anchors "CNN TONIGHT", a full hour of important news.

The first Democratic presidential debate five days away and Senator Bernie Sanders is warming up for his face-off with Hillary Clinton in an unconventional way.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has more on preparations for the big debate hosted by CNN.

Sunlen, Sanders has a lot at stake right now.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He certainly does, Wolf, and I think the sanders campaign is acutely aware this is the first time that many voters will see him on a national stage facing off with Hillary Clinton.

[18:50:03] So, the question for him is can he make this into the watershed moment that he needs to prove that he can be a viable, general election candidate. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): Bernie Sanders faces the biggest test of his campaign so far.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Boston, thank you!

SERFATY: To funnel the energy that has defined his insurgent candidacy into the next phase of a real contender.

SANDERS: Don't be surprised if we do well with a number of Republicans.

SERFATY: Ground Zero, Tuesday's debate.

SANDERS: I look forward to a vigorous debate on the most important issues facing this country.

SERFATY: The Sanders' campaign casting it as a pivotal moment for him as a candidate, but he's not preparing in the traditional way. Unlike others, he's not had mock debates, no rehearsals at a lectern and no stand-in for anyone playing Hillary yet. He is quietly studying up instead, requesting briefing books from his strategists, holding calls with policy experts and taking pains to avoid getting personal.

SANDERS: You're looking at a candidate who does not go about attacking people personally. What I think debates are about is, in fact, differentiating the differences of opinions that we have.

SERFATY: In his laundry list is at the ready. Sanders already hinting at flash points he's ready to get into with Clinton over TPP, the Keystone Pipeline and Wall Street.

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR MEDIA ADVISER, BERNIE 2016: If he's attack, I can tell you, he's not going to stand there and take attacks. You know, he will defend himself.

SERFATY: That debate style --

SANDERS: In terms of this apparent expertise on health care --

SERFATY: -- has been tested in dozens of debates over the years, where his rivals on stage with him say he's comfortable, stays on message and gets aggressive.

SANDERS: Because it's people like you.

SERFATY: But those debates, just a warm-up for this, his first on the national stage.

SANDERS: Mr. Camden (ph) says that the economy is really booming and doing well, it's wrong.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SERFATY: And it's because of those sorts of moments that the

Sanders' campaign is not pushing him to hold these mock debates. His strategists say it's because they don't want him to become too canned, too practiced, they don't want him to come off as a low drag politician because of the authenticity, they believe, is what's attracting a lot of voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen, thanks very, very much.

We're counting down to the first Democratic presidential debate hosted by CNN, Tuesday night, this coming Tuesday night, live from Las Vegas.

Just ahead, Kim Jong-un's army preparing from massive show of force. Why is North Korea about to flex its military muscle big time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:20] BLITZER: North Korea's military preparing for a massive display of its might as the country getting ready to mark its 70th anniversary of Kim Jong-un's ruling party.

CNN's Will Ripley is joining us now from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

Will, what can we expect to see in the next 48 hours?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We can expect to see a tremendous show of forth from North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un. This is expected be perhaps the biggest military parade since Kim took office. Back in 2011, the military some 9 million strong when you count active troops and reserves, but a lot of people will be watching closely to see if North Korea will unveil a long-range missile rumor to be in development that could potentially launch a satellite into orbit or even carry a warhead towards the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY (voice-over): When it comes to massive displays of state muscle, nobody quite does it like North Korea. Then again, no other nation has the Korean Workers Party led by the same family for seven decades.

This weekend's spectacle is supposed to be a showcase of loyalty to the party and its supreme leader. Pyongyang citizens have been rehearsing for months, day and night.

"We want to celebrate in the most significant way," says this university student.

Tens of thousands will fill the streets, a lavish celebration for a nation still struggling economically.

(on camera): You'll often see North Korean young people dancing in large group formations like this. This is one way that they celebrate major holidays like the one that's coming up. (voice-over): Behind them, a monument to the Workers Party, an

imposing symbol of North Korea's only ruling party that turns 70 on Saturday.

We're taken to the party's first headquarters, a place the North Korean government says foreign media has never visited before. As many communist regimes have collapsed, North Korea's system is practically unchanged.

(on camera): People are in these rooms right now learning about the history of the party.

(voice-over): From their earliest days at school, right through their adult working lives, every North Korean attends regular history studies. They learn the official story of Kim Il-Sung's rise to power from teenage revolutionary to Workers Party founder to supreme leader for 46 years. A title passed on to his son and grandson.

Third generation leader Kim Jong-un rules the nation some call a cold war throwback, but North Korea insists it's here to stay, developing nuclear weapons and missiles to defend the regime.

This weekend's parade, a show of devotion to the leadership, a defiant show of force to the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: Kim Jong-un will be presiding over this event but the sign of this country's isolation, Wolf, only China is sending a high- level delegation. Most countries are staying far away from this event.

BLITZER: We'll stay in close touch with you. Will Ripley, thank you.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.