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Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; Iranian Prisoner; Republican Fight; President Obama Meets With Oregon Victims' Families; Sources: Ryan Thinks & Prays About Speaker Run; Interview with Republican Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho; Carson: "I'm Not Politically Correct". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 9, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: John Lennon would have been 75 today if he had not been killed by a madman with a gun, a problem that keeps getting worse in this country, meriting yet another presidential trip right now.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, sadness, anger and resentment as President Obama arrives in Oregon to grieve with families of the campus shooting victims there. Not everyone's coming in for the hug. Why are so many people wishing Air Force One had stayed home?

The politics lead, you might remember him as Mitt Romney's P90X- interesting running mate. Does Congressman Paul Ryan have the muscle to unite the Republican Party on the Hill and end all this chaos at the Capitol?

The buried lead, 445 days -- "Washington Post" reporter Jason Rezaian has now been a prisoner of Iran for longer than the entire Iran hostage crisis back in 1979 and 1980. Does the White House have any chits left after the nuclear deal to free him and at least two other American prisoners? We will talk to Jason's brother here to mark this sad milestone.

Hello, everybody. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We're going to begin with our national lead.

On the day that President Obama is forced into the role of consoler- in-chief again before the president even took off for Roseburg, Oregon, the nation experienced yet another campus shooting. Early this morning, students gripped in fear and sadness after one of their classmates was killed and three others injured at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Police say there was a fight between two groups of students, one student pulled a gun and shot four others in a parking lot next to a student residence hall. All victims were part of the same fraternity. The gunman believed to be a freshman at the school is in custody. Meantime, President Obama just touched down in Oregon and is heading

to the site of last week's campus shooting to help the community heal. But not everyone in the community is eager to rest their heads on his shoulder. Many gun rights activists signed up to protest the president's appearance.

Just hours after the shooting at Umpqua Community College last week, the president said he thought mass shootings are something that should be politicized. Well, this is what that looks like.

CNN's Sara Sidner live for us in Roseburg, Oregon -- Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I want to tell you that right now, as we speak, the president is meeting with some of the victims' families who have gone through the worst time in their lives, lost their family members in this mass shooting.

And while he's meeting with the families, there are folks who don't believe he should be here in the first place. We have been looking at protests throughout the morning here that have dwindled down now because everyone is heading over to the high school where the president is meeting one by one with the victims of the families who would like to meet with him. Some folks are very clear in their message to President Obama. And this is all about gun rights and gun control.


MURRAY (voice-over): Mourners with fresh flowers keep arriving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually ended up having a dream the other night and it was really terrifying. And I just felt like I needed to come up here and let it go and just honor these people that had lost their life.

MURRAY: McKenzie Reed (ph) was born and raised in Roseburg, where a student gunman massacred nine people, then killed himself inside the Umpqua Community College. The small Oregon town united in grief finds itself divided over a visit by the president of the United States.

As President Obama arrives to meet with the victims' families privately, there is a public display of disdain for him.

JASON ANDERSON, PROTESTER: He's here to promote anti-gun agenda, and standing on the bodies of dead children to do that is not OK.

JIM LANGSTON, DOUGLAS COUNTY RESIDENT: The bad people will always have guns. They will always do crimes. And the absolute proof of that is that that community college was a gun-free zone.

MURRAY: The folks here are not just from Roseburg, but other parts of Oregon. They are particularly angry about what the president said the day of the shooting.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

MURRAY: These may be the loudest voices, but they are not the only ones who speak for Roseburg. The town mayor is rolling out the welcome mat.

LARRY RICH, MAYOR OF ROSEBURG, OREGON: We are very happy he's coming to Roseburg. We welcome him. And we are going to treat him with respect and open our arms and appreciate that he is here in our town.

MURRAY: And so do some of the residents, with one big caveat, it must be all about the victims' families, no political statements wanted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he's going to come here, then he needs to just come here to honor and not to face any of the issues.

KAYLA CRUMPACKER, RESIDENT OF ROSEBURG: Well, it's good that he's trying to come to comfort the families that have lost lives, but, I mean, a lot of people have their ups and downs about him. Me, I just stay neutral.


MURRAY: Politically speaking, though, Roseburg has been referred to as a red dot in a blue state, a conservative town where logging work once paid the wages of many, an industry that eventually splintered and ground to a near halt. But fishing, farming and hunting are still an integral part of life.

Here, many say guns aren't the problem; people who misuse them are.


MURRAY: Now you're seeing some of the remnants of the folks that are out here protesting. But we can tell you there are some folks at the other end of the street who are saying that Mr. Obama is welcome.

At this point in time, this is a community divided, but they are only divided on the political sense. When it comes to these families, they are very protective of them and they are united, truly united, in grief -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Sidner in Roseburg, Oregon, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, a big supporter of further restrictions on gun ownership.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

I'm wondering, can you point to a law or a proposed law that might have prevented the massacre in Roseburg, Oregon?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There may be no specific law that would have prevented that killing, but we're still awaiting facts about how the gun was obtained and what the signs of danger were in this individual. But the common ground here is to keep guns out of the hands of

dangerous people. For example, in Charleston, South Carolina, the shooter there was able to obtain a weapon because he made use of a gap in the law, a loophole that permits gun dealers to sell weapons after 72 hours even if a background check is not complete.

Closing that loophole would seem to be common ground. No background check, no gun if it's a federally licensed dealer. And, of course, more universal background checks for gun show sales or Internet sales would seem to be common ground, bringing together red and blue states or localities and East and West, all parts of the country, because I think the vast majority of Americans want to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

And our effort now is to ignite and activate that vast majority,so they can be heard and heeded in Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: For the closing of the loophole you proposed -- and I know you're introducing legislation about if the gun -- keeping the gun from being sold even if the background check hasn't happened yet. What do you say to gun rights advocates who say that person, anybody who intends to commit a crime with a gun or commit a horrific act of violence, as happened in Charleston, that they're going to find a gun anyway, that what you're proposing would just keep guns out of the hands of people who are law-abiding?

What would your response be?

BLUMENTHAL: I know from my own experience as a prosecutor -- I was a United States attorney in Connecticut, federal prosecutor for four- and-a-half years and then attorney general for 20 years -- no law is perfect.

It depends on vigorous, strong enforcement. And no law is perfect. No law is a panacea or a single solution. But we know from experience in states that have laws that enforce background checks and countries that have laws that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people that the crime rates are lower that result in homicides.

We know that the presence of a gun in a home where there's domestic violence makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed, that suicides are more common when guns are involved, and that the confrontation in Arizona, just to take today's news, was made more deadly by the presence of a gun. So, what I would say is that no single law is a panacea.

TAPPER: Right.

BLUMENTHAL: But those laws to enable law-abiding gun owners -- they have a right to those guns, to continue to have them -- can also help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

TAPPER: Given that we are in the world that we're in, and given that passing any further gun restrictions, even closing loopholes, is so difficult, wouldn't it make sense for there to be armed guards on campuses these days? BLUMENTHAL: There are armed guards on a lot of campuses. And, in

fact, in a lot of high schools in Connecticut and elsewhere, there are security forces.

Again, no single solution is a panacea. We need to regard this problem as we would any epidemic or contagious disease, the flu, tuberculosis, Ebola, and ignite and activate alarm among average Americans who know that something has to be done.

So, better security at schools was part of the package that we offered back in 2013. It got 60 -- 55 votes, not the 60 that was necessary, along with other commonsense, sensible measures, a ban on illegal trafficking and straw purchases and, of course, background checks.


TAPPER: All right, Senator Blumenthal in Connecticut, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

The politics lead, Congressman Ryan's tough decision, run for House speaker or keep his day job writing tax law? Publicly, he's not giving any hint which way he's leaning, but behind closed doors a phone call to his office just today might just help the former vice presidential candidate make up his mind?

That story next.


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

Our politics lead, a three-minute meeting pushed the Republican Party into pandemonium. Three minutes, that's how long it took Congressman Kevin McCarthy informed House members yesterday he was bailing to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House and now whom the Republican establishment deems the obvious survey to rescue the Republican Party amidst all this chaos -- well, he said publicly he does not plan to seek the crown either.

[16:15:10] But parsing the words carefully, Congressman Paul Ryan has gone from a definite no to a more qualified "I'm still not seeking the speakership".

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash is live on Capitol Hill.

Dana, it sounds like House Republicans would have to unify and beg Paul Ryan to take this job. I have trouble imagining the Conservative Freedom Caucus will embrace him and beg him.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There is definitely begging going on. But it's certainly not from all members of the so-called House Freedom Caucus.

But I've been spending a lot of time in these halls talking to conservative members. And I was surprised at how many said that they could ultimately support Paul Ryan. But the thing is, he's still not in.


BASH (voice-over): Will he run for speaker? Paul Ryan won't say.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Right now, I'm just going to catch my flight so I can make it home for dinner.

BASH: The pressure on a resistant Ryan to run is growing and intense.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: I did everything except carry his gym bag this morning trying to get him to do it.

BASH: Just yesterday, Ryan's office was saying no way to the job. Not anymore.

ISSA: I think he's gone from a hard no to he knows he has to consider it. And I know he's going home to have the kind of real meeting with his family that would allow him to weigh that. All of us are trying now to make sure he understands that the support will be behind him.

BASH: GOP lawmakers from all sides say he's the one Republican who can get not just the 218 votes needed to become speaker, but support from most of the 247 House Republicans in the fractured GOP caucus.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: We have a very good conference working together.

BASH: Even Kevin McCarthy who abruptly ended his own ambitions for speaker and left House Republicans scrambling for a replacement.

MCCARTHY: Paul is looking at it, but it's his decision. If he decides to do it, he'd be an amazing speaker, but he's got to decide on his own. Yes, it's a very good chance.


BASH: CNN is told that Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee who picked Ryan as his running mate, called Ryan pushing him to run. But the policy wonk enjoys his current job.

RYAN: What an absolute privilege and honor it is to chair this committee.

BASH: Chairing the tax writing committee, which Ryan talked to us about this summer.

RYAN: I'm chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. It's an incredibly important job.

BASH (on camera): Fair to say it's a dream job for you?

RYAN: This is why I chose not to run for other things like Senate races in Wisconsin because I wanted to do the Ways and Means job.

BASH (voice-over): Plus, being speaker means a slew of fund raising and travel. A lot of time away from his three young children in Wisconsin.

But Ryan's resistance is also politically pragmatic. Being speaker these days trying to corral an unwieldy GOP caucus is a nightmare and possibly a roadblock for higher ambitions some day, the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if he could secure 218 votes on the floor. And I agree with that. Absolutely, he could get 218 votes on the floor and maybe the whole conference. But that's not the issue. The issue is, how do we change the political dynamic?


BASH: Now, Jake, to your point, Ryan certainly would not get all conservatives. A lot of them are already saying, wait a minute, he backed the Wall Street bailout back in 2008. Not to mention the fact that he worked successfully across the aisle, across the Capitol with a Democrat Patty Murray to come up with a budget deal a couple of years ago. But, of course, those are also reasons why a lot of people do want him to run because he can get things done across party lines.

TAPPER: All right. Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, thanks.

Let's talk with one of those conservatives about the speaker's race and the chaos in the House. Republican Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho, a member of the Freedom Caucus.

Congressman, good to see you as always.

REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: Great to be here.

TAPPER: So, would Speaker Ryan be acceptable to you and fellow members of the Freedom Caucus?

LABRADOR: You know, if you remember a couple days ago, we made a selection. We're standing behind Daniel Webster.

TAPPER: Daniel Webster of Florida.

LABRADOR: And our Freedom Caucus decided to endorse him. Paul Ryan is not a declared candidate yet. If he declares his candidacy, I think we're going to expect him to also come talk to us like he's talking to everybody else and to answer some questions, because it's not about the who.

I think Paul Ryan's a wonderful member of Congress. He's probably the smartest guy we have in the conference on a lot of different issues. It's about the what.

TAPPER: What are these concessions? What are you guys looking for? What does the freedom caucus want?

LABRADOR: What we're asking for is that the process is opened a little more. So, right now, the speaker's office decides what bills are going to the floor. They decide what amendments are going to be allowed. I served on the Idaho legislature for four years. The speaker of the

House didn't control everything. It was my job as an individual member of Congress to get the committee to like my bill. If they like my bill, then I had to go to the floor and get the whole House floor to like my bill. Then I have to run over to the Senate and get the Senate to like my bill.

Over here, if you kiss the ring, if you're a buddy of the speaker's, then your bill will be heard on the floor.

[16:20:00] If you're not, then your amendments are not allowed.

And I think we're just asking for a more open process. We just want people to be treated the same and have the opportunity to have our ideas heard. And the irony is that most members of the conference even those that are mad at us right now, they want the same thing.

TAPPER: Well, well, most members of the Congress there's about 245 House Republicans, the Freedom Caucus is anywhere from 30 to 50 --

LABRADOR: It's 40.

TAPPER: Forty, officially, but you also have allies and some of your members are not as committed as you are for example.

LABRADOR: Correct.

TAPPER: So, 30 to 50 we'll say. The 200 are mad at all the chaos.

LABRADOR: That's not true.

TAPPER: That's not true?

LABRADOR: That's not true. You have just as many on the Freedom Caucus that are, you know, really vocal about the changes. You have about the same number that are mad at us.

The people in between, they're actually coming to us and saying, can we figure out a way because we agree with your demands, we agree with the things you guys are talking about.

In fact, I had a senior member of Congress who's been here for a long time who told me yesterday, the things you guys are asking for I've been trying to change for the last 20 years. We just haven't been able to do it.

TAPPER: But the 200 or so are never going to support Daniel Webster for Congress, so -- for speaker, I mean. As a compromise could you agree to Paul Ryan?

LABRADOR: We can agree to a compromise. I'm not going to sit here on national TV and endorse somebody who I haven't talked to about the speaker's race.

I have talked to Paul many, many times. He and I have a good relationship. He and I have talked about immigration. I even talked to him yesterday about whether he was going to run for speaker. He hasn't made a decision.

So I think that relationship is longstanding from the first day that I was in the House. But he's going to be held to the same standard. That's the problem. We can't all of a sudden say, we're going to hold Paul Ryan to a different standard that we have held every other member of Congress.

TAPPER: All right. Hope you come back and talk more about this. I don't think this story is ending any time soon.

Congressman Raul Labrador, thank you so much.

LABRADOR: Thank you.

TAPPER: Dana Bash is going to continue to work her sources on the speaker's race. You can look for the latest on her reporting on "STATE OF THE UNION", Sunday morning at 9:00 and then again at noon. Please join her.

The Republican Party is also divided in the race for president. And now, new momentum for both Donald Trump and Ben Carson as both throw out the book on political correctness.

Plus, counting down to the first Democratic debate. A target audience for Hillary Clinton, a debate strategy for Bernie Sanders and a critical family meeting for Vice President Joe Biden who could shake up this race as we know it.


[16:26:54] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Should we stay with our politics lead? Yes, let's stay.

The other race that has the Republican establishment breaking out in cold sweats in the middle of the night is, of course, the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, where controversial comments don't seem to be making any dents in the leads held by the top two candidates. A new national poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University finding again Donald Trump on top and again Dr. Ben Carson a strong number two.

Republican primary voters don't right now seem all that interested in the other candidates according to this poll. Trump and Carson are the only two contenders to crack double digits.

Athena Jones is here with me in Washington.

Athena, Ben Carson like Donald Trump doesn't seem to matter what he says that upsets people in the communitariat. The voters seem to like it.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is one of several things these two candidates have in common, Jake. Like Trump, Carson prides himself on being -- not on not being politically correct. His supporters say that's one of the things they like about him. And as we saw in his appearance before the National Press Club ,it doesn't look like he's going to be changing his approach any time soon.


BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not politically correct. I will not be politically correct.

JONES (voice-over): Ben Carson facing questions today about a series of controversial statements. The former brain surgeon again tried to explain his concerns about whether a Muslim's beliefs would fit with serving as president.

CARSON: We don't even want to take the slight chance that we would put someone in that position who had different loyalties.

JONES: Carson is also under fire for his assertion that Nazi Germany's gun laws helped make the Holocaust possible.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Just clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time, would 6 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.

JONES: Critics like the Anti-Defamation League say such statements are historically inaccurate and offensive.

CARSON: The Holocaust issue, that's just the left wing press again trying to stir up a controversy. There's been a lot of rain lately.

JONES: Carson also raised eyebrows this week for his remarks about the Oregon school shooting.

CARSON: I would not just stand there and let them shoot me.

JONES: He told Wolf he wasn't criticizing the victims, just urging people to fight back.

CARSON: I would much rather go down fighting.


JONES: Carson's chief rival, frontrunner Donald Trump, had a strong message for doubters today. After earlier suggesting he would drop out of the race if his poll numbers plummet.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I give more of a political answer, I'm never getting out.

JONES: And the real estate mogul whose poll show ranks poorly with Latino voters won this unexpected endorsement in Nevada.

MYRIAM WITCHER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I'm Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump. We vote for Mr. Trump! Yes! JONES: Meanwhile, another GOP contender, Ted Cruz, is insisting Trump

won't win the nomination.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In time, I don't believe Donald is going to be the nominee. And I think in time, the lion's share of his supporters end up with us.

JONES: The Tea Party favorite raised $12 million in the third quarter, a strong haul that will likely help him stay in the fight for months to come.