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Pentagon Suspends "Train and Equip" Program; Surge of Violence in Israel; GOP Urge Paul Ryan for House Speaker Bid; Carson Stirs Up Controversy; North Korea Weapons Test Likely; Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 9, 2015 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon is now admitting the half million dollar program has failed. (Cammie), Obama Administration come up with the new strategy to fight ISIS.

Nuclear test, a massive celebration about to get underway in North Korea and U.S. officials now say Kim Jong-un may take the opportunity to test a nuclear missile capable of striking U.S. soil. Is it more savor rattling? Or is Kim setting a stage for a military confrontation?

Violence in Israel, deadly new clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, the latest in the surge of violence that's included stabbing attacks on civilians. Is this the beginning of another crisis in the Middle East? I'll ask the former presidential envoy, an expert on the region, Dennis Ross.

Capital drama, House Republican's bitterly divided as they try to find a new speaker. A favor to rule got a bid is now reconsidering under enormous pressure as conservative and establishment republicans battle it out. How it all impact everything from your paycheck to your healthcare.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Critics called it too little too late, now the Pentagon is admitting its program "To Train and Equip Moderate Syrian Rebel" to fight ISIS is simply not working. With millions of dollars already spent and only a handful of rebels battle ready, the U.S. military has now decided to suspend the program in a significant set back to U.S. efforts to fight ISIS.

We're also following a huge set back for Iran's fight against ISIS and its effort to support the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We're now learning that a top Iranian General has been killed by ISIS forces. And we're also monitoring the deteriorated situation in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank and disturbing new video highlighting the surge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. It shows Israeli Border Police shooting what they say was a knife really Israeli-Arab woman and they described her as a terrorist

We're covering all of these and a whole lot more this hour with our correspondents suggest including the Middle East expert and Former Peace Envoy Ambassador Dennis Ross. But first, let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. She has more on the sudden suspension of the U.S. program "To Train and Equip Moderate Syrian rebels." Barbara, explain on the Pentagon plans to move forward.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We'll good evening. Tonight, a major overhaul in one of the pillars of the U.S. effort to fight ISIS. The Train and Equip Program to train moderate Syrian rebels gone as we have known at. Now, what they are going to do is look to support a group of about 5000 rebels in Northern Syria. Right up against the Turkish border. This is a group they believe has a proven track record. They are already in the field, they are already fighting ISIS. They had been running out of ammunition.

U.S. special operations had pressed the White House and the Pentagon for weeks to try and support these people, now the decision finally they go ahead and do it. They will get U.S. ammunition. They will get some communications gear. They will have to show a proven track record, continue to fight ISIS who don't turn and start fighting Bashar al-Assad. The more success they have we are told the more the U.S. will reward them. And one of the key changes, there will be U.S. air strikes to support their positions on the ground. The big worry, will it all work, will they turn and fight Assad? Will those weapons stay in their hands? Wolf?

BLITZER: Barbara, there's also a news coming out of North Korea, tell us what you're hearing about a possible weapons test.

STARR: Well, as we speak, this is the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers Party in North Korea, a cause for huge celebration by that regime. The U.S. is extremely concerned at this hour that North Korea, that their leader, Kim Jong-un, who is so unpredictable maybe planning a weapons test even in the coming hours or sometime this weekend. Nobody knows for sure. We have to say that no one knows. But the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. military all eyes on the Peninsula this weekend. They are look at the possibility of everything from an underground nuclear test to the test of a missile, let's see. Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thanks very much. And later this hour we'll go live to Pyongyang, North Korea. Will Ripley is on the scene, we'll check in with him on the very latest on this possible missile test the North Koreans could be taking.

President Obama has just paid a controversial visit to families and the victims of the Oregon Community College shooting. Large crowd protested the President's presence there. Angry it is renewed call for greater grand control. The president spoke moments ago, we're getting those remarks in.

I want to go to where White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He is joining us right now. Jim, this is something the president personally wanted to do go out there and try to comfort the families.

[17:05:04] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh that's right Wolf, and we should point out this was unexpected that the President came out and made some remarks of following his meeting with the -- those family members. We're told by a White House officials that this meeting lasted for about an hour at Roseburg High School and then after that meeting with those families he made some brief remarks so I can just relay a couple of them for you. He said, "At one point, I've got very strong feelings about this because when you talk to the families you were reminded this could be your child." And the reason why this was unexpected Wolf is that earlier this week White House officials were saying that they were not expecting the President to make any kind of remarks during those visit. They said, despite what he said last week about he wants to politicize this issue of gun control and the aftermath of these mass shooting that he was just going to be meeting with these families and that we should not expect him to make any sort of public remark.

Now, I understand from talking to people here Wolf that they had a sort of a tug of war a little bit over what to do once the President was out there, whether or not he should make some kind of remarks and that they made the decision. Essentially earlier today, for the President to come out and make these remarks but obviously Wolf, the President feels very strongly about this issue of gun control. We know that White House officials have been for the last several weeks are looking at whether or not the President can do more through executive actions. The question Wolf becomes, you know, can the President expand background checks on his own universally. I would imagine that there would be quite a few law makers up on capital who would disagree with that but it is some at the White House is looking at. But quite unexpected the president made these remarks Wolf, but he did it just a few short moments ago. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, once we get that tape, I will share it with our viewers. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

We're also following a huge set back for Iran's efforts in Syria right now, where it's supporting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fighting ISIS. The top Iranian general has now been killed by ISIS terrorist forces and his death has major implications, see in as Brian Todd is working the story for us. How big of a set back for Iran, Brian, is this?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's very significant Wolf. We are told this General Hossein Hamedani, knew Iran's operations in Syria from top to bottom. He was killed near the Syrian city of Aleppo in the North West. A place that the Iraq -- the Syrian regime is desperately trying to hold on to. Tonight, Iranian forces in this region now have to regroup at a crucial time in the fight against ISIS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: A momentous loss for Iran on the battlefields of Syria. General Hossein Hamedani, a top commander of Iran's revolutionary guard killed by ISIS according to an Iranian news agency. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's significant and that it shows once again the commitment of the guard corp to these operations. It's significant because members of the guard corp are in harms way. So that has possible political repercussions back home.

TODD: A U.S intelligence official tells CNN Hamedani's death is a psychological blow to forces in Syria fighting for Bashar al-Assad for nearly four years. Iranian commanders have been deep inside Syrian military operations. Iran admits having advisors on the ground but denies having any troops in Syria as some media outlets report.

Analyst say Hamedani knew Iran's strategy in Syria from A to Z. He was a right hand man to General Qasem Soleimani, the shadowy leader of the revolutionary guard's elite Quds Force.

Soleimani considered the overlord of Iran's campaign to save Assad is reported to have made a crucial trip to Moscow in July.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By expecting, went up there to confirm all of the details of Russia's entrance into the Syrian war.

TODD: In addition to helping pull the Russians there, Soleimani and the Iranians have mobilized fighters from Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by the U.S. to fight ISIS and have given new life to Assad's decimated army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most act of forces backed by Iran, Russia in the Assad regime and Hezbollah. Now, they are all so much more involved in the United States. This would -- tells us that the Iranians and the Russians will back up Bashar al-Assad to the bitter end. So any notion that they're going to cut Assad loss somehow is part of a diplomatic agreement is, I think, a pipe dream.

TODD: But for Iran, it's starting to come with a heavy price tag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see the funeral announcements all the time of guard members who are perishing in Syria. So the losses for the guard corp are increasing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And with Hossein Hamedani's death, at least three top Iranian generals have now been killed in the fight against ISIS. A U.S. intelligence official tells us Iran's expanding role in these conflicts is going to put more Iranian lives at risk to support a failed dictator something in this intelligence official says Russia should keep in mind as well. Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian now, this whole notion of Hamedani underscores a big loss obviously for Iran but he's been sort of a legendary figure within the revolutionary guard.

TODD: That's right Wolf. He was a real hero of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. He was said to have had a crucial role in Iran crashing a Kurdish rebellion also in the 80's. More recently he was also said to have been a leading figure in crashing the Green Revolution in Tehran in 2009.

[17:10:16]

This man has a long history he goes back with Qasem Soleimani, this top general he goes back with him quite a long way. It's a big set back to this top general in Iran tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Brian thanks very much. Let's talk about all of this in more with Middle East. Next for Dennis Ross, he's a Former Special Assistant in the President Obama. He's a Peace Envoy -- he was a Peace Envoy for both President Clinton and President Bush, Former State Department Policy Planning Director as well, lots of titles, Dennis's, thanks very much.

I guess the most important title right now. You are the author our brand new book entitled "Doomed to succeed: The U.S-Israel relationship from Truman to Obama." we'll talk about that in a few moments but first of all the death of this Iraqi General Hussein Hamedani, big deal, a little deal what do you think?

DENNIS ROSS, AMERICAN DIPLOMAT AND AUTHOR: Yes, big deal. First it's harder for the Iranians to hide when if someone like that, who has rule visibility. Secondly he has a real rich history as an operator and he knows the strategy, he's helped to organize the strategy.

Bear in mind that basically the revolutionary in regards the Quds forces has been the ones with Hezbollah who have organized most the assault. Hezbollah has been the shock troop for the -- in a sense for the Syrian army. It could be because in the sense Syrian army likes to operator from a distance. They like to operate with artillery, armor and use air power and they don't like to really confront on the ground the same way.

BLITZER: Dramatic word today from the Pentagon that U.S. training mission of moderate Syrian rebels oppose to the Bashar al-Assad regime opposed to ISIS so that whole training mission is now been suspended. It's simply not worth working even though the U.S. proposed about $500 million, half a billion dollars.

ROSS: Right.

BLITZER: They want (ph) to have train four and five and rebels. This has been a real disaster.

ROSS: Well, it has been because in a sense when we finally said we're going to cross the threshold and we're actually going to be supporting those on the ground there, the problem we had always was not just betting. We wanted to in a sense have them fight only ISIS but what has produced the opposition, as far as ISIS and much more Assad.

Assad declared war on his people and in a sense if you look at the range of rebel forces and they're highly fragmented, their main preoccupation is fighting Assad. We have had a different priorities so trying to mobilize those who would fulfill our priority was a difficult thing to do and frequently we found it was very hard to bet any numbers that would be significant and then when they went into combat frequently they either lost their weapons or in the sense they were swamp by if not ISIS they all lose (ph) for front.

BLITZER: The Obama administration seems they had very limited of any influence over Putin right now with the Russians are doing in Syria and there's a lot of concern that President Obama has lost his influence in that entire region right now. Do you agree with that?

ROSS: Well, I thinks it's -- We have the potential to have influence and leverage but I think there's a perception of us right now that we're fairly passive and Putin is the one who is redefining the rules of the game and the region which is what he wants to do.

I very much agree with what we just heard in the report. Putin probably planned this even while the nuclear deal with Iran was being negotiated. Qasem Soleimani the head of the Quds force went to Moscow after the deal was negotiated and that's clearly when all of this was coordinated.

They made a common decision; they were going to coordinate a military intervention not just to sure up Assad. I think to ensure you have at least the Mini State but also to be in a position where if at some points there's a political process. They are the ones who define what the outcome is going to be. Their interest have to be taken into account.

BLITZER: During the first two years of the Obama Administration, your were Senior Adviser at the White House to President Obama. You're also a Senior Advisor the then Secretary State Hillary Clinton. If somebody would have said to you then that Iran's influence in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon through Hezbollah and Russian intervention in Syria, all the staff that we see happening right now, the reduced U.S. ability to do much in Afghanistan right now would have happened. You would have said what?

ROSS: I would have said no way.

BLITZER: But what happened? Why didn't things deteriorate over these pass few years as badly as they have?

ROSS: Well, it's a combination of factors. One is you've seen a fundamental deterioration in the region. You've seen an assault on the state system. You've seen the Syrian civil war transform itself. It was more limited then it's become transformative and it helped to give rise to ISO which then had in effect within Iraq.

So in sense you've seen a break down at the stage structure, you've seen more proxy where as emerging both in Syria and in Yemen. Some of that effects obviously our choices but I mean one has to be honest as well and say we adapt to the fairly passive -- pasture believing somehow these were others' civil war. Believing somehow it wouldn't affect our strategic interest and I think one of the things that we're seeing is not only did this produced humanitarian disaster in Syria but it is having an effect on the balance prior in the region and I would even say. When we say global norm should define the way everybody operates internationally that's fine if the other powers in world are prepared to respect that and we see we with Putin and that's not the case. [17:15:12]

BLITZWER: Dennis Ross, stand by, we have more to discuss including this latest very disturbing up surge of violence in Israel right now. Much more with Ambassador Dennis Ross right after this.

[17:20:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with Middle East expert Dennis Ross and we're going to talk with him in just a few moments about the surge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Here is one example being widely circulated on social media and some viewers may find the video disturbing.

It shows Israeli Border Police shooting what they say was a knife really Israeli-Arab woman and they describe her as a terrorist. You can see police aiming there weapons at the woman as she refuses repeated instructions to put down the knife.

Seconds later police fire hitting her in her lower body. She's now hospitalized in moderate condition. We're unable to determine what she's holding in the video.

Lets go to Jerusalem right now and get the very latest our Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is there. Ben how concerned our Israeli officials right now that all of this could alertly to even more violence because it's been very dramatic these past few days?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes indeed Wolf, this is really just one incident. This is added to amounting of pile of similar incidents that's really fueling tensions. Not only attacks by Palestinians on Israelis but today for instance in Dimona in the Negev desert in Southern Israel. You had an incident where in Israeli-Jewish teenager stabbed four Arabs, two Israeli a bed win and two Palestinians.

And so you have this sort of this pattern of incidence in which people are hurt on both sides which really only fuels the rising tensions and this really goes back quite sometime. You remember for instance in the beginning of August, there was a Palestinian family of three including an 18 month old baby who were burned to death.

Just or last week you had two Israelis killed stabbed to death in the old city. So incidents like this perpetrated by extremist on both sides is really just creating an atmosphere of tension I have seen in this country for years. Wolf.

BLITZER: Very serious situation indeed. All right Ben Wedeman thanks very much for that report. That we're back with Dennis Ross, the Former U.S. Special Middle East envoy, the author of the new book Doomed to Succeed that, in your book.

ROSS: Yeah. BLITZER: And this is directly related I suspect to what's going on between the Israelis and Palestinians because of there collapse of the piece process right now. Is it to blame Susan Rice, the President's National Security advisor for a lot of the tensions that are developed between President Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeing your book? In her view the Israeli leader that everything but use the "N" word in describing the President. You were there, you were in the inside during those first two years, what did you see?

ROSS: Well look, I think that what Susan represents is a point of view. It's not something I'm singling her out, I'm reflecting what is a point of view in the part of the National Security apparatus which has been in every administration from Truman to Obama and it's a view that basically looks at Israel through a competitive lands, a more competitive lands. Less a collaborative one, less looking at Israel as a partner and seeing in his room more of a problem.

Now there's a countervailing constituency, that certainly has existed in every administrations since Reagan and it's certainly it is the symbol (ph) than the Obama administration.

It looks at Israel through a more of a partnership perspective and feels we are more likely to get things done both in the region and with the Israelis if we're working with them rather than if were in more competitive way.

BLITZER: Would she -- was the U. S. Ambassador of the U.N. though during the first term, she was always seen as one of the Israel's strongest protectors and defenders of the United Nations.

ROSS: No look and I say in the book as well that to be fair that she did that and she if whenever I would call her, she would clearly go out and play this role as well.

But in terms of the roles, she's played as National Security Advisor. If you compare her approach over (INAUDIBLE) it has been a more competitive, it has been more combative mind set towards Israelis where as if you really going to try to ensure that the Israelis are adopting positions on issues that matter to us where there could be some difference between us. If we want them to take our concerns more into account, they really have to see that we're in there corner.

BLITZER: But President Obama is a very smart guy. He knows the subject very well. The Middle East, he studied it for years, he's very involved. Why blame some of these aids for some of these policies? Why not say the President of United States from -- if you do agree, if you believe this the President is responsible for this deteriorating relationship with Netanyahu.

ROSS: When I -- In sense, I was not singling her as being the sole.

BLITZER: Has it comes across as you singling her out for inspiring the President to get into this fight with Netanyahu.

ROSS: The essence of what I was trying to do was to show a contrast between the first term and how we are approaching the Israelis on the Iranian issue and in the second term how we approached then on the Iranian issue.

There were going to be differences, their clearly are differences. The question was could you maintain the kind of collaborative approach said and avoid misunderstandings that exacerbates some of these problems. And I feel that some of this is due to allowing misunderstandings to 25:05 that's what I was talking about.

[17:25:05]

BLITZER: In my senses there is plenty of blamed to go for the Israelis. Netanyahu is -- got a lot of responsibility. President's gone, this relationship is really deteriorative. The personal relationship between the President of United States, the Prime Minister of Israel but your book is entitled Doom to Succeed.

Now the President has invited the Prime Minister to come to the White House early next month.

ROSS: Right.

BLITZER: They're going to have a meeting, they're going to try the clear the air, I assume can they do that?

ROSS: I think so, look I'd also note, this is not the first time we've seen tensions between an American President.

BLITZER: But it's pretty bad right now.

ROSS: It is but you can go back to the Reagan Administration and during the Reagan Administration, the law point of the relationship was during the siege of Beirut in 1982 and what happened savaged (INAUDIBLE). You can see the relationship to in Georgia, its up be Bush and it's up Shamir. Even Bill Clinton and maybe Netanyahu at certain points was this way go.

What you see after each of these periods when we've had tension, we've also seen a reemerges relationship becoming even stronger because the end of the day, we are countries with shared values, shared interest, we face shared threats and if you look at this region, I mean one the things you and I talking about over the break. Look at what's happening in this region.

The character --- conflict there, it's uncertain, it's unpredictable, the state system is under threat. The one country that has institutions, the separation of power and independent judiciary, the one country that is really shared democracy and has the institutions to cope with problems is Israel and it's one of the reasons during the time of (INAUDIBLE) and uncertain day, we will in fact draw closer to the Israelis because it's a pilar in relationship.

BLITZER: Which would happens next month with the Prime Minister comes to the White House.

ROSS: Right. BLIZTER: The book is entitled "Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama." the author Dennis Ross. Thanks very much for coming.

ROSS: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Coming up. Members of Vice President Joe Biden's teammate with top Democratic Party officials as speculation ranges right now but whether he'll run for president. We'll learning new information about that meeting stand by and he maybe trailing among Latino voters but Donald Trump has at least one Hispanic super fan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump. We vote for Mr. Trump. Yes! Mr. Trump, we love you! We love you! On their way to the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:32:11] BLITZER: We're following dramatic developments in what's turned out to be a Republican civil war over who will be the next speaker of the House of Representatives. It's a civil war that could end up affecting your paychecks and your health care.

Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash is keeping track of all the secret meetings, the leaks, what's going up on Capitol Hill. What are you finding out?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the meetings and informal huddles that were going on all day on Capitol Hill today were mostly about how to cope with the fact that they currently have no one who wants to be speaker and can get enough votes for the job and the one person who can get the votes doesn't want it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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: 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.

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), MAJORITY LEADER: We have 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.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, guys.

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): Is it fair to say it's a dream job for you?

RYAN: This is -- this is why I chose not to run for other things like Senate races in Wisconsin because I want to be doing the Ways and Means job.

BASH: Plus being speaker means a slew of fundraising 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.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Absolutely he could easily get 218 Republican votes on the floor, maybe the whole conference. But that's not the issue. The issue is how do we change the political dynamic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now Ryan isn't even in the race. He's already getting some of the kind of blowback that conservatives gave John Boehner and kevin McCarthy, attacks for backing legislation like the Wall Street bailout in 2008, not to mention a bipartisan budget. He negotiated with Senate Democrats a couple of years ago.

[17:35:10] But, Wolf, those are exactly the same kind of things that people who want him to run like him for. Bipartisanship and leadership.

BLITZER: He's very popular. He's only 45 years old, so he's got potentially a huge future still ahead of him.

BASH: He does. Which is why kind of if he had his druthers he would stay in -- on the Ways and Means Committee, make some tax reform policy that he really cares about. Maybe leave the House, go be a private citizen and then think about what he wants to do. But you know, as you know you cover politics a long time, sometimes the jobs choose you.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much, Dana, for that report.

Coming up, we'll have the latest from the presidential campaign trail, Ben Carson isn't backing away from his list of controversial comments even though the list keeps growing.

And Donald Trump insists this isn't a setup to show he's popular with Latino voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MYRIAM WITCHER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I'm Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump. We vote for Mr. Trump. Yes, Mr. Trump, we love you. We love you. On the way to the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:42] BLITZER: We're only four days away from the first Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN. As the Democrats prepare to face off with top Republican presidential candidates, they're trying to show their latest controversial comments won't chase away potential voters.

CNN's Athena Jones is watching what's going on. They're pushing back.

Athena, what's the latest?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, far from chasing away potential voters Ben Carson seems to keep moving up in the polls even as some of his comments spark controversy.

Now Carson prides himself on not being politically correct. And his supporters say it's one of the things they like about him. As we saw in his appearance today before the National Press Club, it doesn't look like he's going to be changing his approach any time soon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

JONES: 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.

BLITZER: 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.

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 get more of a political answer, I'm never getting out.

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

WITCHER: I'm Hispanic and I vote for Mr. Trump. We vote for Mr. Trump. Yes, Mr. Trump.

JONES: Meanwhile another GOP contender, Ted Cruz, is insisting Trump won't win the nomination.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now Cruz has proven himself to be a prolific fundraiser even though he's been polling in the single digits. To put this into context, Cruz's campaign pulled in twice as much as Marco Rubio in the third quarter even though Rubio has been rising in recent polls outpacing Cruz after his strong performance in the CNN debate last month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Athena, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny and our CNN political contributor Ryan Lizza, he is the "New Yorker" magazine's Washington correspondent.

Carson continues to go up and up and up despite a lot of these controversial statements. His poll numbers are second only in states and nationally to Donald Trump.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know, he's getting a lot of attention. He's got a lot of support among conservatives in the Republican Party right now. I do think, though, that over time we've seen in previous elections when you say things that are not accurate, when you say things that are controversial and voters start to think about electability as they get closer to Election Day you don't wear well on either side.

I think the comments about the Popeye's stickup to me are some of the oddest that he's made. He said he was held at gunpoint in a Popeye's in Baltimore. One of his advisers told the "Daily Beast" later that the police came, the Baltimore Police said no, they don't have any police report about that. Ben Carson is also a vegetarian, so what he was doing in Popeye's is an interesting question.

[17:45:01] And so I don't know. I think these kind of things accumulate over time and he's not going to wear well.

BLITZER: You got some reporting on this as well, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He actually said he was going for French fries, not for chicken. So it happened over 30 years ago. It was between 1980 and 1983. Of course he was a resident at John Hopkins University Medical School at the time. And his -- one of his campaign aides said this specific Popeye's, it was on this specific corner in Baltimore.

But we checked with Popeye's representatives today actually at their headquarters in Atlanta, they say they have no record of this. Of course this is a long time ago. Anyone who had been working in a fast food restaurant at the time certainly probably is not around now. Anyone who's working there right now is probably not born then. But it's just a bizarre thing to bring up. And we have to remember the context of this.

LIZZA: Yes. I was just going to say.

ZELENY: The context of this I think is even more damning than the specifics of the Baltimore -- of the Popeye's thing. He was talking about how victims in the Oregon shooting didn't defend themselves properly on the heels of the holocaust or something else.

LIZZA: You're right.

ZELENY: He's not going to wear well. (CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: He's getting hammered on this comment, right?

ZELENY: Right.

LIZZA: And so all of a sudden this story pops up.

ZELENY: And it's interesting. He's sort of a new figure nationally, but the reason he's doing so well among Iowa evangelical voters and other things are because of the power of his books. He has a lot of books out there. And, you know, they've been fans of his before all this started. But I think you're right. I mean, I think any more of these comments is just -- is it presidential? I'm not sure.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Joe Biden because, you know, Ryan, both of you have been doing some excellent reporting. What's the latest you're hearing about the possibility he may jump into the contest?

LIZZA: Well, the thing that came out last night was that he -- representatives of Joe Biden met with officials at the DNC to get a briefing. Now this is a briefing that the DNC has offered Biden's camp for months now. It was apparently supposed to happen in June and that meeting was canceled. But this week Biden's people finally took the meeting. And so for folks at the DNC this was an indication that, wow, he's a little bit more serious here because the only other candidates that have done this are the five that are declared candidates.

It's a meeting on rules, delegate selection process, ballot access issues, the kind of stuff, Wolf, that you'd only sit through if you were dead serious about running.

BLITZER: We'll see if he's running. Quickly.

ZELENY: And the key thing that they found out in that October 29th is the date, that's the first date, that's the Georgia primary. That's when he has to send a letter to the Georgia Democratic Party which will be forwarded on to the secretary of state. So that is why time is of essence, October 29th.

LIZZA: And if he doesn't make it he can't win any delegates out of Georgia. So everyone of those delegates --

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY: March 1st. That's a super Tuesday state.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Don't go too far away. The first Democratic presidential debate only four days away. It airs Tuesday night 8:30 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Coming up, an ominous new warning that North Korea's now likely preparing to test the dangerous new weapon, possibly a missile, that could hit the U.S. homeland with a nuclear bomb. We're about to go live to North Korea's capital of Pyongyang. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:52:23] BLITZER: We're keeping a very close eye on North Korea right now. U.S. officials tells CNN it's likely Kim Jong-Un's regime is preparing a weapons test, possibly a new missile capable of hitting the United States with a nuclear weapon. Let's check in with CNN's Will Ripley. He's joining us from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang where a military show of force is about to take place.

What's the latest over there? What are you hearing, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Barbara Starr is reporting that there might be an underwater submarine missile launch test. That is in line with what we're hearing on the ground here in that North Korea wants to have a very, very strong show of force today. This is a major anniversary for them, the anniversary of their Workers Party Foundation 70 years ago and so this underwater launch would be similar to one where propaganda photos that we saw in May shows Kim Jong-Un on a submarine watching a missile coming from underwater.

There was no data indicating an actual launch from those photos that were seen. It was believed that perhaps that was just a test of the ejection system. This launch may be a more legitimate test if everything goes as planned. And this of course one of North Korea's most dangerous potential weapons. They only have about 70 Soviet air or submarines but underwater missile launching capability will allow them to sneak up to enemy shores, fire a missile.

Of course North Korea claims they've already miniaturized a nuclear warhead, making those warheads small enough to go on missiles. So this is very concerning to the global community. In addition, North Korea also has been talking and we interviewed space scientists saying that they're planning a satellite launch very soon. Of course the rocket carrying a satellite could also potentially carry a warhead across much of the world and there is also rumblings of a potential nuclear test in the works. So clearly North Korea could be preparing to do some actions that much of the world would consider very provocative -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very provocative indeed. And there are some stunning new images showing the size of the proposed military parade that's about to take place. Walk us through it.

RIPLEY: Yes, these are from 38 North and they have been surveilling a military base outside of Pyongyang where since May they say that some of these military hardware and personnel have been gathering. You're talking about massive numbers here. 800 tents have been set up on the property. They've seen 700 trucks, 200 armored military vehicles. They also have -- they also have formations they're practicing at a horse riding club and it's believed that there are also tents, a closer look on the property. Tents that are concealing potential missile launchers and North Korean drones, as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Will Ripley, at Pyongyang. All right. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up a major setback for U.S. strategy in the fight against ISIS.

[17:55:02]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, failure against ISIS. The U.S. is pulling the plug for now on efforts to train Syrian rebels to fight the terrorists. Is the program worth revamping as Russia escalates its military intervention?

Speaker savior. Some Republicans are now desperately trying to draft Congressman Paul Ryan to take charge of the House after the race to replace John Boehner took a shocking turn. Will the former vice presidential nominee say yes?