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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Cops Slams Student; U.S. Troops Inside Syria?; Ben Carson Leading; U.S. Considers Expanded Roll in Fight Against ISIS; Interview with North Carolina Senator Richard Burr. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 27, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:11]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Trump gets trumped in a new national poll. Paging Dr. Ben Carson.

THE LEAD starts right now.

For the first time in this race, Donald Trump is sliding, and Dr. Ben Carson has risen to national front-runner status, and it could be the first shifts in the polls that Donald Trump does not regard as huge.

Boots on the ground inside Syria? President Obama now considering options for putting U.S. troops on the front lines opposite ISIS maniacs, as CNN shadows Kurdish troops, some in socks and sandals, who are desperate to try to defeat the terrorist group.

Plus, the disturbing video showing an officer slamming a female student to the ground and dragging her across a classroom. The FBI has now been asked to get involved.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start with our politics lead, the political Richter scale measuring an off-the-charts disturbance this morning as, nationwide, Republicans say they prefer Ben Carson to Donald Trump, a new CBS News/"New York Times" national poll finding Trump in second place and Carson on top, albeit within the margin of error.

Let's go right to Sioux City, Iowa, where we find CNN political reporter Sara Murray, who's been covering the Republican race for us.

Sara, Trump is going to take the stage in Iowa not long from now. I suspect we're going to hear Dr. Carson's name quite a bit.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He will be here in Iowa at this school that we're standing outside of right now.

As usual, his campaign is expecting a big crowd. I think that's part of the reason Donald Trump has been stunned to see that he is no longer first in the polls, and he seems to be coping with it by going after Ben Carson even harder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY (voice-over): Dr. Ben Carson is going toe to toe with the entire Republican field. And he's winning the latest round.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is the right color, because that way, if you get blood on it, you can't tell.

MURRAY: The first time since taking the lead months ago, Donald Trump is no longer on top nationwide, leaving the businessman struggling to explain the shift.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't get it, you know, to be honest with you. I'm a little bit surprised.

MURRAY: Carson ekes past Trump with Republicans 26 percent to 22 percent nationwide in a new CBS/"New York Times" poll. Today, Carson picking up an endorsement from an MMA fighter.

CARSON: That's a good picture right there.

MURRAY: The fight to lead the field increasingly looks like a two-way race, as every other Republican remains stuck in single digits.

CARSON: It's a marathon. It's not a sprint. Polls will go up and down over the next year. No one should be terribly alarmed and no one should be terribly excited. It's just steady as you go and keep with your message.

MURRAY: A cornerstone of Carson's appeal, like Trump, he too is a Washington outsider at a time of growing frustration with the political class. It's an image he embraces in his latest campaign ad.

CARSON: I'm Ben Carson. I'm running for president. And I'm very much outside the box.

MURRAY: Meantime, as Trump loses the lead, he's lashing out, claiming Carson wants to do away with Medicare.

TRUMP: Ben wants to knock out Medicare. I heard that over the weekend. He wants to abolish Medicare, and I think, you know, abolishing Medicare, I don't think you're going to get away with that one. And it's actually a program that's worked. So it's a program that some people love.

MURRAY: A claim Carson denies.

CARSON: The program that I have outlined using health savings accounts starting from the time you are born until the time you die largely eliminates the need for people to be dependent on government programs like that, but I would never get rid of the programs.

MURRAY: As recently as Sunday, Trump said he was open to Medicare alternatives.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Do you also agree with Ben Carson when he says Medicare probably won't be necessary?

TRUMP: Well, it's possible. You're going to have to look at that.

MURRAY: Today, Ohio Governor John Kasich declaring he's going to call out other candidates on their rhetoric.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm fed up. I am sick and tired of listening to this nonsense, and I'm going to have to call it like it is as long as I'm in this race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, that tough rhetoric from John Kasich could give you a little bit of a preview for what we might see on the debate stage tomorrow night.

As for Donald Trump, think of his rally here in Sioux City tonight as his practice round. This is another state where he's trailing Ben Carson in the latest polls -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray in Iowa, thanks so much.

If you listen to Dr. Ben Carson, he does not sound like a normal politician, and he isn't one. That is part of his appeal. Sometimes, what he says is way outside of what is considered mainstream Republican thoughts, such as his argument that the U.S. should never have gone to war in Afghanistan, even after 9/11, or his plan for education funding, which he insists is not the redistribution of wealth that he assails on the stump, as he told me in our recent interview.

[16:05:10]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: During the debate, you spoke out against the redistribution of wealth. You said -- quote -- "We can't grow by continuing to take a piece of pie and dividing it and redistributing it."

But I want to ask you about comments you made year to Politico about education funding, in which you said -- quote -- "Wouldn't it make more sense to put the money in a pot and redistribute it throughout the country so that public schools are equal, whether you're in a poor area or a wealthy area?"

CARSON: Well, that's a different concept altogether. I'm talking about the fact that there are a lot of public schools that exist in areas that are economically deprived that don't have the facilities that are necessary to provide the best education for our children.

And this is something that really affects us as a nation, because we only have 330 million people and we have to compete against China and India with over a billion people each. So we have to strengthen the fabric of our nation by educating all of our students. It's incumbent upon every segment of our population.

TAPPER: But isn't it redistribution of wealth? It's redistribution of education wealth, but it's redistribution, right? CARSON: Well, it's the government having a responsibility to educate

everyone and looking at the best system in order to do that.

TAPPER: But I guess...

CARSON: I think that's very different than a situation where someone is working hard, is making, you know, a lot of money, is providing a lot of jobs and is contributing to the fabric of America and then us going along and saying, well, he's got too much.

And this guy over here, he has too little, so let's just take this one and give it to that one. That's much more arbitrary.

TAPPER: Well, you're talking about doing it on an individual level. But when it's school districts, if it's funded from local taxes, so isn't it the same principle at stake?

CARSON: No, it's not the same principle at stake because we are talking about the entire nation and we're talking about what makes us competitive in the world, and the great divide between the haves and the have-nots is education. That's very different than redistributing funding because you feel that that's the social thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Just to be clear, the original quote from Politico was, "Wouldn't it make more sense to put the education money in a pot and redistribute it throughout the country, so that public schools are equal, whether you're in a poor area or a wealthy one?"

Now, Dr. Ben Carson just posted on Facebook clarifying how he would better fund poorer public schools. He wrote -- quote -- "Education is the key to unlocking the enormous potential of our students. And I support Title I funding to raise up poor inner-city and rural schools to a level where these children can get the education they deserve. My support has absolutely nothing to do with property tax payments used to fund our schools. I also support massive reform of our education system because funding is but one of our problems facing underfunding schools. I do not support the national pooling of property tax receipts. That is a falsehood."

I want to talk about Dr. Carson's rise in the polls and all things 2016 with CNN senior political analyst David Axelrod.

David, good to see you.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good to be with you.

TAPPER: As people may or may not know, your entree into the political world after being a political journalist was initially with ads. You were an ad guru for many years.

AXELROD: Yes.

TAPPER: I want to get your take on some TV ads, specifically two TV ads that the Carson campaign just put out. They're putting $500,000 behind them in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada. Take a quick glimpse at this first one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: People are so concerned about the future, the future for their children, the future of our nation. This country was designed around we the people, of, for and by the people. We need a government that actually understands that and doesn't think that it is the ruler.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think, David?

AXELROD: Well, I think that he is speaking to the -- he has command of one-half of the right wing of the Republican Party, and those are social conservatives. And he has -- he's had a base with that group for years because of his writings.

He is now going after the populist Tea Party base that is fundamentally anti-government, populist in its notions, and this is a direct appeal to that group that is very anti-Washington.

TAPPER: Let's take a look at the second spot from the Carson campaign now. It's called "Drain the Swamp."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: Did you know Washington is built on a swamp, massive government debt, stifling regulation, special interest politics, partisan dysfunction? Now it all makes sense. Washington is broken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, when you advised Obama's 2008 campaign, then Senator Obama, he did multiple direct-to-camera ads where he talked about specific issues. Do you think that's similar to this?

[16:10:05]

AXELROD: Well, look, I think Ben Carson, one of the reasons that he's doing well is his demeanor, particularly in contrast to Donald Trump.

He has a kind of calm demeanor, a soothing demeanor. He's doing better in the polls among women than among men. And I think they're trying to capitalize on that demeanor and at the same time delivering a very strong message about Washington. So the demeanor is calm, the message is tough.

TAPPER: Turning to the Democratic race, if we could, a new Monmouth University poll from Iowa puts Hillary Clinton 41 points up on Senator Bernie Sanders, 65 percent to 24 percent. The Clinton campaign is now out with a new TV ad focusing on equal pay. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think when you're president you will be paid as much as if it were a man -- male? (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is one of the jobs where they have to pay you the same.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: But there are so many examples where that doesn't happen. I'm going to do everything I can...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: David, in 2008, the Clinton campaign was reluctant to highlight her as a woman candidate. They seemed to be really going in the exact opposite direction this time.

AXELROD: Without question.

I think the historic nature of her candidacy is front and center. You heard it in her speech at the Iowa J.J. Dinner on Saturday night and they are not being subtle about it at all. This is a charming commercial. I mean, the thing about this commercial that I like is that it is not a staged commercial, it is a -- it is a documentary- style commercial.

And I think she's at her best in those kind of settings. So the girl is beguiling, Hillary is very natural in response, and the message obviously goes to that core of the first woman president.

TAPPER: Now, her chief opponent for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, is not running any ads right now. What would you advise him to do in his first big campaign ad buys?

AXELROD: You know, Jake, it's interesting. I had a conversation with him a few weeks ago on my podcast, in which he -- we were talking about ads. And he said, I have never run a negative ad. And I said, are you saying that you won't do it in this campaign? And he said, well, that's -- you know, that's the hope.

And when I pressed him, he just kept saying that's the hope.

But I think you're going to see some tougher ads than perhaps he anticipated then, because he's in a different position. I don't think he's 41 points behind in Iowa. I think Iowa is a very close race. "The Des Moines Register" had a poll last week, very reliable, "Des Moines Register" poll it at a six-point race. I think that's more realistic.

But he's still behind and he's still up against a very formidable organization. I think you are going to hear the arguments that you heard at the J.J. Dinner, in which he started to draw very stark contrasts with Hillary Clinton, though he didn't name her, on a number of issues on which he was on one side and she was on the other, some of which she's now on his side.

But he's pitching consistency, reliability, telling people that they can have faith that he will always be on the side that he has taken. And this is going to be, I think, fundamental to his message going forward.

TAPPER: David Axelrod, thank you so much.

AXELROD: Great to be with you.

TAPPER: In our world lead, mission creep? President Obama, the man who wanted to end two wars, is now considering putting U.S. troops much closer to the front lines in both Iraq and Syria. Does this mean the U.S. is losing, after years of -- a year of dropping bombs on terrorists?

That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:11] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Some potentially huge news in our world lead. What could be a major change in the U.S. battle against ISIS and a major decision that the commander in chief did not want to have to make -- putting American troops inside Syria?

"The Washington Post" reporting President Obama is now reviewing proposals that would for the first time put special operations forces on the ground inside Syria and move U.S. advisers in Iraq closer to the front lines.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the U.S. would be getting more aggressive in the fight against the terrorist group.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And right now, Kurdish fighters inside Syria are preparing for a major offensive against ISIS backed by U.S. air power.

CNN's senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward is just back from the front lines of that fight. She joins us now on the phone live from Erbil, Iraq.

Clarissa, these fighters are determined even if they are facing tough odds.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Jake, that's right. The Kurdish YPG fighters who we spent time with have certainly won decisive battles against ISIS on the battlefield largely because they've enjoyed coalition air support and are very much at the core of the U.S.' latest strategy to try to defeat ISIS inside Syria. But really the question here is whether they can replicate the successes that they have had in Kurdish parts of Syria in Arab ISIS strongholds such as the city of Raqqa.

And from what we saw on the ground, that is still very much for debate. The fighters we saw in the frontlines were exhausted from months of fighting.

[16:20:02] They were poorly equipped, lightly armed, many of them fighting with old AK-47s, some of them in their sneakers or sandals.

And while the U.S. has airdropped 50 tons of ammunition to them and their allies on the ground in northern Syria just a few weeks ago, the fighters told us it is going to take them much more than that to make a push and go for an offensive.

TAPPER: And, Clarissa, what do rebel fighters on the ground think about the idea of U.S. troops potentially joining them on the front lines?

WARD: Well, I think it really depends, Jake, on who you talk to and what level of engagement we're talking about here. The YPG, for example, the Kurdish fighters we were with on the front lines, they welcome U.S. support in the form of heavy weapons, in the form of armor-piercing weapons, in the form of U.S. air support.

But what you won't hear them asking for are American boots on the ground fighting with them on the front lines.

Now, if you talk to ISIS, you might actually get a different perspective. I have spoken to some ISIS fighters inside Syria who have told me that they can't wait for American boots to be on the ground. Now, obviously part of that, Jake, is simply bluster and bravado, but there's also a sense that they realize just how polarizing a visible American troop presence on the ground in Syria or Iraq would be, and they're hopeful that they can somehow capitalize on that.

TAPPER: All right. Clarissa Ward, thank you so much. Stay safe.

WARD: Thank you.

TAPPER: And joining me now is the chairman of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Richard Burr of the great state of North Carolina.

Thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Jake, good to be here.

TAPPER: So, the administration is obviously considering becoming even more engaged in what's going on in Syria and Iraq, the fight against ISIS, whether that means more airstrikes or more ground raids remains to be seen, I suppose. What do you think the U.S. needs to be doing? BURR: Well, Jake, they need a strategy change, because the strategy

has not worked in Syria, and it's questionable as to whether it's been very effective in Iraq. The reality is that we've got over 240,000 civilians that have been killed, 4 million people displaced. I would have hoped that we had a no-fly zone four years ago. We don't.

We need to begin to address how we contain ISIL and eliminate ISIL working with our Gulf state partners. It's going to be tough to believe that we can go into Syria and work with the Russians and Iranians, which is the coalition that's been put together to prop up Assad and everybody else in the region strategy is to get rid of Assad.

TAPPER: So, you think that we need to be offering a counter force to the Russia/Iranian/Assad alignment?

BURR: I think what we need to do is provide leadership in the region as to how we're going to address not only ISIL on one side of Syria but Assad on the other side.

TAPPER: You think both should be targets.

BURR: I think both have to be targets until that's no longer the stated policy of the United States, but up till now, Assad's removal has been an absolute by this administration, and many of our partners in the region believe that that's the case as well.

TAPPER: Well, what happens then if Russia is backing Assad as they are and the U.S. gets involved in the war even more. We know that Russia is targeting some of these rebel groups that the United States supports. Is that not inevitably going to become a proxy if not an actual military confrontation between the United States and Russia?

BURR: Well, I don't want to guess three steps out as to where we're going to be, but the inability to deconflict today presents a real problem between either opposition forces in a country that might target Russian aircraft or Russian individuals and the United States, and the -- what can happen in a combat zone. But we can never lose the perspective of the fact that this probably requires a political settlement on the Assad side. But you can't have a political settlement on the ISIL side.

So maybe a dual strategy or dual policy, but right now we only have one in Syria.

TAPPER: I want to turn to cyber security, which is obviously a huge concern. You're offering a cyber defense bill that you co-sponsored, the Senate is debating it, and it would encourage private businesses to more readily share information with each other and with the government. Why aren't they providing that information now already?

BURR: Because of liability potentials. They could have a shareholder lawsuits because the transfer of data. Not necessarily personal data, but data to the U.S. government.

So, we provide liability coverage when that transmission is met. We allow antitrust protection when they talk to their competitors. And we also for the first time empower by statute the federal government to push back to that business and out to business generally what type of attacks have taken place, what tool is being used and more importantly, what mechanism, what software can you put on your computer or your system to defeat that attack.

[16:25:05] This is truly an effort to try to minimize data loss.

TAPPER: Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

BURR: Good to be with you.

TAPPER: Up next on THE LEAD, don't push us. That warning from China to the United States after an American Navy warship gets too close to an island China is building in the middle of the sea.

Plus, anger, after a video shows a deputy slamming a female student to the ground. I'll ask the sheriff whether this deputy did everything he could to stop it from coming to this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Staying with our world lead, another world lead, China telling the United States: back off -- in a showdown at sea between two of the most powerful militaries in the world. Beijing said it had tracked a U.S. Navy warship that came very close to one of the artificial islands that China is constructing in the South China Sea's disputed waters.