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Tornadoes Hit Dallas Area; Severe Weather Kills 43; Trump Attacks Clintons; Iraq Declares Ramadi Liberated From ISIS; Poll On Who Is Winning War On Terrorism. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2015 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:14] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London and 9:00 p.m. in Ramadi, Iraq. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks so much for joining us.

We begin to today with Iraq claiming a major victory in the fight against ISIS. The Iraqi military says that it has retaken control of Ramadi. This is about 70 miles from the city of Baghdad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translator): Yes, Ramadi has been freed.


KEILAR: After days of fighting, they claim that they've recaptured a key compound in the city center there. They have raised the Iraqi flag in victory. And you may recall the Ramadi fell to ISIS back in May. That was seen as a major setback in the fight to contain the terror group.

I want to get now the Senior International Correspondent Nima Elbagir. She is in Baghdad for us. And you have Iraqi forces, Nima, saying that they've liberated the city. But have they really defeated ISIS forces or is it, perhaps, just ISIS retreating maybe to regroup?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they do tell us that there has been a retreat, that they are cutting off a number of ISIS armed groups heading back towards Mosul. They have been clashing with them to the right of Baiji, another key town.

They also acknowledge that there are still pockets of fighting. But they feel -- and the key word is they. They feel that they've taken enough of the city and enough of the (INAUDIBLE) structure of the city to call it liberated. The U.S.-led coalition, the Pentagon, in its statement was very careful to congratulate Iraq on continuing successes against ISIS. Not quite yet ready, it seems, to call it fully liberated.

But if they are calling it earlier than they should, it is absolutely no surprise. You mentioned the humiliation in May when Ramadi fell, when the Iraqi army fled ahead of the advancing ISIS forces. It wasn't just a humiliation to the Iraqis, of course. It caused an entire redress, a rethink, of the U.S.'s strategy of why it wasn't working.

What we're seeing in Ramadi are fruits of a complete re- strategization, Brianna. This time bringing in the Sunni tribal mobilization. Very much like what we saw in 2006 and 2007, the so- called Sunni awakening then, the pushback, the ISIS precursor Al Qaeda in Iraq. There's so much at stake here, not least the hope that Ramadi could be a blueprint for the fight against ISIS in Mosul and in Fallujah.

KEILAR: And the U.S.-led coalition, we know they've played a role in this battle. How did they participate? How did they back up Iraqi forces?

ELBAGIR: Well, in addition to the intensifying number of strikes hitting at that ISIS presence on the ground, they were also there in an advise and assist capacity. We understand, from the head of the Iraqi counterterror agency, who is himself U.S.-trained, that his folks on the ground played a pretty key role there, pushing back ISIS fighters. And they were trained directly by the U.S.

And the U.S. isn't shy, by the way, Brianna, to claim their part in this. In that statement from the Pentagon, they mentioned all of the ways in which they have supporting -- they've been supporting Iraqi forces.

This is -- if indeed and when indeed it is fully a success, it will be a success for the first time that the Iraqi army will have taken a key, and a major city back from ISIS without the help of those Iranian-backed popular tribal mobilization forces. And that's very important for the U.S. to be able to claim. And they want to show that this is their victory as much as it is Iraq -- a victory of their strategy as much as it is the Iraqi forces -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Nima Elbagir, always great to see you. Thank you so much for that report.

I want to talk more now about this fight for Ramadi. I'm going to bring in Colonel Steve Warren. He is the spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq. Iraqi forces, Colonel, say that they've liberated Ramadi. But give us a sense of if these ISIS fighters are completely gone from the city? Are there still pockets of resistance?

COL. STEVE WARREN, SPOKESMAN, ANTI-ISIS COALITION IN IRAQ: Yes, the Iraqi forces have made great progress over the last week or so. They have secured the city center. It's a complex of buildings. It's kind of like a city hall complex. And they've secured that and south down to the railroad tracks that form the southern border of the city.

Over the last week or two, they had also cleared some of the major neighborhoods outside of the city center, kind of the suburbs. And they've done a terrific job of clearing all those areas. Inside the city center, there remain some neighborhoods that have not yet been cleared. You know, we are seeing small groups, squad-sized elements, you know, seven, eight-man teams of enemy fighters still moving around.

[13:05:04] Additionally, there is a threat for unexploded ordinance, minefields, booby trapped houses. So, there is a lot of still danger inside of Ramadi.

KEILAR: And clearing the majority of the city is, obviously, one thing. Being able to hold it is another. Are you confident that Iraqi forces will be able to hold Ramadi?

WARREN: Right now, based on the way the battlefield sits, it does not appear that ISIL has the strength to knock the Iraqi security forces out of their positions.

KEILAR: OK. So, pretty confident coming from you there. Looking forward, perhaps, to another push, what happens next year? Could we see a push to retake Mosul?

WARREN: Well, Mosul is certainly on the list of things to do as we free the rest of Iraq from ISIL. But before that, there's a lot of work to be done still in Anbar. We've got to move up and secure more of the Euphrates River Valley. On the other side of the country, the Tigres River Valley still needs some work up around Baiji.

So, this is going to be a process and it's going to take some time. We still need to finish training the remainder of the Iraqi army. We need to reset and refit some of these forces that have been fighting hard for Ramadi over the last several months. So, Mosul will come but it will be a while.

KEILAR: So, tell us about the role. You've talked about, obviously, the training and the advising of these Iraqi forces. We know that there are U.S.-led air strikes. Tell us about the role that the U.S.- led coalition is playing right now?

WARREN: Well, I think we've played a pretty great role here. From the air, obviously delivering really devastating air power. We've dropped over 2,000 weapons in the last couple of months. We've dropped about 390 weapons just in the last week alone. This has done everything from take enemy fighters off the battlefield to destroying Vbids (ph) which this enemy uses kind of as their precision weapon. It's opened up obstacle lanes so that friendly forces can get through. So, that's kind of the kinetic piece.

The other piece, of course, is our training, advising and assisting. And there's really two parts to that. The training which takes place here closer to Baghdad at several sites. We've already trained almost 16,000 Iraqi soldiers. We've also trained about 5,000 Sunni tribal fighters who -- most of whom are participating in this fight for Ramadi.

And then, finally, it's our advising and assisting. You know, months ago when we opened up a new location at Altakotum (ph), there was a little bit of tension about that. But it's really paid off, I think. Our advisers, who are in this forward advisory base at Al Takotum, have really been able to help the Iraqi forces integrate their ground operations with our air component. KEILAR: All right, Colonel Steve Warren, thank you so much for the

update. We certainly appreciate that.

Now, here in the U.S., there is a new CNN-ORC poll, very interesting. It reveals that the American public is largely dissatisfied with the war on terror. Only 18 percent think the U.S. has the upper hand. 40 percent say the terrorists are winning. And this is what's significant about this, it's the highest number since September 11th.

As for President Obama, 64 percent disapprove of how he is handling the fight against ISIS. And only 51 percent think the administration can protect against terrorist attacks. How does that stack up? Well, that is eight points lower than the confidence level under President George W. Bush back in 2006. We should note, this is a poll that was taken before the current push to retake Ramadi from ISIS.

Now, still ahead, 43 weather-related deaths in the U.S. just this past week. There are more severe storms on the way. We will be getting the forecast. We'll take you live to Texas for the latest on the cleanup there.

And then, later on, Donald Trump taking some swings at both Hillary and Bill Clinton. We'll talk over the cost, the benefits of his strategy. Stay with us.



KEILAR: Flooding in the Midwest, tornadoes in Texas, blizzard conditions in the Southwest. Severe weather is taking a devastating toll on many parts of the country. There have been 43-weather-related deaths across the United States since last week and at least 11 people were killed by tornadoes in Texas. Residents in the Dallas area are trying to recover from the tornadoes, and now they're also dealing with near-freezing temperatures today. There is flooding that is blamed for at least 13 deaths in Missouri and Illinois, and the forecast is calling for more heavy rain and flooding today. Missouri's governor has declared a state of emergency.

And then, you have parts of eastern New Mexico, Texas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, they are under a blizzard warning. The National Weather Service says those areas could get hit with eight more inches of snow and parts of New Mexico have already seen more than 16 inches of snowfall, just to put that in context for you.

The cleanup, the recovery effort, it is underway from these deadly tornadoes that tore through Texas. We just got some new aerial pictures within the last hour. You can see them right here. This is from Collin County, Texas. This is where three people were killed in this area. You can just see these homes obliterated, wiped off of their foundations by these tornadoes. The other eight Texas fatalities were in a place called Garland. And that's where we find CNN Correspondent Nick Valencia. He is there. And I know, Nick, that you a very -- a guest who certainly is dealing with a lot of loss. But also realizing just how lucky she is. NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, so many people counting their

lucky stars here, if that's even something that can equate to what they're feeling here. It's just incredible to hear these stories, courageous stories of survival, Brianna. It's just unbelievable how these people were able to survive this terrific -- just terrible storm, I should say. We're joined now by a couple of those tornado survivors. Angie King, you rode out the storm in your car. You said that you were -- you were locked out of your house. What a terrible time to be locked out of your home.

ANGIE KING, SURVIVED STORM: Yes, definitely. My daughter had the key and was going to pick up my granddaughter up. And I came home to start dinner and realized I was locked out of the house as soon as the storm came. So, we jumped out of the car and was going to pull out, and that's when the storm hit.

VALENCIA: So, what was it like riding through the storm? I mean, some people I've spoken to throughout the day say they had very little warning. Did you see it coming?

KING: No, I didn't see it coming. I could hear it, but -- so, I thought I had a little bit more time than I did. So, it was really quick and over.

VALENCIA: Face back around here with me, because we've been looking at this. And just -- it's -- I mean, it's just -- there's no -- I'm at a loss of words here --

KING: Yes.

VALENCIA: -- looking at this. When you see this damage and you think about how eight people in your neighborhood, in this town here, lost their lives.

[13:15:04] KING: Yes.

VALENCIA: What do you think about when you look at that and you know what happened to people that were less fortunate than you?

KING: It's -- it's sad, but we're -- you know, we're very fortunate and thank God that we're here. And right now we're here trying to get my daughter's puppy that is still locked in the bathroom.

VALENCIA: So there's a puppy inside that you're trying to --

KING: There's a puppy that -- yes, that's why we're here right now, walking around, trying to get in to get the puppy that's locked in the bathroom.

VALENCIA: Oh, my God. I mean that's -- are you guys on your way in there? Are you going to be allowed to go inside?

KING: No, they're not letting us in yet. So we've talked to several police officers that said just wait because it's not structural, you know, the -- structurally sound and so we just have to wait.

VALENCIA: What are you guys doing as a family? I mean where are you staying? What -- this -- this is all gone. Your home's gone.

KING: We're saying in a hotel. Yes, we're staying in a hotel. And I have a good employer who's going to help me out with, you know, trying to find a place. And my son-in-law works for Home Depot and they're helping us out. And so we're very fortunate. We have a lot of people that help us.

VALENCIA: And go find that dog. I hope you find that puppy of yours, guys.

KING: Thank you.

VALENCIA: Thank you so much for taking the time with CNN. We appreciate it.

KING: You're welcome.

VALENCIA: People here have been slowly coming back. You just heard from Angie King, though, because the structure is still so insecure and instable -- unstable, I should say, people are not allowed to go all the way in. We have seen some folks going inside. Some police officers have let some residents inside to collect -- salvage what little is left. But, really, just tremendously heartbreaking stories from these residents who did not expect this tornado coming. There were those warnings out there, but, again, this -- we've been saying this all day, the force of this EF-4 tornado, the sound that it made, was so powerful and so strong that it muffled the sounds of that tornado warning system that gave people about a 10 to 12 minute heads up. Some people, though, we speak to here, we've spoken to here in this community, in this apartment complex, say they had little if any warning at all.


KEILAR: It is so heartbreaking, Nick, but it's also so great to hear these positive stories about employers who are really stepping up and helping people there in the community.


KEILAR: It's fantastic.

All right, Nick Valencia there in Garland. Thanks so much.

VALENCIA: Absolutely.

KEILAR: The thing, though, is the threat of this severe weather. It's not over for some parts of the country. Let's go to meteorologist Karen Maginnis. He's joining us from the Weather Center in Atlanta with details.

Give us a sense of what we should be expecting here, Karen.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the area that is in the warm sector of this system, this very powerful system that has been so deadly and has affected tens of millions of people all across the United States, well now we're watching it begin to lift off more towards the northeast. But still here is the warm sector and the potential for storms still exist, primarily in Florida right now, but that diminishes as we go later on into the afternoon.

On the back side of this system, blizzard conditions and icing. The icing has been very unforgiving and now we're going to watch it spread across the Great Lakes and into the northeast and New England. There is a tornado watch that goes until 6:00 p.m. That's for a good portion of the Florida panhandle. There had been tornado warnings. They have been discontinued. But we'll start to see some of those fire up later on in the afternoon as temperatures there are still in the 70s. But we've got serious flooding right around St. Louis, Interstate 70, one of those areas that is seeing the heaviest rain fall. Already, six, seven, eight inches of rainfall in a number of those regions.

All right, where is this storm system headed? It is going to move through the lower Great Lakes, into the northeast. Places like Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Cleveland, you're looking at significant icing, maybe half an inch, to 3/4 of an inch. Already in Chicago, icing a problem there at the major airports. Problems with delays also expected for Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, also into Denver. Temperatures behind the system, teens and 20s. Ahead of it, Brianna, we still have those 70s. Very uncharacteristic for this time of year.

KEILAR: Certainly is during these holidays here. Karen Maginnis in Atlanta, thank you so much.

For more on how you can help these storm victims in Texas and across the country, please visit We have some important information for you there.

And just ahead, Donald Trump versus the Clintons. The Republican frontrunner isn't just taking on the top Democrat, but he's taking on her husband as well. Trump says Bill Clinton is fair game. We'll have our panel weighing in when we come back.


[13:22:54] KEILAR: In the race for the White House, it is Donald Trump versus the Clintons. Over the weekend, Trump slammed Hillary Clinton for, quote, "playing the woman's card," and he kept up his criticism today tweeting, "if Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband with his terrible record of women abuse while playing the women's card on me, she's wrong." In an interview Sunday on Fox News, Trump defended going after Bill Clinton.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he is fair game because his presidency was really considered to be very troubled, to put it mildly, because of all of the things that she's talking to me about. I mean she's mentioning sexism, I actually turned her exact words -- I don't know if you saw the following tweet -- but I turned her exact words against her from that standpoint."

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: I want to bring in our political panel now. We have CNN political commentators Hilary Rosen and Tara Setmayer and we have CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's the editorial director of "The National Journal."

OK, so, Hilary, to you first. This is something where perhaps another candidate might be taking more of a risk than Donald Trump on this, but how does Hillary Clinton respond to this? And is this, do you think, potentially a win for Donald Trump when he seems to really get away with a lot of things?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first we have to recognize Donald Trump is not running against Hillary Clinton. He is running against the other Republicans for the GOP nomination. And they love the Clinton bashing. So that's the goal here and that's what he is doing. He's trying to signal that he can do something in the general election. That there will be sort of a no holds barred.

Hillary doesn't need to respond. I don't think she will. I don't think she should. Because when the time comes -- you know, if Trump wants to take on Bill Clinton's administration and the record for the economy, the record for women, and Hillary Clinton's policies on women, you know, more power to him taking on the greatest politician in the world. But right now, for Trump, this is all about, you know, you know, red meat to Republican primary voters, and, you know, Hillary just needs to stay above it and ignore it.

[13:25:02] KEILAR: Tara, I wonder what you think about that, how Hillary Clinton can either -- just maybe not push back on this. Maybe it's a -- an issue she shouldn't even touch. But also whether there is any risk or if it's just reward for Donald Trump?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you have to think about this. Donald Trump doesn't care. He has nothing to lose.

ROSEN: That's right.

SETMAYER: He can say whatever he wants. He's done that already. He's already demonstrated that he'll say whatever he wants. Political correctness be damned. He doesn't care. So he has nothing to lose by doing after Hillary this way. Whereas Hillary Clinton has everything to lose. She's been prepared her -- preparing her whole life for this moment now and it's right there, she's so close for her and she already lost it in 2008. So now this is her last chance.

So for Trump to do this, he knows he can throw as many hate-makers as he wants and it doesn't matter because the tabloid campaign style works. People pay attention. They think it's entertaining, thus you see his popularity in the polls. But if he does this during a general election, let's say he becomes the nominee, I don't think that it's necessarily going to work because people love Bill Clinton. Regardless of how you feel about him, regardless of whether calling him a sexist and his sexual misdeeds, which are well documented, are true or not, people don't care. He left office very popular. He's still popular now. And people don't look at that as something that's a disqualification. He's not running, Hillary is. There's plenty of other things on her record that we can go after her for than this. I think it's just tabloid campaigning and it's part of -- of Donald Trump's shtick.

KEILAR: well, to this point, Ron, I mean you saw, for instance, Rand Paul, before Hillary Clinton declared --


KEILAR: Sort of go after Bill Clinton and that really seemed to subside very quickly. Republicans seemed to think, you know what, this isn't -- we're not going to get into this. This may not be a winning avenue for us to go down. But Donald Trump saying that bill Clinton is fair game, I mean what do you make of that assessment?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the first thing is to go back to a point that Tara made, is that we're talking about this. we're not talking about whether Donald Trump's plan on dealing with ISIS is plausible, whether his tax plan adds up, much less the argument between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over immigration. What Donald Trump has learned is that personal invective and personal attack just has an irresistible poll for the media and so he's able to dominate the debate through this kind of ad hominem series of attacks on anyone who comes up on his radar. I mean don't forget, he went after Trey Gowdy this weekend, the Republican member of the House.

But beyond that I agree also, this is really more about the Republican base than it is about dealing with the very real challenge he faces if he becomes the nominee. He has a substantial gender gap in assessments of him. And his approval rating among men is -- I'm sorry, his favorability rating among men is competitive with Hillary Clinton. Among women, only a third of women in the last CNN poll said they view him favorability, about 20 points behind Hillary Clinton. This is less blaming her or attacking her for his behavior, I think is less about narrowing that gap than it is as both Hilary and Tara mentioned, more about motivating the Republican base.

KEILAR: I want to play some new sound that we have in. Jeb Bush is out on the campaign trail in Florida. Certainly he's been struggling. Our latest CNN/ORC poll has him as 3 percent. But he, just moments ago, had this moment that our producer there on the ground, Ashleigh Kilo (ph), flagged for us because this was sort of a side of Jeb Bush, and she has been following him all the time, this is a side of Jeb Bush that she hasn't really seen. Maybe a more confident and comfortable Jeb Bush. Let's listen.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The selfie is now the 11th Amendment of the Bill of Rights. It's -- it's inspired by our framers and founders, apparently. It is a requirement that you take one. And I do it with great joy in my heart.

So, I don't know, look, it wasn't that long ago that people wanted signatures on things and now, forget that. I just want -- I want my damn selfie and I'm not leaving until I get it. So, we spent a lot of quality time doing that and hoping the person has a long enough arm or I will take over.

Just for the record, young people do it better than older people, just -- we'll go through a little training class here. It's cooler to do it diagonally rather than straight up. Remember that. And it's better to do it higher than lower because you look skinnier. Am I right?


KEILAR: Higher is better than lower, I do agree with Jeb Bush there. But so you see this sort of picture of him, guys, and then he's also kind of been going on the offense in some ways, too. I mean what do you think at this point, Tara, of Jeb Bush's chances of maybe reviving himself, especially as -- as his campaign and his super PAC is throwing all this money at the race now?

[13:29:52] SETMAYER: Jeb Bush has zero chance of coming back. Zero. OK? The fact that he is now cracking jokes about selfies, he spent all of this money, he's still going down in the polls. It just came out today that Chris Christie has actually surpassed or pulled even with Jeb Bush in three national polls and he's polling better than him in New Hampshire. New Hampshire's a key state, key early state.