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Trump: Soleimani Strike Was To Stop A War, Not Start One; Iran Says Any Response Will Be Against Military Sites; Impeachment Stalemate Drags On; Foreign Policy Takes 2020 Center Stage. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 5, 2020 - 08:00   ET




NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): A defining moment of the Trump presidency. Iran's top general killed in a U.S. airstrike.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This action may well have brought our nation closer to another endless war.

HENDERSON: With Iran now vowing revenge, what's next as tensions escalate in the Middle East?

Plus, less then a month until Iowa votes, will foreign policy now be a pivotal issue in the 2020 race?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a guy who seems to be unmoored. He has no authority, no authority to strike Iran without the informed consent of the American people.

HENDERSON: And an impeachment impasse.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): This fantasy that the speaker of the House will get to hand-design the trial proceedings in the Senate, that's obviously a nonstarter.

HENDERSON: As Congress returns, still no date for President Trump's trial.

INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.



I'm Nia-Malika Henderson, in for John King. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning with us.

A week that started with violent protests at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad ended with the killing of Iran's top general, a man the Trump administration holds responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans.

President Donald Trump defended the action that shocked and surprised the world on Friday by saying that Qasem Soleimani was planning imminent and sinister attacks.


TRUMP: At my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number one terrorist anywhere in the world. Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. But we caught him in the act and terminated him.

We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.


HENERSON: And yet, tensions in the Middle East and between the U.S. and Iran keep growing with President Hassan Rouhani declaring yesterday that the U.S. had made a grave mistake and that retaliation is essential because, quote, if we remain silent against the U.S., it will become bolder and more aggressive.

President Trump then ratcheted up the rhetoric laying out in no uncertain terms what would happen if Iran attacks American's people or assets. Let this serve as a warning that if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago, some at a very high level and important to Iran and Iranian culture and those targets and Iran will be hit very fast and very hard.

This comes amid new reporting that the president's decision to kill Soleimani surprised his aides. The order followed December's killing of an American contractor in Iraq and the embassy protests in Baghdad. The U.S. blamed those events on Iran and congressional source familiar with the administration's decision to strike says that the president felt they crossed his line.

But as Democratic members of Congress questioned the motives behind the move, officials from the executive branch continue to insist the president ordered the strike on Soleimani to head off an imminent attack.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I can tell you it was very solid intelligence. Soleimani was traveling around the region working out of plan to attack Americans with his proxy allies, with Iran's proxy allies and Syria and Lebanon and in Iraq.

We had the intelligence. We knew, you know, that he was in the process of planning these attacks and we acted to defend American lives. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Joining me now with their reporting and their insight, we got Josh Dawsey of "The Washington Post," "Politico's" Heather Caygle, "The Washington Post's" Dan Lamothe, and Margaret Talev of "Axios".

Welcome to you all and thanks for being here this morning.

Let's start off, Dan, with the president's tweets last night, being very specific about what the U.S. would do, talking about these 52 sites that Americans have identified in terms of targets in Iran.

What did you make of his very aggressive tweet? Which essentially he set a bit of a red line in terms of what would the United States do.


DAN LAMOTHE, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: He did. I think in this case it's pretty safe to say we have set a line here. The 52 sites, it's very unclear where that comes from. It's very unclear what those sites might be in specifics. But generally, I think we're talking surface-to-air missile sites, I think we might be talking airfields -- things that Iran would probably use to carry out some sort of a further type of attack.

The question I have is he also mentioned cultural sites --


LAMOTHE: -- and what that means and whether or not that's even legal is I think a much more gray issue.

HENDERSON: And we also see a bit of a disconnect between the president's ratcheted up rhetoric there and the rhetoric of his administration. They seem to be de-escalating and he very much, Margaret, seems to be escalating the tensions and certainly escalating in terms of how he's attacking about this.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It contradicts just a bit what the president said where he said they was about stopping the war, not starting a war. But it does seem that in the face of kind of the domestic questioning, some of the internal criticism that he's faced as well as from some other allies abroad that he's kind -- his instinct is to double down, to defend what he's done and that seems like what he's doing.

It's possible that this 52 number is playing off of the 35 number that the Iranians have said they have identified 35 targets, including Tel Aviv that President Trump says we have more. You have 35, we have 52.

But you're right. I mean, when you start tangling with Geneva Conventions, you're in a whole different space. I think there is some internal dissent inside the White House about whether this is the right course of action to begin with and now, going forward, whether this is -- whether this is the right way to attempt a return to negotiations which I think completely -- (CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Which was the ultimate goal after pulling out of that nuclear deal.

Dan and Josh, you both had some reporting that looks at Trump's motivations and why now with this particular strike. And this is what you wrote: Officials reminded Trump after the Iranians mined ships, downed the U.S. drone and allegedly attacked a Saudi oil facility, he hadn't responded. Acting now, they said, would send a message. Trump was also frustrated that the details of his internal deliberations to call off the 2019 airstrike had leaked out and he felt that he looked weak the officials said.

Trump had history on his mind. The president had long fixated on Benghazi and felt the response for the week's attack on the embassy and the killing of an American contractor would make him look stronger compared with his predecessor.


JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they gave the president a smorgasbord of options, his military advisers did, and he actually took one of the more extreme options here and was we reported, "The New York Times" and others get reported, it surprised a lot of the people even close to him that he was willing to do this.

This is a president who's talked about disentangling from the Middle East, getting out of endless wars and taking such a stark action makes that a more difficult thing to do.

But there were a confluence of actions, as you just said, that convinced the president I think here that he needed to do this. It was one, that the Iranians continue to do, you know, several things, including -- but the main thing was the killing of the contractor in the president's mind. It wasn't necessarily the warships that bothered him or the drones. But the killing of the American contractor, Lindsey Graham who was at Mar-a-Lago this week said that was the president's red line. That was what something the president could not get over.

And what you saw this week, the embassy, as you said in Benghazi, is under siege and the president sees a way to make himself a contrast to Barack Obama, and how he handled the embassy. So, all of these factors have come together to give a surprising decision from the president who is not then the first to use military.

HENDERSON: Well, he hasn't been hawkish.

DAWSEY: He has not been hawkish on a lot of issues. He's not wanting to start new strikes. He's not wanting to start new wars. This has been a surprising turn in the presidency.

HENDERSON: And more questions, Dan, about how imminent this attack really was. You see folks in Congress raising questions about this, people wanting to see the real evidence as to what is the definitions on ways of imminent.

LAMOTHE: I saw a pretty big split in the way the state department described this. Mike Pompeo in particular and the way that the Pentagon described it. The Pentagon last week was describing sort of an uptick in the campaign of violence. Iran has been violent for decades.

Now, if you want to draw a line and say no more, that's one thing and I think you make that case. I think the Pentagon is trying to make that case.

HENDERSON: And Pelosi on Capitol Hill along with other Democrats scrutinizing some of the language here in terms of how imminent this attack was. And this is what she had to say.

This classified War Powers Act notification delivered to Congress raises more questions than it answers. The highly unusual decision to classify this document in its entirety compounds our many concerns and suggests that the Congress and the American people are being left in the dark about our national security.


What sort of recourse does Congress have to get this information, to make it public or even to rein in what they see in many ways as President Trump's reckless actions?

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESS REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, that's a great question, one that Congress has struggled with, not just with President Trump, but with President Obama. I mean, we have often seen lawmakers on the hill bypass opportunities to rein in presidents on using the military force. I mean, just this summer, the House had two defense bills, each one had various provisions on using the military force more broadly and on going to war with Iran.

And in the end, when these bills passed in December and were sent to the president's desk, those provisions were stripped out, because most don't want to take these votes and have something very unpredictable happen and these votes come back to haunt them.


CAYGLE: So, what we're seeing from Pelosi she's demanding a briefing next week for all members. She wants more information. We might see that. But in terms of lawmakers actually passing something to rein Trump in that's so unlikely.

HENDERSON: And the fact that it's 2020 makes it a much more complicated situation for those folks up for re-election.

Up next, we'll go live to our correspondent in Tehran for a CNN exclusive, a top Iranian military adviser talks about his country's next move.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HENDERSON: CNN is keeping a close eye on events in Iran. Large crowds have turned out in several cities for funeral processions for General Qasem Soleimani who was killed in the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on Friday. Soleimani's body was returned to Iran earlier today. Iranians are vowing revenge.

Already today, we have seen members of Iran's parliament chanting "death to America" during an emergency meeting.


CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran and spoke exclusively with a military adviser to Iran's supreme leader.

Fred, the Iranians at this point are threatening a military response.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right, Nia. You know, one of the things that the Iranians have been talking about, there will be a response, there will be retaliation, there will be revenge.

And now, for the first time, this is someone who's extremely close to the supreme leader and close to the power center here in Iran, he's saying there will be a military response. It will be against military targets. But the Iranians also want to avoid a larger war with the United States.

Here's what he had to say.


HOSSEIN DEHGHAN, MILITARY ADVISER TO IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER (through translator): The response for sure will be military and against military sites. Let me tell you one thing. Our leadership has officially announced that we have never been seeking war and we will not be seeking war. It was America that started the war. Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions.

The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow they've inflicted. Afterwards, they should not seek a new cycle.


PLEITGEN: So the Iranians are saying they're going to retaliate militarily but they wanted to end after that. They don't want this to escalate any further and essentially become a shooting war between the U.S. and Iran.

One of the things, by the way, Nia, that the adviser took extreme issue with was the fact that President Trump overnight tweeted that the U.S. had apparently designated 52 sites including sites as he put it important to Iranian culture. The adviser saying, if that is the case, if the 52 sites are hit, they would hit 300 sites.

In other words, t Iranians are saying that if more sites are targeted, the gloves would come off from the Iranian side as well, Nia.

HENDERSON: So escalation there.

Fred, Iran's foreign minister is tweeting about the Trump tweet and warning that the end of U.S. maligned presence in West Asia has begun. What has this meant for the U.S. standing in the region?

PLEITGEN: Well, one of the things that the Iranians have been long saying is they want the U.S. to leave this region. The U.S., you know, keeps talking about the fact that Iran has all this maligned behavior in the region, they want the Iranians to -- the Iranians for their part keep saying that they believe it's the U.S. who's destabilizing the region.

That's very interesting that you bring up that tweet from Javad Zarif, from the foreign minister, because it's actually something that other Iranian officials have been saying as well. In fact, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, he came out yesterday and he said in response to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, that there would be what he calls strategic retaliation and he said that strategic retaliation would spell the beginning of the end of America's presence in this region.

So they obviously believe that the killing of Qasem Soleimani, some of the protests you're seeing, some of the mourning processes you're seeing not only in Iran but of course in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries as well could lead to the end of the United States presence here in this region. Whether or not that's the case, of course, it's still something that's very much up for debate. It doesn't look that way at the moment.

But we also know that there was supposed to be a session of the Iraqi parliament where they wanted to decide on the future of American troops in Iraq. So, certainly, that is definitely something that's very key to the Iranians, something that they've been talking about for a very longtime, and, of course, all of that now has gotten more momentum with the killing of Qasem Soleimani -- Nia.

HENDERSON: Fred, thanks so much for that report from Tehran on a very complex situation that's evolving by the minute.

Up next, how the president who promised an end to endless wars found himself staring at a possible military conflict with Iran.



TRUMP: War and aggression will not be my first instinct. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength.


HENDERSON: That was a 2016 flash back to a campaign version of Donald Trump pledging restraint on the world stage. Fast forward almost four years later to the start of Donald Trump's second campaign, this time as commander in chief and things look quite different. This from the main page of the "Drudge Report" at the end of this week. Tehran vows revenge. 2020 begins with a bang.

And the hashtag that trended this Friday #worldwarIII.

At a Friday rally with evangelicals in Miami, after the Soleimani strike, Trump said he doesn't want war or regime change in Iran, but warned terrorists to watch out.


TRUMP: We do not seek war, we do not seek nation building or regime change. But as president, I will never hesitate to defend the safety of the American people. You.


So let this be a warning to terrorists. If you value your own life you will not threaten the lives of our citizens.


HENDERSON: And joining us now, CNN's Abby Phillip, who covered the campaign and used to cover the White House.

Let's go, Margaret, to what this tells us about a foreign -- about Donald Trump's tolerance for risk. If you look, this was in many ways if you look at the array of options he had this is the most risky. This is what the "A.P." is reporting. A range of national security matters has cast aside the same warnings that gave his predecessors in both parties pause.

At times, he's simply been willing to embrace more risk in other moments, he has questioned the validity of the warnings altogether, even from experts within his own administration. He has publicly taken pride in doing so.

TALEV: Yes. I mean, this is interesting on so many levels. One is while it's true that President Trump has on the campaign trail and in the presidency been averse to deepening entanglements in the Middle East, Iran is one of the few exceptions where he has taken a decidedly more aggressive stance, more threatening stance than President Obama did, and sought to undo the policies of the Obama administration.

So I think from John Bolton to Mike Pompeo to Trump himself, that's been a pretty consistent threat, and while I don't think that we'd be talking about this, if not for the death of that U.S. contractor, I also think rally with evangelicals pretty much says it all. This is a policy that will have real resonance with both -- some Republican Jewish voters and many evangelical voters who support a more aggressive stance toward Iran.

HENDERSON: It's a crucial part of the president's base, evangelicals cheering many of his moves.


You mentioned John Bolton. Here was his tweet: Congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qassem Soleimani. Long in the making, this was a decisive blow against Iran's maligned Quds Force activities worldwide. I hope this is first step to regime change in Tehran.

John Bolton sort of pushed out, right? Who knows what he has to say in terms of the Ukraine scandal, Abby, but here he is congratulating his former boss.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, I think there are a lot of questions right now about what kind of relationship does John Bolton have with the president right now, what kind of a relationship does he want? And clearly here, Bolton is getting what he has always wanted, which is a much more aggressive Trump when it comes to Iran.

And it's something that clearly, you know, Bolton is trying to encourage the president even after leaving the White House. If you look at his teasing tweets in the last several weeks and months they have been all toward pushing Trump toward more bellicose actions in a lot of different conflicts around the world. This is no different.

So as you mentioned impeachment is such a big thing. John Bolton still hasn't spoken and there are big questions about whether he will. I think right now, Donald Trump is being the president John Bolton wants him to be. I think that that leads to some real questions about whether Bolton is going to take any steps to undermine him in this ongoing impeachment inquiry.

HENDERSON: And though they say that there is a Trump tweet, or sound bite for everything, and here was Trump talking about Obama a few years ago.


TRUMP: Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He's weak and he's ineffective. We have a real problem in the White House. So I believe that he will attack Iran some time prior to the election because he thinks that's the only way he can get elected. Isn't it pathetic?


HENDERSON: Isn't it pathetic?

Josh, you have the president there talking about going to war as a sign of strength as well as something that would bolster the former president's re-election campaign.

DAWSEY: It was quite a sound bite. You know the president is torn between -- you have heard him talk about the Iraq war and the George Bush's decisions in the Middle East that he thought were disastrous. Even calling for George Bush to be impeached because of the war in Middle East and he mocks Barack Obama for feckless and for weak, and for being this guy who does not enforce the red line in the sand, who does not take on military folks.

This is a president who doesn't have a defined policy.

HENDERSON: There's no Trump doctrine.

DAWSEY: Going in, he hits Obama for not doing much. It's situational in many ways and here, what you see in the clip is him saying Obama is not tough enough. But if you look at other clips, he says Bush was too aggressive and shouldn't have gone into the other countries and trying to figure out what motivates his decisions every time can be a difficult, but interesting puzzle.

HENDERSON: Very unpredictable.

PHILLIP: He is motivated by doing whatever is the opposite of Obama did.

HENDERSON: Yes, and that has come up in some of the reporting, afraid of being compared to Obama in terms of what happened with Benghazi.

Dan, you heard Fred Pleitgen talking about the threat from the Iranians that if President Trump follows through on hitting the 52 Iranian targets they will respond by attacking 300 American targets. This is bluster obviously. Or is it a sign of de-escalation? I don't think we know.

LAMOTHE: Whether it's 300 or not, I mean, certainly they're pointing toward increased attacks, more aggression. We don't have anything suggesting a large U.S. ground war. They have not moved the sort of firm of troops that would be required. They haven't done anything along the lines. But I think what we're starting to look at if this continues to go in the direction it is is missile attacks, air strikes. And where that puts you ultimately and what that spills us into at the end of the day is very unclear.

HENDERSON: And if you think about a couple of conflicts that have come up recently not only with Iran, but also with North Korea, two very unorthodox approaches that this president has taken. This is what Richard Haass had to say: After three years of no international crises, Mr. Trump is facing one with Iran because he's rejected diplomacy and another with North Korea because he's asked too much of diplomacy.

In neither case has Trump embraced traditional diplomacy, putting forward a partial or interim pact in which a degree of restraint would be met with a degree of sanctions relief.

A lot of challenges for this president going into a re-election year.


TALEV: Yes. But at the same time, as you're going to the re-election year, if Americans truly believe that the nation is under some sort of a threat, there's a tendency to rally around a commander-in-chief. I think before he was president when he was ostensibly (ph) attacking President Obama for simultaneously being too weak and wanting to attack Iran for leverage that he understood that this is a potential tool for leverage.

Whether or not it's warranted, whether or not it's the right policy move, that there are political implications to redirecting Americans' attention to feel that they're national security is under threat, under attack and that it's time to rally together as a country.

That is moment that tends to empower the incumbent. And he is now showing that he is ready to take that challenge.

HENDERSON: We'll see how -- we'll see how long this moment lasts. We don't know, obviously, what's going to happen on the ground from Iran with these threats of an attack.

Up next, New Year, same drama as the House and the Senate remain locked in a stalemate over impeachment.


HENDERSON: The impeachment standoff between the house and the Senate is showing no signs of letting up. Nearly three weeks after the house approved impeachment articles against President Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to turn them over to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that if Democrats are trying to use those articles as leverage for the Senate trial, they are very much wasting their time.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: This fantasy that the Speaker of the House will get to hand design the trial proceedings in the Senate, that's obviously a nonstarter.

They have done enough damage. It's the Senate's turn now to render sober judgment as the framers envisioned. But we can't hold a trial without the articles.

So for now we're content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder.


HENDERSON: So the same drama we left the last year with, continues in this New Year of 2020. Apparently McConnell and Schumer did not really talk over the holidays. What's next? When does this impasse break?

CAYGLE: So you're right, they didn't talk over the holidays, they just had a floor chat on Friday --


HENDERSON: Right. Dueling chats. Yes.

CAYGLE: So I think a lot of sources on the Hill expect Pelosi to send over these articles within the next week or two. I mean she and McConnell -- the reality of it is neither one of them want this dragging on forever.

For her, the longer it goes, the more her moderates back home, her sitting in Trump districts ask asking why are you dragging this out, why are you playing games with impeachment. That's the last thing she wants.

For McConnell I mean he says that he's not facing the pressure but the reality is the longer that this drags out, the more potential evidence that could come out. Just this week we saw unredacted emails that were reported, an indicted Giuliani associate was allowed to begin sharing information with the House.

And so the more things like that that come out, the more pressure he could face to actually give in to Democrats' demands to call witnesses or request documents.

And so I think they both want to try to wrap this up soon. So we should see articles within the next two weeks I would say.

HENDERSON: And Pelosi had a statement here, "Today Leader McConnell made clear that he will feebly comply with President Trump's cover-up of his abuses of power and be an accomplice to that cover-up. The American people deserve the truth. Every senator now faces a choice to be the -- to be loyal to the President or to the constitution."


HENDERSON: Abby -- that was Nancy Pelosi there. And Heather mentioned the idea that some Democrats are sort of nervous about the foot-dragging essentially. Where does Pelosi go here?

And it does seem like there might be some leverage that Democrats have gotten because of some of the stories that have come out. Heather mentioned the emails and the "New York Times" had that really long piece on what happened with the Ukraine scandal, talking about Mulvaney's role, talking about Pompeo's role as well.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean there's such a fine line for both Democrats and Republicans in terms of timing. All of this information has come out recently. The question is, is it actually moving anybody in the Senate? And I don't know that that answer is particularly clear.

I mean, you know, if you're Nancy Pelosi, yes, you might want as much information out as possible but only if there's a reasonable chance that it could ultimately change the outcome in your favor.

And I still think that that's very much up in the air. We still haven't heard enough from some of these moderate Republicans and Republicans perhaps who are not running for re-election about what they want, what they're willing to stand up for.

And that's going to be the test, so maybe in a couple of weeks as we see members coming back to Washington, they're faced with questions, we'll get a little bit more insight into what that dynamic actually is. HENDERSON: And Karen Tumulty had a great column in your paper --

Josh. And here's what she had to say. "We have reached a point at which the Democrats are going to have to make a choice. Do they want to squander precious days and weeks tilting against an impregnable Republican wall in the Senate, or do they want to make their strongest case for removing Trump from office to that the people who might actually do it -- the voters?

The impeachment imperative now, both on practical and substantive grounds is for Democrats to move on. They are the ones who stand to suffer by delaying the inevitable."

DAWSEY: Right. Well, the argument that you see Republicans (INAUDIBLE) making there, you wanted to impeach this president 11 months before an election and now you said he's such a national security risk, you say he's such a problem.

And now you're holding the articles --


DAWSEY: -- and saying that there's not that much of an urgent risk. We can wait, we can take time. That's the argument you're seeing more and more from Republicans.

And it's hard to imagine short of some explosive bombshell that we have not seen coming out, that you would have many Republicans in the Senate move towards impeaching the President.

In fact you have several Democrats -- Joe Manchin from West Virginia, Doug Jones from Alabama -- who maybe inclined to not immediately impeach. I mean there's going to be a battle for some of these folks in the middle. But it's unclear that they would ever have anywhere near the number of votes to impeach the President.

And it's what the strategy is for keeping this going, going, going -- more evidence maybe is coming out. More emails are coming out. But at the end of the day I don't think much would move the needle in pushing them towards a majority that they need to remove the President from office.

HENDERSON: And this new dynamic, of course, is what's going on with this conflict with Iran. Does that complicate things to any degree?

A piece in the "Washington Post", Trump ally Representative Mark Meadows out of North Carolina argued that the Democrats were playing politics with impeachment while Trump was taking out a general who has American bloodstains on his hand. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise agreed, declaring that Trump was focused on defending the country amid Democratic harassment.

CAYGLE: Yes, I think Republicans have started using the Iran issue to hit Nancy Pelosi in a different way on this. But we saw her respond last night with that statement after Trump sent the notification justifying the attack. And she not only said it was unusual, that it was classified. But a source told after that it was both insufficient and brief. And in her statement she said wait a minute now. You know, she said wait a minute now. The timing and the manner and the justification for this are all called into question now, so the statement.

She was insinuating I think that maybe Trump is the one that we need to be looking at and questioning why did you do this now in the middle of everything that's going on, both abroad and here.

HENDERSON: Yes. Important week coming up in terms of what happens out of the House with these impeachment articles.

Next, how the rising tension with Iran is affecting the Democratic race for president.



HENDERSON: The Democratic presidential candidates are sounding off on President Trump's surprise strike on Iran's top general and expressing concern that his administration is not prepared for what comes next.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we have seen from this administration over the past three years suggests that they're prepared to deal with the very real risk we now confront.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump promised to end endless wars. Tragically, his actions now put us on the path to another war.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we have learned nothing else, from the Middle East in the last 20 years, it's that taking out a bad guy is not a good idea unless you're ready for what comes next.


HENDERSON: After largely focusing on domestic issues for the past year, Democrats find themselves grappling with a renewed focus on foreign policy as a major election issue. And with four weeks to go until the first votes are cast, that shift in focus could potentially benefit one candidate in particular.

In a CNN poll in November, the last time this question was actually asked, 48 percent of Democrats said that Joe Biden was the best candidate on foreign policy issues and that's more than a 30-point lead over his nearest rival.

I want to talk to you, Abby, sort of for big picture look at this. How does foreign policy being at the forefront, at least right now for the foreseeable future, a couple of weeks or so -- how does that potentially shake up the 2020 race for Democrats? PHILLIP: Well, it has been surprising, to your point, that this

hasn't actually been a huge part of this race up until this point. But now you're seeing candidates like Bernie Sanders really using this as a way to bring up again the issue of Joe Biden's judgment actually.

I mean, those numbers in that poll, voters seem to think that Joe Biden because he was vice president has the best experience for this, but what Sanders has been trying to say is that he made a really catastrophic decision to support the Iraq war. Even Pete Buttigieg has been bringing up that argument as well.

So you're seeing both of those candidates going in that direction. And I think it's going to really bring up for Democrats -- it's less now about whether or not you have the experience to be commander in chief and more about whether you have the judgment. I think that's the argument that -- that's the wedge that these Democratic candidates are trying to make with candidates right now. Do you have the judgment to make the right decision at the right time and not make the same kind of mistakes?

HENDERSON: And Sanders, you mentioned, here's what he had to say about his sort past record on these issues.



SANDERS: I am deeply concerned that President Trump's actions represent a dangerous escalation that brings us closer to yet another disastrous war in the Middle East. Similar to my concerns that I raised way back in 2002 regarding the war in Iraq, a new war with Iran could cost thousands of lives.


HENDERSON: This was a potent issue in 2008 in that the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was an issue in 2016 as well with Sanders and Clinton. How potent could it still be for Sanders in 2020?

CAYGLE: Well, I think as Abby said, you know, -- and he's using this as a way to not only hit Biden but to differentiate himself from the other candidates and kind of lead the way on this. We saw him talking about "I don't want to get in another endless war."

We saw Elizabeth Warren who changed her statement after getting criticism for the first then saying "I too don't want to get into another endless war."

I think for Biden he is one of two on this. He can kind of get down in the mud and hit back at Bernie Sanders and Buttigieg. Or he could go the other way and do what we saw him do at the beginning of his candidacy where he kind of ignored all the other Democratic presidential candidates and took on Trump, you know.

And he could position himself as the front-runner and contrast himself with Trump directly, you know -- Trump is unpredictable, I'm a steady hand. I'm ready from day one. And ignore all these other criticisms.

HENDERSON: And that seems to be what he's doing, at least at this point. He tweeted -- retweeting Trump's 52-sites tweet, he said, "The more the walls close in on this guy, the more irrational he becomes."

And that is an argument, of course, about temperament. Biden saying that he has the steady hand and the experience in a way that Trump doesn't.

TALEV: That's right. And for Biden, you know, his play -- the most obvious play is to act like the incumbent from the Democratic side rather than to be punching back at his rivals.

I think for Buttigieg because he has military experience this is a potential moment for him to shine. This certainly reframes the debate inside the Democratic contest. It has been overwhelmingly about not just domestic issues health care, health care, health care, and this spotlight on Medicare for all and that being kind of the defining issue for which Democratic candidate you may pick or one of the defining issues.

This, at least for now, will move that away and bring foreign policy and your interest capacity and views on interventionism, military responses into the debate.

HENDERSON: You mentioned Buttigieg -- Margaret. You are covering Pete Buttigieg and he has been doing exactly what you said which is to say that he has the boots on the ground military experience in a way that others in this field do not.

PHILLIP: And we've heard him talk a lot more about that in the last several days, talking about what patriotism means. What it means to actually understand what it's like to be deployed to a war zone.

And so I think we're going to hear a lot more from him on that because it is a differentiating characteristic. Only he and Tulsi can sort of claim military experience in that way.

And it's going to be -- it's for Buttigieg a contrast with Trump who avoided, as we know, military service during the Vietnam era. And now has tried to run as a non-interventionist but now we see his actions in Iran. This is a key point of contrast for Buttigieg and others.

HENDERSON: And Trump, of course, Dawsey -- will say well he is willing to make these tough decisions that other administrations -- meaning the Obama administration, Biden of course a part of that, weren't willing to make?

DAWSEY: Well, that's correct. That's what President Trump has (INAUDIBLE), the al-Baghdadi raid where he killed the other ISIS leader, the military went in and did a strike there. The President is clearly banking this argument that the American public will rally behind him in these decisions and will see them as in the national security interests.

You even saw that with the original Democrat statements, right. Most of the first statements that came out right after the attack were, while Soleimani obviously deserved this and then, then, then. And now you're seeing more of the attacks.

But even the Democrats realized that and the popularity of this with the public is probably going to be fairly high.

HENDERSON: Yes. Foreign policy now front and center.

And with the Iowa caucuses just a month away, the Democratic presidential candidates begin their final appeals to voters in the Hawkeye State.



HENDERSON: With the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, the candidates faced a real world test of their popularity with a certain type of voter -- those who click the all-important contribute button.

The 2020 hopefuls unveiled their fourth quarter fund-raising hauls last week with Senator Bernie Sanders leading the pack with an eye- popping $34.5 million.

But Sanders is not the only one enjoying strong fourth-quarter fund- raising. Senator Amy Klobuchar also saw a surge in her fund-raising numbers as she more than doubled her previous quarter jump range from $4.8 million to $11.4 million. Her message for supporters ahead of the Iowa caucuses -- go for it.


SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I just want to thank you for turning out in such a big way. You know, this is it. We are just like 30 days away and I know you guys always like to say, you're in my top three, you're in my top two. Just go for it. Go for it. It is a new year.


HENDERSON: A month ago, Abby -- you've been out on the campaign trail there. Bernie Sanders -- his supporters have said all along that he has been underrated and comes out with this big fund-raising number. Do we see the sort of numbers also meaning that he is expanding his base of voters and his base of support?

PHILLIP: You know, that is a really good question. I mean Bernie Sanders is probably stronger now than he has been in several months in this race, particularly after he had that heart attack.

I think his supporters are even more fervent now than they have ever been. They are giving more. They're more committed to him. They're more willing to stick with him as sort of their top contender.

You know, I think there are a lot of voters, especially this weekend I spent some time in New Hampshire, who actually are more ideologically moderate, who are still very interested in Bernie Sanders. And his strength -- his strength in the polls, his strength in the financing is his biggest strength in this race.

And so, you know, some of those people who are the more pragmatic Democrats who just want someone who can win. Bernie Sanders looks really good right now because of the numbers like that $34 million, totally changing the game in terms of grass roots fundraising.

HENDERSON: And he's also trying to kind of change the conversation in terms of who really is electable. He gave an interview to your paper, Josh -- where he is talking about Biden. This is what he says about Biden who, of course, is winning sort of the electability game.

He says, he brings into this campaign a record which is so weak that he just cannot create the kind of excitement and energy that is going to be needed to defeat Donald Trump. His support of free trade including the North American Free Trade Agreement would make him vulnerable in the industrial Midwest where Trump scored victories in 2016.

DAWSEY: Right. He is trying to paint him with kind of a milquetoast something for everyone candidate that kind of really doesn't energy the base, that could not beat Donald Trump. You're seeing Bernie Sanders increasingly do.

I mean for a while, most of the candidates had stayed away from really attacking each other. They'd attack Trump, they'd attack Republicans, they had tried to kind of play nice.


DAWSEY: And now you're getting down a stretch entering the Iowa caucuses, entering New Hampshire where no one is going to be playing nice. There's only going to be one winner. So you can't -- you've got to take the gloves off and swing.


And voters coming down to the wire trying to ferret (ph) who they're going to vote. Here is a voter trying to decide between Biden and Sanders.


LARRY CLAUSEN, IOWA VOTER: I'm leaning heavily towards Biden, but Sanders would be my second choice, I think.

Biden is my first choice because I think he is highly-experienced, and I think he has good relationships internationally. But I also believe that Senator Sanders carries a lot of passion in his arguments. And I think that'll bring a lot of young people out, and that is important to the turnout.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this a tough decision?

CLAUSEN: Yes, sir. It is. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Jump ball in Iowa. This guy deciding between two people who are very ideologically different.


TALEV: Yes, and it sort of demonstrates the bipolarity, you know, dual instincts of Democratic voters in Iowa, but also reminds everybody that there is a thing about Bernie Sanders that we saw in 2016 which is like will his -- will the ferocity of his ideological convictions end up hurting the nominee if he is not that nominee, you know. You saw a dampened enthusiasm for Clinton, it had an effect, and if Bernie Sanders himself is not the nominee, if it was someone in the Biden or Pete Buttigieg lane, are these things that he is saying now going to come back to depress enthusiasm for that eventual nominee?

That is not his concern right now. He's thinking I want to blow this out of the water. I want to surprise everybody. I want to take that in New Hampshire. And that is fine. Clearly his right as a candidate, but Bernie Sanders is complicated for exactly that reason.

HENDERSON: Complicated indeed. And we'll see Iowa always sort of a last-minute choice for some of these voters. And we can tell that they are trying to make up their minds now.

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Hope you can catch us weekdays as well at noon Eastern.

Up next a packed "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER". His guests include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Presidential Candidates Pete Buttigieg and Senator Elizabeth Warren and House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff.

Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning.