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The Lead with Jake Tapper

President Obama's Reaction to ISIS; Tough Senate Race in Kentucky; DNC Chair: Tea Party "Grabbing Us By The Hair; Senator To Hold Hearing On Police Militarization; Interview With Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri

Aired September 03, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper. In politics now, following the execution of a second American the president's administration is talking tough when it comes to confronting ISIS.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The (INAUDIBLE) was very clearly. And we're providing the president with those options to degrade and destroy ISIL's capability.

JOB BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have taken the fight to this kind of savagery and evil before and, believe me, we will take it again.


TAPPER: But what about the commander-in-chief himself? Should the U.S. be degrading and destroying ISIS as he said today or just managing and containing the terror group? He said that it should become a manageable problem. He also said that today. The president is now facing criticism for sending mixed messages about how he plans to deal with ISIS and joining me now to talk about it "Weekly Standard" editor Bill Kristol and the former Obama White House spokesperson Bill Burton, thanks so much for being here both Bill and Bill. I will start with Bill Burton.

Why do you think so many members of the administration sound tougher and angrier about ISIS than the commander-in-chief?

BILL BURTON, FMR. OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: The commander in chief is pretty angry.

TAPPER: I'm not saying he's not.

BURTON: No, and I think that this is classic Washington. The people have always parsed the president's emotions, looked at little words, degrade or destroy, like which is which. The administration is clear. We have to destroy ISIL. They're beheading Americans, they're doing terrible things across the Middle East. What we have to do is we have to get in there and do everything we can to dismantle them. Now, the difference between degrade and destroy and whether or not we can absolutely eliminate them off the earth, look, this is a process. It's going to take a longtime, it's going to take a multinational force to do it. It's going to take a multiethnic government in Baghdad in order to make it stick. But at the end of the day we destroyed Nazi Germany, for example, but there are still Nazis who are running around, right?

So, in the case of ISIL, yes, we can go there and we can destroy the leadership, we can destroy the organization itself, but will there still be remnants of people who are associated with ISIS? Sure.

TAPPER: Mr. Kristol, I doubt you agree with that. Why don't you weigh in?

WILLIAM KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, well, I would say this, I only care about the president's emotions, I don't even care that much if he says things that are a little controversial with each other. I was there in the first Bush White House decades ago in the run-up to the First Gulf War in 1990, and at the time President Bush and Jim Baker, and people sometimes said things that were a little off-message and the media had - was worried for a day or two.

The President Bush acted. We got 500,000 (ph) troops at the Gulf, we made clear what we were going to do, we went in and removed Saddam. If the president were doing what Bill says, I wouldn't worry about one bad press conference here or Chuck Hagel sounding different from John Kerry there. The problem is, the president, I don't think, has fundamentally decided - here is the problem, I think his foreign policy is in tatters, his original vision of how the world would work out with his foreign policy is in shambles. He's in denial and he needs to go through the stages of grief. I mean now, and the first one is denial, I think. I can't remember - denial and bargaining and anger and then finally, you get to acceptance and I hope that all of this floundering is the prelude to him accepting that we have to go in and destroy ISIL and being serious about doing so, which means not saying the first sentence you say at every press conference, no boots on the ground and the second sentence is we need the international community to rally behind us and the third sentence is we have to wait for a good government in Iraq. We have to wait for any those of things. We have to act and then those things are more likely to happen.

TAPPER: Bill, do you think it's - Bill Burton, do you think it's possible at all that President Obama's ambivalence, which is not to say opposition, but his mixed feelings about using U.S. force and, look, I understand the U.S. is bombing ISIS targets in Iraq. But clearly, President Obama feels as though the war in Iraq was a huge mistake, the fist war in Iraq was a huge mistake. And he clearly feels that the U.S. military, there's only so much it can do without all the other things.

Do you think that maybe that is what is - behind some of his statements, such as turning ISIS into a manageable problem?

BURTON: I would first make the point that ISIL wasn't in Iraq before the war in Iraq in 2004. Secondly, any president should be ambivalent about putting U.S. troops on the ground anywhere and the only way that you can really make this work is to have a strategy that works, working with other nations and the fact that Maliki is no longer in power as a result of some of the work that the United States did, it allows us to build up a coalition of countries that surround Iraq and Syria, folks like the Saudis and get them engaged in a way that can make this a much more lasting and permanent situation. Look, this isn't going to work with American bots on the ground. We've already tried just going in there without like a great strategy, without a lot of foreign nations helping out. That doesn't work. Like what we need to do is we need to get the nations in the neighborhood involved? We need to get the nations in the West involved and make sure that we actually have a sustained solution to the problem that ...

TAPPER: But I would like you to address the idea that you invoke George H.W. Bush. One of the things going on here, I think, is President Obama, I mean I know every president has the reaction to the previous one. President Obama not wanting to make the same mistakes that President George W. Bush made, maybe taking more time. Not sending troops in this quickly. Is that not possible? That's what's going on?

KRISTOL: I don't even know what's going on. But he's been president for six years, and if he can't get over the fact that he was elected running against the war in Iraq that was launched in 2003 and that had been successfully concluded in 2008 with no ISIL anywhere, and now he's let it grow up by inaction in Syria and by getting out of Iraq and completely - but let's leave it all behind him. I'll stop talking about it if he would just get serious about being president for the last two years of his term and deal with this threat that will be fine. But it is a fantasy to say we can't send in troops until the whole international coalition is there and no one is going to rally to us until we show that we're serious.

TAPPER: All right. Bill Kristol, Bill Burton, thank you so much. Appreciate it. I don't think you guys agree on this.

Coming up on "THE LEAD," new CNN polling out just this hour showing the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in the fight of his political life. Could the top Senate Republican be out of a job come November? Plus, Michael Brown's death sparked outrage across the nation, but now a St. Louis newspaper wants to know what, if any crimes, the slain teen had on his juvenile record. That's ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper. More politics now. Down to the wire. Just 62 days remaining until the elections that will decide who controls Capitol Hill and while we are drilling down on all these virtually important House Senate and gubernatorial fights across the nation. CNN will also go in depth with five key races to watch this midterm season and today we're going to take a look at what may be the most high profile and certainly the most expensive of all the races this year, the bitter battle for the Senate seat in Kentucky. A race pitting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican in the fight of his political life against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat. And while we have breaking news to report, according to brand new CNN polling conducted through Monday and released this hour, this is still anyone's race. McConnell leads Grimes by just four points among likely voters. Four points. That's an edge equal to the margin of error. Now, midterms can often prove to be a referendum on the party, holding the White House, a potential pitfall for the Democrat Grimes as CNN's latest polling also shows just a third of likely Kentucky voters approve of the job President Obama is doing. Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has been closely following this extremely tight, in the times downright nasty. It looks like this is going to be a real dog fight.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A real dog fight. You know, this is critical because of the fact that Mitch McConnell's win, it would have a huge impact on not only the takeover of the Senate, but maybe most importantly, on the president's last two years in office and going to Kentucky as I did was striking is that voters who will make that determination have two very different candidates to choose from.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This year's marquee political race is a study in contrast, a 35-year-old Democrat, a Washington novice running to be Kentucky's first female senator.

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES (D), KENTUCKY SENATE CANDIDATE: Mitch McConnell's Washington is not working for Kentucky. The 72-year-old top Senate Republican in the fight of his life, to win and take over the Senate.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: There is nobody Barack Obama wants to beat worse than Mitch McConnell and there's nothing I would like better than for him to have a bad night November 4th, what do you think about that?

BASH: Mitch McConnell is the ultimate political tactician and old school bring home the bacon senator.

MCCONNELL: The $15 million for the river front has done great things for Owensboro.

BASH: But he's not a warm and fuzzy campaigner at all. Alison Lundergan Grimes is a natural at pressing the flesh with voters and lights up supporters at rallies.

GRIMES: I don't know whether to call Senator McConnell, Senator no- show, Senator gridlock or Senator shutdown, but what I do know is he's not working for Kentucky.

BASH: In interviews, she often sounds scripted.

(on camera): Give me some Kentucky candor. Is the president a drag on you here?

GRIMES: I think that Kentuckians are seeing this race for what it is, a chance to actually move Kentucky forward in the right direction.

BASH (voice-over): Grimes is giving McConnell his toughest challenge in years, raking in campaign cash, getting help from family friend, Bill Clinton and airing clever TV ads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, why did you vote two times against the violence against women act and against (inaudible)?

BASH: His goal, tied her to President Obama, who in 2012 won only four of Kentucky's 120 counties and is even more unpopular now.

MCCONNELL: She's a new face for the status quo. A new face to vote for Barack Obama.

BASH: She paints him as the personification of Washington dysfunction.

GRIMES: He has nothing left to give to the people of this state, no new ideas and actually promising further gridlock.

BASH: You have to hear McConnell's retort to believe it, the 30-year Senate veteran is running as an agent of change.

MCCONNELL: The candidate for change is the guy you're looking at.

BASH: If you don't like Obama he argues, flip the Senate and put him in charge.

MCCONNELL: The only thing they can do in 2014 to begin change the direction of the country is to change the makeup of the Senate.

BASH: He appeals to state pride by telling voters he'd be the second Kentucky majority leader in history, but his ambition is very personal.

(on camera): You know the joke that most senators look in the mirror and they see a future president. You, at least --

MCCONNELL: I never had that problem. I don't have that affliction.

BASH: But you have always wanted to be the majority leader of the Senate, is that fair to say?

MCCONNELL: I would like to have the chance to be the majority leader of the Senate, yes.

BASH (voice-over): McConnell ended this summer with some stumbles. His campaign manager resigned amid a scandal from work with Rand Paul in 2008 and Democrats pounced on secretly recorded audio of McConnell speaking at a Koch brothers donor meeting vowing not to allow votes on Democratic initiatives.

MCCONNELL: I didn't say anything in the private meeting, I haven't said publicly.

BASH: Grimes' has problems, too, accusation of a sweetheart deal for her campaign bus brokered by her father, a prominent businessman and former state party chair.

GRIMES: They're baseless, unfounded bullying accusations from Mitch McConnell. It's a high stakes race bound to get very ugly.


BASH: Ugly and expensive. In fact, sources in both parties estimate it will likely be the most expensive Senate race in history. All told, Jake, it will probably cost north of $100 million. This is a Senate race in Kentucky, which is not exactly the most exactly the most expensive media market.

TAPPER: Grimes certainly can throw a punch, but McConnell is famous or infamous depending on your point of view for running very, very tough campaigns, but it's also a challenge for a man to do that to a woman.

BASH: It is, and I thought the other interesting part of our poll was one of the first things I did was went to look at the gender gap to see if there really is one. Because Grimes has been running as a woman and running appealing to female voters.

And there isn't considering the traditional gender gap with the parties there isn't that much of a gender gap and it is surprising given the fact that she is running it. So far he's handled it deftly, but it is not so easy.

TAPPER: Let's talk about some other breaking news today. According to "The Milwaukee Sentinel," DNC Chair and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz just made the following comment at a roundtable discussion on women's issues at the Milwaukee Athletic Club.

She was campaigning against the governor of Wisconsin. Quote, "Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand. I know that is stark and I know that is direct, but that is reality. What Republican Tea Party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back. It is not going to happen on our watch."

This is blowing up, these comments, a very controversial comparing politics to domestic abuse of sexual assault or whatever. What's the response for the Wasserman-Schultz?

BASH: Well, I spoke to the DNC and they do have a response because they understand that this is blowing up big time. And the response according to a spokeswoman is that domestic violence is an incredibly serious issue and the congresswoman was by no means belittling the very real pain survivors' experience. Scott Walker's policies had been bad for Wisconsin's women. It is not going to be the end of this.

TAPPER: Probably not. Dana Bash, thank you so much. Great work.

Coming up, if Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old killed in Ferguson, Missouri had a juvenile record, does the public have a right to know? Is it relevant? The battle over it in court right now. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Our National Lead now, the community of Ferguson, Missouri is putting itself back together after the shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown and the ensuing protests, looting and police reaction or over reaction.

The "St. Louis Post Dispatch" filed a petition to unseal any existing juvenile records on Brown who was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9th.

We are awaiting the ruling on that. The paper reports a court official did reveal that Brown was never found delinquent of any of the most serious felonies as a juvenile.

Police have already said that Brown had no adult criminal record. Brown's death, of course, led to a chorus of demands for police reforms and one of those voices belongs to Democratic Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill with whom I spoke earlier.


TAPPER: Last time I saw you, Senator, you were walking on West Fluorescent Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, hoping that the likes of me would leave so tensions could cool in Ferguson.

I want to ask you about some of the measures that you're hoping to take in the wake of that chaos and that tragedy. Police militarization, for example, you will be holding a hearing next week.

Lieutenant Mitchell O'Brien with the Huntington Beach, California Police Department told ABC News Friday that, quote, "These are the tools that law enforcement unfortunately needs," unquote, to meet the threats in this day and age.

You've been a critic of the militarized images we saw out of Ferguson. What's your response to police who say they need these kinds of weapons, they need these kinds of armored vehicles?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: We have three separate programs and they haven't had enough oversight and that's what this is about. It's about looking at the Department of Defense programs, the Homeland Security programs and Department of Justice programs.

And see what kind of weaponry are we buying and how much is it being utilized and how effectively is it being utilized? What kind of training are requiring and who is paying to maintain it?

These are all questions that frankly have never really been answered in a comprehensive way. And after what I saw in Ferguson, and by the way, I saw both. I saw an over-militarized response against peaceful protesters.

I also saw the use of a wrapped vehicle to bring law enforcement officers to safety when they were being challenged in a very dangerous situation.

So this is going to be a really not going in with any bias, but a laundry list of questions that any of us should have about this equipment, who is paying for it and how is it being utilized.

TAPPER: Speaking of who is paying for it, you want to withhold federal funding from police departments unless they start using body cams, I believe right now because of donations and all of the police in Ferguson, Missouri, have body cams.

But obviously that's not the case everywhere in the country. Looking at just the back of an envelope here and even the low-end cams cost about $300 a pop and there are about $450,000 police officers in the nation. Who should foot the bill for body cams for them all?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think we need to look at what we're buying and giving local police departments from the federal government and maybe we need to put body cams at the top of the list. Maybe you don't qualify for other weaponry from the federal government until you have purchased body cams.

I think we can look at a variety of different strategies, but frankly, and this is really about protecting police officers, Jake. Somebody can film the end of a police altercation and get a much different impression than what the reality was when a police officer is confronted in a dangerous situation.

So having a complete video of what actually occurred many times will protect the officer and certainly going to protect the public because we would have video sometimes of a crime being committed, which is pretty powerful evidence in a courtroom.

TAPPER: Lastly, Senator, the fate of the Senate is hanging in the balance as I'm sure I don't need to tell you. A lot of Democrats are vulnerable. You are a Democrat who has won in a red state. What advice on keeping the Senate would you give to your fellow red-state Democrats?

MCCASKILL: Well, all of them have shown independence from their party when it was important to represent their states, and I think that is what voters want to know. They are tired of all the political games being played in Washington.

They want to know their senator is willing to put all of that aside and do what's right for their state. If they can stay on that message they'll try to beat these people because they're in the same party as the president or because they voted for the health care bill.

But time and time again these senators have shown moderation, willingness to compromise and willingness to work across the aisle and most importantly they've shown they care deeply about their state. I am cautiously optimistic about the colleagues running in red states this year.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, thank you so much for joining us. MCCASKILL: Thank you.


TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."