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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Pentagon Reports More than 30 Strikes on ISIS Capital Raqqa; Interview with Ben Carson; Carson: Majority Of Muslim People Not Out To Harm Us; Trump's Call For Muslim Ban Sparks Outrage. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 08, 2015 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The world lead now. As ISIS attacks outside the Middle East dominate headlines, the mission to destroy the terrorist group from the skies above Syria and Iraq is not letting up. This week alone, the Pentagon reports more than 30 strikes in Iraq and Syria, including on the ISIS de facto capital in Raqqa.

But should those attacks be made by U.S. ground forces in addition to fighter jets in the air? President Obama told the nation Sunday night he will not send combat troops to fight ISIS on foreign soil, but for the first time in a CNN/ORC poll, most Americans say they want U.S. combat troops sent to the region, 53 percent saying the U.S. should send troops to Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, Defense Secretary Ash Carter is going to face a tough crowd on Capitol Hill tomorrow, lots of folks who say the U.S. is not doing enough about the terrorist threat and they are backed by many in the public.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. He's going to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Its chairman, Republican John McCain, of course has been one of the White House's strongest critics, saying that the U.S. military simply is not doing enough.


STARR (voice-over): Iraqi security forces today claimed they have liberate 60 percent of Ramadi from ISIS seven months after they ran away in the face of a brutal ISIS onslaught.

Another sign of progress, up to 1,000 Turkish forces are now near Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. The U.S. believes they are ready to help Kurdish forces try to retake that city in the coming weeks, all of this as U.S. special operations forces are getting ready to move into Northern Iraq and Syria, a lynchpin of the new Pentagon effort to increase the firepower against ISIS.

PETER COOK, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We hope to have these forces in a position to carry out their work as quickly as possible. And, again, their job, their mission will be to put even more pressure on ISIL and particularly ISIL leadership.

STARR: But it could be weeks before they are there.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter Wednesday faces a skeptical Congress again to defend the military strategy.

REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: If we're going to be serious about ISIS, the president needs to assign the military a clear mission and then allow the military to carry it out.

STARR: The Russians already stepping up their strikes, warning the U.S. in advance their warships, submarines and bomber aircraft were attacking an ISIS stronghold in Eastern Syria. In the skies, it's now U.S. aircraft doing most of the coalition bombing.

DEBORAH LEE JAMES, U.S. SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE: We have been striking in earnest all sorts of targets, from the high-value human targets to command-and-control centers to training sites. You name it, we have been striking it.

STARR: Some Middle East partners like the Saudis are reducing their participation in the coalition, now only conducting an airstrike every few weeks, according to a U.S. official, keeping Arab participation now crucial.

AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA OFFICER: What happens the day after? Once ISIS is pushed out and there's another political government put in, who is going to run it? And if it's not Arabs, then it's nobody. Then it's going to be ISIS again or the son of ISIS.


STARR: Now, the U.S. and the Russians may be picking up the pace, but tomorrow morning on Capitol Hill, don't look for the defense secretary to make any fundamental changes in the U.S. strategy. The Pentagon, by all accounts, has absolutely no plans to send in a large number of ground troops -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

In our politics lead today, Donald Trump says ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. Dr. Ben Carson says register and monitor every single person coming into the country. Don't discriminate against religion, just everyone. How will he plan to do that?

We will ask him next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More on our politics lead, the outrage over Donald Trump's most out- there proposal yet to ban all Muslims from traveling into the United States until our leaders can figure out -- quote -- "what the hell is going on."

Jeb Bush is calling Donald Trump unhinged. Lindsey Graham is telling him to go to hell. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is refusing to criticize him, though he says he disagrees with Trump's plan.

Let's check in with the candidate who is number two in many polls, Dr. Ben Carson, who is in Atlanta for a campaign rally.

Dr. Carson, thanks so much for joining us.

Take a listen to former Vice President Dick Cheney talking about the Trump proposal on "The Hugh Hewitt Show."


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims and just ban a whole religion goes against everything we stand for and believe in.


TAPPER: Dr. Carson, do you think Vice President Cheney is right? Does this proposal go against everything we stand for and believe in?

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, of course, I mean, we do not discriminate on people based on religion. That's constitutional. That's in the First Amendment. So, we would never want to do that.

At the same time, we must recognize that we have to be responsible. And we need to be looking at what kind of people we are bringing in. I think anybody of any race, creed, color, religion is welcome to come to America if they want to be Americans and if they want to adopt our way of life.

If they come here with a plan to change it to something else, in my opinion, they are not welcome.


TAPPER: I think one of the things that Donald Trump was talking about, though, was people who are visiting this country, in addition to immigrants.

I know that you said yesterday -- and maybe clear up if I have it wrong, but I believe you said that what you think we should be doing is that everyone who comes into this country should be registered and monitored.

Is that -- are you talking about all people or just people who are trying to immigrate? B. CARSON: Yes, and -- no, no.

Anybody who is going to be coming to our country, we need to know why they are coming, because we're living in a very special time right now. And there are people out there who want to harm us, who want to destroy us.

Therefore, we need to know. And when you go and visit another country -- I know when I go and visit another country, they always want to know, what's the purpose of your visit? Why are you here? Where are you going to be staying?

So, I don't think it's anything that is unreasonable to ask of people.

TAPPER: Well, I think U.S. Customs and Immigration officials do ask that. But are you also not talking about monitoring all the people who come here? Because that's 75 million.

B. CARSON: No, we can't do that.

TAPPER: You can't do that, OK.

B. CARSON: Oh, no, of course not. No, that would be ridiculous.

TAPPER: So let me ask you just as a general principle, what should the U.S. government be doing to be more proactive to prevent the kinds of attacks like the one we saw in San Bernardino, which was after all committed by an American citizen and his wife?

B. CARSON: Sure.

Well, I think there are a number of things. First of all, we have got to begin to emphasize to the population that they must be vigilant. They must pay attention and they must be willing to report things, even if it's a false positive. Still, it's better to have several of them that are false alarms if you can catch the one that is not.

I think we also really need to monitor the Internet much more carefully, so that we get early warning about radicalization. And, also, we need to be countering some of the messages that are being given.

They frequently seek out disaffected people and take advantage of that. We need to be spreading a different message to those people. And we also should be using our cyber-capabilities to disrupt what they are doing.

Some people say that's dirty pool, but if they are doing dirty things, dirty pool is OK in that situation. I think also we should be in contact with the imams and with the clerics, talking to them about how they need to help us identify people who are becoming radicalized or who are radicalized and how do we distinguish that?

Because if they can't distinguish them, how are they expecting us to distinguish them? And if we can't distinguish them, then that obviously is going to affect a lot of things. TAPPER: Everything you said sounds perfectly reasonable. But I think

that the U.S. government is trying all of the things you just said, all of the steps you outlined. Maybe they're not doing it enough or as effectively as they should be, but I don't think there's one thing you said that I haven't heard the Bush administration and the Obama administration announce that they are trying to do.

B. CARSON: Right.

And it's a matter, I think, of us really emphasizing it, emphasizing to people that you're not being racist, you're not being Islamophobic if you're doing this. I think that's something that we need to emphasize.

And I think we really need to emphasize to the clerics and the imams that we need them. The majority of Muslim people are not out to harm us. And, in fact, if you look around the world, the ISIS and the jihadist movement, they have slaughtered millions and millions of Muslims, way more than anybody else.

So, these people frequently are victims too. And what happens is, they tend frequently to be afraid to say anything because they think that they will be targeted. We have got to give them some assurances that they are going to be protected. And I believe that many of them will be able to, at that point, feel a little more comfortable.

Obviously, Americans will feel a lot more comfortable when they hear instances of Muslims turning in radicals. I think that's going to change the equation tremendously when we see that starting to happen.

TAPPER: I have heard from a lot of Republicans who have said that Donald Trump's proposal is not only bigoted, as you suggested, and contrary to the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, but also it's not smart, that it would turn Muslims against the United States, would alienate Muslims, the kind of people you were just talking about, clerics, in this country.

What's your take on that?

B. CARSON: Well, of course it would.

And, besides that, it's just not who we are. We are not a people who react in a fearful way. You know, when you -- when you talk about prejudice, prejudice is generally born out of fear and ignorance. And that's not who we are. We have learned a lot over the years.

And this doesn't mean that we just turn a blind eye and just let anybody in

[16:45:03] This doesn't mean that we just turn a blind eye and just let anybody in and say it's OK. Obviously, the vetting process for the terrorists who carried out the attack in San Bernardino was not effective. That tells us there's more that we need to do.

But as long as we understand that, we can be compassionate and we can be smart at the same time. And speaking of that, there are alternatives to bringing Syrian refugees here. I've talked about that.

TAPPER: Go ahead. I know that you recently visited a Syrian refugee camp. I believe it was in Jordan. What did you take away from that experience?

B. CARSON: I actually visited more than one refugee camp. I made it a point to talk to the Syrians who were very friendly and very open to me, which I just want to make the point that some people said they wouldn't be because they said I called them dogs, which I didn't and they know I didn't.

But at any rate, I said, what's your real desire? Their desire was to be resettled in Syria, and I said well what could America and other countries do to help? They said support the efforts of Jordanians and others who are trying to provide safe haven for us.

There was a lot of access capacity there, but there wasn't money to take care of people. There was a brand new hospital, but it wasn't open because there wasn't money to open it. A lot less money it would take to resettle people. We could be providing what they need.

We also need to be looking at Syria itself. If you look at the northeast segment of that country that is controlled by the Kurds, they have hospitals and hotels and airports and all kinds of things there.

I believe that they would welcome many of their patriots who are in that area of the country if they had the means to protect them. We seem to only want to work with the Kurds when we have a specific project.

We can give them a lot of military equipment. They are very trustworthy. I believe they could be tremendous allies if we would put a little more trust in them.

TAPPER: Let me turn to politics in the last few minutes that it we have left. Donald Trump said of you this morning, quote, "I think he's finished as a nominee." That might be a little premature, but it is true that in early November you were neck and neck with Trump in Iowa.

And our latest CNN poll shows you have dropped to third place there. A Suffolk poll out today shows you in fourth place there with 10 percent. Why do you think your poll numbers are sliding?

B. CARSON: Well, polls go up and down. When people were asking me when I was polling at the top spot was I excited, I said, no, because polls go up and down. I think you will see them continuing to rise at this stage of the game.

You know, very few people can sustain the kind of attacks that I have had and still be at this level. So that tells you there's a very strong base of support there.

And as people continue to listen carefully to what I'm saying and recognizing that it's perfectly reasonable, the other thing is I'm not a highly partisan person. The things I talk about, they are not Democrat or Republican issues.

They are American issues. And there comes a time when we as Americans have to recognize that our strength is in our unity. And we have to reject all the divisiveness and let's talk about what actually works for this country.

We're at the precipice and we're going to go one way or another. Are we going to be an America that is of, for and by the people that embraces the principles that made us great or are we going to turn into a European-style nation? We have to make that decision. That's coming up very soon.

TAPPER: A lot of Republicans have been fearful for a long time that Donald Trump would leave the party and run in a third party independent bid. Donald Trump tweeted today that a large majority of his supporters would vote for him even if he left the party to run as an independent.

It seems a direct threat that he might leave. How much would that hurt the party, do you think, if he didn't get the nomination and he was running a as a third party candidate?

[16:50:01]B. CARSON: Well, I believe that the party has pledged to be fair to him and to be fair to everybody. So I don't see wherein that would be necessary, quite frankly. Obviously, if the people choose him, I think we have an obligation to respect the will of the people.

TAPPER: Dr. Ben Carson, thank you so much. Appreciate your coming on the show.

B. CARSON: My pleasure, thank you.

TAPPER: Donald Trump says he will tell Muslims trying to enter the U.S. to go back home. His rival, Senator Lindsay Graham, says Trump should, quote, "go to hell." What side do most Republicans come down? We will ask our panel, next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. More now on our Politics Lead, Donald Trump's proposal to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. until Congress can, quote, "figure out what's going on." Democrats and Republicans across the presidential field are condemning the Republican frontrunner.

I'm joined now by CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp, and Katrina Pierson, who is the national spokesperson for the Trump campaign. Thanks to both of you for being here.

Katrina, I want to start with you. We just heard from Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, about Trump's plan. He said that he agrees with Vice President Cheney that that plan is not who we are. That it is contrary to the Bill of Rights, and that we are not a nation that reacts in a fearful way. How do you respond to Ben Carson?

KATRINA PIERSON, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Dr. Carson has been walking his comments back since he got in the race considering he was the one that said he wouldn't have a Muslim as president. But you know, Dr. Carson is a very nice man, Jake. He's just simply not a wartime commander.

TAPPER: S.E., what your thoughts on Trump's comments yesterday about this blanket ban or at least moratorium on Muslims entering the U.S.?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think, as you pointed out to Dr. Carson, it's pretty dumb. There's really no way to ensure that people coming to either visit or move here are telling you the truth about the religion or as Carson suggested what they plan to do in the country.

I'm sure no one is going to come in and say I'm going to be a terrorist in your country. So it just doesn't make a lot of sense. I think it gives ISIS exactly what it wants, which makes us less safe.

I also think it's pretty morally repulsive and I think it's unconstitutional and un-American. I don't see a shred of what Donald Trump is suggesting that is conservative by nature at all. I'm not really sure what his supporters are turned on by here.

He can't deliver on happen of the promises he's made because they will either need Congress to go bananas and go crazy or to change the constitution. I think he's beginning to be a very disappointing president if ever gets elected.

TAPPER: Katrina, does Speaker Paul Ryan of the House not only condemned Donald Trump's proposal publicly today saying it's not who we are as a party or as a nation. He also privately, according to Josh Rogan of "The Daily Beast," said that if Republicans follow Trump's lead on this it will sink the party. How can he get Congress to go along when that's the kind of language coming from Speaker Ryan?

PIERSON: Well, Speaker Ryan and the rest of the establishment haven't really been pushing Republican values to begin with. But just in response to S.E., there's no constitutional requirement to allow anyone to immigrate to the United States and there's already U.S. laws on the books giving Congress the authority to ban immigration from nations that are hostile towards America.

So this is really nothing new. And Mr. Trump doesn't really care what ISIS thinks or ISIS wants. All he cares about is the American public. Since we're talking about Paul Ryan, we're talking about reforming the visa system.

We're talking about stopping the refugees from coming because the FBI says there is no way to process or vet these people appropriately. Homeland Security director says we know for a fact through the counterterrorism center that the refugees have been infiltrated. All Donald Trump is saying is we need to put a pause on bringing more people into this country until those things are put into place. It's just that simple.

CUPP: It's not that simple. That's why so many people on both sides of the aisle have come out and denounced this. It's not nothing new, as you say. There really is something new to the idea of banning an entire religious group from entering the country as a pause or a temporarily as it may be, that is new. That's not who we are. That's not what we do.

PIERSON: We have done that before.

CUPP: It's completely illegal. It would conflict with parts of the constitution involving due process and parts of the constitution involving the freedom of religion. So it would be a big hurdle for Donald Trump to convince this Congress or any Congress to allow the United States to ban people based on the religion from entering the country.

And pedaling this un-conservative, un-American, unconstitutional garbage has got to stop. We need Republicans to win again and he is making that impossible.

PIERSON: Yes, this country has done it before. Never in United States history have we ever allowed insurgents to come across these borders. And it's worst now today, S.E. --

CUPP: No one is talking about allowing insurgents. You're talking about not allowing Muslims. No one is talking about insurgents.

PIERSON: Yes, Arab nations. So what, they are Muslim.

CUPP: So what?

PIERSON: But it is, S.E., simply because you have people coming across through the refugee system and the visa system including the woman that came in San Bernardino on a visa system as well as some of the 9/11 hijackers. We have to put a pause to figure out how we could better vet these people.

TAPPER: OK, Katrina, S.E., thanks.