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THE SITUATION ROOM
Romney's Abortion Position; Obama Speaks Out on Debate Performance
Aired October 10, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, could Paul Ryan's use Sarah Palin's help? He talks about it in an exclusive interview.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
On the eve of the vice presidential debate, President Obama is now speaking out candidly about his debate performance last week and Mitt Romney's widely publicized statement on abortion over the past 24 hours.
Yesterday, the Republican candidate told "The Des Moines Register" editorial board there was no, repeat, no abortion legislation that was a part of his agenda.
CNN's chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is joining us now from Danville, Kentucky, and that's the scene of the vice presidential debate tomorrow night.
What is the president saying now, Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in an interview with ABC News at the White House this evening, President Obama acknowledges his debate performance essentially was a fumble, but he tries to turn the page and focusing instead on his differences with Governor Romney, and especially on Mitt Romney's rough day today as he tried to clarify his position on what he would do as president on the issue of abortion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: That debate, what happened?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Governor Romney had a good night. I had a bad night.
SAWYER: How bad?
OBAMA: Well, it's not the first time I have had a bad night, but I think what's important is that the fundamentals of what this race is about haven't changed. Governor Romney went to a lot of trouble to try to hide what his positions are.
SAWYER: So, I'm not going to get an explanation of what you think that happened, why you had a bad night? OBAMA: One thing -- maybe this is because I played a lot of sports when I was a kid and still do. If you have a bad game, you just move on and you look forward to the next one, and it makes you that more determined. The difference between this and sports is that the stakes are so high.
SAWYER: On another issue in the news, abortion, legal abortion in this country, Governor Romney is now saying there is no abortion legislation that is part of his agenda. Your campaign has called that a lie.
OBAMA: Well, look, Diane, this is another example of Governor Romney hiding positions he has been campaigning on for a year-and-a- half.
SAWYER: Is it a lie?
OBAMA: No. I actually think his position on -- when it comes to women's rights to control their own health care decisions, what he has been saying is exactly what he believes.
He thinks that it's appropriate for politicians to inject themselves in those decisions. Governor Romney has made very clear that if a bill comes to his desk that overturns Roe vs. Wade, that he will be fully supportive of that. And he said, I will appoint justices that will overturn Roe vs. Wade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Wolf, that's the kind of stark difference between the two campaigns that the Obama team would like to be pointing out, but the president did not effectively point out at the last debate.
Indications are that they are preparing for the president to do that more forcefully when we see him debate Governor Romney again on Tuesday, Wolf.
BLITZER: And you're getting other information on tomorrow's vice presidential race. Stand by, Jessica, we will come back to you in a few moments.
The abortion comment the president is referring to is just one of the few distractions the Romney campaign has to deal with on this day.
Let's get over to Kate Bolduan. She is monitoring that and some other stories.
What is going on?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
Mitt Romney spent much of the day walking back those comments on abortion, or trying to clarify those comments on abortion, underscoring his pro-life stance. The campaign was also stung today by comments of a family of a Navy SEAL killed in the Benghazi attack. For more on this, let's bring in CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta, who is with the Romney campaign in Sidney, Ohio -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate, that's right.
(voice-over): It's been a staple of Mitt Romney's recent stump speeches, the GOP nominee talking about the deaths of friends, even soldiers who have inspired him.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have met some wonderful people. One was a former Navy SEAL, Glen Doherty. And he -- we chatted for a while.
ACOSTA: At three events in the last two days, Romney has gotten choked up.
ROMNEY: It touched me, obviously, as I recognized this young man that I thought was so impressive had lost his life.
ACOSTA: As he hailed the bravery of Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, who died in last month's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.
ROMNEY: When they heard that the consulate was under attack, they went to the attack. They didn't hunker down and hide themselves. No, they went there. That's what Americans do.
ACOSTA: But within an hour of Romney's last telling of the story, his aides confirmed to CNN the GOP nominee is dropping the anecdote after what the Navy SEAL's mother told Boston TV station WHDH.
Doherty's said: "I don't trust Romney. He shouldn't make my son's death part of his political agenda. It's wrong to use these brave young men who wanted freedom for all to degrade Obama."
In a statement, Romney's campaign spokeswoman said, "Governor Romney was inspired by the memory of meeting Glen Doherty and shared his story in that memory. But we respect the wishes of Mrs. Doherty."
Romney started sharing his personal tales last Friday, when he talked about the widow of a soldier who died in Afghanistan.
ROMNEY: Chris died for them to be able to protest.
ACOSTA: Jane Horton told ABC News she was humbled by Romney's gestured, adding, "One of the last things my husband said to me before he was killed, when I would ask him, what do you need over there, he said, I need a new president."
The heart-wrenching stories have been a departure from Romney's focus on the economy.
ROMNEY: My whole passion is about helping the American people who are struggling right now.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought, wow, here's old moderate Mitt. Where you been, boy?
ACOSTA: But Democrats including Bill Clinton say Romney has been trying to shift back to the center ever since last week's debate. The Obama campaign is pointing to what Romney said to "The Des Moines Register" on the issue of abortion.
ROMNEY: There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda.
ACOSTA: Contrast that with what he said at a town hall last year.
ROMNEY: What I would like to see happen would be for the Supreme Court to say, look, we're going to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states the authority to decide whether they want to have abortion or not in their -- state by state.
STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA 2012 DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: His severely conservative positions that got him through the GOP primary are still there. Now he's trying to cover them up.
ACOSTA: In Ohio, Romney tried to clarify his comments.
ROMNEY: I think I have said time and again I'm a pro-life candidate and I will be a pro-life president. The actions I will take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget.
BLITZER: That was Jim Acosta out in Ohio with Romney.
Paul Ryan, meanwhile, is very busy. He's preparing for tomorrow night's one and only vice presidential debate, when he will follow in the high heels of the last Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.
Ryan spoke about it exclusively in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf and Kate, Paul Ryan has been tirelessly prepping for tomorrow's debate with a group of about 10 aides. They're working in hotel rooms, on the road, on his plane, wherever they can get a few minutes, and they're not just making sure that Ryan has his own lines and arguments ready. They're also gaming out what his opponent, Joe Biden, will come at him with.
On that note, I sat down with Ryan for an exclusive interview about his prep, and I asked if he actually has called the last GOP vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, for some tips.
BASH: The only other person to debate Joe Biden in a vice presidential debate is Sarah Palin. Have you called her for advice?
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven't. I don't really know her. I only met her once and that was about two years ago.
BASH: Would you call her?
RYAN: Sure. Sure.
She famously, or maybe infamously, said that she wanted to call him Joe because she kept him calling him Joe O'Biden in debate prep.
RYAN: I have known Joe a long time.
BASH: So, are you going to call him Joe?
RYAN: So he knows me as Paul and I know him as Joe. I don't know. I haven't given much thought to that, to be honest with you.
Probably not unless he wants to make it casual, but we know each other. Actually, we have gotten quite well over the years. I like Joe personally quite a bit. I just disagree with his policies.
BASH: One is, how has Ryan altered his prep based on the Romney- Obama debate last week? A source familiar with Ryan's prep tells me they stepped up their focus on some of the major lines of attack that the president's didn't use against Romney, the infamous 47 percent line, questions about Romney's former firm, Bain Capital, even Romney's own taxes.
The president got so much flak, especially from Democrats, for ignoring what they thought were easy targets. Ryan sources think the vice president will try to make up for it -- Wolf and Kate.
BOLDUAN: Dana, thank you so much.
Let's get back to Jessica Yellin for more on these debate preps. She's in Danville, Kentucky, where the debate will be taking place.
Jessica, what's the latest you're hearing about the debate prep from vice presidential side of this, from Vice President Biden's side of this?
YELLIN: What I understand is that Vice President Biden, he's still in Wilmington, Delaware, where he's been in debate prep since Sunday. Each day, he's held at least one mock debate, a 90-minute mock debate, plus additional sessions. He has been working with his core team of Ron Klain, who has been running debate prep for not just the vice president, but also the president, as well as Chris Van Hollen, who is playing the role of Paul Ryan.
As you know, he's congressman who sits -- the Democrat sits next to Paul Ryan on the podium on the House Budget Committee, so knows him well from that. And Shailagh Murray, who is the vice president's communications director, is playing the role of moderator Martha Raddatz.
One interesting note, some of the president's debate prep team visited the vice president's for awhile, but they returned to the White House today, and we understand they -- it would seem they went to the White House to help the president with his own debate prep.
Both men working ahead to their respective debates this week. Both sides boning up a bit. The one thing I do understand is we should look for something of a feisty debate tomorrow night, but nobody expects the vice president to make up for what president did last week. All eyes will be on the president for his performance next week, Kate.
BOLDUAN: But for the moment, all eyes to turn to the running mates for a short time. I guess the big question is will Joe call him Paul and will Paul call him Joe? We will have to wait and see for tomorrow night.
Jessica in Danville, thanks so much. We will talk to you soon.
This quick programming note, our special coverage of the vice presidential debate begins tomorrow night at 7:00, 4:00 Pacific right here on CNN and of course CNN.com. You don't want to miss that.
BLITZER: Right after THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: No delay. We will go straight through.
House Republicans, meanwhile, grill State Department officials in a very politically charged hearing on that deadly consulate attack in Libya. We will hear some of the heated exchange.
BLITZER: It was supposed to be to hearing to figure out what went wrong the day of that massive attack on the United States Consulate in Benghazi, but it quickly became a political food fight.
The House Oversight Committee controlled by Republicans grilled State Department officials about that September 11 assault. Four Americans including the United States ambassador died. Republicans lawmakers charged that the facility was simply not adequately protected and they criticized the Obama administration for initially blaming the attacks on protests against an anti-Muslim film, rather than terror.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DENNIS ROSS (R), FLORIDA: Why in the world did you say it was anything at all when you put Jay Carney out there, and Ambassador Rice to say that this is the result of an inflammatory reaction to a controversial film? Sir, it begs the question. What happened, was it as a result of political pressure trumping professional protocol, was it not?
PATRICK KENNEDY, U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. Ross, I have been a career Foreign Service officer for 39 years. I have served every president since Richard Nixon. I have directly served six secretaries of state, Democratic and Republican.
On my honor, no, none, political pressure was applied to me in this case by anyone at the State Department, at the National Security Council or at the White House.
ROSS: Then it was professional protocol malpractice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott.
You were monitoring that entire hearing today. Was there a good explanation from the State Department why the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, five days after this kept insisting it was a result of the film as opposed to a carefully plotted terror attack?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I would not say there was a plausible explanation.
What the State Department, what the whole administration keeps maintaining is, this is the best information they had at the time. But you will notice nobody from the State Department ever said that. You will remember the day after the attack, officials were telling me and Jill Dougherty this was not some kind of protest, this was a planned military style assault.
And the night before, last night, we were talking with senior State Department officials. And they said, look, that wasn't our conclusion. I think there is a little bit of butt-covering going on, but I certainly don't think the State Department ever maintained that it was a protest. And you will notice Secretary of State Clinton never said that either.
BOLDUAN: This was one of the more fiery hearings that I have watched in awhile, and I have watched a lot of them, and it went on for hours, really. Did it break any new ground?
BOLDUAN: Did we hear anything new today?
LABOTT: Well, unfortunately, I think all this political grandstanding on both sides now really detracted from the fact that there were some interesting things that came out.
The security officer Eric Nordstrom said he repeatedly sent letters to the State Department. Those cables have been released by the committee, that he asked for additional help, he asked for additional manpower, and it was denied.
He kept trying to say, listen, we felt pressured, we felt like every time we asked for more help, we were criticized because the State Department had less resources, and because the committee was jumping on the witnesses, didn't really have time to kind of fully answer the question, and I think it was really unfortunate.
BLITZER: In all of your years of covering these hearings, and you cover the State Department, foreign affairs for us, have you seen an acrimonious hearings like this?
LABOTT: We were talking about this earlier. I have been covering the State Department for 12 years, budget hearings, all of these kind of hearings.
I haven't seen anything like that. This is the committee's job for oversight and investigation, but I think that it did itself a disservice because it didn't allow the investigation to come out. There will be a couple other investigation, the FBI investigation, and an independent review board. Hopefully, we will get more of these answers, because certainly the State Department does have a lot of accounting to do.
BOLDUAN: Important questions still. Not surprisingly, both Democrats and Republicans today are accusing the other side of playing politics.
LABOTT: The Democrats were saying that the Republicans cut budget...
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment.
Arwa Damon has covered this story like no one else. She was at the American Consulate in Benghazi in the days immediately following the attack.
Arwa, first of all, what you saw personally compared to what you're hearing now, how does it compare? ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems as if the information that is coming out right now is really beginning to streamline along with the narrative that we were hearing when we were on the ground in Benghazi just three days after the attack took place.
If you will remember, one of the Libyan security guards, they are unarmed, they only have radios, but they formed the first line of defense, told us he believed the attack had been pre-planned, that there was no demonstration that had taken place, describing a situation where he could hear people's voices chanting and becoming increasingly louder from three different directions before he says the attack began immediately, incredibly intense.
He says the compound outer perimeter was very easily breached. This has been one of the main central issues. How is it that the U.S. initially was claiming this was a demonstration turned violent when on the ground we were hearing different narratives of what did take place?
Bearing in mind that, yes, initially, there was a lot of conflicting information, it most certainly is always incredibly challenging to figure out exactly what took place. But it's also important to note I think that the U.S. did not have anyone on the ground in the days following the attack after they evacuated all of their personnel, making on-the-ground information-gathering incredibly difficult, if not in possible, for them when it came to the site of the U.S. Consulate itself in Benghazi.
In fact, it wasn't until three weeks later that the FBI did show up on site, Wolf.
BLITZER: There are critically important lessons that have to be learned about this disaster to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Arwa, thanks very much for that.
Elise, thanks to you as well.
BOLDUAN: Thank you, Elise.
Still ahead, Paul Begala will be weighing in on the presidential race and much, much more straight ahead.
BLITZER: President Obama uses a sport analogy as he talks candidly about his poor debate performance. We're going to him from him. We will talk about it with our CNN political contributor Paul Begala.
BLITZER: President Obama's frank assessment today of his first debate perform. BOLDUAN: He says -- quote -- "I had a bad night."
And he goes on to make a sports analogy. Listen to his White House interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, one thing -- maybe this is because I played a lot of sports as a kid and still do. If you have a bad game, you just move on. You look forward to the next one, and it makes you that much more determined. The difference between this and sports is that the stakes are so high.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The stakes are enormous. He had a bad game, if you will.
Let's bring in our CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who's also involved in Priorities USA Action, a pro-Democratic super PAC.
So what does he need to do next week?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think actually -- remember, kids, when you're 16, you just learned how to drive. You're teaching a teenager how to drive, you know what the No. 1 problem is? Overcorrecting. And that's the No. 1 problem for debaters.
I watched Al Gore, who I love and helped prepare for debate. I portrayed Bush for the debate prep, so I was intimately involved with it. And I feel like Vice President Gore overcorrected from first to second to third debate. And if I were advising the president -- I can't, because of these laws, but he watches SIT ROOM every day. In fact, he has the real Sit Room, to watch it.
BOLDUAN: He watches the SIT ROOM in the Sit Room?
BLITZER: We have a much nicer SIT ROOM. You've been to the real White House.
BEGALA: Right. I have been. It's much nicer.
BLITZER: Here's what James Carville says...
BEGALA: He should not overcorrect.
BLITZER: Here's what -- you know James Carville?
BEGALA: I do.
BLITZER: You know him personally, right? "My honest and truthful," he says, "is Democrats are not panicked, and I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe I'm being silly here, but I talked to a lot of people today, and everybody's saying the same thing. Should I be more concerned than I am?" What do you say to this? BEGALA: It's funny, because a few weeks ago, he was saying panic when the president was solidly ahead in the polls. But the Zen of James, I think, is about right, then, which is there's real erosion. There's no point in lying about it.
BLITZER: You believe these polls?
BLITZER: You don't believe there's an conspiracy out there?
BEGALA: Exactly. No. Jack Welch has this conspiracy about the economic data. Others have poll conspiracies. No. There's been real erosion. Governor Romney has gained.
He had -- as a president, I think he honestly said, with no spin, he had a good night. The president had a bad night. Romney is gaining in the polls.
Now, I don't think it's time for panic at all. The president -- the vice president needs a good debate tomorrow, which is going to be more important than ever, and then the president needs a good debate. And actually, I think James is right. I talked to a lot of Democrats. They're not panicking. They actually like their nominee, unlike the Republicans, who -- for whom Romney is kind of a shotgun marriage. The Democrats really admire President Obama, and they like him, and so they're there for him.
BOLDUAN: Let's talk about tomorrow night. A lot has been made of the importance of the vice-presidential debate, but also -- there are also probably an equal number of people who are saying people don't vote for a vice president, they vote for a president. How important do you think -- if Joe Biden wins, will it have any impact, do you think, on the vice -- on the presidential race, on President Obama?
BEGALA: I think it does. I think you're absolutely right: nobody votes on the vice presidency. They just don't.
BLITZER: There are media polls (ph).
BEGALA: Yes. You're right, I'm sorry. But when Lloyd Bentsen, the late Lloyd Bentsen, who was from my state, Texas, as able a politician as I've ever seen in my life, well, he mopped the floor with Dan Quayle. It still didn't help Mike Dukakis. Dukakis lost to President Bush.
So they don't vote based on this, but it is a 90-minute chance to connect directly with voters. And I don't think anybody makes a case for the middle class the way that Joe Biden does.
And Paul Ryan is a bright guy; he's an able guy. He -- he's a pathological fibber. And so I think -- I think the vice president has to be careful about that and be ready to correct those misstatements of fact. But I think this is a great opportunity to make the case. Not -- to say, gee, I love Paul Ryan or Joe Biden. Right. BOLDUAN: Let me read something, actually, that you wrote, so you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
BLITZER: You're a well-read woman.
BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. You should see the people helping me out. Describing someone that you know pretty well, you wrote, "The deep personal connection he is able to make with an audience, the ability to attack without demonizing, the capacity to explain the most complex ideas in plain talk, the commitment to treating people like intelligent adults capable of making the right decision after hearing all of the facts," that is a glowing endorsement, but you're not talking about President Obama right here. You're talking about President Clinton. What should President Obama learn from President Clinton here to earn that kind of endorsement?
BEGALA: I think, actually, a fair amount. You can't -- he had a bad debate, but the president is a terrific speaker and a terrific debater. He's got to up his game, because Mitt Romney's a terrific debater, as well.
But you know, I was asked to write about my old boss and mentor and friend, and he is remarkable at those things. And I do think -- I think President Obama has been talking to him, and I suspect he's been listening to him. Because this point that President Clinton makes about explanation being more important than eloquence is really important. People just want the facts.
BOLDUAN: President Obama even admits that Clinton does that better than he does on the stump.
BEGALA: He does it better than anybody, though. He's unique.
BLITZER: Here's a little clip from last night in Vegas on the stump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did. I mean, I thought -- I thought, wow -- here's old moderate Mitt. Where you been, boy? I missed you all these last two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Enough said. From your mentor, the former president of the United States. He's always been pretty good. He's a great asset for this president. If he's going to come back, he needs Bill Clinton big time out there. Thank you very much, Paul, for coming in.
BOLDUAN: Thanks, Paul.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney called out by the mother of a dead Navy SEAL for politicizing her son's death. We're going to talk about that and more with a Romney campaign advisor, Dan Senor. He's standing by live.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney is calling for the United States to help arm Syrian rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
BOLDUAN: Romney's senior foreign policy advisor, Dan Senor, is standing by to talk about that. But first, listen to what Wolf asked Governor Romney just yesterday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How do you make sure those weapons don't get into the hands of terrorists or al Qaeda?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We'll, Wolf, this is part of making sure that we're shaping events as opposed to just being at the mercy of events. It means that we would have intelligence resources. We would also be working with our friends in the region, particularly the Saudis as well as the Turks that are very closely involved in Syria.
We'd work together with them to identify voices within Syria that are reasonable voices, that are moderate voices, that are not al Qaeda or any Jihadist-type group. We'd try and coalesce those groups together, provide them, perhaps, with funding. Some other kinds of support would include, as you indicate, weapons so they'd be able to defend themselves. Those weapons could come from the Turks or from the Saudis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's get some more now from Dan Senor. Dan, how do you make sure, though, that those weapons don't fall into the wrong hands? Because there's been some concern. The Obama administration deeply concerned shoulder-fired missiles, for example, could pose a threat to U.S. aircraft, Israeli aircraft. How do you make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands?
DAN SENOR, FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Well, we don't have a choice, Wolf. We have to make the policy work. It's important to just take a step back. The current policy is totally failed, right? Close to 30,000 Syrians are dead. There's human catastrophe in Syria, and so it's not tragic and stunning enough, is also a strategic setback. Syria, Bashar Assad is Iran's closest ally, its only Arab ally. It is Ahmadinejad's only pathway to support Hezbollah, get arms to Hezbollah, its port on the Mediterranean. So Assad going would be a strategic blow to Iran.
And so you have the human dimension and the strategic dimension here. Now, we should have gotten involved much sooner in terms of getting resources through our regional allies, through our partners, Saudis, the Qataris, the Turks, so that the opposition, in its early days, we could identify the moderates and identify the people that we could work with. Weed out the bad actors, at least try to, and give the moderate forces an upper hand. (CROSSTALK)
SENOR: We are way behind right now.
BLITZER: What kind of weapons is Governor Romney talking about?
SENOR: You know, we are going to leave the tactical issues to the military leaders, the U.S. military leaders we work with, with our regional partners, military leaders, our regional partners to come to, you know, a tactical consensus.
But right now the strategic decision needs to be made. Do we want the opposition to have the upper hand? Is it in our interest to reach out, identify, expend really serious resources to identify the opposition, the moderate forces in the opposition, so they have the upper hand.
What's the alternative, Wolf? The alternative is, if we do nothing, which is basically what we have been doing up until very recently, and the extremists will either absorb the moderates, because the moderates will have nowhere to go, or they'll just defeat the moderates. Either way the extremists, the al Qaeda affiliates will have the upper hand in a post-Assad Syria, and the longer this drags on, if that's the outcome, the more of a setback it will be for the United States in the region.
BOLDUAN: Dan, you say the current policy has failed, but what you heard from Mitt Romney in that sound bite, in that interview we gave Wolf, and a lot of what you're saying, isn't it essentially what the Obama administration is doing right now? Working with foreign partners to vet the rebel groups, to find the preferred groups, to allow weapons to get in, albeit they would be coming from the Saudis or Qataris? I mean, that's the criticism that you're facing. How do you respond to that?
SENOR: Well, for the longest time -- let's be clear here. For the longest time, the administration made the case against doing this. If you look at early statements by Secretary Clinton, this was -- not as far back as she said that Bashar Assad was a reformer, sometime after that. But she did say that, unless the opposition steps up in a meaningful way, we cannot step up to support them. So she was making the case against supporting them until they show that they have got what it takes, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We have felt that the opposition would not actually have a chance at success unless we put a spotlight on it. We gave them oxygen, we gave them presidential attention, we gave them resources. It took a very long time. You were right; from public reports, it appears the administration has done more recently. We don't believe they've done enough, and I think -- we think they made a strategic mistake for waiting as long as they did.
Here's another exchange I had with Governor Romney yesterday, Dan. It involves the so-called redline that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, drew at the United Nations General Assembly when it comes to Iran's nuclear program. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is there any daylight between you and the prime minister?
ROMNEY: There's no daylight between the United States and Israel. We have coincident interests. We share values, and we're both absolutely committed to preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
My own test is that Iran should not have the capability of producing a nuclear weapon. I think that's the same test that Benjamin Netanyahu would also apply. I can't speak for the president in this regard, but I think that there has to be a recognition that there are boundaries that the Iranians may not cross. Let's also recognize that we have a long way to go before military action may be necessary. And hopefully military action is never necessary. Hopefully, through extremely tight sanctions and diplomatic action, we can prevent Iran from taking a course which would lead to them crossing that line.
I can tell you this. That the crippling sanctions do have an impact. They're having an exact on Iran's economy right now. They will have an impact on the public there in Iran, and there's -- there's great hope and real prospects for dissuading Iran from taking a path that leads into a nuclear setting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That last part of what Governor Romney said reminded me of some statements from top Obama administration officials, what they've been saying in recent months. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We know the sanctions are biting. Israel and the United States agree on that.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: When we come back, we'll ask Dan if there's any daylight between the Obama administration and Mitt Romney when it comes to the bite of those sanctions.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney's foreign affairs advisor, Dan Senor, is still with us.
Dan, before the break, we played those clips of what Mitt Romney told me yesterday, and what jumped out at me was two points. When he said there's a long -- we have a long way to go before military action. And the other point, he said the sanctions are biting, which is very similar to the Obama administration says.
So the question is this. Is there any daylight between Mitt Romney and President Obama when it comes to the sanctions and what's going on right now as far as Iran's nuclear program is concerned?
SENOR: Well, first of all, I obviously agree that we have a long way to go, and I think we all want a peaceful resolution. Get Iran to stop its nuclear program, its race to a nuclear weapon, through peaceful means.
Now, there are a number of tools at dispose -- at a president's disposal, including economic pressure. And it is clear that the sanctions have had a big impact on Iran's economy.
What is not clear, Wolf, is whether or not it has had a clear impact on Iran's race to get a nuclear weapon.
So yes, it is true. The number of millions of barrels a day that Iran is producing is way down a fraction of what it was a couple of years ago. GDP, a fraction of what it was a couple years ago. But these were all means. At the end of the day, there's only one measurement of success, which is, is Iran still trying to build a nuclear weapon? And it is far further along today in that pursuit than it was four years ago. So we believe the policy is failing.
Now, there's a range of pressure points, economic, we would have been -- implemented sanctions far sooner than the Obama administration did. There's domestic political pressure in Iran. We wouldn't have sat on our hands like the president did during the Green Revolution, 2009.
There's the military threat. Again, not the use of military force, but making sure the threat is credible in the eyes of the Iranians. And what this administration has done is consistently talk down that threat while putting a lot of daylight between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, which has sent mixed signals.
So there's just a lot of mixed signals here. It's a long answer, I know, but it's an important question about how you have the credibility to deal with this issue. And we think the administration has been failing.
BOLDUAN: Real quick, you've been helping Congressman Ryan prepare for the debate tomorrow. He's up against Joe Biden, an experience debater, and someone who has a lot of foreign policy experience. Paul Ryan does not. How are you preparing? Is he prepared for tomorrow?
SENOR: Well, first of all, Joe Biden's one of the most experienced debaters in American politics. You know, David Plouffe said in his book, one of the reasons President Obama chose Joe Biden was because he won virtually all the 14 Democratic primary debates in 2008. He'd been vice president for a few years.
As you know from public reports, David Axelrod has parachuted into the Biden debate prep over the last few days to commandeer it. So we know there's a lot of pressure on the vice president, and he's very engaged and he's very experienced.
Paul Ryan, I think, will do fine, will do just fine. He's up against, you know, a real pro.
On the subject of foreign policy, I would say that Congressman Ryan, not only in his role as budget committee chairman, as he traveled all over the world, but he's worked on a lot of defense budgets, a lot of homeland security budgets, a lot of State Department budgets, and those are not just numbers. Those are big spending decisions that actually support a strategy, a foreign policy strategy. Something he's thought about quite a bit.
He hasn't been around as long as Joe Biden, and he hasn't been doing these national debates for as long as Joe Biden, but he's -- but he's clearly engaged.
BLITZER: When those foreign policy questions come up, and we'll see how he does. And if he does poorly, we'll blame you, Dan. Thanks very much for joining us.
SENOR: Of course, Wolf. You'd have it no other way. See you.
BLITZER: From Kentucky, getting ready for the big debate tomorrow night.
By the way, at the top of the hour, Erin Burnett's also talking about politics and foreign policy.
Erin, set the scene. What's coming up "OUTFRONT"?
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know, Wolf, there was an op- ed today written by Rand Paul, the senator, and the headline was "Romney's wrong on the Middle East defense spending." Well, this is a guy who's one of the top surrogates and most well-known supporters of Mitt Romney. He's actually on the campaign trail with him this week. So this is a pretty impressive thing that he would come out and say. He's going to be our exclusive guest, talking about why he thinks Mitt Romney has it wrong. So that's our exclusive guest during the hour.
Plus, as you know, there was all the testimony today about who knew what when at the State Department on what happened with the horrific attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Glenn Dougherty (ph) was a Navy SEAL who spent 12 years serving this country. He was in Libya trying to find all the missing weapons and that went missing with the death of Gadhafi. And he had a heroic act. He wasn't even there to protect the ambassador, ran back in to try to save his life, and he was killed that night. Which is -- his sister is going to be joining us tonight, Kate Buckley (ph), and talk about whether she's getting the answers she needs and about her brother.
That's coming up top of the hour. Back to you.
BLITZER: OK, Erin. Thanks very much. We look forward to it.
BOLDUAN: Thanks, Erin.
From the campaign plane to the heat of the campaign trial, some surprise help from someone standing by to cool a candidate.
BLITZER: Watch this. As Mitt Romney got hot at a recent political event, one onlooker got bothered. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you can't take the heat, get out the hanky. From President Obama to Clinton to Chavez, to Karzai to Colbert, to Mitt Romney, most people probably prefer to mop their own face. But why sweat the small stuff when a stranger does this?
ROMNEY: Thank you. You, too.
MOOS: Awkward. Molested by napkin. It happened to Mitt Romney as he was posing for a photo with the staff of a Florida restaurant called the Tin Fish. Between the rain that showered the candidate and the heat, owner Joseph Melluso couldn't resist.
JOSEPH MELLUSO, OWNER, THE TIN FISH: Just looked up and I'm like, I can't let our next president look all sweaty like this in a photograph, so I just folded up some napkins from the front counter and dabbed his forehead.
MOOS: And then his cheek and by the time he got to Mitt's chin, the governor was fending off the offending arm.
(on camera) But Joseph didn't just do it once. He went back for seconds. He felt he had to.
(voice-over) Horrors. Joseph noticed a shred of napkin on the candidate.
MELLUSO: And so I felt uncomfortable, like do I reach up and grab it off him, so he doesn't have a piece of napkin on his lip that I left there?
MOOS: Oh, no, you didn't.
ROMNEY: There we go.
MOOS: This time, the candidate insisted on doing it himself. Next thing you know, Hankie-gate is on Leno when Jay did a bit about where the rag had previously been.
JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Look at this. No! Horrible.
MOOS: Candidates beware. First a pizza shop owner bear hugs the president. Now, a fish restaurant owner mops off the governor's brow without the Secret Service raising an eyebrow. (on camera) Online, posters had all kinds of theories about the face wiper's motives.
(voice-over) "He's selling the napkin on eBay." "Eau de Mitt..." "The guy was obviously just adding to his celebrity sweat collection."
(on camera) You're not embarrassed?
MELLUSO: When is ever life perfect? You know, you do what you do and if it's real and respectful, it's right. And if it's not, it's not.
MOOS (voice-over): And even all that wiping wasn't enough to wipe the smile off Mitt's face.
Jeanne Moos, CNN...
MELLUSO: And Mitt, I genuinely was looking to care for you.
MOOS: ... New York.
BLITZER: That's why we keep it cold here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BURNETT: Very cold.
BLITZER: Never want to see the anchors sweat.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.