CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

AC 360 LATER

Navy Yard Shooting; Congress Battles Over Funding; Signs of Change in Iran

Aired September 18, 2013 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to "AC360 Later," where everything is on the table and up for discussion.

Our panel is waiting to dig into tonight's topics, bringing their own perspectives and expertise to the table. We're going to start with the Washington Navy Yard massacre, specifically the mental health of the shooter and the warning signs looking back were so clearly missed.

As you know, 12 employees of the Navy Yard went to work on Monday, were murdered in cold blood, nine men, three women. Each one had a family. Earlier tonight, I interviewed a survivor of the massacre, John Weaver, an I.T. worker who described what he witnessed, what he saw. And he knew six of the victims who died. He knows it's simple luck that he is alive and they are not. Here's some what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN WEAVER, SURVIVOR: Every one of those people who were killed were the nicest people that you could know. They were great co- workers and would never harm a fly.

And they were responsible, great people, government workers and contractors. And I just cannot believe that they were subjected to that violent, horrible death that they had.

And that's the most devastating part. For me, you know, I got away. That's no problem. I got lucky. It was my birthday, and I consider myself the second luckiest person on that day because my friend was the first luckiest person. But all those other people, they did not deserve that death, to die like that. And it was horrible. That's all I have to say about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: John Weaver also told me he wants know how the Navy Yard killer got his security clearance to begin with and then held onto it despite repeated run-ins with the police and alarming signs his mind was to say the least extremely troubled.

Many people are wondering the same thing tonight.

At the table tonight joining us, Andrew Sullivan, founder editor of The Dish. His Web site is AndrewSullivan.com. I highly recommend it. Also, CNN political commentator Cornell Belcher, Democratic strategist and pollster for the Obama 2012 campaign, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation and former director of policy planning at the State Department.

Appreciate all of you joining us.

Let's talk about the Navy Yard shooting. The whole issue of mental health in this country is something that we don't really deal with very well. Continually, it gets cut back on. Obviously it played a role somewhat in this. Do you think anything will actually change?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRESIDENT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I think when you keep hearing in the budget debates cutting back on discretionary spending, discretionary spending, when you hear discretionary spending you should be thinking the safety net that takes care of people who say they're hearing voices, who are not getting care.

It's real people who are not getting taken care of.

COOPER: It does seem, Andrew, like there were a number of red flags. Look, hindsight is very easy to look back and say. But it does seem like time after time you have this private security company which did this background check on this guy.

They didn't even know -- they weren't able to find out the stuff that we were able to find out in a matter of an hour or two about this guy.

ANDREW SULLIVAN, ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: Yes. I think there are two things to say. One is that not all people with mental illness kill people.

COOPER: Right, rarely.

SULLIVAN: A huge majority do not.

Part of our problem with dealing with mental illness is the stigma that's still attached to it. There is nothing particular about the brain as opposed to other organs of the body that should make it less susceptible to being treated and looked at and monitored.

I have been in therapy for a very long time. I think it's made my life immensely better. My mom has suffered from bipolar disease her whole life. I have seen this very much up close. And I believe it's an urgent issue for us to actually as a society talk about it, and talk about it not in the context of a moment when someone has just killed all those people, because that again if we're not careful re- stigmatizes it.

I think mental health has to be placed absolutely equivalent with physical health.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: Which it totally is not in this country.

SULLIVAN: And it's an absolute tragedy that we're not doing it.

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: One of the things that I think might be interesting is this time around with it raising to such a high level is perhaps it becomes part of the campaigns. We do have midterms coming up here. And, as you know...

COOPER: It has not been an issue.

BELCHER: It has not been a part of campaigns at all. Mental health issues have not at all been on top the list of candidates talking.

I think what you will see now is that sort of being moved into that space and where Democrats and Republicans running for Congress in this midterm election in this off-year election, I think the public's going to force them to start talking about mental health issues.

COOPER: If it didn't happen in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, if it didn't happen in the wake of so many of these other mass shootings, and the kind of killings we see every day, I'm not sure that this incident is really going to spark change.

BELCHER: Here's the difference. Democrats -- if Democrats have -- I think they can link -- and historically Democrats have backed off the gun issue. But if Democrats have the balls to link this issue and actually take on the gun issue, link this mental health issue with the restriction issues, I think they have a winning campaign strategy for some of these red districts.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: But it's got to be.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: No, it should be a bipartisan issue.

BELCHER: But it's not.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: It can be and should be. We shouldn't -- there is no reason why Republicans and Democrats should not be treating mental illness and mental health as a key part of our agenda.

COOPER: Especially with so many of our troops returning from these long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with some form of PTSD, needing mental counseling.

I want to bring Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of HLN's "Dr. Drew on Call." He joins us now from Los Angeles.

It's tricky, Dr. Drew, because on one hand, you say, look, this guy was hearing voices, had runs-in with the law time after time, was reporting mental health issues. You don't want to stigmatize it and say somebody like that shouldn't be able to be employed, because then you want our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don't want them stigmatized for having PTSD. At the same time, you don't want somebody who has severe mental issues access to a security clearance, access to sensitive weaponry.

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: This is -- listen, every point everyone's raising at the table is categorically valid and important to talk about.

However, there's sort of another layer to this, Anderson. You're kind of tilting towards that, which is that if you look at every one of the mass shootings we have had in the last -- that we have been reporting on, you and I, for the last couple years, whether it's Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado, or this shooting, every single one has been someone with access to mental health services, a lot of access. So the idea of this being an access problem is completely false.

I'm telling you, as someone who's worked in a psychiatric hospital for 25 years, we as physicians cannot use our judgment to put down force and law to help people stay away from weaponry. If we had some sort of system, a simple law in place that would allow say two physicians or three physicians to evaluate somebody and fill out some paperwork and say you know what, this guy does not meet criteria to have a weapon and that's that, we know.

I guarantee you, Anderson, when you hear the Aurora, Colorado, story played out, I guarantee you will hear about a physician, a psychiatrist who desperately tried to keep this man from hurting himself or other people, but she couldn't do it because we don't have the power to do so.

COOPER: You say this isn't a question of access to mental health counseling, but I think back to the Virginia Tech incident. And if my memory serves me correct, that person's parents, that shooter's parents, desperately attempted to get help for that kid.

PINSKY: That's the point.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But because of the law, unless that person wants to get help, the parents have no power. We hear this from parents all the time.

PINSKY: Well, no, they do have power if they follow physician's directive which is get a conservatorship over this kid. He's acutely ill psychiatrically. I have recommended that hundreds of times to patients...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Don't you have to be able to prove that somebody is a danger to themselves or to others? PINSKY: Listen, look at Amanda Bynes is now in a hospital for an extended period of time because her parents had as you guys said at the table the balls to go up and get a conservatorship over her. She is in care. Britney Spears is alive today because her parents got a conservatorship.

It takes a lot of courage to do so because you do threaten the relationship with that adult child. But when they do so, we know what they need to do. They just -- we need to be able to force people to follow direction to save lives. The problem here is that individual liberties are taking precedent over the protection of the community. And it's got to change. It's got to change.

SLAUGHTER: But this is where it actually comes into the gun debate, right? Because the issue about the freedom to have guns, the drive for that is the same issue that says, you do not want a system that lets people declare other people incompetent and take over.

So that's why I say I don't think it's a bipartisan issue. You're going to get this pushback that says, you don't want a system in which it's really easy for people to say -- to declare others mentally ill.

COOPER: Dr. Drew, do you buy that PTSD was involved in this? I talked to Commander Lippold yesterday, formerly of the USS Cole, who said he's sick of hearing people using that and that so many people have PTSD, the vast majority, they're not becoming violent. They don't end up like this.

(CROSSTALK)

PINSKY: Anderson, you know how I love you, but I will call you out on this one. I was actually yelling at my television yesterday because you kept bringing that up. I thought, boy, the 9/11 issue did not make him better, that's for sure, but that doesn't cause this. This is psychotic illness.

All the way back to 2004, when he became paranoid about the construction workers across the street and shot out their tires, that should have been identified then. This poor man died of his mental illness, too, let's not forget.

COOPER: Yes.

SULLIVAN: I just worry. And there's always a danger of abuse. When people who are mentally troubled, who may not be capable or we may not be able to predict easily that they will be of harm to others or themselves, are suddenly coerced into mandatory care.

I mean, that is a problem. I will never forget watching my mother being taken away forcibly from us and put in a hospital and waving goodbye to her in a mental ward. Those things are traumatizing things to happen to people.

COOPER: So you worry about the family or the state having too much power? SULLIVAN: In that case, it was absolutely right. My mother acquiesced and so on.

But in some cases it may not be. It may be a muddled area and people can abuse those powers, too. And that's my concern.

And if they have access to things, what I find also some friends of mine with PTSD and other people I have met with PTSD, they know they have it, but they really don't want to seek treatment. They think they can hack it out.

COOPER: But also there have been penalties for their careers in the past if they do seek treatment in the military. As much as the military says they want to address this, we have seen in past years folks who do come forward with it, their careers suffer. And you talked about that stigma earlier. There is still within the military think that's still that stigma.

SULLIVAN: Yes, that's why the most effective, some of the most effective policies and programs out there are other vets who have dealt with PTSD talking to other vets.

(CROSSTALK)

SLAUGHTER: This guy is hearing voices.

Dr. Drew's the doctor, I'm not. But it certainly sounds like classic paranoid schizophrenia. He's worried about people following him, he's worried about people using a microwave to track him. This is deep mental illness. And part of what I was saying is he called for the police and he says, people in the hotel next to me, the hotel room next to me are coming after me.

COOPER: Right, in microwaves.

SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly. But what happens after that, right?

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: They alerted the Navy. We don't know where it went from there. That's one of the things obviously we need to learn. We have got to take a quick break.

Dr. Drew, thanks for being with us. Everyone else, stick around.

Let us know what you think. Let's talk about this @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.

Also just ahead, the Navy Yard massacre is raising all the questions you would expect about gun control. We have touched on it a little bit. It's all on the table coming up. Bill Kristol joins us in our fifth chair in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. News tonight about the gun that was use in the Washington Navy Yard shooting. A federal law enforcement official says the gunman etched sayings into the shotgun like -- quote -- "Better off this way" and -- quote -- "My elf gun," whatever that means.

Two days before the shooting, the gunman spent a few hours at a shooting range, paid $419 for a Remington 870 shotgun. He passed a federal background check, according to the store's attorney. This raises the usual questions about the efficiency of background checks and about gun control in general. Invariably after these mass shootings, which have become al too common, comes the gun control debate and op-eds on both sides of the issues.

In a column for The Daily Beast, conservative David Frum wrote that America's uniquely grisly record on gun death cannot be addressed without addressing guns and that, for instance, a better mental health provision would help reduce gun massacres. Frum is also a CNN political commentator.

In her op-ed for "The Washington Times," Emily Miller argues that there isn't a single gun control law that could have prevented the Navy Yard massacre. We will speak with Emily Miller in just a moment.

Our panel is with us again, and in the fifth chair tonight, Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard."

Thanks very much for being with us.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Good to be with you.

COOPER: Do you think this will change anything in the gun control debate or is just going to -- the usual players come forward and say the usual thing?

KRISTOL: I don't think that's quite a fair way to characterize it. I think people have strong views on this, they have developed them over the years, they have evaluated the evidence. This won't change anything.

The gun that was used is not a gun that anyone has proposed controlling.

COOPER: The shotgun.

Cornell, do you think this will change anything?

BELCHER: No, well, from a standpoint of Congress, no, because there's not a body count number that you can get to where people who are dug in, in their ideological positions are going to move on gun control. What's going to have to take is those voters in Middle America and those voters in those rent districts, quite frankly, to get upset enough and say, you know what, 80 percent of us believe in stricter sort of restrictions on handguns. Let's vote out the people who are in fact standing in the way.

And until that happens, no, nothing's going to change.

COOPER: You have done polling on this. My understanding of the support and for those who are opposed to it, that those who are opposed to more limits on guns feel more strongly about it and are much more passionate about it than those who it's not a voting issue for. Is that true?

BELCHER: In the past, it has not been a top of the sort of list voting issues outside parts of the South. But I got to think when you see the body count continue and continue in Middle America, this does become an issue. And we have 80 percent of the American people sort of saying, OK, this is common sense. We need more restrictions.

It does become -- it will become a voting issue.

SULLIVAN: We have a Second Amendment. This country is different than other countries.

And the tradition that Bill talked about is deep and real and it's about American liberty and freedom. And I honestly think once you have this number of guns in a society, the ability to actually bring them down is almost zero. And certainly in the process of trying to control them, you're going to unleash criminals with much worse -- a much greater ability to avoid the law in getting them.

So I'm reconciled to it. I just want those who support gun rights to recognize that the cost of those gun rights are many, many innocent deaths and just own it. Don't pretend that this is some weird side product. It is the absolute -- no other country has this level of fatalities, and it's because guns, which are, by the way, the most cowardly of weapons -- it was an act of cowardice.

You don't have any strength to kill a woman or a child with a gun from a distance. This man was a coward, as well as anything else. I think they have to only fact that, yes, we believe it this freedom, and, yes, the damage is dozens and dozens of children and innocent people dead every year, and own it.

COOPER: Let me bring in Emily Miller, senior opinion leader at "The Washington Times," author of "Emily Gets Her Gun, But Obama Wants to Take Yours."

You heard what Andrew said. Do you own that? Do you accept that?

EMILY MILLER, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, all I know is what happened on Monday at the Navy Yard was absolutely horrendous, obviously.

The things that -- I say there can be things that can be done. That's why I wrote my column today. For example, this shooter was in Rhode Island recently, called the police and said, I'm hearing aliens talk to me and I have had to switch hotels. The police should have put him in a mental hospital.

If he had been put in patient mental hospital, as Dr. Drew referenced in the previous segment, he would have been put in the prohibited category. But here's the kicker. He was in Rhode Island. Rhode Island has one of this country's worst records for putting member health records into the FBI's NICS check.

Had he been put into a mental hospital in Rhode Island, we wouldn't know about it. He still would have passed his background check. Until this background check system is fixed, which means mental health records put into the system -- I suggest people look at FixNICS.org.

You can look at every state. And Massachusetts is another horrible one that won't put these records in. How are we supposed to catch these psychotic, schizophrenic people if the records aren't being put into the system? That's something positive we all could work on.

COOPER: Which is something that the NRA says a lot.

BELCHER: Am I hearing you correctly that you are now for a universal background check? Because many of the Republicans in the House are not.

MILLER: No, Cornell, that's actually not the issue I'm saying at all.

I'm talking about the current issue we have in this country. It is illegal to have a gun if you have been adjudicated for mental illness or if you have put in patient in a mental hospital. That's a good thing, because none of us want crazy things having guns. Look what happened.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Could we not use the term crazy people, please?

MILLER: Why?

SULLIVAN: People who have mental illness are not crazy. There's a huge spectrum of mental illness.

MILLER: This man is schizophrenic.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Guys, stop. Let's just put a brake on this for a second. Let's just not talk over each other. It just drives everybody nuts.

SULLIVAN: I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Andrew's point is anybody who is in a mental hospital is not -- it doesn't mean you're crazy. But go ahead.

(CROSSTALK) MILLER: Somebody who's paranoid -- I'm referring to the shooter on Monday. If Andrew wants to protect him, that's his own problem.

I'm telling you someone who slaughters 12 people and is hearing voices is a paranoid schizophrenic is the definition of crazy or insane. And you don't need P.C. police to be stopping that. That's real and he should have been in a mental hospital.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Andrew, to Emily's point -- and it's the point the NRA makes, is that a lot of these states are not reporting all the information they could be reporting and should be reporting in order to make this background check that does currently exist more effective.

SULLIVAN: And, of course, I agree with that, absolutely.

My only issue there is I think we should be careful if we're trying to de-stigmatize mental illness to suddenly broadly call anybody with mental illness crazy, crazy people. That actually makes it less likely for people to seek help. It actually re-stigmatizes this.

MILLER: That's not the issue. Andrew, you're talking about two different things. We're talking about what can we -- stop mass shootings, which are very rare? They account about, according to Congressional Research Service, about 18 people a year. They're very rare.

But the one thread we have, when talk about Aurora, Newtown, the Navy Yard, all of them.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: They're increasing, though.

MILLER: They are not increasing.

BELCHER: Yes, they are.

MILLER: No, that's completely -- based on what facts?

BELCHER: Based on the fact that every year there's more and more of them.

MILLER: OK. Cornell, let's talk about real facts which is Congressional Research Service, so the congressional arm of Congress, did a report in April, looked at 10 years.

There's no increase, there is no decrease. They are unpredictable. There's been about 500 people killed by these mass shootings. Just throwing out these things does not make them to be true.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: The CRS does say in that same report that there's a lot of information we do not know about how people use guns and that they recommend -- and I don't want to misquote it -- but that they recommend sort of not a database, but gathering more information, actually studying how people use guns in this country, which is something a lot of groups resist.

MILLER: Andrew, that's true. I mean, Anderson, that's true that they did say that.

But back to the facts if we're going to just talk about facts on this show, it is estimated it's been an average of 18 people killed by mass shootings. When the president says that this is increasing, that is not true. What we do have is gun control. And all gun crime has decreased since 1991 by 40 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: As gun ownership in this country has increased to about 300 million guns in this country now, gun crime -- all crime has gone down. There are about 8,000 people killed every year by gun crime. About a quarter of those are criminals, about 22 people, 18 people a year in these mass shootings.

(CROSSTALK)

SLAUGHTER: Let's talk about another fact, because the other fact is what Andrew said, which is regardless whether they're going up or down in this country, they happen every couple of months, to the point...

MILLER: No, they have not happened since...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let her finish her sentence, and then we can have an actual conversation.

Go ahead.

SLAUGHTER: It doesn't -- it happened in Norway and the whole country came to a halt. It happened in Scotland at Dunblane. The whole country came to a halt.

This happens. And my kid said in high school today, it was like, oh, yes, there was another shooting. What do we do about the fact that we now just accept as part of our lives...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But Emily is saying there is something we could do, and that's report. Again, Emily, stop me if I'm wrong. But follow the current laws, report more accurately to make the checks that exist, to make them more efficient and actually make them work.

SLAUGHTER: But this shooter wouldn't have gotten picked up because the police didn't actually do anything.

COOPER: Well, he did try to buy a handgun, which he was prevented.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Anderson, that's not accurate. This is a gun range that I go to, Sharpshooters. He did not try to buy anything than the shotgun he bought, something that Vice President Biden has encouraged quite a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: The report I just saw said that he attempted to buy a handgun, but because he was from out of state, he was informed...

MILLER: That's not true, Anderson. "The New York Times" actually said that he tried to buy a rifle.

COOPER: Right. I'm not talking about that report. I'm talking about a handgun. We will double-check.

MILLER: Not true.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: OK. We will double-check it. But clearly the background check that exists, it wasn't an issue because he bought a shotgun.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Right. And he bought a shotgun and nothing came up.

KRISTOL: But, look, on studying this, there's been a ton of social science work on crime and on gun violence and what the efficacy or lack thereof of various types of gun control laws.

James Q. Wilson, great social scientist, a teacher of mine, I think maybe of Andrew's, too, was not particularly a gun rights guy I think to start off. I think he was actually an open-minded social scientist. He studied this over the years and came to the conclusion that most of these gun control efforts -- and Andrew is right about this -- in a country that starts off with 300 million guns -- that's just a fact that we have to deal with -- don't do much good.

Some of them have contrary -- have sort of perverse consequences. I agree with you on the mental health issue. Everyone is now saying because this guy was clearly disturbed that we have to report everyone who ever goes into a mental health hospital or seeks mental health treatment.

I'm not so sure that's a great idea. You would discourage people. People have episodes, or they get depressed, they get treatment. I don't know, 20 years from now, do you want that to be in a database? I don't have a view on this. I'm just saying these things as a matter of actual public policy as opposed to reacting to a terrible tragedy are much more complicated.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: I agree. I came of this -- I'm English.

So I came at this -- came to this country 30 years ago -- looking at this country. It's a different country. And it does place a premium on freedom in a way that other countries do not. And the result of that is that when you look at other countries, the rate of murder, fatal murder, not violence, but fatalities, because God knows the English are violent as hell, but they don't have enough guns to kill each other.

BELCHER: They don't have access.

SULLIVAN: We nonetheless will have -- because it's a free country with a Second Amendment, we will have much higher levels of carnage through gunfire than any other country, and we do.

COOPER: We got to take a break.

And Emily raised a good point about the misreporting that a lot of media outlets did, including -- well, pretty much everybody did yesterday.

And I just want to clear up. This is from the lawyer for Sharpshooters, a small arms range. Emily, I think you go there.

MILLER: Yes.

COOPER: This is from their lawyer, J. Michael Slocum.

"The shooter did not attempt to buy an AR-15 as we said from the range. He did ask about purchasing a handgun. No brand was specified, but he was told he could not purchase a handgun, except for delivery to his home state through another federally licensed firearm dealer."

And that's when he decided to purchase the shotgun.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Yes, federal law, you can't purchase out-of-state handgun.

COOPER: Right.

So, listen, Emily Miller, it's great to have you on the program again.

Up next: a shutdown of the federal government looming tonight. House Republicans say they're going to agree to fund the government going forward, but not fund Obamacare. The president and Democrats immediately denounced that strategy. So what's really going on? We will talk to our panel ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Shots of the White House there. A battle is brewing in Washington that could lead to a shutdown of the federal government after September 30 when the fiscal year ends.

House Republicans say they'll approve a bill that keeps the government running, but it cuts funding for Obama care. They'll also seek new spending cuts in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling.

President Obama and Senate Democrats, of course, say they will never go along with this. Dana Bash is our chief congressional correspondent. She joins us now.

So what is the latest on this back and forth?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest is exactly as you -- as you've laid out. We are going to see a vote in the House tomorrow, likely. More likely Friday. And then the question mark is how the Senate deals with this, because we know the votes aren't there.

What has been fascinating to see evolve over the past several hours, Anderson, has been this real split and a divisive, even bitter one among Republicans, though. And what's going on is that a lot of this has been really fueled by Senator Ted Cruz and people of his ilk in the Senate, saying they believe that the last chance to stop Obama care is through this vehicle, this spending bill.

And he spent all of the summer recess in August going around the country, getting a petition going on a bus tour to try to convince Republicans that this is the way to go, even though House Republican leaders did not want to do this at all.

And P.S., here we are, and House Republican leaders basically had to give in, because they couldn't find the votes to get this spending bill done without defunding Obama care.

And now there's a back and forth, because they think in the House that Ted Cruz is abandoning them. He put out a press release today. They thought it was sort of waving the white flag, saying, "I can't get the votes here; it's up to you." And there are some really vicious back and forth going on. It's not a pretty sight.

COOPER: Cornell, do you think the government will actually shut down?

BELCHER: Look, once upon a time you would think there was a reason -- there was a reasoned center in the Republican Party -- the Republican Party could bring along the herd. It's clear right now that Speaker Boehner has lost control of his caucus. And I don't me that sort of in a nasty partisan way. But I think if you look at what his caucus is doing, how they're bucking him, he's lost control of his caucus. So I have no idea. Once upon a time you would say no, because it's political suicide. Even Newt Gingrich would say don't shut down the government. But you have a core of Tea Party Republicans, 40 plus of them, who have basically sort of taken control of the caucus and the establishment. So the reason people are kind of on the sidelines.

So once upon a time I said no they wouldn't shut down the government because of political suicide. Now I'm saying, "You know what? They may take the country over -- over the cliff for their ideological purposes. There's no telling.

COOPER: Bill, what do you think?

KRISTOL: They're not going to take the country over the cliff, I don't think. House Republicans think Obama care should be delayed for at least a year and ultimately repealed. I happen to agree with them. They're entitled to send to the Senate a continuing resolution that discontinues Obama care. The Senate is entitled to say, "No, thank you. We're sending you a continuing resolution back that simply funds the government with Obama care."

And I think on this case September 30, there will be votes in the House. The House will yield, because they don't have -- they can't practice -- there wasn't the populist uprising that Ted Cruz and others hoped for over, over August. They're entitled to send over a bill that embodies their views. It was stupid of the leadership to fight so long. They were sort of pre-emptively trying to gauge out how the Senate would respond.

SLAUGHTER: Why send over a bill you know has no chance of making it? Why?

KRISTOL: Because they believe in that. They'd like to make a statement that they control the House, and this is what they would like the law to be. This is how the Congress works. The House passes the bill it likes; the Senate passes the bill it likes. They come to conference.

In this case, the House will yield to the Senate, and then there will be another fight on the debt ceiling.

I personally had thought that if you target particular parts of Obama care that I think should be delayed, for the cost of delaying, like the individual mandate, which the president delayed the employer mandate, why not delay the individual mandate. You would have a chance better politically. There's a tactical judgment. People add policies they want to defund or not defund. There's fights over the levels.

I don't -- as a practical matter just personally -- I mean, it could end up in a shutdown obviously. But I actually think in this case they've now worked it out pretty well. I mean, it was chaos among the House Republicans, huge suspicion of the leadership among the activists. It was huge disdain for the activists.

BELCHER: Have you ever seen anything like this? KRISTOL: Sure.

BELCHER: When?

KRISTOL: What do you mean? This has been happening for a long time. The government actually shut down in 1995 in the good old days -- in the good old days of bipartisan consensus. You know what happens? If you elect a president of one party who happens to be believe strongly in what he believes in, especially the signature legislation of Obama care, then you elect in the next election -- the American elects in 2010 a huge number of Republicans who campaigned against Obama care.

And then in 2012 they re-elect the president but they also leave Republicans in control of the House. You're going to get a lot of politicians -- at least that's my sense -- you'll get a lot of politicians who feel like I ran on a certain pledge, and I have the duty to try to make it happen. Doesn't mean you go over the cliff, but it means they have a right to try to express their policy views in legislation.

SULLIVAN: But they do. That's called an election campaign. And they fought very hard for their position, and they lost soundly. They lost the majority popular vote in the House, as well.

COOPER: Right.

SULLIVAN: Now -- and also, they've already agreed on a budget. They've already passed one. They're just -- the debt ceiling, they're not prepared to pay for something they've already passed.

This is not normal politics. This is one rogue faction of a party vandalizing the Constitution of the United States and jeopardizing the good faith and credit of the United States, which could be catastrophic for ordinary people already under enormous strain. These people care more about their ideological purity than the well-being of the economy or the well-being of Americans.

SLAUGHTER: The other odd thing is they care more about their ideological purity than actually the health of their party. Because yes, it shut down in the 1990s, and it was suicide for the Republicans at that point. And...

COOPER: You think the Republicans will get the blame this time around as well?

SLAUGHTER: Yes. Absolutely.

COOPER: Dana, I know you want to say something.

BASH: Well, no, I was going to say that I think, to Andrew's point about the debt ceiling, that's a fight that's not too far away, maybe in the next month.

But it seems to me, reading the tea leaves and watching the way the House Republican leadership and those who are -- they feel like they're walking the plank on this issue are dealing with this, they're setting up a stage for the next fight.

And Republican leaders in the House in particular, they agree. They don't want to, you know, go ahead and hold the debt ceiling hostage, because they know what the effect would be on the economy. They saw what happened in 2011 with Standard & Poor's and what they did to the credit of the United States. They get that.

So it really seems to me that they're trying to make a big deal out of the fact that those who were out there really fighting for principle are not standing on their principle in order to try to calm that 40 or so -- those 40 or so people in their caucus to say, you know what? On the debt ceiling, the next fight, which is just around the corner...

COOPER: Right.

BASH: ... stick with us. We want to do this the right way.

COOPER: Dana, appreciate you being with us tonight.

Another story we're following tonight. President Obama writing a letter to Iran's new president. A lot of people in Washington cannot be happy about that. I want to get everyone's take at the table on that next right after this. A live shot of Istanbul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Appreciate you tweeting with us. All that's been happening about Syria it's easy to forget there's a new president in Iran. He appears to be very different than his hard-line predecessor, certainly. He's even exchanged communications with President Obama. Listen to what he just told NBC News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HASSAN ROUHANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): President Obama wrote a letter to me. In that letter he congratulated my election. And some issues of his interest were raised in that letter.

I responded to that letter. I thanked him and expressed the Islamic Republic of Iran's viewpoint on the issues President Obama raised in his letter. And some other issues. From my point of view, the tone of the letter was positive and constructive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, the Iranian president also said his country has never pursued nuclear weapons and has to plans to do so. He said he has complete authority to resolve questions about nuclear matters diplomatically with other nations. The question is: Could it be the winds of change are actually blowing out of Tehran? We'll talk to our panel about it.

Andrew, what do you think? SULLIVAN: I think that it was certainly a good sign. And I certainly don't think we should respond to it with knee-jerk negativism.

I think, if we can get an agreement in which Iran's legitimate pursuit of civil nuclear power is upheld, if their dignity and honor and pride are acknowledged, but if we also get reliable international inspectors to go into these sites, then we should -- it's a great tragedy the enmity between the United States and Iran.

We should be natural allies. The people of Iran love this country, as we saw in the Green Movement. And it is a great country and a great civilization. For it to be constantly put in this corner and demonized the way we have.

Now, this is not to say that, obviously, the Revolutionary Guards and Khamenei have not revealed themselves and certainly did in 2009 as among the most brutal, vicious, nasty people. Or that they are actually sending people to go and stoke the war in Syria, which is happening right now.

But it does seem to me that the election of Rouhani represented, as the Green Movement represented, a real mood among the Iranian people that they do not want this isolation any further.

The economy is tanking. Inflation is hitting higher and higher levels. They have a real incentive to get a deal. And they are saying and telling us they do not believe in using nuclear weapons, and they've certainly cooperated in controlling Syria's chemical weapons.

COOPER: Bill, do you buy that? Do you believe that there is something new happening there?

KRISTOL: No. I think there's a charm offensive, but I'll be the knee-jerk negativist here.

BELCHER: That's why we asked you here tonight.

KRISTOL: I appreciate being here. No really, if they say they haven't been pursuing nuclear weapons, the entire world community, U.N. Security Council, administrations of both parties, inspectors have just been wrong about the fact that...

COOPER: It's the same old lies?

KRISTOL: That is a lie. I'm not saying that Rouhani couldn't put a negotiating position on the table that the Americans will have to look at. But I think -- I'm extremely dubious that they will give up their nuclear weapons.

BELCHER: But is it not a good thing, Bill, at least saying now "We don't want nuclear weapons and we're willing to talk?" Is that not at least a good breakthrough?

KRISTOL: It's not good if he says it to us and we believe it incredulously and let him go ahead with keeping the heavy water reactor, keeping (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and keeping calm and keeping everything.

SLAUGHTER: But it's not actually new. Because actually Khamenei has always said -- he actually issued an fatwa saying we will never have nuclear weapons. The issue here is weapons versus all the materials necessary to make weapons when they want them

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.

SLAUGHTER: So in some sense, Rouhani is Khamenei's man. Let's not -- Rouhani is not a representative of the Green, moderate movement.

COOPER: Khamenei is the spiritual leader.

SLAUGHTER: He's the supreme leader.

COOPER: He says he has -- Rouhani says he has the power to actually negotiate.

SLAUGHTER: He does, and Rouhani is a pragmatist. And the change, certainly, in tone between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rouhani is night and day. Ahmadinejad would come to New York and, you know, talk about denying the Holocaust and, you know, really embodied everything people are most worried about in dealing with Iran.

Rouhani is a much more pragmatic person. But the moderates, the real moderates were all disqualified from running in the election. So we shouldn't -- I think this is a great opportunity. And I completely agree with Cornell and Andrew that we should -- we should engage and we should see, I think, the sanctions are biting. I think the younger Iranians absolutely do want to be re-engaged with the world. There may be a deal here.

But I don't think we should say this guy's completely different. Because he's still representing the supreme leader.

BELCHER: And I think I have a bit of a sort of pushback on all these people criticizing the president now for even reaching out. Look...

COOPER: A pollster for Obama saying that? I'm stunned.

BELCHER: Well, I'm actually sort of taking Democrats to task. I called them ball-less earlier. But earlier in the '08 primaries, going back to the battles with Hillary Clinton, one of the predicates for our rising in the election was the idea that, "You know what? We're going to do things differently, and part of that is on foreign policy and all these decisions that conventionally say, "We just don't do this."

We're going to break with those "stop doing this" in order to sort of break some of these historical impasses. And him reaching out to the Iranians first, I think is something that is unique, and I think it helps move this along. KRISTOL: And the effect of that talk in 2009 was that he tragically made himself, I think -- I'm sure he regrets this now -- sit on the sidelines for ten days, because he talked himself into being nice to the Iranian regime when there was a genuine democratic uprising. One of his biggest mistakes.

SULLIVAN: They did not seek American support and actually urged us to keep our distance.

KRISTOL: It seeked (ph) American rhetorical support.

SULLIVAN: No, it did not.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: I don't know what Iranian -- Iranian dissidents I talked to would have liked the president of the United States...

SULLIVAN: They're not the ones I'm talking to.

KRISTOL: We have a difference on that.

SULLIVAN: The point is that America intervening hurts them. If they're seen as an instrument of America...

KRISTOL: We didn't intervene -- we didn't intervene with the Green Movement. It's doing just great in Iran right now.

SLAUGHTER: It's not our fault that we didn't. But Cornell is right. I mean, in the inaugural address in 2008, he said, "We will extend our hand if you will unclench your fist."

And his point was, and he is right, either with Syria or with Iran, you can't do a deal if you're not going to talk to people. And in this case, we have to explore every conceivable diplomatic avenue. Because if we ever have to use force...

KRISTOL: Have we not been trying to do this? Has this administration been short on...?

SLAUGHTER: We have. No, we have. But we also -- wait a minute. But Bill, hang on.

KRISTOL: I'm not going anywhere.

SLAUGHTER: This administration has put together an incredible set of sanctions.

KRISTOL: And did it work?

SLAUGHTER: Yes. Those sanctions are biting.

KRISTOL: The nuclear program has been delayed?

SLAUGHTER: The -- the...

KRISTOL: The nuclear program has been delayed?

SLAUGHTER: They are back at the table. No. Neither was it under George Bush.

KRISTOL: I totally agree.

SLAUGHTER: What I do think, though, is they haven't just been talking. They've put together these sanctions, and they are biting. And there's good reason to think Iran does want to explore the possibility.

KRISTOL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) removing the sanctions, though?

SLAUGHTER: I would certainly keep the sanctions for now. Yes.

SULLIVAN: For now, but we should lift them if we get an agreement with them on -- on inspection of the sites and a clear commitment that they are in favor of nuclear power. And the nuclear program could be just visibility and power. Just as -- and we take that into these evaluations (ph). We should verify it. We should be skeptical about it.

But I think Obama needs to do more than just accept this. I think he needs to make a risk. Take a risk, do a gamble, really reach out for the Iranians. This is his Reagan-Gorbachev moment. If he was able to resolve this conflict, he will have transformed global politics in a way that Reagan did it at Reykjavik. Because this is the Cold war we're now in, Iran and the U.S.

COOPER: We've got to break here. We'll have more from the panel when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: That's a view of the Philippines. Back with our panel. We want to talk about a few of the other stories that caught our eye tonight.

By the way, that music is the Pet Shop Boys. Andrew Sullivan, if you read his blog, is obsessed with the Pet Shop Boys. You actually were at the concert last night. Aren't you a little old for this sort of thing now?

SULLIVAN: No. If you know anything about the audience for Pet Shop Boys...

COOPER: I went to Madonna three times so I -- you know, I'm just throwing that out.

SULLIVAN: Please. They're filling stadiums across the world. Except the United States.

COOPER: So what is it about the Pet Shop Boys that you're so...

SULLIVAN: They're intelligent. They're funny. And they're sincere. And they're musical geniuses. I think they're as great as Lennon and McCartney and will one day be understood and around the rest of the world are accepted as such. It's only this country.

But look, I love them. And I was -- I was in ecstasy all last night.

COOPER: All right. I'm sure.

At the end of the show we like -- we try to look at stories that are kind of uncovered. We only have about a minute left. One of the stories that I actually mentioned on the show the other night, which you wanted to mention, which is the treatment of General Petraeus at CUNY in New York.

KRISTOL: Yes. City College in New York, being harassed and screamed at on the street as he teaches a class for a dollar a year at the invitation of the administration.

COOPER: He's followed from class to class with people -- people yelling at him.

KRISTOL: Not getting a very strong defense from the administration. Might be a more strong rebuke for these students or nonstudents, who are on campus.

BELCHER: I don't think the administration can beat up on students in the streets of New York.

COOPER: They're screaming and yelling at someone who's walking across the street to teach a class?

BELCHER: What were they screaming?

COOPER: War, war, war.

SULLIVAN: He did preside over a war in which we tortured people against international law. So I can see some reasonable...

KRISTOL: I don't believe he was accused of doing that, actually. You think?

SULLIVAN: No. I think he controlled the war in which that happened.

KRISTOL: He didn't control the war. He was put in charge of the war in 2007.

SULLIVAN: You think the torture was over by then?

KRISTOL: I have no -- I'm not sure there was torture, and I think it wasn't over by then. And I think he was a great general, and an impressive American public servant.

SULLIVAN: ... politician.

KRISTOL: He was a great general.

COOPER: Guys, good conversation tonight. Thanks very much for watching and for joining AC 360 LATER. I have a feeling this conversation will continue after this show is over.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is next. I'll see you tomorrow.