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Iraq Now Wants U.S. Bombing Help With Islamic Militants; Dave Brat Regroups After Win; Bush 41 Celebrates His 90th with a Skydive

Aired June 12, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Terrorists taking over city after city across Iraq, they're gaining ground and vowing to capture Baghdad.

The country's military falling fast, its government wants the U.S. to step in and help.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: The latest twist in the Republican political upheaval, the Speaker of the House will make much anticipated comments, and it's happening right here, @THISHOUR.

PEREIRA: John, have you planned your 90th birthday party? This is what the president, the former president, George H.W. Bush is going to do to celebrate. He's going to leap from a plane this hour.

More of a bungee jumping kind of a guy (inaudible).

BERMAN: That's quite a birthday. Hey, everyone, I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira, those stories and so much more, right now, @THISHOUR.

BERMAN: First the breaking news out of Iraq, Islamic militants are closing in on Baghdad. This was just some of the fighting as armed radicals seized several key cities.

Iraqi forces that were trained by the U.S. ran. They just simply ran. They melted away. They dropped their weapons and ran in the face of this onslaught.

PEREIRA: Now, keep in mind more than 4,000 U.S. troops were killed fighting in Iraq. The long-term financial costs of the war to American taxpayers, that's expected to exceed a trillion dollars.

So obviously, it is alarming to see these kinds of advances by the militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, happening just three years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Our Nic Robertson covered the war extensively from the front lines. He joins us right now from neighboring Jordan.

Nic, we've got to ask you, Iraq's army says it has won back the city of Tikrit. One has to wonder if the military is now stepping up and taking on these insurgents, and do they have the might? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They certainly,

in theory, have the might, but pictures tell what a thousand words can't tell.

The government is saying that yes, its forces have retaken Tikrit. They haven't shown a single picture, frame of video to back that up, but what we have seen released apparently by ISIS, this is a propaganda video of theirs, what is, they claim, in Tikrit their fighters rounding up what you see, lines of Iraqi policemen and security forces that these handful of is fighters are leading away. These all look like beaten men.

So it's not -- clearly not a case of do they have the weapons and have they had the training. It's a case of where's their morale? Where's their leadership?

And at the moment, Michaela, whereas they should be able to dominate the battlefield, right now it appears as if they're being cowed, and we're not really getting evidence to the contrary at the moment.

BERMAN: Nic, you bring up a really interesting point here. We're not sure right now if we can believe whether or not Iraqi forces have retaken the city of Tikrit.

One of the reasons is I don't think that here in the U.S. and U.S. officials know quite what to make of the current Iraqi government. There is a lack of trust right now between the U.S. and the Iraqi leadership.

How do you think that contributes to the hesitancy right now of the Obama administration to get involved?

ROBERTSON: Well, you know, if you're going to come in and back a government, you want there to be a government. Nouri al-Maliki was reelected prime minister recently, but he is a very divisive figure, sectarian. He pushes the agenda of the Shia majority, and that angers the Sunni minority in the country.

And we witnessed that today. Today there was supposed to be a meeting at the parliament where the parliamentarians would get together and vote on a state of emergency.

You know what? A lot of parliamentarians didn't show up. They voted with their feet. There wasn't enough of them there to hold a vote, and that is an indication that there isn't support for Nouri al-Maliki in the country.

Hard to see an outside interest in the United States wanting to back such a failing prime minister in these circumstances, John.

BERMAN: And that political turmoil in Baghdad happening as city after city falls.

Nic Robertson for us over the border in Jordan, thanks so much.

PEREIRA: And of course we know the situation is something that the U.S. is looking at and keeping an eye on, given the fact that our troops withdrew from Iraq some two, three years ago. The White House says it's looking at a range of options to stop this terrorist advance in Iraq.

We want to bring in our political commentators Ross Douthat and Maria Cardona. Good to have you both with us once again @THISHOUR.

Ross, why don't we start with you? The Iraqi government, as we know, has already indicated a willingness for the U.S. to conduct airstrikes.

The big question, though, is given the fact that we withdrew our troops from there, given the fact that we've put an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq on the ground in terms of military force, is it smart?

Is it wise? Is it something they'll have the backing of the American people to go in and support them here?

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the American people will be very dubious. I think that frankly, if the Obama White House stood up and said, this isn't our problem anymore, they'd probably have 55 or 60 percent of the American public behind them.

And the reality is, as I think we've learned, the Maliki government has been asking us for airstrikes for a little while now, before this offensive started, and we have been resisting, partially, I'm sure, because of the politics and partially for more strategic reasons, that as you guys have just been saying, you don't have a government there that it's clear that we should be supporting.

Unfortunately, the problem is you're heading for a situation where you're ending up with what would amount to another terrorist safe haven across the northwest of Iraq shading into Syria where ISIS has obviously been sort of gathering strength during the Syrian civil war. So it's a sort of classic, foreign-policy, no-good-option situation.

BERMAN: And it's just what some people have feared for a long time, this safe haven being created across the border between Syria and Iraq with these terrorists now roaming freely city to city.

Maria Cardona, there are people who predicted something like this might happen when the Obama administration chose to withdraw all of the troops from Iraq back two or three years ago.

People said it was too much too soon. Are these the consequences now of that action?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that that still remains to be seen. It's way too early to point fingers, because frankly, let's remember what the president did in Iraq was what he had talked about doing from the moment that he started campaigning and what the American people were with him on, which was to end the misguided and ill-conceived war in Iraq.

And frankly a lot of people could point to the fact that we went in there in the first place, that this is a consequence of that.

In terms of withdrawing all of our troops, let's remember that this president, this administration, tried to cut a deal with the Iraqi government to leave a cadre of U.S. forces behind to frankly prevent -- or try to prevent, at least, what is going on now, and they refused to come up with that kind of deal.

So there is a lot of discussion that needs to happen now. Clearly, moving forward, I think we need to talk to our NATO allies. I think we need to talk to Turkey. Everything needs to be on the table to figure out how to move forward and prevent this from becoming a further humanitarian crisis.

PEREIRA: Ross, Maria, we're going to ask you to stay with us. Obviously one of the conversations, too, as we look towards the withdrawal in Afghanistan, this is going to make people think about that and what that future is going to hold for that country and for the world.

BERMAN: "Year of the Vacuum" is what a lot of people say.

PEREIRA: We'll have them stick around, because we have more topics for them.

We're going to talk about the aftershocks. Everybody is likening it to a seismic event being felt in Washington after Cantor stepped down as House majority leader.

Could his defeat in the Virginia primary signal a change in the Republican Party? And then the other side, what could it mean for Democrats?

We'll have that conversation with Maria and Ross, coming up.


PEREIRA: We have a CNN exclusive. We want to bring you live images of something that you might be finding interesting, the man at the center of all this seismic shift and earthquake-like shockwave that was sent through Washington.

We had a chance to catch up with him just a moment ago, and we're talking about Dave Brat, the Virginia primary winner, overturning Cantor in a surprise election result.

We had a chance to catch up with him here on CNN. Let's take a listen.


DAVE BRAT (R), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I am not ignoring you, and I respect you guys as professionals and everything. I will be out, but I need a few days to decompress after that election.

So I'm just going to spend a couple days with the family, and I'll be with you as soon as I can. Just so happy with the outcome of the election. And I literally have a thousand e-mails, a thousand voicemails, so I'm just trying to catch up on everything, all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Nothing you want to say about the future of the Republican Party?

BRAT: I'm just humbled that the people spoke, and I think they want a new direction in Washington, D.C. and so if they think I'm a part of that, I'm absolutely humbled by the vote. That's what I ran on.

I just want to meet with people, and so I'm going to continue to meet with people from now, every spectrum out there in the 7th District.

And I'll do my best to stay true to the pledges I made. I want to meet with constituents in every county, the nine counties in the city, and do my best job to represent them, and that's my pledge. That's what I'm going to do.



BERMAN: So in case you were wondering what it feels like and looks like to be at the center of the political universe, that was it right there.

Dave Brat just wants the chance to decompress a little bit after doing what has never, ever, ever been done before, defeating a House majority leader in a primary, knocking off Eric Cantor. This sent shockwaves throughout the Republican Party around the country.

Now, we are expecting, in just a few minutes, House Speaker John Boehner to hold a news conference. This will really be his first chance to talk about this seismic shift in Washington, and we are awaiting what he says.

So let's bring back in our political commentators, Ross Douthat and Maria Cardona.

Ross, we're waiting to hear from Speaker Boehner in a few minutes. What do you think he needs to stay right now? What do Republicans, not just in Washington but around the country, want or need to hear from him?

DOUTHAT: Goodness. I mean, I don't think this is a moment where there's really that much that John Boehner personally can say.

I mean, this is obviously, in a sense, a repudiation of -- in a sort of narrow single-district way -- his leadership team. But I think that all that he can say is sort of some version of message received.

And I think that what's fascinating, and you heard it, sort of listening to Brat talk, is that people are just scrambling to figure out what the message is, because nobody had paid any attention to this race. People are sort of just digging into the kind of campaign that Brat ran and so on.

And so far I think the best answer we've come up with is that Brat ran as a sort of full spectrum populist. That he's obviously a libertarian, a small-government conservative and so on. But all of his attacks on Cantor were related to sort of, you know, big business and big government colluding, accusing Cantor of personal corruption. When he talked about an issue like immigration, it was framed in terms of big corporations wanting to bring in low-wage workers to drive down wages and so on.

So that's, I think, ultimately how the Republicans and ultimately the Democrats as well need to address this, by recognizing that they need a stronger economic message. But for this moment right now, I think it would be probably a big mistake for Boehner to try and make some kind of sweeping statement of how the results of an election that nobody completely understands yet.

PEREIRA: We'll have to wait and see. Again we're waiting for that to happen a little later on @THISHOUR. Of course, some criticism coming that Cantor spent too much time focusing on Washington and not enough time with his constituents.

Maria, I wanted to ask you about the flip side. The Democrats, meanwhile, one could say they've barely hidden their glee with what happened to Eric Cantor. Some of them haven't hidden it at all. One has to wonder though, is this not going to make compromise harder for the president's, make his job harder?

CARDONA: Oh, absolutely it will make the president's job harder. And frankly, the tea party and everyone who has supported Brat has been very unequivocal in terms of what they want him to do, which is to come here and do nothing with this president.

And I actually do think that there is something that speaker Boehner can speak clearly about, and that is he can tell the American people that the house Republicans will actually not come to a grind and do nothing. Because if that's the case, if that's the expectation, Michaela and John, why should they even come to work in the next six months? And that has been the translation of this Dave Brat win.

And I hope it's not true because, for example, on an issue like immigration, I think people will be surprised to hear that in Cantor's district, 70 percent of the people actually support doing something on immigration. And so for the Republicans to take away the message that they should do nothing on immigration, they should do nothing to work with this president is the wrong message.

So I hope that the American people don't believe that now Republicans in Congress are drenched in tea and drunk on the caffeine of obstructionism, because that would not be good for the country.

PEREIRA: That was amazing.

BERMAN: That was a win. That metaphor win goes to Maria Cardona on that point, leaving us speechless. I'm not so sure speaker Boehner is anxious, necessarily, for your advice Maria, though we love having you here @THIS HOUR.

CARDONA: I think you're right about that.

BERMAN: Ross, great to have you as well.

DOUTHAT: Good to be here. Thank you guys.

PEREIRA: As we mentioned, Speaker Boehner is going to speak at this hour. We expect him to address Eric Cantor's loss and the Virginia Republicans decision to step down as house majority leader at the end of July. We will bring those comments from Speaker Boehner live at the bottom of the hour.

BERMAN: Ahead @THIS HOUR, we've got something really incredibly exciting and delightful. Former President George H. W. Bush, he's 90. So what do you do when you turn 90? How about jumping out of a plane at 90 -- sorry, at a few thousand feet there, just like when he did when he was 85 with our Robin Meade. We have Robin to explain to us what it's like to leap from enormous heights with the former president of the United States. Stay with us.


PEREIRA: I know we don't do birthday shout outs on here @THISHOUR, can we make an exception?

BERMAN: Let's do it.

PEREIRA: OK, shout out to former president George Herbert Walker Bush, he is 90 years old today. Happy Birthday sir. And he is going to celebrate by ski diving.

BERMAN: That's right. He jumped from 10,000 feet over Kennebunkport, Maine. He did land just moments ago. We are awaiting that picture. And rest assure, we will bring it to you the minute we have it.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

BERMAN: In the meantime, we have something even better.

PEREIRA: Even better?

BERMAN: Even better. HLN's Robin Meade joins us. Robin has gone sky-diving with the former president, something that not many of us can say, actually non of us can say. She went sky-diving with George Bush for his 85th birthday. Robin, he said he had one more jump in him. And I guess he did, right?

ROBIN MEADE, ANCHOR, HLN: You know what's funny? So we don't have that other tape yet, but let us show you from five years ago what it looked like. I bet this one looked pretty much the same because he did jump with the same guy. He usually goes tandem with one of the army's golden knights. And this is -- he did it when he was 75. Then he did it at 80, 85 and now 90. Isn't that amazing?

But he did say after this jump that he was going to do it again when he was 90. I'm not going to hold it against him because we had made a pact that if he did it when he was 90, I would get to go. You know, if he was a little forgetful when you're 90, you can be that. You can be forgetful. I got the chance to do this with him -- really I'm not sure exactly why I was chosen to be the only journalist. I think it had a lot to do with the golden knights because they had asked me previously to go jump with them. And our legal department here, basically kept saying we don't think that's a wise idea.

PEREIRA: Oh, man.

MEADE: So basically I said to the golden knights, come up with a story idea that I can't say no to. Well, boy, did they ever. And it's kind of like I joke, I would never jump in real life, but with a former president and one that, you know, has a history as a World War II veteran and had a reason for jumping that first time, he wanted to jump on his own volition, not jump out of a plane like he had to in World War II because he was being shot down. So I said yes. How could you say no?

PEREIRA: You jumped at the chance, if you will. Look, I have to talk to you, I mean, I have so many questions like why you would jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

MEADE: Exactly.

PEREIRA: Right? But you also had a chance to chitchat with him beforehand, I can imagine, and sit down and interview him. What do you remember most about that time with him?

MEADE: It's funny because I joked that that interview saved my sanity and my life, because if I didn't have the interview before the jump, I would have been able to focus on the jump and go, what the heck am I doing? But instead I was focused on what I want to ask him, how do I make him feel comfortable and get at the essence of this man? I was impressed with, really how dialed in he still was at 85 to the political process. But how strongly he felt about stepping back and letting the person that's in the current office lead.

And I think that's why, still to this day, you really don't see either Bush 41 or Bush 43 speaking out against or about what the current leader is doing. And when I asked him about his legend, like what do you think your legacy is going to be, he was, like, eh, let the historians talk about that. At the time Sonia Sotomayor was going through hearings to be justice. And he didn't like some of the statements that were being made by people on radical sites. He didn't feel it helps the process. And he spoke out about that. So I was very impressed about how engaged and sharp he still was in the process.

PEREIRA: I love that.

BERMAN: This is a man, right now, who is having about the best victory lap ever.

PEREIRA: Oh, come on. BERMAN: He was sick. It was about a year ago he was so sick. Since

then he has just done so much and put so many smiles on people's faces, including his own. Robin Meade, thank you so much for being with us. I love seeing the president do this.

PERIERA: Girl, you are much braver than I am, let me just tell you that.

MEADE: I would never do it in real life.

PEREIRA: Well, that was real life.

MEADE: For television, I'll do it.

PEREIRA: You jumped. You jumped.

MEADE: I don't know if you have -- there's still photos that I've given you and your producers that I think say so much about the man behind the scenes. If you don't have it, I'll tell you, for example, right there, that's a surreal moment when we landed, and he was really joyous, and we shared that hug. But during the press conference, you know, there he is with Bush 43 and former governor Jeb Bush and Barbara's there. And instead of answering the questions, they said, well, ask Robin, she's right there. So like I became a part of the press conference. You could really see the giving and together nature of the family. There's one more shot where, I'm doing a live shot, and there's a black car and it pulls up behind me, if you guys have that still photo.

PEREIRA: We saw it, yes, there it is.

MEADE: There. And so there's this grey poupon moment where this black car and a shadowy figure emerges. Well it's George Bush 41. And he says hey, Robin, we're getting ready to have cake and ice cream. Why don't you and Tim -- and he remembered my husband's name, pretty impressive -- why don't you and Tim come back to the house?

I was, like, well, Mr. President, I'm working. So he said, well, then you come over the next morning to Walker's Point. And so my husband and myself spent Saturday morning at Kennebunkport sitting on the back porch in the sun with 41.

PEREIRA: That is one of those pinch-me moments. If the sky-diving adventure wasn't already. Robin, it has been such a delight to chat with you about this memory and this occasion on the former president's 90th birthday. Again, Bush 41 -- he took another sky dive on his 90th birthday. We'll bring those pictures to you live -- when we get them, actually. We should also point out that you can watch our CNN special Bush 41, it airs this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. eastern. A very special episode of that coming up. Robin, thank you.

MEADE: Thank you guys. It's a good thing we don't do a show together, because we would be chatty and talk --

PEREIRA: We could chit chat about a few things.

MEADE: We would never do commercial breaks, would we?

PEREIRA: What are those?