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American Contractors Evacuated from Iraq Base; Sergeant Bergdahl on Way to U.S.; Will U.S. Send Help to Iraq?; Humanitarian Nightmare on the Border

Aired June 12, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR; Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news. Marching on Baghdad. A ruthless terror group already holding a major Iraqi city vows to advance on Iraq's capital as American civilians are now being evacuated. President Obama says Iraq needs help, and he's not ruling anything out. Will the U.S. have to go back in to Iraq?

Humanitarian nightmare. A crisis on the U.S. border as thousands of children entering the United States on their own, facing very tough conditions. We're going to hear what the federal government is doing about it and what one state is threatening to do about it. They're threatening legal action.

And birthday jump. He may look frail. He may be 90, but a former president of the United States celebrates his 90th birthday by leaping out of an aircraft.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.




BLITZER: We begin with the breaking news. Shock and awe in Iraq. This time coming from terrorists. American contractors are now being evacuated from an air base near Baghdad as a brutal extremist group holds a major Iraqi city and is battling to take other cities, vowing to march onto the capital of Baghdad.

With Iraqi forces scattered, trying to regroup and starting to fight back, President Obama now says Iraq needs help, and he says he's weighing all possibilities. Our panel of top experts and our correspondents, they are standing by.

But let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has the very latest -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama was never exactly a fan of the war in Iraq, but now he is facing possibly no good choices about what to do.


STARR (voice-over): Iraqi troops desperately try to stop fighters advancing through Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, now under the control of the militant group, the Islamic State in Syria or ISIS.

In the city of Tikrit, captured Iraqi forces paraded. The terrorists' next target may be Baghdad. An alarmed White House cannot let the capital fall. U.S. combat boots on the ground have been ruled out, but beyond that, there is no agreement what to do.

BRIAN JENKINS, RAND CORPORATION: Military intervention could take an al Qaeda that is now badly divided and reunite them against the No. 1 American infidels.

JEH CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And we will look at all option in this current near-term situation.

STARR: One defense official tells CNN the Pentagon is now developing options and capabilities to quash the fighters if President Obama orders action.

Eleven years after the U.S. "Shock and Awe" invasion, the U.S. is again considering air strikes by manned or remotely piloted aircraft. But the idea has huge challenges. Pilots would be at risk, and drones must have a precise target.

JENKINS: Are the fighters intermingled with civilian populations? Are there concentrations of fighters or are they scattered across an urban area?

STARR: For now, the official line, the U.S. will keep training Iraqi forces and selling arms. Fifteen billion dollars in U.S. weapons have already been delivered, including 300 Hellfire missiles, thousands of machine guns, grenades, flares, sniper rifles, M-16s and M-4 rifles. F-16 aircraft and Apache helicopters are scheduled next for shipping.

But with some U.S.-supplied vehicles to Iraq already in ISIS hands, there are even now serious questions. If the Pentagon shifts more weapons, can the Iraqis hold onto them?


STARR: One defense official, Wolf, telling me about all of this saying, "We weren't surprised. It was always a question of when, not if something like this would happen" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a crazy, crazy situation that's developing right now, extremely dangerous. I'm going to get back to Iraq in a moment, Barbara, but I understand you're getting new information about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. What are you learning?

STARR: Wolf, just a few moments ago into CNN, we learned that Bowe Bergdahl at this hour is in the air flying on his way back to the United States. He left that military hospital in Germany on his way to another military hospital for further recovery in San Antonio, Texas. He is expected to land around midnight time at that base in Texas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's hope for the best on that front, as well. Barbara, thanks very much.

President Obama says Iraq will need more help. He says the Obama administration is not ruling out any options, although one top U.S. official is making it clear the U.S. is not considering sending troops in.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She's got the very latest from there -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The president himself today and his administration called this an emergency situation, saying that they are weighing options, evaluating requests.

Now we do know that those options include air strikes, that the Iraqi government has been asking for but do not include, they emphasize, boots on the ground. Today the vice president talked to the Iraqi prime minister and said that the U.S. is prepared to accelerate and intensify its support. Here's the president today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iraq is going to need more help. It's going to need more help from us, and it's going to need more help from the international community. So my team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don't rule out anything.


KOSINSKI: So not ruling out anything except sending American soldiers back to Iraq. And it was harsh criticism from some of the sources you might expect it from, Senator John McCain saying that the president needs to fire his entire national security staff. Speaker Boehner saying that this has been a problem that's been brewing for more than a year. We've seen it coming, and what has the president been doing? He said, taking a nap.

The administration wouldn't respond directly to that criticism, but they did reiterate this theme that we've been talking about that some call the Obama Doctrine, that the U.S. can't be doing something all the time and that countries like Iraq need to take responsibility for their own security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski with the latest from the White House, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper right now with former Pentagon official Colin Kahl, retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan. He's the former NATO supreme allied commander. Zalmay Khalilzad. He's the former U.S. ambassador to both Iraq and Afghanistan and Nicholas Kristof of the "New York Times."

First of all, this is such a complex situation. Explain in a nutshell why, seemingly, Iraq has exploded like this in recent days.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, "NEW YORK TIMES": You're talking to me, Wolf?


KRISTOF: So I mean, you have a combination of -- it's partly related to what has happened in Syria. And you had these -- these extremist groups like ISIS coming from Syria and able to use that base to push into Iraq.

And then, on top of that now, you have the Kurds seize Kirkuk, the oil city there. And then the Iraqi army has just simply fallen apart, you know, partly because the government of al-Maliki had overreached in recent years.

And so everything that has been in the works for a long, long time, it's certainly come together in the last few days, and all of Iraq at this point is simply -- is just fragmenting.

BLITZER: Because Colin, when you think about it, this Iraqi army, hundreds of thousands of troops, largely U.S.-trained, largely U.S.-equipped over many, many years. You have the second largest city in Mosul. Nearly 2 million people live there. Their job is to take responsibility, protect that city. What do they do? The Iraqi military, they take off their uniforms. They put down their guns, and they run away in the face of, what, a few terrorists coming in. What is going on?

COLIN KAHL, FORMER PENTAGON OFFICIAL: It's not just a few rag tag bands. We're talking about thousands of seasoned fighters. But you're right. The forces are about 600,000 strong. They were trained by U.S. forces. But frankly, for a lot of the last few years they have been doing checkpoints, not counter insurgency and some of the others are just exhausted.

So I think morale is low. Some of the blame goes to the al- Maliki government for not doing enough to maintain the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces.

BLITZER: I think a lot of the blame goes to Nouri al-Maliki. He has refused, really, to bring in Iraq's Sunni population into that regime. He wants it to be a Shiite-led government, period.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, he's had a hard time in the last several years to work with Sunnis and Kurds. There was always a problem between Shia and Sunni. But you've added to it now the disagreement with the Kurd.

So to solve this problem, I think there is a need maybe for a new leadership in Iraq to be able to work with all the political forces, because the military action alone isn't going to be sufficient without a political strategy and leadership that can mobilize, that can motivate the soldiers.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, you know, the president, the commander in chief has got a major decision to make right now. Does the United States get back involved militarily in Iraq? No troops on the -- boots on the ground, as they say, but should the U.S. start launching air strikes, start providing intelligence, start providing a lot more equipment? Is this the U.S.'s responsibility now?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, U.S. ARMY: I would say the clarity here is to do what? What do we want to do? And I think it should be measured. We ought to be very careful.

I think the Iraqis may get some spying here and be able to really take on ISIS as it advances. I think there's some weaknesses in ISIS that they could take advantage of. I've met some very good Iraqi commanders, and so I'm -- I think we ought not to panic here. We ought to wait to see what the Iraqis do.

And I think our support ought to be not troops on the ground. I think it should be intelligence. It should be information that we can give them. I would caution against air strikes.

BLITZER: Because Nick, as you know -- and you've written a lot about this. You've been there. I spoke earlier in the day with Fareed Zakaria. He said any U.S. military support would effectively be seen as support for Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, in this particular case. And as long as he's in charge, it doesn't make sense for the U.S. to get involved militarily.

I heard a similar comment from Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman from California, a member of the intelligence committee. He's not ready to support military action. Are you?

KRISTOF: No, I'm not. I mean, I think that U.S. military assistance in some form may be necessary to make a difference, but it's not sufficient.

The central part of resolving the crisis is essentially sharing power. And, you know, maybe it is possible for Maliki to stay in power in part, but he's got to share it. And power has to devolve from the center to the regions, as well. And we have some leverage right now, perhaps, to help make that happen. And if that does happen, then perhaps some air strikes may be useful in conjunction with that. But simply to provide military assistance of one form or another without that happening, I think, would not achieve anything.

BLITZER: Colin, what do you say to Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, others, the Republican critics of the president, blaming him for this deterioration, saying the U.S. withdrew without leaving any troops there. This is all predictable.

KAHL: Well, you know, I don't think that our intelligence community was predicting at the end of 2011 what senators McCain and Graham were. Look, I think the truth is that President Obama ultimately was willing to leave 3 to 5,000 forces behind.

BLITZER: Would that have made a difference?

KAHL: It might have. It might have strengthened the logistical backbone of the Iraqi security forces; might have enhanced counterterrorism support and air support. But the fundamental thing is, Wolf, that we wanted to make sure they had the same legal protections the Bush administration negotiated in 2008. And the Iraqis simply weren't willing to give those to us, largely because they believed they were in a stronger position. The Iraqis believed that they could make due wanted us to stick around but weren't able to pay a political price for it.

BLITZER: Ambassador Khalilzad, what role is Iran playing in all of this?

KHALILZAD: Well, Iran is playing a significant role. Our withdrawal made Maliki more dependent on Iran, and the Syrian situation unraveling let Maliki, because of influence of Iran, siding with Bashar. And now the Syrian opposition siding with Maliki's opposition.

So I think the role of Iran is important. I agree with Nick, that any role that we play in terms of assistance, it has to be conditional on the political deal, even if it requires a different leader in Baghdad. That's absolutely necessary for any military operation.

BLITZER: I don't think we'll see a different leader in Baghdad any time soon, do you?

JOUWAL: Nor do I. But I think it's going to be central that the Iraqis do this. We cannot always come in and bail out at the 11th hour. The Iraqis have got to get some organization here, politically, militarily, diplomatically. And I think the Kurds are going to play a key -- key role in all of this.

BLITZER: There's relative calm, peace in Kurdistan. Hopefully, it will spill over. I don't see it spilling over yet.

I want all of you to hold your thoughts, because we're not going away from this subject. Let me thank you, though, for this portion of our show. Colin Kahl, Nick Kristof, General Jouwan and Ambassador Khalilzad, thanks very, very much.

Up next, new images, new information emerging on the humanitarian crisis on the U.S. border as thousands of kids are crossing over on their own without their parents. And they're now facing very difficult conditions. Why one U.S. state is now threatening to sue the federal government.

And what's the best way to celebrate turning 90? Look at this. A former U.S. president shows it's never too late to jump out of a plane.


BLITZER: New details and new pictures as tens of thousands of children, unaccompanied, undocumented, are crossing the United States border. They're facing neglect, alleged abuse and a uncertain future. The homeland security secretary says he's trying to do something about it.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us. She's got the very latest.

Pamela, this is a heartbreaking situation we're seeing.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is. It's a humanitarian crisis. Officials are acknowledging that, Wolf, and today, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson shot back at the growing course of critics over his agency's handling of this crisis, saying that the administration is doing everything it can to provide for the influx of children at the border, and video released by the government proves it. But pictures we obtained tell a different story.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, new images of the recent crush of illegal immigrants flooding across the southern U.S. border and to packed Border Patrol facilities. Crammed into cages, forced to sleep on the floor with not enough supplies to go around.

The end of their dangerous trek to America from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. CNN's Polo Sandoval was on the Texas border. This woman tells him word is spreading in Guatemala that some who are caught are released with money for a bus ticket and a date to appear in immigration court.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "I heard people are getting passes to stay," she says. Others are not.

BROWN: Thousands of women and children every day, many of them risking their lives to escape violent gangs back home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I just want the best for him, because the Mata (ph) gang kills everyone. There is not a day they don't kill someone.

BROWN: Hammered by the press today, a defensive homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, admitted U.S. border facilities are not safe for children.

JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Frankly, it is also hazardous to send a child into south Texas to a processing center. A processing center -- and a number of us have seen them ourselves -- are no place for children. It is not safe. It is not a desirable situation. And I would encourage no parent to send their child or send for their child through this process.

BROWN: Johnson says Border Patrol agents are stretched to the limits, doing everything they can to care for the immigrants, especially the children. This video was shot of undocumented children at a federal housing

facility near the Mexican border, showing kids exercising, playing, and eating.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: Those folks are being released with a piece of paper in our streets.

BROWN: Congressman Henry Cuellar from Texas, who provided CNN with these pictures, says 1,200 immigrants are crossing into southern Texas every day, as many as 400 of them children. They're being dropped off at bus stations and told to report to immigration court days later.

CUELLAR: If you look at south Texas as a valley, over 8,000 have been released in the last couple of months. We estimate that probably in this year so far they have released 30 to 40,000 people in our streets. And I think the American people need to know what is happening.


BROWN: And DHS said today it will investigate the allegations of abuse by Border Patrol agents. The ACLU filed a complaint about that yesterday.

And meantime, tonight, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is requesting $30 million from DHS to immediately deploy state resources to the Texas border.

And Wolf, just to put this all into perspective, the projection this year is that 60,000 undocumented children will cross the border. That is ten times more the amount of undocumented children from 2011.

BLITZER: Yes. Some of them as young as 6, 7, 8 years old, without parents, crossing into the United States. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

State and local officials say they're overwhelmed by the influx of these undocumented immigrants, especially the kids. And one state is now threatening dire action.

Joining us, the Arizona attorney general, Tom Horne.

Attorney General, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: All right. I have a copy of the letter you've written the secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson. You ask in a formal demand that they immediately cease and desist from transporting adult aliens and alien families from other states into Arizona.

What's wrong with sending some of these young kids who face horrible conditions in Texas, what's wrong with providing them some more -- some better conditions in your state? HORNE: Well, there are two things. There are the kids that were

sent to Nogales and are housed, as I understand it, in a warehouse, and I'm going there Monday to see what the conditions are, along with our child protection personnel.

But the other thing is that adults were sent to a Greyhound bus station in Phoenix and then just left there in 100-degree temperature, told to report someplace for processing in 15 days, and this is -- this is wrong.

The Border Patrol are supposed to guard and control our border. They're not supposed to transport people that they catch and send them on a long bus ride from Texas to Arizona. It's normally the job of the coyotes to take illegals and bring them into the interior of the country, not the job of the Border Patrol. They should be stopping them there and either detain them or send them back to the country of origin. Instead of sending them back to the country of origin, they decide to send them to Arizona. Someone in the federal government has a very bizarre sense of humor.

BLITZER: The coyotes, you're referring to smugglers who bring these people into the United States and then move them around the United States.

HORNE: Right. It's their job to move them around. Now the Border Patrol is moving them around.

BLITZER: So what do you do? Let's focus in on the kids. Because this is really a -- I'm sure you agree a heartbreaking situation. A 7-, and 8-, a 9-year-old kid across the border from Mexico, some of these kids not coming from Mexico, coming from Central America, either Honduras or Guatemala, El Salvador, other countries. What are you supposed to do with these kids who wind up in Texas?

HORNE: Well, they should be making whatever effort is necessary so that while you do have the kids detained they're treated humanely. We've had reports of kids that haven't had a shower in nine days, sleeping on -- in conditions that are -- are not proper.

And as I mentioned, I'm going down there to Nogales on Monday to inspect it myself and bring some child protection people with me to see if the kids are being humanely treated.

But the problem has started because they adopted a policy of not expelling the kids but of -- if they get across the border, they go to a Border Patrol agent and surrender. The Border Patrol agents say they used to chase them. Now the kids chase the Border Patrol agents, because the policy now is, if they surrender to the Border Patrol, they get to stay. And that word got down to Central America, and so now you have something like 90 thousand kids that have come across, and that's the unintended consequence of not guarding our border.

What's fueling this? Because some of these kids, they may have a father, let's say, living someplace in the United States. The mother may be in Central America, but they -- the mother says, "Go there. Tell the border police your dad lives in New York or Cleveland or Chicago or someplace like that. They'll take good care of you." Are you hearing stories like that?

HORNE: Yes. The father may be here illegally, and the kids come over. And the policy of the Obama administration is to let them stay. And -- and the problem with that, that might seem humanitarian if you've just had a few, but the word gets out, it becomes a magnet. And all of a sudden you've got 90,000. And so that's the consequence of not enforcing the law, which is if people are not here legally, they should be sent back to the country of origin.

BLITZER: But what if just it's a 7-year-old kid, you send that 7-year-old kid back to Mexico, even if the kid is from Honduras?

HORNE: No. You would send them back to the mother in Honduras.

BLITZER: So you put them on a plane and fly them back to Honduras? That's what you would do with all these kids?

HORNE: I think it's better to take a flight to Honduras than a flight to Phoenix.

BLITZER: And you would expect, obviously, the federal government to pay for all of that, right?

HORNE: Yes. But, you know, right now they're paying to transport them to Phoenix.

The federal government has no business transporting illegals from Texas to Arizona. They can detain them in Texas. They can send them back to their country of origin, but they have no business transporting them around our country. That, as I mentioned, that's the job of the illegal smugglers, is get them across the border and then get them into the interior where they can hide. And now we've got the federal government doing that. And I wrote letters saying they need to cease and desist violating American laws.

BLITZER: I suspect you're going to get some reaction. You haven't gotten any reaction yet to your letter, right?

HORNE: No, the letter just went out this morning. But I hope we get a reaction.

BLITZER: Let me know what you do, and we'll follow up. Attorney General, thanks very much for joining us.

HORNE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we come back, the man behind one of the biggest political upsets in recent memory now speaking exclusively to CNN. Up next, what GOP candidate Dave Brat is telling us about the election that took down one of his party's most powerful leaders.

Next, tense, nail-biting moments as the oldest living former U.S. president George H.W. Bush jumps from a helicopter to mark his 90th birthday. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Just days after pulling off one of the biggest

congressional upsets in American history, the GOP nominee Dave Brat is now speaking exclusively to CNN about the election that took down House majority leader and sent shockwaves through Washington.

Our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is joining us from Richmond, Virginia. He's got more information.

Share with us the details, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're on the campus of Randolph-Macon College actually in Ashland where Brat teaches economics. We saw Dave Brat a couple of times today going to and from his house in the Richmond area. He was mum for the most part but he did give CNN just a snippet of his opinion on the problem of immigrant minors surging on the southern borders. You remember immigration was one of the big issues that helped propel him into the primary. Listen.


DAVID BRAT (R), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to do too much on policy right now. I'm just -- the first thing we need to do, we have a disaster on the border right now, a humanitarian disaster with kids. And so we need to close down the border and I'll just leave it at that for right now.


JOHNS: You know, on the campus, a state of shock with the realization that both candidates in the general election in November are professors right here at Randolph-Macon. I talked to the provost today. He told me he could not believe Brat was actually running against the majority leader.


WILLIAM FRANZ, PROVOST, RANDOLPH-MACON COLLEGE: I thought he was -- his elevator wasn't going all the way to the top floor, that this was really not going to make it, that it might be a foolish endeavor, like I think the entire rest of the world, we were all wrong.


JOHNS: So it's all in the history books now. The faculty and students are hoping for an on-campus debate between Brat and the Democrat. That would be Jack Trammell -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns joining us from Randolph-Macon College down near Richmond, thanks very much.

So let's discuss what's going on with CNN political commentary Ryan Lizza, he's also the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" magazine, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our chief national correspondent John King. A week from today they got to elect the new majority leader in

the House of Representatives. Speculation Kevin McCarthy who's now the whip will move up but maybe somebody more aligned with the Tea Party would get the whip's position. What are you hearing?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're still having a fight for the number two spot which is majority leader. Kevin McCarthy has the advantage. He's the existing number three. He's John Boehner's choice, although John Boehner probably today said I could work with anybody, I'm not going to take sides. That's the smart answer. Eric Cantor yesterday publicly said he support Kevin McCarthy. That's an honest answer. Don't know if it helps Kevin McCarthy.


KING: Yes. But look, Kevin McCarthy has the votes today. The election is not today. And the question is, how much pressure do some of these -- the newer members in the House, the older members, the established members, those who have committee chairmanships, they're the Boehner guys and they're going to go with Boehner's guy.

But there is a conversation about, you have a speaker from Ohio, you have a number two from California. What about the southern base of the Republican Party? What about the rural base of the Republican Party? And so can Boehner broker a deal to get them to number three and do this peacefully or do they have sort of a rough and tumble fight? Even if Kevin McCarthy wins. Is it rough and tumble. That could have repercussions down the line.

BORGER: You know, you also can't underestimate how personal these races are. They are about political promises that have been made to members years ago or current political promises and Kevin McCarthy being in the leadership now has probably locked up a lot of -- a lot of votes just because of pre-existing relationships.

KING: Yes.

BORGER: So you really don't know how these things are going to turn out. It's nice to say OK, we need a red state guy in there because the Tea Party has to be represented, the conservative wing has to be represented but this is a lot about personal, political payback and promise.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that the Tea Party is getting a lot of the credit for this huge, huge upset, although the Tea Party, all of the various groups, they really weren't involved in this huge, huge upset.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: That's true. The national groups didn't really come in. But if you think about what the Tea Party represents, in a way this was the most sort of authentic Tea Party victory.

KING: Right.


LIZZA: Because it was this true grassroots phenomenon in the district. At the end of the race a lot of conservative commentators and talk radio hosts seem to have given a boost to Brat. So in a sense, that's what the Tea Party has represented. They should be probably prouder of this race than any other. If they get one of these leadership spots in the House of Representatives, this will be the most important Tea Party victory since 2010.

BORGER: That's right.

LIZZA: I mean, they don't have anyone. They don't -- at least they don't feel like they have anyone representing them in the House Republican leadership and now you have this growing base of new representatives from 2010 and 2012 at the bottom of the House and you have perhaps at least one at the top. And that's a big victory.

BORGER: You know, I keep saying Eric Cantor was sort of the Tea Party guy in the leadership, the most conservative person. And then they felt like he had deserted them because he supported ending the government shutdown and now if there is a Tea Party person in the leadership, you know, there's going to be some issues with John Boehner.

BLITZER: John, how does this impact folks who are watching? Like average Americans --

KING: That is the key point because these elections usually are just like a class election in high school. Who worked the crowd the longest. They're not usually about ideology. They're about --

LIZZA: They really are.

BORGER: They're about relationships.

KING: Yes. Kevin McCarthy, you know, sends birthday cards.

BORGER: Right.

KING: He calls up when somebody is sick. He helps people raise money. That's usually what it takes. That's Nancy Pelosi. That's how she rose up through the House by doing these things. It's very rarely it's ideology front and center but it is now.

And so why does it matter to people at home? How much pressure or how much leeway does John Boehner have to bring immigration to the floor? How much drama will there be? More or less next time the president wants to raise the debt ceiling? What other issue comes up in which Washington normally would find the best deal and the best compromise, the more of the p guys you get in the Republican leadership, the more pressure there is to say no, to not be governing conservatives but to be opposition conservatives.

BORGER: And one would -- and one would argue that a government shutdown which was dismissed right now, you know, could sort of -- could sort of come back again. Look, it's not as if these people worked well together before

this happened, both Democrats and Republicans and within the Republican Party there have been major rifts between Boehner's leadership team and the rank and file. I don't think it's going to work any better after this no matter who is in -- is in the leadership but I do think immigration was a big issue.

BLITZER: All right.

LIZZA: I think that issue of compromise is the biggest one. If there's one issue that unites all of the Tea Party folks and it divides the conservatives from the establishment is how much do you believe that the parties should actually compromise what the other party.

BLITZER: All right. Ryan, Gloria, John --

BORGER: Not at all.

BLITZER: Guys thanks very much.

When we come back, some tense nail-biting moments as the country's oldest living former president, George H.W. Bush, jumps from a helicopter to mark his 90th birthday. The breathtaking video, that's coming up next.

Plus, the breaking news, American contractors now being evacuated from an air base near Baghdad as the crisis in Iraq escalates. Stand by for a SITUATION ROOM special report right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Some very tense nail-biting moments today. Lots of us were on the edge of our seats watching a former president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, marking his 90th birthday skydiving. It's not the first time he's done it but today's jumps with all of its twists and turns may have been the most riveting of them all.

Let's bring in CNN Tom Foreman.

It was scary. I watched the whole thing. And I must say, it was pretty frightening.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was fascinating to watch the whole thing. Look, considering how frail he has looked in some public appearances recently, this really was a remarkable achievement but it wasn't so much a leap of faith on his part as a leap of fun.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Ninety years in and more than 6,000 feet up, the former president jumped at a chance for a birthday freefall tweeting, "It's a wonderful day in Maine, in fact, nice enough for a parachute jump." His granddaughter Jenna knew what was up and coming down. JENNA BUSH, GRANDDAUGHTER: We all thought the plan was a bit

ambitious, but we are all thrilled, even my grandmother that he's following through with that plan today.

FOREMAN: Strapped to a member of the All Veteran Parachute team, the 41st president rode it out like a pro and little wonder his first jump came when his plane was shot down over the ocean in World War II. He jumped again on his 75th birthday, his 80th and his 85th as well.

BARBARA BUSH, WIFE: Where's my hero?

FOREMAN: Greeted on land by his whole famous family.

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT: I wasn't worried in the least bit. Happy birthday. I think it's awesome an 85-year-old guy jumping out of airplanes on his birthday.

FOREMAN: The former president is also enjoying soaring popularity. A CNN/ORC poll shows 58 percent of the public has a favorable opinion of him. That beats both his son, George W. Bush and President Obama that falls below his successor, Bill Clinton.

On this birthday, however, it was all politics aside. Maybe his landing was not poetry in motion but the 90-year-old president clearly enjoyed some down-to-earth fun.


FOREMAN: A rough landing but a big, big day, and the White House tweeted in response to that earlier tweet from the president, "Hope you enjoyed the view, George. Wishing you a very happy birthday, 41." BO in there. Directly from Barack Obama.

BLITZER: We wish him a happy birthday, too, of course. He's OK. Everything is smooth.

FOREMAN: He's fine. We'll be covering it when he's 95.

BLITZER: Let's hope.


BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman.

This important note for our viewers out there. This Sunday happens to be Father's Day, be sure to catch "41 on 41." 41 American notables come together to bring you a unique portrait of President George H.W. Bush. The 41st president of the United States. That's this Sunday 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Coming up, a SITUATION ROOM special report. Americans now being evacuated from a base in Iraq in the face of a new terrorist onslaught. President Obama now weighing all options. Is Iran also weighing its options to take advantage of the chaos in Iraq?

Our special report, that will begin right at the top of the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN is getting rare exclusive access to one of the Secret Service agents on the scene when President John F. Kennedy was shot and more than 50 years since that horrifying day, he's still coping with the tremendous sense of guilt.

Brian Todd is here. He's got some exclusive details for us.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Clint Hill was the only person still alive who's so close to John F. Kennedy when he was killed. The only one still around who was actually on or in that vehicle. His recollections of those moments are still very jarring and he says every day he is reminded of them.


TODD (voice-over): He is an 82-year-old grandfather who blends in with the tourists at the Kennedy grave site. But Clint Hill's connection here is deep and haunting.

CLINT HILL, FORMER SECRET SERVICE: I was there when he was killed and was unable to prevent it from happening.

TODD: November 22nd, 1963, Hill is a young Secret Service agent in President Kennedy's motorcade as it turns into Dealey Plaza. His responsibility that day, to protect the first lady. After the president's hit with one bullet, Hill jumps on the limo, but doesn't get there in time to shield Kennedy from the second shot. Hill knew at that moment what no one else did.

HILL: To see his eyes were fixed and there was a hole in the skull and I could see into the brain cavity. Most of that brain mass was gone from that area. I immediately assumed that it was fatal wound.

TODD: His sense of guilt as searing as his recollection of that moment. Years of trouble follows. His marriage disintegrated.

HILL: And I pretty much just lived in my basement in my home, I drank heavily, smoked terribly and that lasted for almost six years.

TODD: At his lowest, he did an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes."

HILL: I have a great deal of guilt about that. Had I turned in a different direction, he would have made it. It's my fault.

TODD (on camera): Do you regret doing that interview?

HILL: The fact that I broke on the camera -- while on TV, probably was the best thing that happened because from that point later on I realized that I had to change what I was doing and I recovered. TODD (voice-over): He wrote two books about his experience,

reconnected with his family, but he still believes it would have been better if he'd taken that bullet.

(On camera): What's it like shouldering that burden for 50 years?

HILL: Well, you know, that's where that sense of failure and guilt comes in, is that you realize that if you had, if I had been able to make that difference, the United States would have been a different place. It was that close.


TODD: Clint Hill went back to Dallas several years ago, retraced all the steps and all the angles in Dealey Plaza, and came to the conclusion there was no way he could have gotten to John Kennedy in time to save him. But he still lives with that guilt and he's in fact made his peace with it.

BLITZER: What does he think of all the conspiracy theories that have developed over the years?

TODD: Kind of laughs at them. He calls them farfetched and ridiculous. He said they got trotted out every year. He gives them no credibility. Clint Hill says there were three shots fired. There was one gunman who fired them, Lee Harvey Oswald.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report.

And this note to our viewers, please be sure to catch tonight's episode of "THE SIXTIES," the assassination of President Kennedy, that airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Only here on CNN.

Coming up, a SITUATION ROOM special report on the terrorist onslaught going on right now in Iraq. An extremist group too brutal even for al Qaeda. Vows to march on Baghdad. Is that group's leader the new bin Laden?

We're taking a closer look at the man behind the terror.


BLITZER: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report.