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Should Obama Order Air Strikes?; Obama Sinking in Polls

Aired June 18, 2014 - 18:30   ET

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


STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Wolf, we're honored to have two governors in the CROSSFIRE tonight.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: One of them ran for president in 2012. And after reading today's brand-new polls, he might be thinking of running again. The debate starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, America's biggest challenges. What should we do about the chaos in Iraq?

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We are certainly not putting American soldiers at risk. No boots on the ground.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Under no circumstances should we be partnering with Iran.

ANNOUNCER: Or the thousands of children coming here illegally.

CLINTON: We have to send a clear message: just because your child gets across the border, that doesn't mean the child gets to stay.

ANNOUNCER: Or gay rights. On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican. And Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, a Democrat. Do two influential governors have better solutions to America's toughest problems? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

CUTTER: And I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two prominent governors.

Republicans are so focused on blaming President Obama for the chaos in Iraq that they're distorting reality. Let's start with the chief offender, Dick Cheney, in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning. He said, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

It's really hard to take him seriously. He was the one who got it all wrong in the first place. Weapons of mass destruction, never found. Greeted as liberators, not exactly. Al Qaeda operating from Iraq? They weren't then, but they are now.

Cheney planned and executed the greatest strategic blunder in the history of this country. We'll be cleaning it up and paying for it for decades. Thanks for your advice, Dick Cheney, but please, let's have a responsible debate.

The first step in a responsible debate, learning from our mistakes. Because if we don't understand what we did wrong in getting into Iraq, we're never going to get it right. And I hope that we can have a responsible debate tonight.

CUPP: Me, too. It's so weird, because Joe Biden and President Obama in 2010 thought Iraq was going to be a huge success. What's happened?

CUTTER: A huge success.

CUPP: In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas and Democratic Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Governor Chafee, let me start with you. You know who also seems to me to be blaming Obama for this mess in Iraq is Hillary Clinton. Listen to what she said last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I recommended that we do more in the very beginning to support the moderate opposition, because I believed at the time that they would be overwhelmed by Assad's military force, and that they would open up the door to extremists coming in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Of course, she's talking about Syria. And she went on during the course of that town hall to reiterate two more times that she would have gone in earlier. Isn't the problem with Iraq now that President Obama left Syria to smolder for three years?

GOV. LINCOLN CHAFEE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Let's back up a little bit and Stephanie talked about the greatest prevarication in American history. I would agree with that. The whole premise to get into this quagmire that we're in now. And that prevarication was that there were weapons of mass destruction. In the end, Saddam didn't even have a tanker. He didn't have a World War I biplane.

And so the premise that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States of America and the fact that we ripped up a foreign policy that had been in place and was working since the 1940s, and that is containment; and ripped it up and went in unilaterally into Iraq.

CUPP: Governor, I understand you're talking about what got us into Iraq, but let's talk about where we are now. And where we are now is that Iraq has spiraled into chaos just after Joe Biden and President Obama was talking -- were talking about how stable it was in 2010. Didn't Obama make a crucial mistake in allowing Syria to smolder out of control into chaos?

CHAFEE: There are so many difficulties that we're going to face as a result of this blunder of getting in here.

CUPP: So that would be one?

CHAFEE: Deviating from our Cold War strategy of containment --

CUPP: We're not going to get an answer.

CUPP: Governor Perry?

CHAFEE: We got into it with no alliances and now we're dealing with just almost no easy answers.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: You're absolutely correct in that sense. We find ourselves now at a place with not a lot of appropriate solutions.

But the real blunder from my perspective was when this president wanted to get out of Iraq so bad that we left, didn't even let the door hit us in the back getting out of there. Had we left a thoughtful force in place to be able to manage both the Sunni and Shiite conflict that's ongoing there now, then I think you could have seen this country make progress towards becoming more stable.

And that was our goal always is to bring this country to stability and to let it get back economically. And when the United States' stabilizing influence left, that's where the real problem started.

CUTTER: I want to ask you about that. Because you know, it's been rumored that you're thinking about running for president. As the president, you have to make some hard choices.

And at the time, the president was willing to leave troops on the ground, but the -- Maliki of Iraq wouldn't sign a status of forces agreement. And, you know, of course, Maliki is being propped up by Iran. He's not doing anything to stop the sectarian violence. He has basically ostracized Sunnis from the government, taken away important rights.

I want to ask you a couple of questions about exactly what you would do. No. 1, would you have left troops on the ground without a status of force agreement?

PERRY: I think that's where we see this president's lack of diplomatic --

CUTTER: You would have been able to get it done?

PERRY: No, I think the bottom line is we've seen this president time after time be a failure in foreign policy. When you think about Syria, when you think about --

CUTTER: So if a country doesn't want our troops there, would you keep our troops on the ground?

PERRY: You basically have a little bit more leverage and to say, "Mr. Maliki, can we leave our troops here?" And that's the point. CUTTER: And he said no.

PERRY: I'm sorry, but I don't think he used all the diplomatic ways --

CUTTER: He said no. What would you have done that he didn't do?

PERRY: Well, there are multiple ways of which you can leverage your position with a country like that.

CUTTER: Like what?

PERRY: Well, whether it's aid that's going into that country. I mean, there's a lot of different ways, Stephanie. You know that.

CUPP: And we gave up our leverage by --

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: He was looking for a reason to get out of that country.

CHAFEE: Let me just say that back after the first Gulf War, when Dick Cheney, who we started off this program mentioning, he was defense secretary. And there's a clip of him saying why we didn't go after Kuwait, pushing Saddam out of Kuwait. Why we didn't go into Iraq. And we talks about the courage of the Sunnis and the Shia, and he said, "We just didn't want to get into that quagmire."

And then for some reason ten years later back in there, and it's prophetic, the first Cheney, as to what we got into. And the first Bush was right. Let's push him out of Kuwait and then contain him. And that was working.

CUTTER: So what do we do now? Specifically, what do we do now? Lots of people are for air strikes. Are you for air strikes?

PERRY: No, I think there are a number of ways. We don't have to actually signal all the things that we're going to do. We're going to pick up "The Wall Street Journal" this morning, and you see a headline that says, you know, there will be no air strikes. I think that is a major diplomatic problem of signaling what we're going to be doing.

There are a number of ways, whether it's both covert or overt, that we can impact that situation over there, but the idea that we need to sit here and signal that to --

CUTTER: I mean, no offense to you, Governor, but I don't think that the terrorist groups in Iraq are looking to what we're saying here on this show as for signals of what the U.S. government's going to do.

PERRY: I think -- I think they're more sophisticated than you think they are.

CUTTER: But we can have a discussion about --

PERRY: I understand that. CUTTER: -- what we would do if you want to be commander in chief.

PERRY: And I would use -- I would use every covert and overt situation that I had to be able to affect that.

CUPP: Governor Chafee, let's talk about President Obama's larger foreign policy.

Again, at last night's CNN town hall, Hillary Clinton also said that, when it comes to putting U.S. assets in dangerous places around the world, we shouldn't shy away from that. We should stay the course. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I don't think we should be retreating from the world. And that would be a position that I would, you know, strongly advocate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: And according to the latest polls, Americans also disapprove of President Obama's foreign policy. You can take a look at the latest polling. Only 37 percent approve; 57 percent disapprove.

CHAFEE: He was handed a mess by the previous administration. No one can deny that.

CUPP: OK. Well, do you degree, then, with the American public and Hillary Clinton that President Obama's foreign policy of lead from behind and retreat is probably -- has probably thus far been a failure?

CHAFEE: Well, the key is -- we talked about mistakes were made getting in there, but the biggest mistake was not listening to the people in the neighborhood. And that was probably the biggest mistake. And now, if you look at what we do now, we've got to listen to the Chitanians (ph), the Kuwaitis, the Turks, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Saudis, they are -- they are in the neighborhood. And that's the answer --

CUPP: Has President Obama's foreign policy been a success?

CHAFEE: -- so those alliances. You mentioned -- any way we can repair the damage that was done diplomatically to America. We lost our credibility. We said we're going into this country.

CUPP: It's been years, Governor. When does President Obama do that?

CHAFEE: It takes a lot of repair work after the previous administration. And the diplomatic answer is the one we have to work on.

PERRY: Lincoln, I think what we have to realize here is those poll numbers are not just about Iraq.

CUPP: Right. PERRY: The poll numbers are about the way he handled Libya, the way he handled Egypt, the way he's handled Syria, the way he's handled Ukraine, the way he's turned his back on the longest democracy and our best friend in the Middle East, Israel. That is -- that is what people are looking at. They're not looking at this Iraq issue in a vacuum. They're looking at a very clear presidential loss of confidence --

CUPP: OK.

PERRY: -- in the world looking at what this president --

CHAFEE: All the red lines, the prevarication --

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: Right there for now. OK. Could President Obama be having his Katrina moment? Actually, it might be even worse if you look at a brand-new poll I'll show you next.

But first today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz." What was President Obama's highest approval rating in that poll? Was it 82 percent, 76 percent or 61 percent? We'll have the answer when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUPP: Welcome back.

President Obama's very bad year just keeps getting worse. But don't take my word for it, take yours. When the voters were asked about how the president is doing overall, only 11 percent say he's very confident. That's worse than George W. Bush's 14 percent in the months of hurricane Katrina.

As for our CROSSFIRE quiz, the president's approval rating in "The Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll hit its all-time high of 61 percent right after he took office. It's only 41 percent now in that same poll.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Governor Chafee, let me start with you. I know we're all --

CHAFEE: What's that say about Governor Romney if so soon after the election if some of those low approval ratings could trounce Governor Romney? It doesn't say much about his campaign.

CUPP: All right.

CHAFEE: The election is just over.

CUPP: A side message to Governor Romney. You know, I know that we are distracted by the latest controversy in Iraq and rightly so, it's important. But let me remind you of some of the other recent ones. The IRS scandal is back in the news with the lost e-mails. Before that, it was the release of five terrorist detainees. Before that, it was the V.A. scandal. I could go on and on and on.

CHAFEE: We just had an election in 2012.

CUPP: Hasn't President Obama let America down with all of these disastrous choices and decisions?

CHAFEE: Decisions are made in elections and all those issues that you brought up, some came after the election, but that's the way it works. He's our president, we should support him.

CUPP: Governor, what's the way it works?

CHAFEE: That people go to the polls --

CUPP: We should support him through bad decisions?

CHAFEE: We had an election and there will be another one and we can talk about who is running, but to continuously beat up this man over and over again in every issue I just think is unfair.

CUPP: It's not beating up. We have to ask, as Stephanie said, we have to ask where we have gone wrong so we don't repeat mistakes. Are you willing to concede that the president has made any mistakes, sort of?

CHAFEE: Of course, I have a difference with him on a number of issues. But the attack from the conservative, if you will, side has just been relentless ever since he took the oath of office.

CUPP: It doesn't sound like an Obama failure, but OK.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: I want to turn to two other hot button issues right now. First is immigration. There are thousands of children coming across the border into your home state, largely because of civil wars and drug wars in their home countries. Let's listen to what Hillary Clinton had to say about this yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are. We have to send a clear message. Just because your child gets across the border doesn't mean the child gets to stay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: Do you agree with that? What do we do with these children?

PERRY: Well, I agree that we need to secure the border. I have told the president that since as a matter of fact a stop on the tarmac in 2010. I handed him a letter about border security. And then in 2012, I flagged this issue, these unaccompanied alien children who are coming in off of rail cars.

This is not news to the president of the United States. It's not news to this administration. And we have an absolute catastrophe on our hands, a humanitarian catastrophe --

CUTTER: I agree with that.

PERRY: -- that these young people being brought in the United States, and they are hearing the message of come on up here, the border is open. You can come to America. Here's -- if you say the right things --

CUTTER: But what would you with these children? What would you do with them?

PERRY: What they are doing with them right now is warehousing them and talking about allowing them to stay here.

CUTTER: OK.

PERRY: What I would do with these children is I would diplomatically go back and find out why are they coming up here? I mean, that's the issue.

CUTTER: Many of them if they get sent home are being sent back into very bad situations where they are being targeted at home with violence. Are you suggesting that we send them --

PERRY: We actually --we actually don't know that.

CUTTER: Well, we do know that.

PERRY: That may be -- that may be what we are saying when they get here, is I fear for my life because of drug violence because that's what they have been told to say, so that this administration will allow them to stay in this country. But we cannot -- I happen to agree --

CUTTER: So, would you send them home?

PERRY: -- I happen with Hillary Clinton when it comes to -- we cannot --

CUTTER: Even if we're sending them back into difficult circumstances?

PERRY: We have to send a clear message to secure the border first. And this administration has been an absolute failure.

CUTTER: Well --

PERRY: My home state has spent over half a billion dollars augmenting them.

CUTTER: Governor, border security has doubled under this administration.

PERRY: But it's obviously not enough.

CUTTER: If it's not enough, we need to go to Congress and get more. But to blame this president who has doubled border security is just not accurate.

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: This president is not focused on security the border. Doubling the amount of money is not --

CUTTER: No, doubling the number of agents.

PERRY: They're not on the Texas border. He may be putting them on the Arizona border, he may be putting them somewhere else, but he's not putting them on the Texas border.

CUTTER: But I want to clear that you're in favor of sending these children back --

(CROSSTLAK)

PERRY: I'm for securing the border. Finding out why these children are coming into --

CHAFEE: Yes, border security is a huge issue. And Congress has tried over and over again, when I was in the Senate, we had a bill called McCain-Kennedy. John McCain from a border state.

CUPP: I've heard of it, yes.

CHAFEE: -- of Arizona, and Ted Kennedy. It was a good bill. And it provided border security, but we couldn't get it passed. And now, there's been repeated efforts to do something similar to McCain/Kennedy, and the gridlock in Congress and the Tea Party who will not get this done. Border security is the answer to --

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: Let me share with you one of the results of this that's really troubling for my state. If we have a major natural disaster, which from time to time we have, think Katrina, if you will, think Rita as it pushed literally hundreds of thousands of people up into our state. With these children and these individuals that are being housed in federal facilities and in state facilities that are being used for this, we do not have the capacity to be able to take care of our citizens. And that is of an extraordinary concern to me.

CUTTER: I want to get to one or topic.

CHAFEE: Stephanie, if I could, you have to have comprehensive immigration reform. It can't be a patchwork. That's what McCain/Kennedy was. Learn English, border security, path to citizenship.

CUTTER: OK, we got to get one more topic --

PERRY: But, Lincoln, don't you think you have to secure the border first?

CHAFEE: Absolutely.

CUTTER: Yes.

PERRY: American people don't trust Washington to get this right.

CUTTER: I think everybody is for securing the border. Most people when you asked them prefer comprehensive immigration reform.

But I do want to get to one other issue. Governor, you've taken some heat on something you said about homosexuality. I was struck by your comments. I want to show what you said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic. But I have the desire not to do that. I look at the homosexual issue as the same way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: You're saying alcoholism is a disease, we know that. Are you saying that homosexuality is a disease as well?

PERRY: I think my position has been fairly clear on that for a substantial period of time. And here's what's more important --

CUTTER: If you can just tell us your position.

PERRY: No, I'm going to tell you where I think we need be as a country and focused on. And that is not on these social issues. I think the social issues, frankly, should be decided state by state rather than being something in Washington, D.C., to try to make one size fits all, whether it's --

CUTTER: This is not a Washington, D.C., issue we're talking about here.

PERRY: From the standpoint of social issues and where this country is relative to that, we're a very diverse country when you think about it, Stephanie.

CUTTER: So why were you referring to alcoholism then?

PERRY: I got asked the question and I responded in the way that I have before.

CUTTER: That alcoholism is a disease. You have the gene.

PERRY: The issue is one that needs to be decided state by state. These social issues like that.

CUTTER: OK, let's talk about your state. Your Republican Party in Texas just adopted conversion therapy as part of their political platform. Now, conversion therapy is when you -- there's a belief that you can, through therapy, cure people of being homosexual.

Now, that's been rejected by the medical community for almost four decades. That's being decided by Texas. You're the governor of Texas. You're the leader of the Republican Party in Texas. Isn't that exactly what you were saying? Isn't that the same thing that you said?

PERRY: I said in that remark that I'd leave that to the psychiatrists and the doctors. But here's my important issue --

CUTTER: They've rejected it. They've rejected it.

PERRY: I'm tell you, the more important issue is one that we need to be focused on in this country and that's to get this country back working again.

CUTTER: So, you don't have an opinion on any of this then? You don't have an opinion on either side?

PERRY: I think my statements stand on your own.

CUTER: I don't understand it.

PERRY: I can't help you understand it.

CUTTER: OK. All right.

CHAFEE: Very proud in Rhode Island we have marriage equality and we're a free state and everybody's welcome.

PERRY: And you know what? That's Rhode Island's choice and I agree with that. And if we as a country will get back to allowing the states to decide these instead of -- we got lots of big issues in this country like how do we get this country back working again, how do we secure the border, how do we have a foreign policy that is actually not feckless.

CUTTER: OK. We're going to go to a quick break. So, stay here.

Be want you at home to weigh on today's "Fireback" question, should the U.S. launch airstrikes in Iraq? Tweet yes or no using #Crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUTTER: Welcome back.

Let's check on our "Fireback" results. Should the U.S. launch airstrikes in Iraq? Right now, 34 percent of you say yes, 66 percent of you say no.

Governor Perry, we talked about this a little bit earlier. What do you think?

PERRY: You know, the bottom line on this one is they need to leave this to the commanders in the field. And if there is -- I mean, let's say there's a big ISIS transition convoy coming in and we could take that out, then there might be a use of an airstrike at that particular time. But just airstrikes for the sake of airstrikes, probably not.

CUTTER: Governor Chafee?

CHAFEE: I think Americans are very fed up with us getting caught up in these quagmires, they grew up with Vietnam and here we are back in another one, and they just don't want anything to do with it.

CUPP: OK. Well, thanks to Governors Lincoln Chafee and Rick Perry. We appreciate it.

The debate continues online at CNN.com/Crossfire, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

CUTTER: From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.