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THE SITUATION ROOM
Republican Victory; GOP Presidential Hopefuls; Terror in Israel; U.S. Believes Key al Qaeda Operative Killed; U.S. May Expand Strikes Against al Qaeda Offshoot; Obama Vows to Reach Out to GOP Leaders
Aired November 5, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Now that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are taking control of the Senate, will the gridlock ease up or get worse?
The GOP presidential hopefuls are celebrating their party's big victory, and they're trying to use it against Hillary Clinton.
Plus, terror in the streets. Drivers ram into pedestrians and soldiers in a series of horrifying attacks. It has just happened again. Stand by for the breaking news.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, an attacker using a van as a weapon, two terrifying incidents in one day. Tonight, a vehicle rammed into an Israeli military post in the West Bank. Only hours early, a commercial van ran into me pedestrians in Jerusalem, killing a police officer, injuring 13 others.
The Israeli police spokesman is standing by. We will speak with him live.
The other breaking story we're following tonight, President Obama's acknowledging that Republicans had a good night in their midterm election sweep, but he's steering clear of calling it a shellacking or taking blame.
Our correspondent are standing by. We're covering all the breaking news this hour, including the president's news conference just a little while ago.
Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Michelle Kosinski has the latest -- Michelle.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Guys, I'm not hearing programming.
BLITZER: All right, I guess we got a little program with Michelle. She wasn't hearing programming, as you heard. But we're going to get to Michelle in a moment. She filed this report just a little while ago.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): His party trounced at the polls, President Obama at moments sounded glumly resigned to two more years of having to compromise or fight it out with Republicans.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What stands out to me, though, is that the American people sent a message.
So to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.
KOSINSKI: But he vowed to reach out.
OBAMA: They want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through some of the gridlock, and get stuff done.
KOSINSKI: On immigration.
OBAMA: I'm eager to see what they have to offer. But what I'm not going to do is just wait.
KOSINSKI: Meaning the time for him to take executive action is likely near.
OBAMA: They have every opportunity to do it. My executive actions not only do not prevent them from passing a law that supersedes those actions, but should be a spur for them to actually try to get something done. And I am prepared to engage them with every step of the way.
KOSINSKI: On other issues, the president listed some area that there is some common ground already, funding infrastructure, boosting exports, early childhood education, but on the really big challenges like health care, he made it clear this is likely to be a rough road, that there will be places he will not compromise. He could veto Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare or to take out chunks of it that would render it effectively dead, though again he offered something of an olive branch.
OBAMA: Because there's no law that's ever been passed that's perfect. We are, I think, really proud of the work that's been done. But there's no doubt that there are areas where we can improve it.
KOSINSKI: So he's acknowledging last night's loss with a sense of, OK, now we have to work together with this commitment to reach out to Republicans, find the common ground and finally get certain things done.
Of course, you could ask, why couldn't all of that have happened before? But his message now is, let's compromise where we can. However, on those tough issues, immigration, health care, he also made it very clear there are lines he will not let Republicans cross -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He said there are some issues where there may be some common ground, on trade, for example, on tax reform, for example. Let's see what, if anything, they can get done. I know they're having lunch, the new leadership, with the president on Friday, where you are over at the White House. Michelle, thanks very much.
The man who is taking charge of the U.S. Senate also is talking about ending gridlock. We're talking about the new Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. He will be the majority leader. He spoke out today about his party's victories and the challenges ahead.
Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
His message is, he wants to work with the president, if possible.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And there's a very good reason for that. Let's just put aside that perhaps it's because he wants to govern. Just in terms of the election results, what the message was, and he said this loud and clear, that he understands that, of course, it was anti-Obama. Probably nobody played that out more in his own reelection campaign than he did, tying Alison Lundergan Grimes to President Obama.
But it's also about the fact that people are frustrated that Washington doesn't work, so he knows his first challenge is to make Washington work. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The American people have changed the Senate, so I think we have an obligation to change the behavior of the Senate and to begin to function again.
That doesn't guarantee that the president is going to agree with everything we do, but we're going to go back to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, to be fair, I talked to Democrats and they say, give me a break. Mitch McConnell was the reason why the Senate didn't function. He obstructed everything that he possibly could to make sure that there were no really up-or-down votes and to do other things.
But the bottom line is that now he is in charge and he is an institutionalist and he is an inside player. He knows how to play the game to get things done if he wants to do so.
BLITZER: He knows the rules and he knows how to do it if he wants to do it.
What kind of personal relationship do these two men have, Mitch McConnell and President Obama?
BASH: Well, he said today, Mitch McConnell said today that they have a cordial relationship. Of course, the now infamous line that President Obama used at the White House Correspondents Dinner, when somebody said have a drink with Mitch McConnell, he said, why don't you have a drink with Mitch McConnell, which the president was asked about today.
But, actually, they have some similar traits. McConnell is not somebody who -- he's the opposite of Bill Clinton. He's not a backslapper. He's not a hang out with his buddies in the Senate kind of guy. He is not somebody who has those kind of relationships, not unlike the president.
They are both people who like to sort of put their head down and do their work. So perhaps they could be, if they really want to be, be two peas in pod when it comes to that.
BLITZER: Mitch McConnell does have a good relationship with the vice president, Joe Biden, who served in the Senate for almost 40 years.
BASH: He does. He has a good working relationship, but again it's not like they go out and drink beer together. I think that's true for McConnell with a lot of his colleagues, just watching him and covering him for years. That's sort of not his thing, and, again, not unlike the president who gets a lot of flak. You heard it today at the press conference for not engaging enough.
BLITZER: Let's see if the vice president becomes the liaison with the new leadership in the Senate. I suspect he will.
All right, thanks very much, Dana, for that report.
The end of the 2014 election marks the unofficial start of the 2016 race for the White House. Right now, some Republican hopefuls are feeling emboldened by their party's wins overnight.
Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's taking a closer look at this part of the story -- Brianna.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.
Campaigning for a winning candidate is like a badge of honor. The opposite is true when a politician attaches his or her name to a candidate who loses. And Democrats and Republicans who are considering a presidential run were all over the country stumping for vulnerable lawmakers, some faring much better than others last night.
KEILAR (voice-over): The race for the White House begins, after a huge night for Republicans, including those eying a presidential bid, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose stumping in winning GOP contests across the country has earned him more 2016 speculation.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm incredibly flattered. But this morning, what I feel is incredible pride in really great candidates across the country.
KEILAR: Ohio Governor John Kasich, another possible contender, cruised to reelection. And Governor Scott Walker won a close race in Wisconsin, hinting he might run for the presidency as a Washington outsider.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: That's the difference between Washington and Wisconsin. They're all against something. We are for something.
KEILAR: But the intraparty scuffles are already under way, Walker ticked off at Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, for not sending more money his way. Christie scuffling with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on foreign policy, and Paul taking shots across the aisle, too. Asked about the new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell's win in his home state, he quickly turned the conversation to the Democratic front-runner.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think in Kentucky, it's really a repudiation of the president's policies, but also of Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton was very active in Kentucky. And the interesting thing is, Ms. Grimes decided she was going to run as a Clinton Democrat.
KEILAR: Now on Paul's Facebook page, a photo album called "Hillary's Losers," including Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Clinton campaigned for her twice and she lost big, by 16 points. And Democrat Bruce Braley in the important first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, he lost by nine points. While Clinton campaigned for a key Democratic winner, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, overall, the losses outweighed the successes.
KEILAR: But maybe it doesn't matter too much. Exit polls show Clinton is by far the favorite in the key early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where she polled, Wolf, in the mid-60s, well above the rest of the possible Democratic field.
It's noteworthy, though, certainly didn't escape notice that for someone who was so involved in campaigning for Democrats in the midterms, Hillary Clinton has been quiet so far on the result of that.
BLITZER: The announcements of presidential intent, running for the White House, about to be begin in the next few weeks and months.
Brianna, thanks very much.
We will get back to the fallout from the rout that the Democrats suffered yesterday in the midterm elections.
But we are also following some breaking news out of Israel, where a van rammed into three Israeli soldiers. One of them is critically injured, according to a police spokeswoman. We have the video of the incident. I want to warn our viewers, some of you will find it very disturbing. You can see the soldiers on the side of the road as cars pass by, when one vehicle swerves right into them. The search is now under way for the driver of the vehicle. This comes just hours after another driver's deadly rampage in Jerusalem.
Let's to CNN's Erin McLaughlin. She's in Jerusalem for us.
Erin, what is the latest you're hearing over there?
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight in Jerusalem, there's heightened security with clashes happening in various Palestinian neighborhoods throughout the city, this following two attacks that took place today, one in Jerusalem, the other in the West Bank, with police saying these kinds of incidents are difficult to prevent.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Surveillance footage shows the moment a Palestinian man drives into a Jerusalem tram station. He crashes the van and continues his attack on foot. Israeli forces shoot him dead; 13 people are injured. A border police officer was killed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no good intelligence that a terrorist attack was going to take place here. Obviously, we're looking to see if it was a lone terrorist who worked on his own or if he was sent.
MCLAUGHLIN: The suspect is later identified as a 38-year-old Palestinian Ibrahim al-Akari, a resident of an East Jerusalem refugee camp.
The attack is part of a wave of violence in Jerusalem fueled by tensions surrounding the Noble Sanctuary, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Last week, there was an attack on right-wing rabbi Yehuda Glick, one of the leading voices calling for Jews to be able to pray at Islam's third holiest site. For the first time in 14 years, it was completely closed, angering many Muslims.
MUSTAFA ABU SWAY, AL QUDS UNIVERSITY: They feel that their place of worship is being lost.
MCLAUGHLIN: Wednesday morning, tensions at the site boiled over. Clashes broke out between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth.
(on camera): As you can see, the police have just cleared this area using stun grenades and force. They're trying to get all of the people that are out here waiting to get inside the site from the area.
(voice-over): Minutes later, there's an uneasy calm. The city of Jerusalem remains on edge.
MCLAUGHLIN: Al-Akari's funeral took place tonight under heavy security and court order. According to a CNN producer, who was at the funeral, heavy clashes later erupted -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very worrisome developments. Erin McLaughlin, thanks very much for that report.
I want to stay on the breaking news right now, because there are other developments unfolding as well and the ramifications very serious.
Joining us is the Israeli police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, who's joining us from Jerusalem right now. I want to just remind our viewers, we saw that gut-wrenching video out of the West Bank and Jerusalem today amid those violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.
Micky Rosenfeld, if you're there, if can hear me, what can you tell us about these attacks, if they are attacks? I assume you believe these were deliberate terror attacks, not just an accident, is that right?
MICKY ROSENFELD, ISRAELI POLICE SPOKESMAN: We can confirm is that there were two terrorist attacks here in Jerusalem today, the first one being in the heart of the city, the second one just outside of Jerusalem among the 60 Road near Gush Etzion, which has experienced also a number of terrorist attacks.
As a result, the Israeli police quickly responded at one of the scenes, and certainly I can tell you there's been heightened security since the incident itself with different police units being mobilized in and around the different areas in order to both prevent and respond to the disturbances that have taken place in different Arab neighborhoods.
BLITZER: Do you believe this is part of a deliberate pattern? I think there have been now three incidents where cars, drivers or trucks rammed into people on sidewalks or on the street, if you will. Is this a new tactic that's underway, or is this copy cat activity? What's your analysis?
ROSENFELD: Over the last three weeks in fact, there's been a number of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. The pattern, what we've seen at least on the ground level is the terrorists have taken advantage that they can come easily out of the Arab neighborhoods and inside the center of town. And using a vehicle and steering a vehicle into innocent people standing by, women and children as well as soldiers unfortunately today. We can see it's becoming a new pattern.
At the same time, we're also making security measures in order to prevent further attacks from taking place. And therefore, we've both removed in certain areas different obstacles. We will also set up other obstacles around the light rail in Jerusalem in order to try and make sure that the areas will be safe and prevent further attacks.
BLITZER: But is this a coordinated plot, or are these simply isolated incidents? I ask the question because a few weeks ago, there was an incident in Canada where a driver deliberately tried to run over some Canadian soldiers, killing one, wounding another.
ROSENFELD: Part of the ongoing investigation, what we know until now, is that the suspect, at least from today's terrorist attack, was a lone individual. He worked on his own. We do know he was affiliated to the Hamas. But he decided midday today to take his vehicle and slam into innocent people.
So we do see that he was acting alone. And therefore, we have to strengthen our intelligence circles and try and find those suspects before they get out on the streets of Jerusalem or in possibly other areas as we experience late this evening as well near Jerusalem in the West Bank.
BLITZER: So you say acting alone but affiliated with Hamas. But not necessarily receiving instructions or orders. This was not a Hamas coordinated attack: is that what you're saying?
ROSENFELD: That's more or less what's taking place on the ground level. The suspects themselves, those terrorists are leaving different areas.
But we have to focus at the moment on what's going on on the ground level. Heightened security will continue in Jerusalem. There's more than a thousand police officers are working in and around the different Israeli/Arab neighborhoods with also emphasis on the old city to prevent disturbances there. And this will continue as long as necessary, leading up to the next 24-48 hours, Friday prayers on the temple mount and the weekend.
BLITZER: As you know, there are a lot of fears of a third intifada that could be erupting in Jerusalem on the West Bank. I want you to stand by, Micky Rosenfeld. We're going to continue in conversation. We have more questions for you right after this.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news out of the West Bank and in Jerusalem, where a car in the West Bank rammed into three Israeli soldiers, one is critically injured. You're looking at these pictures of what was going on in Jerusalem just in the past few days.
Hours earlier today, another driver went on a deadly rampage in Jerusalem, killing one person, injuring more than a dozen in Jerusalem before he was shot and killed by Israeli police.
We're back with the spokesman for the Israeli police, Micky Rosenfeld. Micky Rosenfeld, is -- are you on the verge now, you and the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Palestinians, of seeing the unrest really escalate there, in part because of Israel's increased settlement activity in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem? And a third intifada could be in the works?
ROSENFELD: No, absolutely not. The Israeli police are focusing on what's going on on the ground level. There's been tensions within the Israeli communities over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, we have to deal with these terrorist attacks both inside Jerusalem as well as in Judea and Samaria. But different units have been deployed in different areas, and our main emphasis at the moments is to prevent any more attacks from taking place. I think we have to look at the general picture of what's going on all
across Jerusalem. I can tell you that in general, if you were to walk the streets of Jerusalem this afternoon after the terrorist attack, things were back to normal relatively quickly. The population here is capable of dealing with those types of incidents. The Israeli police and its medical teams responded as quick as possible. And what we'll be doing is strengthening our intelligence circles in order to prevent and find those terrorists who want to attack and cause damage in the heart of Israel.
BLITZER: Are you getting any security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority police? Because in the past, there has been occasionally some good cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian Authority security services.
ROSENFELD: The Israeli police work in coordination with the Palestinian police in Judea and Samaria on different issues, such as car thefts and transferring important information when necessary. There's a lot of roads that are used by Israeli and Palestinian vehicles at the same time. But in terms of preventing terrorist attacks, the majority of the police counterterrorist operations and the border police and the army, that's under our jurisdiction and under our authorization.
BLITZER: But what can you do if somebody wants to get into a car and drive up on a sidewalk and injure and kill some people. How do you prevent that?
ROSENFELD: That's exactly what is taking place here in Jerusalem this evening. There were security assessments that were made, what can be implemented on a ground level in order to prevent certain vehicles from entering areas where there's innocent members of the public such as at bus stations and train stations and railway line inside in Jerusalem which is used by thousands of people and tourist making their way into the different parts in the cities.
So there's going to be concrete setups to prevent those vehicles from coming into certain areas. And we're going to continue to assess the security situation. Extra police units already throughout the early hours of the morning will be already on site both in different areas of Jerusalem, as well as in the old city.
BLITZER: We showed our viewers some very, very graphic pictures of what was going on in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in the Old City of Jerusalem. What the Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest site to Muslims in the world. It was pretty violent. Has that calmed down or is that continuing?
ROSENFELD: Well, throughout the beginning of the week, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, the Temple Mount was relatively quiet. Unfortunately there were disturbances there this morning, where masked Palestinians in between 30 to 40 masked Palestinians threw stones and fired fireworks at our police officers with intent to cause damage and harm them and try to throw stones at Jews that were praying at the western wall on the other side of the Temple Mount. So our police officers had to immediately respond, only using stun
grenades, non-lethal weapons. And the police arrived at the entrance of Al-Aqsa Mosque, closed the main gate in order to prevent anyone from coming in and out of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Within a short space of time, within about 12 minutes in fact, the police units had secured Al-Aqsa Mosque from the outside only, and therefore the visits on the temple mount took place as scheduled. There were 308 visitors on the temple mount this morning, 200 being tourists.
BLITZER: So are you allowing Muslims to pray freely at Al-Aqsa Mosque?
ROSENFELD: Muslims have prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque and on the Temple Mount throughout this week since Sunday, but security assessments will be made later on during this week as to leading up to Friday prayers. If there are any indications whatsoever of predetermining and pre- preparation terrorist attacks or any incidents whatsoever, either in Jerusalem or anywhere else on the temple mount, there will be age limits which will be implemented. And that's part of the security measures on the ground level.
BLITZER: What does that mean, age limits?
ROSENFELD: That means if necessary, there will be men only from the age of 40 or possibly 50 that will be allowed on the temple mount on a Friday. Women of course of all ages are allowed to pray on the temple mount. Once that takes place on the ground level, then there will be disturbances only outside the old city and not on the temple mount itself, and therefore we'll be able to control the situation and handle the situation in a much more safe way to prevent both people from being involved in disturbances and our police officers getting injured as well.
BLITZER: Micky Rosenfeld is the spokesman for the Israeli national police force. Micky Rosenfeld, thanks very much for joining us.
ROSENFELD: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Let's hope it quiets down in Jerusalem.
Just ahead, breaking down the election here in the United States and the Republican midterm sweep. What does it mean for 2016?
Plus, we're getting breaking news about a top al Qaeda operative believed to be killed in a U.S. drone strike.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories this hour, including the president's reaction to the Republicans' huge gains in the U.S. Senate overnight.
We're also getting breaking news on another front. It appears a high- level al Qaeda operative has been killed in a U.S. drone strike. I want to go straight to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was in Yemen, where the U.S. again in the last several days has been conducting a number of drone strikes. The man this time was named Shawki al- Badani, a senior al Qaeda operative in Yemen. They do now believe, I am told, U.S. officials telling me they believe the drone strike did hill al-Badani.
He's described as a senior operative deeply involved in Yemen with al Qaeda, plotting against U.S. interests there. As you know, the embassy there is -- the U.S. embassy, always in al Qaeda's crosshairs in Yemen. A man they very much wanted to get. This is a very big deal for the U.S. in trying to clamp down on al Qaeda in Yemen.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara. I understand that you're also getting new information that the U.S. may expand air strikes against a different al Qaeda offshoot in Syria. What are you learning?
STARR: Yes. You know, as we're just finishing talking about Yemen here, word is coming that the U.S. is not closing the door to expanding airstrikes against an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. That is a war, Wolf, that is getting more complicated every day.
STARR (voice-over): Syrian rebel fighters struggle fighting regime forces across northwest Syria. Challenged by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops, as well as ISIS and al Qaeda fighters known as the al-Nusra Front.
The administration suddenly holding open the door by not ruling out possibly expanding the U.S. mission to airstrikes against al-Nusra, which has pushed the rebels from key areas.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The United States remains concerned about all threats emanating from Syria, including the threat that's posed by the Nusra Front. That's driven by the fact that the Nusra Front has been public in threatening the west.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: I am really not going to get into speculating about what options we may or may not be considering with respect to kinetic operations to active operations or strikes in particular.
STARR: The U.S. plan to help the rebels has focused on training up to 5,000 Syrian opposition soldiers to defend their towns and villages against ISIS. But their ultimate challenge: conduct offensive operations, fight ISIS toe-to-toe.
Today, President Obama said identifying moderate rebels to partner with is tough. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we're trying to do
is find a core group that we can work with, that we have confidence in, that we have vetted, that can help in regaining territory from ISIL, that's always been difficult.
STARR: Training Syrian rebels will take time. Once the program starts, the Pentagon estimates it could take a year to finish basic training for individual soldiers and up to 18 months to train more advanced units. That means if the U.S. could get started right away, fighting units might not be in the field before November 2015.
It's a policy with huge problems.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's a whole lot tougher than just teaching them how to salute and shoot. They've got to be loyal to the commanders.
STARR: And the U.S. has no guarantee after training the rebels they will do what the U.S. wants.
HERTLING: I think our mission is certainly to go against ISIS. When you talk to those on the ground, they might have a different view of this. Their primary mission is to go against Assad.
STARR: The new Senate Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said today that all of this -- the training of the rebels, the fight against ISIS -- is going to be one of the key topics when he sits down with President Obama at lunch on Friday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Barbara, because I want to bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, and our CNN commentator -- analyst, the former CIA operative, Phil Mudd.
Phil, what do you make? You just heard Barbara Starr's report. The administration considering expanding these strikes against this al- Nusra Front in Syria. There are some analysts out there who worry that the president's popularity, his political standing may have been eroded because of the Republican gains, the dramatic gains overnight and that adversaries of the U.S. may try to -- try to undermine him, try to take advantage of what they see as a weakened U.S. president. Is that a factor here?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN ANALYST: I don't think that's a factor. I think the issues we're going to face here, Wolf, are broader, and they're even more complex than what Barbara talked about. If you look from east to west, you've got a question of whether to continue with the accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan where the Taliban is surging. Moving across, the Iraqi army has been, I guess, mildly capable against ISIS, but they need more help. Should we go into Iraq?
And then you get into Syria, which is the most complex situation. Should we not only expand support for the rebels, which is something I suspect the Republicans will push for, but should we clarify whether that's ultimately going to lead us to say that Assad should be out? And we have not said that yet.
BLITZER: Elise, you're taking a closer look at how this new Republican majority, not only in the House but in the Senate, as well, could affect the foreign policy of the United States. What are you picking up?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, as Phil and Barbara said, Wolf, I think that the Republicans are going to want to look for a much more robust strategy, even more than President Obama has been laying out, and the president said today he would seek additional authorization from Congress.
But I think that the Congress, Mitch McConnell said he would support that, but I think they're going to want to be able to define that a little bit more fully. And if you're John Kerry at the State Department, and you want a more aggressive strategy, that's a good thing.
But this president has been very cautious. I think it's going to induce a lot of pressure. I think the nuclear negotiations with Iran also got a lot more difficult. The Republicans are opposed to any deal that would allow Iran to suspend -- to continue enriching uranium. President Obama has suggested he could bypass Congress, not seek an up or down vote. Lindsey Graham told you that he is adamant that the Republicans be involved. So if the Republicans see that they're not being consulted, they could enact more sanctions against Iran, certainly drive Iran away from the table and really torpedo the deal, which the president thought would be one of his crowning achievements.
BLITZER: Lindsey Graham says there's got to be an up or down vote or whatever deal the administration and its international partners work out with Iran. It's not going to be a deal, he says, until there's an up or down vote in the U.S. Congress.
Now Barbara, take us behind the scenes at the Pentagon a little bit. What's the impact, do you think, of a Republican majority now in the Senate, as well as in the House on what the U.S. might be doing as far as Iraq and Syria and some of these other battles are concerned?
STARR: Well, look, Wolf, it escapes no one's attention that Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, is now expected to be the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a close ally of Lindsey Graham. Both of those senators have been very vocal for the last couple years about their view that more military action by the U.S. is needed. A much more assertive, aggressive U.S. military posture in the Middle East, especially against Syria.
The question now for the Pentagon is, can they really, you know, still respond to that Republican pressure? Of course, the U.S. military works for the president of the United States. It's going to be very interesting to see what top commanders have to say publicly when they are put on the spot by McCain. Senator McCain doesn't pull his punches. It could get, as the Special Operations community likes to say, it could get very sporty.
BLITZER: What do you think about that, Phil?
MUDD: Well, I'll tell you, the problem we face here, I remember working on the covert action program in Afghanistan almost a quarter century ago. We had a great partner, Pakistan. We do not have that partner here. We had a great focus: the ouster of the regime, the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, with the support of groups that were coherent.
Finding one of those characteristics in Syria. We have not said we're supporting the opposition to oust the government. We don't have a good opposition to deal with. And we don't have a partner to deal with who's consistent in helping us support the opposition. We lack mission focus here to finish the job. I think that's a huge problem.
BLITZER: Philip Mudd, Elise Labott, Barbara Starr, guys, thank you very much.
We're going the get back to the breaking political news when we come back. We want to break down the election results, the Republican's stunning midterm victory. Lots more coming up right after this.
BLITZER: President Obama says he's going to leave it to the professional pundits to pick through the results of the midterm elections. Let's have some of those professional pundits with me right now.
Joining us, our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
I guess since he doesn't want to talk about the political ramifications, we can talk about the political -- very significant development for the president, for the Congress, for the American people yesterday. We heard from the president today, but there's some media attention that will develop over the issue of immigration reform. He says if the Congress isn't going to pass legislation, he's going to do it on his own. You heard what Mitch McConnell said, that would be a big mistake.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, because, look, the story line of the last Congress is not that different from the one we see now, and that the leaders in the Republican Party want to get things done. They're sort of institutionalists. Mitch McConnell in the Senate, John Boehner in the House.
The problem is getting their rank-and-file to go along. And part of the issue in talking to many of these rank-and-file Republicans, all over, you know, time and on the Hill is that they insist they don't trust the president. So here you have Republicans saying they want to work with the president and if he, as Mitch McConnell says, you know, waves the red flag in front of the bull, it's going to be very hard to convince the rank-and-file to compromise.
BLITZER: They're supposed to have lunch, Gloria, on Friday.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, that will do it.
BLITZER: The congressional leadership and the president of the United States. There's a lot going on right now, a lot at stake.
BORGER: Yes. Look, I think -- nobody expects them to writing poetry together here, Wolf, but I do think they all have to extend the olive branch. But, you know, let's be honest about this. The public has said, we don't think you get anything done in Washington. We don't like you. That's why we keep having these change elections.
When it is in their own self-interest to get something done i.e., their jobs are in jeopardy, then they get something done. Will it be huge? Probably not. Could it be corporate tax reform? Maybe. Could it be repairing roads and bridges or trade? Absolutely.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Why would there possibly be any agreement on immigration now? I mean, the House of Representatives is now more conservative than it was, or will be. And that they didn't even have a vote only it for two years. Obama has to do what he's going to do because nothing is going to happen.
BLITZER: But if he does that, if he does that, that poisons --
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: As we talked about, it's a very faithful choice, because on the one hand, there was not a single Republican elected to the Senate who endorsed the Senate bill, who said they would support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million who are here undocumented, which is probably the minimum bottom line for anything that President Obama can accept. So, you're kind of start off in the assumptions. It's going to be very hard for them to get to the same place.
On the other hand, as Dana said, if you do this, it is waving a red flag in front of the bull. It does create a much more confrontational atmosphere. I bet he doesn't. I think this president has long ago despaired at his ability to really get much done with the Republican Congress and I think that after this election in the state, in some states, struggled a little bit with Hispanic --
BASH: Just to answer your question, why now? Because now, the next election in front of us is 2016. And if the White House, presidential year, and Republicans are going to implore their rank-and-file to do this in order to not shrink the Republican Party even more than it was two years ago.
BROWNSTEIN: Do you think they can do something that includes legal status?
Wait, you mean, instead of a path to citizenship?
BROWNSTEIN: Any legal status, can they pass legal status with this House and the Senate? BASH: In a bipartisan way? Possibly. With a path to citizenship?
Not a chance.
BORGER: Here's the problem -- the Republican Party is a congressional party. They know how to be a congressional party, win majorities in Congress, they -- you had gerrymandered districts. You see how they can win in the red states like they did last night.
If they want to be a presidential party, Democrats are the presidential party right now. If Republicans want to become a presidential party, they do have to expand their base, not only to women, but also to Hispanic voters. They could win the majority of the Senate without Hispanic voters. That didn't matter, but it does matter --
TOOBIN: Let's talk about one of the big winners from last night, I think, and that's Ted Cruz, because Ted Cruz, you went out there and shut down the government and everybody said, oh, it's going to be terrible for the Republican Party and they had a great year. He's going to be the most extreme voice in the Senate because he believes that's the way Republicans win.
BORGER: Rand Paul has more power because he got -- he helped get Mitch McConnell elected, right?
BROWNSTEIN: You know, it's really striking to hear you described that. You know, it's the exact opposite of when we both first came to Washington, when the Democrats were the congressional party in the '60s and '70s, Republicans were winning the popular vote, five out of six presidents elected since '68 (ph) to '88. Now, it's Democrats who won five out of six.
One thing that is totally worth nothing, 2010 and 2014, Republicans won 60 percent of white voters, according to the exit poll, and had a landslide victory.
BORGER: Right, exactly.
BROWNSTEIN: In 2012, they won 59 percent and lost the White House by 5 million votes. It's a very different world in the presidential year and it's a real challenge still --
BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey, you know Ted Cruz.
TOOBIN: I do.
BLITZER: You've written a great article in "The New Yorker" magazine about Ted Cruz. When I spoke with him last night, he refused to say he'll vote for Mitch McConnell as -- let's worry about that later. Tonight is not a good night to talk about it and all of that.
Do you think he will support Mitch McConnell as the Senate majority leader?
TOOBIN: Ultimately yes, after extracting his pound of flesh. Remember, any proposal that McConnell puts forward, Cruz is going to potentially veto even before it gets to Obama. So, I just think the idea that there is going to be some sort of cooperation is out of the question.
BLITZER: Hold on, hold on, Gloria.
BORGER: I'm not sure how much power Cruz has inside of the Senate, Dana.
BASH: Maybe in the House.
BORGER: Yes, maybe more in the House.
BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation.
We've got lots more to discuss. Stick around. We're assessing the ramifications of the big Republican win and what it means for the final two years of President Obama's administration.
BLITZER: We're back with our panel. We're talking about the Republican's big election victory. The president's reaction, what it means for the country right now.
Jeffrey, there's got to be a new attorney general pretty soon. He's got to be confirmed by a Republican majority, presumably, in the Senate. How will this election impact judicial nominees, cabinet employees? Because that's a subject that's potentially explosive.
TOOBIN: I think the most specific difference you can point to between a Republican Senate and the Democratic Senate is the ease with which President Obama's nominations for lifetime judgeships may or may not be confirmed. Harry Reid made a big project to confirm judges and about a third of the federal judiciary are now Obama nominees. There are going to be 70 vacancies over the next few years, how many President Obama gets to fill is very much an open question. Probably Charles Grassley is going to be chairman of the Judiciary Committee, very hostile to Obama.
And a Supreme Court nomination, a vacancy, if there is one, although I don't think there will be, will certainly be good for my business but not good for --
BLITZER: Dana, you cover Congress. Are we going to see a lot of subpoenas, a lot of investigations? Are they going to make life miserable as, let's say, Darrell Issa's committee has done fore the administration in the House?
BASH: You know what? I -- I know Ted Cruz and other people are talking about that, I actually don't think it will be that big of a difference because a Senate is just a different kind of place in the House traditionally. If they are doing that, then it's really game over. Can I turn the tables on you?
BLITZER: Before you were going to say something --
BROWNSTEIN: No, I was going to say, you talk about Charles Grassley, the Iowa farmer, someone called it. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- look, I mean, you are looking at an enormous change of what will be talking about every day, when you go from Boxer to Inhofe in the environment. You know, we're going to be having hearings on regulatory overreach. We're going to be having hearings on problems in federal agencies. It will be a different dialogue.
BORGER: Executive action and the imperial presidency.
BORGER: It's going to be alternate universe.
BROWNSTEIN: It is, right.
BORGER: One end of Pennsylvania Avenue and the other.
BLITZER: John McCain will be chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee. That's going to be a change.
You wanted to say something?
BASH: Yes, you know, we're talking a lot about Congress, but the governors and what happened, with the sweep and the unbelievable Republican takeover of really blue states. You live in Maryland, blue state --
BLITZER: Not only in Maryland, but the president's home state of Illinois and Massachusetts. There are going to be Republican governors. These are states where the president went out there and campaigned.
BASH: What do you think? You live in Maryland, what do you think?
TOOBIN: The Democrats could say, if you lost the Senate, well, they were all red states and we had a bad map. The governorships are really the most specific repudiation of the Democratic Party -- Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, Maryland, I mean, Wisconsin.
BROWNSTEIN: One interesting foot note, the governor of Massachusetts is probably the most prominent statewide elected Republican who is affirmative supporter of gay marriage. An interesting twist in the blue states, this year, we saw Republican gubernatorial candidates saying they would accept it, they would not seek to overturn it in the states that already have it. It may be the beginning of a long term change within the party.
BORGER: And I think you might have a Republican presidential candidate instead of taking a position on gay marriage, backing off of that and saying let's leave it up to the states.
BLITZER: Was there something wrong with the polls, were we surprised, because a lot of the results we didn't anticipate.
BROWNSTEIN: You know, look, I think at the end, the undecideds were pretty much hostile and disappointed in the president, and they broke just decisively toward that. The reality was, Wolf, the president was on the ballot, everywhere, whether Democrats brought him into the state or not. Over 80 percent of the people who (INAUDIBLE) president voted Republican -- Democrat for the House, over 80 percent who approved voted Republicans.
BORGER: And they didn't like anybody -- voters didn't like anybody but they didn't like Obama the most. That's the --
BASH: You're not going to answer the Maryland question, are you?
BLITZER: Hold on. We'll talk right after this. Stand by, guys.
I've got an important programming note: I'll be back later tonight with a lot of these folks, as well, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. We got a special "America's Choice 2014". We'll be taking a much closer look, for two hours, at the very dramatic election results and what might be ahead for the Congress, the White House and the country, right here on CNN, 10:00 p.m. Eastern Tonight.
That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.