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Interview With Sen. Tom Cotton Of Arkansas; Trump, Cruz & Palin Slam Iran Nuke Deal. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 9, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the art of the deal. The man who wrote the book on deal-making slams the Iran nuclear agreement.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated.


BLITZER: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz lead a rally against the Iran deal, but can Republicans still do anything to stop it?

Putin power play. Russia admits it's sending troops and weapons into Syria. Will they prop up a brutal regime? Will they fight against ISIS, and could they be drawn into a confrontation with the U.S.?

And unleashed. As Kim Jong-un shows off his missiles and rockets, there are now new troubling signs North Korea is building up its nuclear program. So how great is the threat?

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

It's been a day of important and dramatic action involving some of the most dangerous longtime adversaries of the United States. Demands for Congress to kill the Iran nuclear deal were loud and clear this afternoon at a huge rally outside the U.S. Capitol. Sarah Palin, along with presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, pulled no punches.


TRUMP: We are led by very, very stupid people. Very, very stupid people.


BLITZER: Beyond the threat posed by Iran, we're also learning new details today about Vladimir Putin's alarming military buildup in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry is warning the Russians they're liable to make a dangerous situation even worse.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton, he's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee, as well as an outspoken opponent of the Iran deal, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of all the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our political reporter, Sara Murray. She was there at the rally up on Capitol Hill. She had a chance to speak with Donald Trump one on one.

Sara, how did it go?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today was sort of an epic political odd couple. We had Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both vying for the Republican nomination for president, holding a rally today here in the capital to protest the deal with Iran.

And as you might expect, Donald Trump found a way to bring it all back around to how he would do a better job negotiating this deal if he were the president.


TRUMP: I've been doing deals for a long time. I've been making lots of wonderful deals, great deals. That's what I do. Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran. And I mean never. We will have so much winning if I get elected, that you may get bored with winning.


MURRAY: Now, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have very different approaches for how they would deal with the Iran deal, even though they both oppose it. Ted Cruz has said he would do away with it on day one, where Donald Trump said he would not do the same. None of those differences were on display today. The two gentlemen actually hugged quite a number of times before Donald Trump took the stage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So basically, it was pretty much of a love-fest up there between these two Republican presidential candidates. Is that what I'm hearing?

MURRAY: There does seem to be a little bit of bromance brewing between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. And they even went so far as to admit it.

BLITZER: Sara, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us now, a key opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. He also served in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

So you're with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on this issue completely. Right? SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: And with a bipartisan majority of the House and the Senate, and with a two-to-one majority of the American people, who think that this nuclear deal with Iran is dangerous for the United States and dangerous for allies and world peace.

BLITZER: Because in effect you just heard him say the U.S. is now being led by very stupid people. He's referring, presumably, to the president of the United States and Secretary of State John Kerry. You know both the president and the secretary. Are they very stupid?

COTTON: Well, I'm saying they've had a very ideological approach from the very beginning. The president said in his first campaign that he would negotiate without preconditions, that he would extend an open hand if Iran would simply unclench its fist. Iran never did that. Iran still has a foreign policy that's centered around death to America. Yet here we are, about to cut a nuclear deal with Iran that's going to put them on the path to being a nuclear threshold state in as little as a decade.

BLITZER: You did your best to defeat it, but you failed, right?

COTTON: Well, unfortunately even though a large majority of the American people oppose this deal in a bipartisan majority, both the House and chamber oppose it -- both the House and the Senate chambers oppose it. It looks at this moment, barring any new information in the coming days, that the president with a very small partisan minority, barely one third of the two chambers of the Congress, will move forward. And that makes this truly unprecedented in the history of American foreign policy.

[17:05:12] BLITZER: When you say truly unprecedented, you're not going to be able to block the deal, so presumably it will go forward. Anything else you can do now to try to kill it?

COTTON: It's unprecedented because, in the past, presidents would have submitted an agreement like this as a treaty, and it would have required a two-thirds vote of the United States Senate. The president himself did that just less than five years ago, when another nuclear arms control agreement with Russia. And it was ratified, even though I opposed the substance of it. That's what our Constitution calls for.

So it is truly unprecedented for an international agreement like this to have a majority vote against it in the Congress, majority opposition among the American people, yet still go forward.

BLITZER: Because I don't know if you know, but on the House side, some Republicans now are saying that 60-day clock hasn't even started yet, because the administration has not provided all the details of this agreement to members of Congress. As a result, they want to delay this vote in the House of Representatives, and in effect delay the easing of sanctions against Iran at the same time.

Where do you stand? Do you think that members of the House of Representatives will want to go with this procedural route, have a stand? COTTON: Well, it's correct that the administration hasn't turned over

all the agreements. I went to Vienna as part of my oversight work in the Intelligence Committee to go to meet with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and they acknowledge that there are two side agreements: one about the Parchin military base where detonators for nuclear weapons may have been tested.

Two, the much broader question of Iran disclosing the past military dimensions of its nuclear work. I don't think the administration has followed federal law, and submitted those agreements, because they had an obligation to obtain them and submit them.

BLITZER: Have they submitted them in classified session, in executive session? Have you been briefed on those agreements?

COTTON: We've been briefed, but only on the one narrower agreement about the Parchin military base. More importantly, though, we don't have the documents. They haven't been provided to us. The administration has said that they do not have them, as well. Nor are they going to push the IAEA to disclose them to us.

So I don't think that we're in a position yet where that clock should have started or until federal law the president has the right to waive sanctions, but frankly, the president has disregarded federal law and the Constitution many other times.

In the end, whatever the procedural mechanism for the vote here, the important thing to recognize, that a majority of the American people and a majority of the Congress opposes this deal.

BLITZER: When you say the president has violated federal law in the past, what are you talking about?

COTTON: Well, I mean, he issued a decree last November to grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants, and that's currently been stayed by a federal trial court and a federal court of appeals.

BLITZER: But that's in the courts now. So it hasn't been adjudicated. It was a violation.

COTTON: Well, there's been several Supreme Court cases the president has lost. Lost on a 9-0 basis, for example, when he tried to install appointees of the National Labor Relations Board that he lost, because it was clear that he didn't follow the Constitution or follow federal law.

BLITZER: That wasn't a violation. He didn't commit a crime.

COTTON: Well, there's lots of ways you can violate federal law that's not criminal law. And I would say the illegal amnesty decree would be an example of that. And the fact that he's not submitting this agreement is a treaty and required the kind of broad support across the American people. Both parties across all regions, which our Founding Fathers warned us (ph), does disregard our Constitution.

BLITZER: Let's talk about North Korea, because you were recently in that part of the world, as well. The U.N. watchdog agency, the IAEA, says they're worried about what North Korea may be up to in the coming days, if you will.

October 10, that's an historic day in North Korea. That's the day that the communist regime there, the communist party was founded. There's a lot of concern right now, I know, from what I'm hearing that the North Koreans might have a nuclear test, might launch some sort of ballistic missile. What are you hearing about October 10? What are you hearing about what North Korea may be up to?

COTTON: The IAEA should be worried, as I am worried about it, because North Korea is now a nuclear power state with a ballistic missile program. In fact, I think this is a precursor for what we might see in Iran down the road.

In 1994, with a very similar agreement with North Korea, to supposedly stop its nuclear weapons program. President Clinton and the Democrats at the time were saying all the things right now that President Obama and Senate Democrats are saying about this Iran deal. Yet a mere 12 years later, they developed nuclear weapons. We now believe they're developing new warheads every single year, and they have ballistic missiles capable of striking all of our allies in the region and much of United States territory, as well.

And as you said, Wolf, coming up in early October there is a consequential date in the history of the North Korean Communist Party, which over the past several years has been a time when the regime takes aggressive provocative actions, as they did right before I got to North Korea -- right before I got to South Korea by installing landmines in the DMZ, which blew the legs off of two South Korean soldiers.

BLITZER: Yes, a dangerous time indeed, but they calmed things down. Let's hope this October 10 date passes without any major developments.

So Russia and Syria right now, what are you hearing about Russia's deployment of troops in Syria, presumably to back up Bashar al-Assad's regime?

COTTON: Well, there's nothing good about Russia's activity in Syria. It's been a bipartisan foreign policy of the United States for 70 years to try to keep Russia out of the Middle East.

Yet the president's inaction in Syria and his monomaniacal focus on this nuclear deal with Iran has helped encourage countries like Russia to take advantage of the situation.

The president has largely taken a hands-off approach in Syria and granted it as a legitimate sphere of interest to countries like Iran and like Russia. This is very bad policy, and it's going to lead to very dangerous consequences for our partners in the region, which is why so many of them are so opposed to U.S. policies.

BLITZER: Could it lead to, hopefully not, but some sort of confrontation between the U.S. and Russia? COTTON: Well, in a country like Syria, which is in, you know, a four-

or five-way civil war, Wolf. There's no telling the kind of battlefield incidents you can have. The United States is currently conducting airstrikes with coalition in Syria.

Of course, it's possible, but there might be a Russian -- member of the Russian military in an area where strikes were taken, or if Russia gets involved in shooting war. It's possible that it might hurt one of our coalition partners, as well. Where people that we've been training have gone to Syria. That's one reason why it's so dangerous that we've taken this hands-on approach and essentially invited Russia back into the Middle East.

BLITZER: Senator Cotton, thanks very much for joining us.

COTTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Coming up, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, they're giving it their all around the -- against the Iran nuclear deal. We have the highlights.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I've always said, though, sweat is my sanity, so as I sweat, let's bring some sanity to this discussion about this insane treaty that's in front of Congress.



[17:16:19] BLITZER: As the debate over Iran's nuclear deal gets under way in the United States Senate, opponents of the deal packed a rally outside the U.S. Capitol today, delighting as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, among others, took turns blasting President Obama and calling for the deal's defeat.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If this deal goes through, we know to an absolute certainty people will die. Americans will die; Israelis will die; Europeans will die. We're now talking about giving the Ayatollah Khamenei, a theocratic, homicidal maniac who hates America every bit as much as bin Laden did, giving him $100 billion to carry out his murderous plan.

If you vote to send billions of dollars to jihadists who have pledged to murder Americans, then you bear direct responsibility for the murders carried out with the dollars you have given them. You cannot wash your hands of that blood.

TRUMP: I've been doing deals for a long time. I've been making lots of wonderful deals, great deals. That's what I do. Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran. And I mean never.

We can talk about the fact that we have four wonderful people over there, and frankly, they're never going to come back with this group. And I will say this, if I win the presidency, I guarantee you that those four prisoners are back in our country before I ever take office. I guarantee that. They will be back before I ever take office, because they know that's what has to happen. OK? They know it, and if they don't know it, I'm telling them right now.

All of these countries are going to do business with Iran. They're going to make lots of money and lots of other things with Iran. And we're going to do, and we're going to get nothing. Nothing.

We are led by very, very stupid people. Very, very stupid people.

We lose everywhere. We lose militarily. We can't beat ISIS. Give me a break. We will have so much winning if I get elected, that you may get bored with winning. We are going to start winning big league. We are going to have such a strong military that nobody, nobody is going to mess with us. We're not going to have to use it.

PHIL ROBERTSON, REALITY TV STAR, "DUCK DYNASTY": Israel, the most faithful ally we have, you know why I love Israel? They wrote the Bible. And that's why I love them.

When God chose to become flesh, 2015 years ago -- your calendar dates that event -- God becoming flesh, you know what kind of flesh he became? Jewish flesh. Those are the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. They wrote the Bible, for crying out loud.

Therefore, you never, ever want to put them in unnecessary danger, which this deal will do.

PALIN: I've always said, though, sweat is my sanity. So as I sweat, let's bring some sanity to this discussion about this insane treaty that's in front of Congress.

We're negotiating with the braggadocios No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism. Yet the white flag was waved at the table in these negotiations, because Obama had a squishy objective to start with enough of our salad rock objective to put America first.

Hey, you guys remember in 2012? Remember in 2012 when Joe Biden told everybody, "Our president, he carries a big stick. I promise it's a big stick." Well, little did we know he was talking about Obama's selfie stick.

So it's up to us to tell the enemy we win, you lose, just like Ronald Reagan would have told them.

You've got to think about the premise of this. Why did we ever get to that point of something (ph) with Sharia? It's because Iran was dirty dealing. Only in an Orwellian Obama world, full of sprinkly fairy dust blown from atop his unicorn as he's peeking through a really pretty pink kaleidoscope, would he ever see victory of safety for America or Israel in this treaty. So Congress, you've got to kill the deal. The president is playing

you, Congress. Again, he so disrespects you, Congress, and our Constitution, that he won't even bring the treaty to you. You can't this time, Congress. Got to pass it to see what's in it. Not this time.

So as Obama leads from behind the skirt of his right-hand man, Valerie Jarrett, then it's up to Congress to close that window. He may propose you dispose Congress. You be empowered and render a biased lapdog media powerless. Hey, media, they're onto you.


BLITZER: All right. Let's get some analysis of what we just heard. Let's bring back our political reporter, Sara Murray, along with our CNN political commentator, Dan Pfeiffer. He's a former senior adviser to President Obama, along with Republican strategist and CNN political commentator Ana Navarro. And Eric Fehrnstrom. He was a senior advisor to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

All right, Dan Pfeiffer. Got to go to you first. They really were slamming your former boss, the president of the United states. What do you say to these people?

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I say they should have this rally every day. I think CNN and every network should cover it. The idea that the week of Labor Day the Republican Party would be represented by Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, the "Duck Dynasty" guy, Glenn Beck, like, this is a problem for the Republican Party. It's a problems for candidates like Bush, and Rubio and others who are trying to run a more mainstream campaign. This is great. I mean, it -- it sort of pushes the opposition into the fringe where it belongs.

BLITZER: Eric Fehrnstrom, what do you say?

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Well, I think Democrats like Bob Menendez, Chuck Schumer and Ben Cardin have done a really good job of pointing out flaws with this agreement. And whether you're Ted Cruz, or Donald Trump or any of the Republican candidates, you recognize that opposing bad policy is good politics.

So you have more than 2 to 1 majorities in the opinion polls against this deal. A majority of Congress is opposed. And while president thinks he may be able to push this over the goal line, it's going to continue to be an issue for the Democratic nominee, and more importantly for all of the Democratic Senate candidates.

BLITZER: Is this the new face of the Republican Party: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, for example? Because some people are already saying they're having a bromance, if you will. Could be a Republican presidential, vice-presidential ticket.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I don't think it's going to be a phase. I think...

PFEIFFER: Well, I think that... BLITZER: Hold on one second. Let's let Ana Navarro go into that.

NAVARRO: I think it's one of the new faces, and I think that one of the things we have to acknowledge and recognize is that there is a huge diversity, huge diversity of thought in the Republican Party. And it goes on issues like immigration from where maybe Lindsey Graham, and Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio are to where a Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, so it's a diversity of thought. He represents certainly a certain segment.

And what they're doing right now is very smart. They are taking what's a very unpopular deal, and they're throwing red meat to the base and highlighting all the things that are wrong and getting the media attention. They're on to (INAUDIBLE).

MURRAY: Well, I would say that this is the time of the year that the base likes to look at new face. This is the time of year when Republicans aren't very excited about a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio, or names they might know a little better. And they want to hear more from Ted Cruz; they want to hear more from Donald Trump. We saw it with Michele Bachmann. We saw it with Herman Cain. So it's not entirely new that you would sort of have an outsider moment at this point in the summer.

BLITZER: It's a tough situation right now. Let me get back to Eric as we take a look at this, because these leaders, the people who are leading the Republican polls right now for this presidential nomination, they are the outsiders. Some of them have never served in officer. The insiders, the more moderates, if you will, they're not doing that great right now. Why is that?

[17:25:19] FEHRNSTROM: Well, one of the strongest forces in American politics, at least for the moment, is the outsider dynamic. And after that widely-watched first debate, people tuned in by the millions, and they figured out who the outsiders were. And it wasn't just Donald Trump. So you've seen some benefit flow to candidates like Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, who have moved up. They are going to become competitors to Donald Trump for that outsider vote.

But I do think there's a lane in this Republican primary for, let's say, not an insider candidate, but a candidate who is -- has a record, has a background of accomplishment. It could be Jeb Bush. It could be Marco Rubio. It could be Scott Walker.

And eventually what you're going to see is the field will thin out, and I believe you're going to see a contest between one of the outsider candidates and one of the establishment candidates.

So this -- this is going to play out over a period of the next few months. We're emerging from the summer, coming into a new period. The outsider candidates are going to be getting more scrutiny, so they'll be tested in new ways. And most importantly, Wolf, the airwaves haven't started. They're beginning to start now. And that's going to move numbers. It's going to move numbers in New Hampshire. It's going to move numbers in Iowa and everywhere else that -- that these ads are being run. So the polls you see right now are not the same polls that you're

going to see a couple of weeks or a month from now.

BLITZER: But we keep hearing that, Dan Pfeiffer, that you know what? He's going to fade. He was like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann. But if anything, Trump's numbers keep going up and up and up, and Bush's numbers, for example, among the other so-called insiders, more moderate Republicans, their numbers go down, down, down.

PFEIFFER: Right. I think Eric is right, but ultimately, you will have likely a Trump and an anti-Trump. There's a -- so there's a competition on who that other person is going to be.

The challenge for whoever that person could be, whether it's Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Scott Walker or John Kasich is if you add up the poll numbers of the outsiders -- Carson, Trump, Fiorina, and even Cruz, even though he's in the Senate -- fits in that. It is, you know, exponentially larger than that of the establishment candidates.

And then you add to that two factors that are changed. One is campaign finance law where super PACs can benefit people, like someone like Ted Cruz who raised millions of dollars from a couple of brothers in Texas, I think. And in the Republican Party establishment it's held in tremendous well regard by the base.

So usually the establishment can come in and beat down these outsiders candidates. But that, I think, will only serve to strengthen the outsider camps, as did Trump all summer.

BLITZER: Sara, you caught up -- you were there at the rally today. Covering it. You caught up with Donald Trump, and you asked him about the man who's No. 2 in a lot of these Republican polls right now, Dr. Ben Carson, who disagrees with Trump on what to do with the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants here in the United States. This is what your exchange with Trump had. Listen to this.


TRUMP: He doesn't understand it. And he's wrong.

MURRAY: Why do you think he doesn't understand it?

TRUMP: He just doesn't understand it, and he's wrong. We need a strong immigration plan. We have to come back. We have to bring back this country. We need borders. We need strengths. We need smarts. If he doesn't like it, he doesn't understand it.


BLITZER: Because Trump wants to deport all those illegal immigrants immediately. Some of the good ones, he says, can come back. But Dr. Ben Carson says now that's not realistic.

MURRAY: Right. He, like many other people, say that this is not a realistic plan; it's not a feasible plan. And when I asked Donald Trump about it, this is really the first we're seeing these two guys who are at the top of the pack disagree with each other. Because they've sort of been, you know, handling each other very nicely. Donald Trump has said Ben Carson is such a nice guy, could never manage -- imagine attacking him. You know, maybe this is the beginning of an end to that truce.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. We have a lot more to discuss.

But we're also keeping an eye right now on a giant fire burning on the south side of Phoenix, Arizona. We have new information coming in. We'll update you on that.

Get back to the political world and a whole lot of news, right after this.


BLITZER: Happening now, take a look at this. This is a dangerous fire burning south of downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Our affiliate there, KTVK, reports the fire involves hazardous materials, causing explosions sending barrels flying out as projectiles. We'll stay on top of this, get you more information as it comes in. Pretty disturbing pictures, though, coming in from Phoenix.

[17:34:15] Here in Washington today, once again there was a huge rally against the Iran nuclear deal; drew presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz into this whole issue, jointly on the stage there today.

We're back with our political experts. Ana, I know you're a big Jeb Bush supporter. You've been friends with him for a long time. He was on last night "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," the first show of the new -- new "Late Show." And he had this exchange. I want to play it for our viewers.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": You've got another debate coming up in about a week on CNN.


COLBERT: I want to help prep you for that debate, because I'm grateful that you're here as my guest. Would you help me prep you a little bit?

BUSH: I would love it. I need a lot of help.

COLBERT: OK. Let's do this. What I'm going to do is we'll do a role-playing thing. I'll be the moderator. You answer the first question. Let's see how it goes, OK? Governor Bush, what's your reaction on the Iran nuclear deal?

[17:35:05] BUSH: I think President Obama is being naive to trust the ayatollahs. And this deal will ultimately create an -- an even more unstable Middle East, and it troubles me. COLBERT: OK. I think the Republicans in the room would like that

answer, but the folks are going to miss some of that, because in the middle of that they're going to flip over to "Naked and Afraid." OK. What we've done is that we've written up here an answer that's just a little bit just Trumpier. All right. Just read it right off there. All right. All right?

BUSH: Uh-oh, this could be dangerous.

COLBERT: No, it will be fine. Here we go.

Governor, what is your reaction to the Iran deal?

BUSH: I will build a wall between the United States and Iran, and make Mexico pay for it.


BLITZER: He's -- Trump is really scoring points, because he's saying he's low energy, Jeb Bush. He's making fun of him all the time, making fun of him today after his appearance on Stephen Colbert, his "Late Show." What do you think? You're a supporter of Jeb Bush.

NAVARRO: I think Trump is very, very good at insults. As we know, he's very, very rich. He's very, very smart. He's very, very good at deals. And I think he's got a lot of experience at getting very, very good at insults. He's snarky, and he's effective at it. He knows how to land a punch.

He may not be able to name the terrorist leaders. He may not be able to give you policy specifics on any of the very important national security issues, but he can certainly land a punch, and he's funny. Let's admit it. He is funny.

Now, I will tell you, they got 6.6 million viewers last night for that show.

BLITZER: All right. Eric, let's talk a bit about preparations for this debate. You helped prep Mitt Romney for a number of his debates when he was the Republican presidential nominee. What's your advice for Jeb Bush right now, how to handle Trump next Wednesday?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think Jeb is doing everything well to this point. We just talked about the Colbert appearance. I think it's important for people to see candidates in different settings, including on late night. And I thought Jeb was bipartisan; he was good-natured. He rolled with the punches, and he was able to get out some important messages from his campaign.

As far as the debate, for the outsider candidates, I think the challenge for them, now that they've become better known, is to demonstrate that they can move past the shallow talking points and the angry tweets, and actually propose substantive policy to some of the problems that they've identified.

For the other candidates going into the second debate, Wolf, I think the temptation is going to be great to get into the headline. Because I think we can all concede that the headline coming out of this next debate is going to involve Donald Trump.

So the risk assessment they have to make is -- it comes down to this. There is nothing that listeners and viewers haven't heard about Donald Trump. There's no insult that they haven't already heard. But they may be very interested in the insults that Donald Trump directs to the other candidates. So that's the assessments each -- each of the candidates up on stage is going to have to make, whether they want to take that step and take on Donald Trump directly.

You asked about Jeb Bush specifically. I think there's still a good deal that people need to learn about Jeb Bush, about the fact that he was a big state governor, that he has a conservative record to talk about, regarding excellent schools and cutting taxes. These are important data points that haven't seeped in. His advertising is out there, and that's going to help.

BLITZER: All right.

FEHRNSTROM: All right. If I was up on the stage and I was Jeb Bush, I would try to reinforce that.

BLITZER: We'll see. We'll see where that goes. It's going to be lively next Wednesday.

All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

Once again we're looking ahead to the second Republican presidential debate, one week from tonight, September, 16, live from the Reagan Library in California. You will see it only here on CNN.

And CNN is also hosting the first Democratic presidential debate. That will be October 13 in Nevada.

Coming up, a new U.S. warning about Vladimir Putin's military buildup in Syria. Will the Russians make a dangerous situation worse?


[17:43:53] BLITZER: Russia now admits it has military personnel in Syria, helping transfer weapons to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But surveillance is picking up new signs of a significant buildup as Russian planes and ships ferry troops and supplies into the middle of a catastrophic civil war involving a brutal regime. Rebels of various persuasions and a ruthless ISIS mini state also involved. The United States is warning Moscow of a possible confrontation.

Let's turn to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's getting more information. What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, look, the U.S. has been surprised by Russia before. Just recall the Russian takeover of Crimea. This time the Pentagon, the State Department taking no chances, wanting no surprises. They are urgently trying to figure out how far Moscow will go to protect its interests in Syria. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): As Vladimir Putin sends more of his military into Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry making a second call to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, ratcheting up U.S. pressure.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: He reiterated our concern about these reports of Russian military activities or buildup, if you will, in Syria, and made very clear our view that, if true and if borne out, those reports could lead to greater violence.

STARR: Russia doesn't appear to be backing down. Two Russian amphibious ships have unloaded gear. U.S. satellites have seen more than 100 Russian naval infantry troops on the ground, the equivalent of U.S. Marines, and dozens of vehicles.

Russia claims it's all aimed at fighting terrorism.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN (Through Translator): There are Russian military experts in Syria who are instructing the Syrians on the use of military systems being delivered.

STARR: The U.S. says Russia is part of the problem, and their support of the Assad regime has fostered the growth of ISIS.

KIRBY: The intent here is unclear about exactly what they're up to. And why they're doing it.

STARR: The working theories about what Russia may do next, it could attack ISIS positions, but a more likely scenario, Russia attacks Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. That could clear the way for Russia to control what happens if Assad falls.

For now, the U.S. is trying to shut down Russian air routes. Initially the Antonov cargo planes flew from Russia across the Black Sea, Bulgaria and Greece, the Mediterranean and into Syria. But Bulgaria and Greece will no longer let Russia use their airspace. The new route down the Caspian Sea, and across Iran and Iraq into Syria. If Russia begins military operations --

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): It changes the calculation immensely. It not only would cause potential conflicts in the sky between allied air forces, coalition forces, going after the ISIS targets that are in that area, but it could also risk a confrontation between Russian forces and the coalition forces.


STARR: Now U.S. intelligence satellites are keeping a very sharp eye on Russian airfields and ports, watching carefully to see what the Russians may load up next and ship to Syria. The big concern, Wolf, obviously, is if the Russians move in with fighter jets and begin their own airstrikes. That could provide even more unsettled atmosphere in this region and lead to even more violence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thanks very much. A very disturbing report indeed.

Coming up, as Kim Jong-Un shows off his missiles, his rockets, there are now some new troubling signs that North Korea is building up its nuclear program.

And master negotiator Donald Trump calls for the Iran nuclear agreement to be rejected. He says it's incompetent. But can Republicans do anything to stop it?


[17:52:16] BLITZER: As North Korea shows off its conventional fire power there are now some troubling new signs that Kim Jong-Un's regime is building up its nuclear program.

Brian Todd has been looking into these developments. What are you seeing, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we are told by U.N. and U.S. officials flat out that they are worried about a possible expansion of Kim's nuclear weapons arsenal. There are troubling new images coming out of the massive nuclear complex at Yongbyon. They come to us as the young dictator is seen supervising some threatening military drills.


TODD (voice-over): As his network's news anchor gives breathless play-by-play, a cruise missile is fired from a warship and Kim Jong-Un shows his approval. Newly released propaganda video shows him reviewing military exercises, targets at sea explode in the distance. At night he supervises a furious barrage of heavy artillery fire.

It comes as U.S. and U.N. officials tell CNN of new concerns over the possible expansion of Kim's nuclear weapons program. Anticipation is building tonight over one possible threat.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: There is a great deal of concern that North Korea may conduct a fourth nuclear test. It's hard to know when.

TODD: It could happen early next month around an important anniversary celebrating North Korea's dictatorship. New satellite images analyzed by the Web site 38 North shows signs of activity at Yongbyon, North Korea's sprawling complex which produces material for nuclear bombs.

JOEL WIT, NUCLEAR EXPERT, 38 NORTH: We have trucks, there's one truck, here's another truck, and what we see is a lot of activity at this facility which is the reactor. And in this reactor there are fuel rods and over time plutonium is built up in those fuel rods.

TODD: The truck activity could indicate routine maintenance, analyst Joel Wit says, or it could mean more plutoniums being produced for bombs. Also tonight the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency says the floor area of another building at Yongbyon housing a nuclear fuel rod fabrication plant has doubled in size over the past year.

At a time when there's furious disagreement over the Iran nuclear deal, analysts see a disturbing possible parallel with deals reached long ago to curb North Korea's nuclear program.

ALBRIGHT: The most chilling lesson of the North Korean deals, and there's been two sets of them, is that they just don't hold.

TODD: But the Iran deal, analysts, say will be much easier to verify. At this point North Korea's volatile young leader is in a dangerous place.

ALBRIGHT: We're faced with a growing threat from North Korea and no way to stop that threat. And you have to worry that accidents could happen. You'd have to worry that North Korea may miscalculate.


[17:55:05] TODD: And it's not just one nuclear bomb Kim could miscalculate with. Analysts say he's got between 10 and 16 nuclear bombs right now and at the rate he's accelerating his buildup he could have as many as 100 by the end of the 2020 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That's real chilling. And a lot of people, as I say, they're worried about that October 10th date.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: With that historic moment in North Korea. We'll see what happens.

Thanks very much, Brian.

Coming up, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, they lead a rally against the Iran nuclear deal. But is it too late for Republicans to really do anything about the agreement?

And new concerns about a popular airliner after an engine fire forces passengers to evacuate. We'll have an update.