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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview with Representative Daniel Webster; Kevin McCarthy Quits House Speaker's Race; Experts Say North Korea's Nukes Could Reach U.S.; Russian Missile Reportedly Strikes Iran. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 8, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TAPPER: Obviously not an issue we're going to settle here in our four and a half minutes. Always a pleasure to see you. I do recommend your book to everyone, "Between the World and Me."
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, House divided. Republicans are in disarray tonight after their leading candidate for speaker dropped out of the race just moments before a key vote, catching everyone off guard. Was it his verbal gaffe about Hillary Clinton or something else that led to a shocking decision?
Misguided missiles. As Russia pounds targets in Syria from the air, CNN learns that some of Vladimir Putin's newest assaults missed their targets and struck Moscow's close ally, Iran, instead. Will the mistake escalate the crisis engulfing the region?
Nuclear reach. The admiral in charge of protecting the U.S. from nuclear attack warns that North Korea now has the ability to strike American soil with an atomic weapon. As North Korea prepares for a massive celebration, should the U.S. be preparing for a potential nuclear test?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the chaos engulfing House Republicans after the stunning decision by the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, to drop out of the race to replace the speaker, John Boehner. McCarthy only told Boehner and others of his decision moments before a critical first vote McCarthy was expected to win; and now all votes on a new speaker have been postponed.
We're also following a very disturbing development right now involving Russian strikes in Syria. Two U.S. officials tell CNN that at least four cruise missiles launched from a Russian ship aimed at targets in Syria crashed in Iran instead. Russia strongly denying that, noting that it has drones operating in Syria around the clock, presumably monitoring operations.
We're covering all of this and a whole lot more this hour with our correspondents and our guests, including Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let's begin with the breaking news. Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is working the story for us tonight.
Dana, there are reports Speaker Boehner may now be personally lobbying for an ally to run for speaker.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Speaker Boehner and everybody else wants this to be finished, because this was such a surprise that John Boehner himself was planning to get this vote done with today and go up to New York to do Jimmy Fallon and "The Tonight Show."
That was abruptly canceled, because he and everyone else, they were shocked when Kevin McCarthy went behind closed doors, took the microphone, I'm told lowered his voice to a point where people could barely hear what he was saying, and then he dropped the bomb, saying that he was not going to run. He was dropping out of the race. He explained to reporters shortly after.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: We had our conference. And there's calls into the district. I don't want making voting for speaker a tough one. I don't want to go to the floor and win with 220 votes. I think the best thing for our party right now is that you have 247 votes on the floor. If we are going to be strong, we've got to be 100 percent united. And I think, you know what? Let's put -- let's put the conference first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So to break down what he's talking about there in English is in order to become speaker of the House, the full House has to approve it. And you need a majority voting yes. Right now it would be 218. What he was saying pretty clearly is that he might have gotten the votes to do that, but he probably would have been limping along in his speakership, because a lot of Republicans simply didn't support him, wouldn't support him.
There are 247 members of the House caucus. It is the largest majority, really, in modern history. So he is saying it's time for everybody to get together.
So the open question is who is going to fill that role? There was another person -- actually two others, but one of them, Jason Chaffetz, who surprised everybody by jumping into the race this weekend, he talked about how surprised he was that McCarthy dropped out.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Absolutely stunned. Did not see that coming. Kevin McCarthy is a very good man. And he has always been one that puts his country before everything else. And so he and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the same goal and desire. And that is to unite this party and take the fight to the president, to the Senate and to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So everything is up in the air, Wolf. You and I talked earlier today about the fact that John Boehner, the current speaker, was supposed to leave at the end of the month. There was supposed to be a vote on the House floor that we were talking about October 29. Unclear if and when that is going to happen, but John Boehner has made clear that he's going to stay as long as he needs to, to make sure that things run smoothly to whomever his successor will be.
[17:05:13] BLITZER: And as you know, Dana, a lot of talk now about Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee last time around. He's under pressure to throw his hat into the ring. What are you hearing?
BASH: A lot of pressure. And there are few people who have the support and the respect from all sides of the Republican Caucus. And Paul Ryan is one of them.
And, you know, from the minute we heard about this news, the shocking news people started coming out and floating Paul Ryan's name. He actually has canceled, we are told, some fundraisers he was supposed to be doing for the next couple of days. A source said it's because there's too much turmoil right now and tumult. He doesn't want to be involved in that.
But the bottom line, according to Ryan aides, they insist that he is a hard no. That he is not going to run for speaker. He doesn't want the job, despite the fact that there is intense pressure on -- for him to do that.
Now, why doesn't he want the job? I think you can just look at our report and our reporting all day about how tumultuous things are within the party, within the House Republican Caucus to answer that. It is not an easy job to do right now. And he is currently the chairman of the Tax Writing Committee, the Ways and Means Committee. That is his dream job. He's a policy wonk, and he really does want to dig in there. We'll see if he continues to see if he maintains that hard no as pressure continues.
BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.
Our senior political reporter, Manu Raju, talked to Kevin McCarthy after making the shocking announcement. Triggered on Benghazi was an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: How much did your comments about Benghazi last week play into your decision to step aside today? MCCARTHY: Well, that wasn't helpful. Yes. I mean, I could have said
it much better. But this Benghazi committee was only created for one purpose: to find the truth on behalf of the families for the four dead Americans. I should not be a distraction from that. And that's part of the decision, as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Manu is joining us now live from Capitol Hill. McCarthy was also asked, Manu, about a letter from a North Carolina congressman that appeared to be a veiled threat. What are you learning about that?
RAJU: Well, when he was asked about that letter, which was from Walter Jones, a congressman from North Carolina, which essentially says that any misdeeds from members of Congress or candidates for leadership from the past, if they have any misdeeds, that they should step aside to avoid embarrassing the Republican conference, to avoid any sort of scandalous resignation that could actually do more harm to Republicans.
Now, when McCarthy was asked about that, he really dismissed it. He said that was not the reason why he was running. That's why he pulled himself out from the running. I got a chance to talk to Walter Jones about the letter. And here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: I was here when Newt Gingrich stepped down as speaker of the House. We were in the process of impeaching Bill Clinton. And then Newt had to acknowledge that he had an issue, and he stepped down.
Then the conference, the Republican conference, elected Bob Livingston to follow behind Newt as speaker of the House. We all believed that we were moving in the right direction, and two days later, he steps down before even having a vote on the floor of the House.
And there have been some other things that have happened over the past few years that I think, when a person has been a member of the Congress, which is a very sacred duty, quite frankly, in my opinion, and they are elevated to become a leader of a party -- could be either party, Republican or Democrat -- that those in leadership must be above reproach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: You know, this was -- I pushed Walter Jones on whether he believed this caused Kevin McCarthy to step aside. He actually does not think that that was the reason.
And really, the reason that both McCarthy and his allies have been saying all day today is that, if he would have essentially been a pretty toxic leader in terms of this would have been a very tough vote for members of his party to cast, particularly younger members who just became elected to the House. And if they had to cast a vote to put Kevin McCarthy in the chair,
they could really get hit pretty hard, particularly in some of their primary contests, particularly from some of their conservative outside groups who had tried to make Kevin McCarthy an issue. It was clear that McCarthy did not want to go that route.
But what made it so surprising, Wolf, was that at 8 a.m. this morning, Kevin McCarthy was still campaigning for the job privately and didn't let onto anyone that he was going to do this until just moments before he made the news at around noon in the House Office Building and really just stunned everybody in Washington and left Republicans reeling, Wolf.
[17:10:03] BLITZER: Yes, it did, Manu. Thanks very much.
Let's get some more on the breaking news. Joining us now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, also a bit of a veteran of the wars going on within the Republican Party, Congressman, in the House of Representatives.
So Representative McCarthy, the majority leader, he admitted today his comments on the Benghazi committee, the impact that it would have in hurting Hillary Clinton politically didn't help the situation. I assume you agree.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Yes, definitely didn't help. Look, I know Kevin McCarthy. He's a fantastic leader. And he's going to stay a fantastic majority leader, a very powerful position. I know he wishes he could have taken those words back, but I also know that that was not his intention. We did not form the Benghazi committee to take Hillary Clinton down. We formed it to get to the bottom and to get to some answers.
So, yes, it was unfortunate. I don't think that's the final thing that went into his decision. It's a tough caucus to unite right now.
BLITZER: He says he wants to stay on as majority leader, even though he's not running to become speaker. Why should he stay on as majority leader?
KINZINGER: He has the trust of the caucus. The thing about today, had we gone in, he probably would have gotten 180 to 200 votes behind closed doors, and then typically we all go out and we all vote together for him on that actual day at the end of the October.
But, you know, you think about it: 200 out of 247 Republicans saying, "This is the person we want." He has the full confidence of the caucus for majority leader. And he's done a great job, frankly, of bringing folks from all -- all, I guess, walks of life and all political spectrums together. He just didn't see that that was best as speaker right now.
BLITZER: You want him to be the majority leader?
KINZINGER: I want him to be the majority leader, absolutely. He's great.
BLITZER: Did you want him to be the speaker?
KINZINGER: Yes, I did want him to be the speaker. I would have voted for him today. And just like basically everybody in that room, I was taken aback when he said it. In fact, there are a lot of us for about three minutes that were asking each other, "Did that really happen? Is that -- did we hear it right?" And so I would love to have him.
And I think, you know, maybe at some point in the future, he's going to make a run at it again. But it's obviously not today.
BLITZER: Did what happened today hurt the Republican Party?
KINZINGER: I don't think it helps. You know, we're going to get through this. We have to figure out how to come together as a team. We win as a team. We lose when we fight as individuals. And that's been a concern of mine with the Republican Party is uniting behind our common principles.
So no, it didn't help. I think it sends a question to the American people about our ability to govern. And that's why it's all that much more important for us to find whoever this candidate's going to be. I don't know who it's going to be, to bring us together to say, look, here's our shared vision. And we can govern.
BLITZER: Who do you want to be the speaker of the House?
KINZINGER: Well, look, just like everybody, I'd love if Paul Ryan ran. I don't think he wants the job. I don't know why anybody would want the job right now, frankly. But there's a lot of great candidates. Some names being floated. I'm as confused, frankly, about what's going on as everybody out there.
And so over the next week, I think some names will shake out. Some alliances will be built. But ultimately, we have to bring somebody together that can win, that can win 218 votes and seems to have been tough of late.
BLITZER: And could that guy be Paul Ryan? Would you support Paul Ryan as speaker? Could he get the overwhelming majority of the Republican Caucus, more than 218 votes on the House floor, to become the speaker if he were to change his mind and run?
KINZINGER: Oh, absolutely. I think if Paul Ryan ran, he'd win. The question is does he want to?
Unfortunately, in the speaker's position, you become controversial very quickly. You have things like debt limit, government funding, tough issues that we have to deal with out here and have to take tough votes. And the speaker has to lead on those issues.
So look, I don't blame Paul Ryan for saying he doesn't want to do it. But if he did step forward, I think he'd have a huge overwhelming consensus of people backing him. BLITZER: You heard -- just heard in Manu's report Republican
Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina raise questions earlier in the week, suggesting any candidate for the party's leadership in the House who had committed, in his words, misdeeds since being elected to the House should step down. Do you know what he's referring to?
KINZINGER: No, I don't. And you know what? Frankly, people haven't taken him seriously in a long time out here. I don't think, whatever he's implying, whatever he's writing about really had anything to do with anything.
But look, I guess any member of Congress can write a letter that says whatever you want it to say.
BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about including latest developments. Apparently, Russia firing cruise missiles into Syria but landing in Iran. You're a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and -- and Afghanistan. Stay with us.
Much more with Adam Kinzinger when we come back.
[17:19:19] BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We want to talk to him about new information CNN has learned about Russian cruise missiles fired at targets in Syria but actually hit a Russian ally, Iran, instead.
Let's get the background. CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russian warships firing cruise missiles at what it says are ISIS targets in Syria.
But as the Russian leader celebrated his 63rd birthday on the ice rink, there are new signs of trouble for the Russian military campaign. CNN has learned at least four of the more than two dozen Russian cruise missiles launched from ships in the Caspian Sea crashed in Iran.
[17:20:07] No word from Moscow or Tehran. But U.S. officials say they believe there are injuries. A setback for the Russian caliber cruise missile billed as a highly precise weapon with a 1,000-pound warhead being used for the first time in combat.
The Pentagon furious that the Russians gave no warning of the missile launches and of other Russian moves.
ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: It remains our hope that Russia will see that tethering itself to a sinking ship is a losing strategy.
STARR: And an ominous prediction from the U.S. defense secretary.
CARTER: I also expect that, in coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer casualties in Syria.
STARR: U.S. aerial drones monitoring the border with Turkey now have been shadowed by Russian aircraft on at least two occasions. And the Russians have flown into Turkish air space. Russia claims these videos show their attacks on ISIS. But the U.S. and Turkey say that is not Russia's main target.
CARTER: They have initiated a joint ground offensive with the Syrian regime, shattering the facade that they're there to fight ISIL.
STARR: A U.S. official tells CNN so far rebel groups have been able to thwart at least limited parts of the Russian and Syrian advances, even in the face of this brutal rocket system, essentially a giant flame thrower. But a top congressional Democrat says the U.S. has to do more.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: That might mean a no-fly zone in the southern part of Syria and sending a message that he sends up helicopters to barrel bomb people, we're going to take those down.
STARR: Now, where do we stand tonight? The U.S. insists, NATO agrees, that the Russians are mainly striking targets of militias and movements that are against Bashar al-Assad, that Russia is not striking ISIS, not -- at least not in any large amount -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.
Let's get back to Congressman Kinzinger.
Congressman, if they miss their targets in Syria, hit some place in Iran, that could happen, they could hit some place in Jordan. They could hit some place in Israel. That neighborhood relatively pretty small. What happens then?
KINZINGER: Well, it's 100 percent true. I mean, look, they're new so-called amazing cruise missile system, by your report, has about a 20 percent error rate, which is pretty high. It could go into Turkey, a NATO ally. It could hit Israel, Jordan, into Iraq. I mean, we have troops stationed in Iraq, for goodness sakes. This is a very dangerous thing. And obviously, the Russians brought out their brand- new weapons system that really is not -- not living up to its -- up to its hype.
BLITZER: It's a really dangerous situation. Congressman Kinzinger, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this.
We're getting some more breaking news into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We have new details coming in of that chaos engulfing House Republicans tonight after their top candidate for speaker suddenly drops out of the race. Plus, my interview with Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.
He tries to explain his controversial remarks about the Oregon college shooting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Knowing that you were next to be killed and that they were going to continue to go down the line killing people, I would much rather go down fighting. And if all of us attack the shooter, the chances are very strong that not all of us will be killed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:28:12] BLITZER: This hour's breaking news. Chaos up on Capitol Hill after Representative Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader, the man nearly everyone presumed would become the next speaker of the House, shocked everyone by suddenly dropping out of the race suddenly.
Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, was up on Capitol Hill when McCarthy made his bombshell announcement. She joins us now, along with our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny; our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our CNN political contributor Ryan Lizza, the "New Yorker" magazine's Washington correspondent.
Dana, you're getting new information now about a big push to try to get Paul Ryan to run for speaker.
BASH: That's right. You know, we have been talking about the idea that so many people, just in the immediate moments after McCarthy made clear that he wasn't going to run, everybody's name -- the name on everybody's lips, rather, was Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan.
Well, it goes up to the tippy top. I've just confirmed from a source familiar with the conversation that the current speaker, John Boehner, is even calling, trying to convince Paul Ryan, please, please reconsider.
But, again, just confirming and reconfirming with sources who are familiar with Paul Ryan thinking that he is absolutely, positively a no. He saw what happened to John Boehner. He's been in the House for a long time. He knows the situation, knows the climate, and he is not interested in this job right now.
BLITZER: All right. Everyone stand by. We're getting more on the breaking news.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Daniel Webster of Florida. He has been -- he wants to be the next speaker of the House. He's been endorsed by the House Freedom Caucus, an influential group of very conservative lawmakers.
Congressman, are you still running for speaker?
REP. DANIEL WEBSTER (R), FLORIDA: I am. Great to be on.
BLITZER: What did you think of McCarthy's dropping out?
WEBSTER: I was shocked. I don't think anybody expected that. I think he definitely put something on us that we weren't expecting when we walked into the room.
[17:30:00] BLITZER: Why do you think he dropped out?
WEBSTER: I don't know why he dropped out because we just had a -- we had a member session where all the members came together and we and myself and the other two candidates were there, Kevin was there. And he was passionate about it. This was just an hour and a half before he announced he wasn't going to do it.
BLITZER: So something happened obviously that convinced him. How many votes do you think you had? Because as you know he could get the majority among House Republicans, but the question is when it comes up for a formal vote at the end of the month you presumably didn't have enough to get the 218 you need. Is that the reason?
WEBSTER: I don't know if that's the reason. I felt like he had certainly the majority of the votes. I did believe that.
BLITZER: You think Paul Ryan is going to run for speaker against you?
WEBSTER: That I do not know. I'm really not engaged with personalities. I'm working on what I believe to be a process problem that I have with the House. It's power based. I want it to be principle based. I did it in Florida when I was speaker there. And I know we can do it here. Makes everything different and the members engage themselves far more than they do under the current system.
BLITZER: Congressman, Dana Bash has a question for you.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Congressman. Nice to talk to you again.
BASH: In the hallway earlier today you were saying that even you, a competitor to Kevin McCarthy up until a few hours ago, you thought it was what 99 percent sure that he would be the speaker. Talk about that, and also about if that's the case, why were you running against him?
WEBSTER: Well, it's just a matter of votes. And I was trying to get as many votes as I possibly could. And I had quite a few. But in the end the numbers are the telltale. But it didn't change the fact that I believe that we have a broken system. I think the public believes that having everything decided at the top of a pyramid of power by a few people doesn't work. And all I wanted to do is get the message out.
And I'd like to serve as speaker to show -- because I did it there in Florida, we pushed down that pyramid of power, spread out the base, so every single member could be a player.
BLITZER: Could you support Paul Ryan, Congressman, as speaker of the House? Would he be a good compromise candidate?
WEBSTER: Well, right now I'm a candidate for speaker. I don't plan on dropping out.
BLITZER: But -- the question is, could you support Paul Ryan?
WEBSTER: Instead of myself? Is that what you're asking?
WEBSTER: No. I'm going to -- I would stay in the race.
BLITZER: Why are you better than Paul Ryan or Jason Chaffetz, for example?
WEBSTER: Well, I've done it before. I've been a speaker of a House, and not only that I've changed the way it worked, the public noticed. Our numbers flipped right side up instead of upside down on polling. And I believe it's what's best for this Congress. We -- our numbers languish at 10, 11, 12 percent approval. And I think we can change that. If we do by engaging all the members in the process.
BLITZER: Could you get all 247 Republicans to support you and keep that and try to get that Republican Party and the House, the Republican caucus as it's called, united?
WEBSTER: That would be phenomenal to get 247. But I'm certainly giving it all I've got.
BLITZER: Here's also something intriguing that emerged today. Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, he raised questions in a letter earlier this week suggesting any candidate for the party's leadership speaker, majority leader, any of the leadership positions, in his words, what, committed any, quote, "misdeeds" since being elected to the House of Representatives should step down. Do you know what he's referring to?
WEBSTER: I am -- I do not know what he's referring to. To me like I said I'm not into judging someone else. I'm into one thing and that is I want to see a principle-based Congress replace the old power- based system that we have.
BLITZER: Since he's raised it, Congressman Walter Jones, have you committed any misdeeds since entering the House of Representatives?
WEBSTER: Maybe running for speaker. I'm not sure. But, no, I have not.
BLITZER: If you become speaker of the House, what would you do as far as funding for Planned Parenthood or extending raising the nation's debt? Would you be willing to go so far as to shut down the federal government to do -- to get those issues resolved from your perspective?
WEBSTER: Well, those questions are for the old power-based system where the top of the pyramid of power made all the decisions. My job as speaker is to unite us and let the committee structure and the committee work and the members use that process that we have here now and take the rules that we have and produce product. That would be up to them. It's up to the members. It's up to a majority vote on the floor. That's what I support.
I don't want to get trapped into these issues where we wait right until the last minute, the last end of the day. I want to take those important issues up first so we don't have this pressing deadlines all the time. And that's what I believe to be is a principle-based system.
[17:35:10] BLITZER: So you're not ruling out necessarily another government shutdown?
WEBSTER: No. I think we stay away from those by doing our work. And if we do our work up front, we don't even run into these government shutdown issues.
BLITZER: Congressman Daniel Webster of Florida, wants to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives. What an exciting day today up on Capitol Hill, Congressman. Thanks for joining us.
WEBSTER: Great to be on.
BLITZER: All right. Much more on the breaking news coming up. We'll get back to our panel. All the day's news including my interview with Dr. Ben Carson, the Republican presidential candidate. Much more right after this.
[17:40:19] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Chaos up on Capitol Hill after Congressman kevin McCarthy actually drops out of the race to become the next speaker of the House. And just now, Florida Congressman Daniel Webster was also running against McCarthy to become speaker said he still wants to be speaker. He raised the possibility of a government shutdown.
We're back with our panel.
Gloria, what's your reaction to Representative Webster, what he had to say to me just moments ago? He says he's not backing down at all, wants to be speaker and wouldn't necessarily support Paul Ryan to be speaker. He wants to be speaker.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think this is the division in the House of Representatives. The hell-no caucus has been the bane of John Boehner's existence. And it continues to be a problem for the Republican Party. It's very hard for them to coalesce around a leader when they can't coalesce around an agenda.
And so there are Republicans who don't want to shut the government down. McCarthy didn't want to shut the government down. Webster wants to shut the government down. I think they smell blood in the water when McCarthy made that mistake on Benghazi. And they are continuing. I think the question now is whether they are emboldened to continue or
whether John Boehner can find a way before he leaves the Congress to make sure that the government does not get shut down. I'm sure he's going to try, but I'm not sure he could do it.
BLITZER: Ryan, even Congressman Webster said he was shocked by McCarthy's decision not to run for speaker. We know he was telling people, McCarthy, as early as 8:00 a.m. this morning only a few hours before the actual meeting that he was still in the race. What happened?
RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: I don't think we know yet, Wolf. I think it's very, very unusual that he pulled out at the last minute. His stated reason for dropping out as he said in interviews today is that he wanted a larger majority of the vote.
I've never seen someone drop out of the race because they were going to win but not win by a big enough margin. I mean, he knew when he jumped into this race that governing the House conference was going to be difficult and that he'd only have, you know, 218 or 220 something votes for most priorities including his own election.
So, look, I think the most unusual thing is the one that you pointed out in your interview with Webster is that other members of Congress were raising this issue of misdeeds. And I think that's the most curious thing that has happened this week. And I frankly don't think we have the full story of why McCarthy dropped out yet. And that's still to come.
BLITZER: Yes. So North Carolina representative Walter Jones all of a sudden raising the issue of misdeeds for sitting members of Congress.
Jeff, Republicans, they're enjoying the largest majority in the House in, what, 80 years or so. They control the Senate. They have a lame- duck president right now effectively speaking another year to go, so for this president of the United States and the Oval Office, they call him a lame duck. He's certainly not, though. He's obviously doing a lot of important work right now.
They still can't get their House in order, though. How bad does this look for the Republicans?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just don't think it looks bad. I think it is bad for the Republicans. I mean, no question about it, no matter how you slice it every Republican you talk to says this makes them look terrible. I talked to several rank- and-file members, you know, from freshmen all the way up today. And they are dispirited, disheartened and frankly not sure where they go from here.
And this has a big spill-out effect outside of the capitol into the country. This is happening right in the middle of a presidential campaign. And boy, does this ever embolden outsider Republican presidential candidates. Donald Trump, of course, jumped into this story out in Las Vegas and effectively took some responsibility. He said, you know, I was essentially, you know, behind this or the forces behind me sort of made this happen here. So I think that is what's happening here.
The establishment of the Republican Party does not know how to govern. The party in and of itself cannot coalesce around one sort of governing agenda here. So this is very, very bad for this Republican Party.
BASH: And, Wolf, if I --
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Gloria.
BASH: It's Dana. If I could just -- if I could just add to that. Of course it looks bad if you are somebody who wants the institution to run as it has run for the past, you know, X number of decades. But if you are somebody like Daniel Webster who you've just interviewed or part of the so-called Freedom Caucus, this is not a bad thing. This is what they are working towards every single day, to disrupt the institution, to disrupt the leadership.
And I'm told that actually McCarthy was starting to think about this over the past couple of days despite what he was saying publicly, despite really pushing and campaigning even this morning for it. And the reason is because in his conversations with those conservatives who he would have to negotiate with to get their votes, to get enough votes to be speaker, it was clear to him that he would have to make so many concessions that he would not be an effective speaker. He wouldn't be able to do his job.
[17:45:16] And he said to himself, you know, why do I have to do this? Certainly there were probably many factors, but that was one of the finalizing parts of his decision when he said huh-uh.
BORGER: Wolf, I think the Republicans are trying to do the impossible, which is to lose control of the House representatives. I mean, they have this huge margin, as you point out. And they look chaotic because they are. And, you know, in the end this could be good for Hillary Clinton because chaos in the Republican Party is good for her. But to Jeff's point that he -- you know, that he made before, this is reflective of a broader point among the electorate which is that outsiders reign, right?
And that outsiders are dominant in this election cycle. That's what McCarthy was facing. That's what Hillary Clinton could face. That's what Jeb Bush could face. So they look bad, the question is how does it play for her?
BLITZER: All right. Good questions indeed. And we're going to stay on top of this story. Much more in our next hour coming up on it. But coming up next, North Korea preparing to show off its military muscle. Right now experts are warning that Kim Jong-Un's nuclear weapons could actually reach the U.S. homeland. A full report coming up.
[17:51:02] BLITZER: We're keeping a very close watch right now on North Korea. Kim Jong-Un's government is getting ready for an important national celebration and a show of military strength that's especially ominous in light of a new warning that North Korea's nuclear missiles could actually hit the United States.
Brian Todd has been speaking with U.S. officials and weapons experts about the dangers.
What are you learning, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, this latest warning comes from a top U.S. admiral who constantly watches the North Korean threat. He says North Korea can miniaturize nuclear weapons, put them on a rocket just like this one that could reach the U.S. His warning comes on the eve of a major North Korean military display marking a crucial anniversary for Kim Jong-Un's regime.
TODD (voice-over): The top admiral in charge of protecting America's homeland from a nuclear attack gives a chilling assessment about North Korea.
ADM. WILLIAM GEOFFREY, COMMANDER, NORAD AND U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND: They have the ability, they have the weapons, they have the ability to miniaturize those weapons and they have the ability to put them on a rocket that reach the homeland.
TODD: Weapons experts tell CNN Kim Jong-Un has developed sophisticated rockets with advanced technology.
RICHARD FISHER, INTERNATIONAL ASSESSMENT AND STRATEGY CENTER: The most likely next vehicle that North Korea will use is their large liquid fueled space launch vehicle called Unha which today launches a satellite but can be modified to carry a nuclear war head but that missile can reach global targets. It can reach targets all over the United States.
TODD: But experts say the North Koreans haven't flight tested those rockets yet and they could break up as they re-enter the atmosphere sparking retaliation from the U.S.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: You may be down a 10 percent, 20 percent chance of success, and are you willing to commit suicide for a 10 percent chance of success? I mean, most nations would say absolutely not.
TODD: But North Korea is not most countries. Analysts say Kim's regime already has ballistic missiles which can carry a warhead to Alaska or Washington state. They could soon have the ability to fire a nuclear tipped missile from a submarine which could launch surprise attacks off America's coast. They're constantly testing, refining those capabilities.
U.S. officials tell CNN they previously thought that North Korea might test a rocket carrying a satellite sometime around this weekend, the massive celebration marking the anniversary of the founding of the regime, but satellite pictures show little evidence of preparations and U.S. officials now say a test could be delayed but they are still watching closely.
If Kim doesn't conduct a test launch near the anniversary, America and allies are not out of danger.
PATRICK CRONIN, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: North Korea is conducting cyber attacks as we speak. North Korea has already tried to bring down or demonstrate that they would bring down the South Korean banking system. Imagine Wall Street suddenly losing all of its information.
TODD: South Korean officials say North Korea has got a cyber army, which has demonstrated the capability and the will to attack its enemies. They are believed to have launch a massive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment last year, and recently a South Korean lawmaker declared that a group linked to North Korea hacked South Korea's subway system last year. A North Korea cyber attack somewhere around the anniversary celebration this weekend is a real possibility -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope that -- that doesn't happen.
Brian, you're also getting new satellite images of the regime's preparations for that military parade in Pyongyang that's supposed to happen in the next day or two.
TODD: We just got these images, Wolf. Take a look. These images come from the group 38 North taken just a couple of days ago which shows the staging areas in eastern Pyongyang. Hundreds of trucks, tents, and military armored vehicles are right in this area, this is a converted helicopter base. Here you see replicas of Kim Jong-Un's -- excuse me, Kim Il-Sung square and a replica of a reviewing stand right here that they've been practicing on. Experts say this could be the biggest military parade in North Korea's history.
Watch for those images, Wolf, they will be amazing.
[17:55:10] BLITZER: We will certainly watch it. They've had huge parades over the years. This one could be even bigger, Brian.
BLITZER: Thanks very, very much.
Breaking news coming up next, House Republicans in disarray tonight after their majority leader drops out of the race to become the speaker of the House at the very last minute. Was another lawmaker's mysterious warnings about misdeeds a factor?
Plus a troubling warning about ISIS and homegrown violent extremists in the United States. Could counterterrorism officials keep track of their growing numbers?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:00:04] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. GOP shocker. The top candidate to be the next House speaker suddenly drops out of the race minutes before a critical vote.