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THE SITUATION ROOM
Student's Violent Arrest Sparks Outrage, FBI Probe; On the Front Lines in the Fight Against ISIS; Interview with Congressman Schiff. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 27, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:14] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Iraq escalation. Even as the dust clears after a special operation inside Iraq, the Pentagon says the U.S. will be stepping up its fight against ISIS with more airstrikes and boots on the ground.
On the front lines, we'll take you inside Syria, where Kurdish fighters are battling ISIS and hoping for more U.S. help. They may be poorly armed, but they do have a devastating secret weapon.
Schoolroom shocker. The FBI is now investigating the violent takedown of a high-school student by a sheriff's deputy who moved in after she allegedly refused to leave class. We're standing by for a live news conference with the county sheriff.
And Trump falls. Ben Carson delivers a one-two punch, knocking Donald Trump from the top spot in Iowa, and according to one poll, taking a nationwide lead among Republicans. Trump is back on the attack but admits he doesn't get it.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: All that coming up. But let's get to the breaking news right now, Columbia, South Carolina, where a deputy was caught on video grabbing a teenage student, throwing her across a classroom floor. The incident in Spring Valley High School sparking national outrage.
Today the FBI announced it's going to investigate. And just a little while ago, school district officials called the video shameful and outrageous. The sheriff of this county is now speaking, Leon Lott.
Let's listen in.
LEON LOTT, SHERIFF, RICHLAND COUNTY: ... a criminal investigation. I also had a conversation with the United States attorney, William Nettles, and followed up with a written request to Dave Thomas, FBI special agent in charge, and also the U.S. attorney, and followed up with a written request this morning asking them to investigate this as a civil rights violation, whatever violation that they deem is appropriate.
I felt that it was very important that I do that very quickly. I don't want anybody in Richland County or anyone in the world to say that this is not being held -- handled properly. That's why I've asked for a very independent outside agency that we all respect and note it does a very thorough and fair investigation to handle this.
That's why I asked the FBI to come in and do it. They've agreed. They've opened up a civil rights investigation. They've already started their investigation. We're fully cooperate with them. And provide anything that they need.
Their timetable, I can't tell you. That's their investigation. They will handle that. The timetable on the internal investigation should be finished within probably the next 24 hours.
Within the next 24 hours, I'll have the results of our internal investigation. And at that point, I'll make my decision on whether the deputy will continue to be employed here or not. I can't tell you now. I haven't seen results. I just got back in town. I haven't had a chance to get up to speed on everything. I will do that, and then hopefully by tomorrow, I'll be able to stand here before you and all of at citizens of Richland County and give you the decision that I've reached, based on our internal affairs investigation.
Again, this is very disturbing. We've seen one video. We've seen two video, and now we've learned that there's a third video. We have a third one that's come forward. Another child or student in that class videoed it also from a different angle it, and it shows a different perspective. It actually shows the student hitting the school resource officer with her fist and striking him.
Now, what she does is not what I'm looking at. What I'm looking at is what our school resource officer did. What was his actions, what did he do? That's where I will make my determination based on that.
So even though she was wrong for disturbing the class, even though she refused to abide by the directions of the teacher, the school administrator and then also the verbal commands of our deputy, I'm looking at what our deputy did, what was seen on the video, on all of the videos, and also what the witness statements.
We've gotten statements from the teacher, from the assistant principal there. That will be in the whole packet that I'll look at and make my determination.
Again, just like anybody else who saw it, I'm very disturbed by it. We're going to handle it appropriately, and we're going to handle it very quickly. This is not something that should drag out. This is a priority for our internal affairs division. They've been working on it since yesterday. And again, I feel that by tomorrow I should have the results of that.
[17:05:13] But you know, to go back to the FBI investigation, that is something I really felt like I needed to make that request very quickly. And I appreciate the FBI and United States attorney's office agreeing to take over the investigation and conduct that investigation very quickly. Look forward to whatever the results. Questions? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff, if you're talking about the third video,
is there ever a scenario in which one of the your deputies does not necessarily feel his life in danger that's it's OK to do what he did?
LOTT: Well, I don't want to comment right now until this is over with. But I think you understand when I say I'm disturbed by it also. You should be able to read between the lines on that. But again, I want to get official results from our internal affairs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow up question is that will be part of the investigation, though, the fact that he did, according to this video (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
LOTT: Well, that -- to me that's really not relevant. What's relevant is his actions, what did he do? And how did he conduct himself when he made the arrest? That's what I'm looking at.
Yes, I'm very concerned about her disrupting school and not allowing the teacher to teach and the kids to learn. I'm concerned about that. But that's not my responsibility right now. My responsibility is the appropriateness of the deputy's actions. That's what I'm looking at.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the criteria that you're looking at when you are making your evaluation as to whether or not he properly applied force?
LOTT: Did he follow the procedures that we have and what we teach? And our training unit will look at the videos. They will look at the statements. They're the ones who teach these officers and deputies on the proper techniques, and they will give me a report, did he follow the proper techniques that he's been taught here at the sheriff's department.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff, for uptown (ph) folks and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) employees, you talk broadly about the specific incident, about the SRO program, how long it's been in place, how many officers are in how many schools, et cetera?
LOTT: We have 87 school resource officers. We're the largest in the state. Every school in Richland County, elementary school, middle school, high school, and alternative schools, have a school resource officer assigned to them. Some of the high schools have two school resource officers.
I've been sheriff for 19 years, and we've had these officers in our schools ever since I've been elected sheriff. By and large, they're doing a great job every single day.
Their job there is to build relationships with the kids, make sure that the school's a safe environment. They're there as educators; teach kids things that you might not learn from a book about a math, life skills, something dangerous, gangs and drugs. That's their -- some of them are teachers. Some of them are coaches. This school resource officer was one of the football coaches for Spring Valley High School also. We want them to be involved in the school, be a very positive role model. But they're also there to assist administrators and the teachers to
make sure it's a good, safe learning environment. That's what kids go to school for, is to learn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was concerns raised by many in the community about the SRO program and whether that officer should have been in that room to begin with. Is that something that, going forward, you will look into as well? And she claims that she suffered injuries, lacerations, broken bones, do you have anything on that?
LOTT: I have no knowledge of that. My knowledge, she wasn't injured whatsoever. She might have a rug burn or something like that, but she was not injured.
As far as the officer being there, I have some concerns about that, too. I think sometimes our officers are put in very difficult positions. When a teacher can't control a student, is that our responsibility to go in there and remove that student or is that the responsibility of the teacher or the school administration.
Unfortunately our legislature passed a law that's called disturbing school, if a student disturbs school. And that's a wide range of activities, disturbing schools. They can be arrested.
Our goal has always been let's see what we can do without arresting the kids. We don't need to arrest these students. We need to keep them in schools. And that's why we have so many alternative programs to do that.
Should that officer have been called to come get involved? That's something the school district is going to have to answer. And we've had discussion about that in the past, you know. You know, was it proper to call an SRO to come in and discipline a child? Is that our job? Or is that the school's job?
[17:10:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any new procedures that could be put in place after this investigation for SRO officers?
LOTT: Well, that's what we're going to look at. We'll go back and look what he did, and we'll re-examine it and see if there's some changes that we need to make. I don't know. Maybe one of the first ones that just jumped out at me is maybe all the other students have should have been removed from the classroom so they weren't present when this happened.
And that's not to prevent them from video recording. But maybe they just shouldn't need to be in there. We didn't know at what point it could have escalated. So why have other students in there? And that's a decision we'll have to make with the school. The school may not want to completely disrupt the class by taking all the students out. So that's something we'll have to talk with them about.
We'll re-examine everything and make sure that our policies are sound, and if we need to change something, improve it, we'll definitely do that. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff, you spoke of training. Could you give us
an idea of what training is in a case like this and maybe what he should have done in a case like this?
LOTT: I'm not going to address right now what he should have done. I'll let the investigation speak for that, and I'll speak toward that once I make my decision in the internal affairs investigation.
School resource officers go to specialized training, training above what a normal deputy has. Our law in the state is that you can't be a school resource officer until you're certified, which means you have to go to a class. And these officers have continuous education on procedures about how to be a school resource officer.
And this officer in question was a certified school resource officer. He had been through the training. And he was up to date on all of his training.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How does that happen? Does he apply for it? Is that something that...
LOTT: No, sometimes they kind of move their way up. He started at a middle school, and then when an opening came up, high school. Sometimes we move them straight into high school. It's kind of a joint decision that's made between us and the school districts.
And again, with 87 school resource officers and 3 school districts, you know, we have a very large program. It's a successful program. Yesterday was not typical of what we do every single day. And, you know, but right now we can't focus on all the successes. We've got to focus on a possible failure we had yesterday and address that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there any concern...
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor this news conference. The Sheriff, Leon Lott of Richland County, outside the county where Columbia, South Carolina, is and where they had this very disturbing incident in this school yesterday.
Jason Carroll has been covering all of this for us.
Jason, what we learned from the sheriff is that there is yet a third video, and the third video, he says, shows this young woman, this young student, a junior in the school, was actually resisting, hitting the police officer, the sheriff's deputy, in that classroom. That's new information he's now providing.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is correct. And we'll have to take a look at that video, because what it still is going to come down to is, even if that 16-year-old student did strike at that deputy, was his response, the one that you see there, and what so many people have seen now, was that response still appropriate? And that's going to be a part of the investigation going forward.
A couple of headlines, though, came out of that presser, Wolf. Namely, that the sheriff's department holding its own internal investigation, which according to Sheriff Lott, should be completed by some time tomorrow, at the very least, within the next 24 hours.
They've already interviewed the teacher that was there in the math class. In addition to that, they've also interviewed the assistant principal, who was there in the class, as well. You heard the sheriff's deputy say that he was disturbed by what he saw on that video and that whatever action, if there is any action to be taken, it will be both appropriate and that action will be taken quickly.
Just, again, to sort of reboot what happened here, taking a look at that video, this video caught on cell phone video by, now we're told, three students in that math class.
Apparently this was a student who had resisted. She'd been told to leave the class, not once, not twice, but several times, if you count the teacher telling her to leave the class, the administrator telling her to leave the class. Now you've got this video that's gone viral. We've got an internal investigation going on with the sheriff's department. Also, with the U.S. Justice Department, as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have more on this story as it develops here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jason Carroll, stand by.
There's other major news unfolding today, as well, including an expanded U.S. Role in the wars against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. New information, much more on this coming up right after a break.
Breaking news we're following. The U.S. now stepping up its war against ISIS. Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, officials there, elsewhere here in Washington seems to be clearly indicating there will be more U.S. ground combat troops on the ground over there, like we saw potentially in that commando raid last week.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON: Well, that is the message they are definitely putting out, Wolf. The question is, at what point does all of this actually become a combat operation?
STARR (voice-over): ISIS fighting for control of Syrian army checkpoints near Aleppo. Just one moment on the complex battlefield of Syria and Iraq that Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he now has a plan to change.
[17:20:13] ASH CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.
STARR: Direct action means U.S. Special Operations forces conducting high-risk ground raids like the one inside Syria against Abu Sayyaf, a senior ISIS leader, and again last week's daring hostage rescue mission in northern Iraq, where Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was killed in action.
The Pentagon also focusing directly on the self-declared capital of ISIS in Syria, as well as Ramadi in Iraq, another key ISIS stronghold. The top U.S. general laying out his own call for U.S. boots on the ground.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: If it had operational or strategic impact and reinforce success, that would be the basic framework within which I'd make a recommendation for additional forces to be co-located with Iraqi units.
STARR: President Obama has to approve any new plans, but the Pentagon still resistant to establishing a no-fly zone to protect civilians and rebels on the ground. An idea backed by key Republicans and Hillary Clinton.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Anyone we send in and train, we're going to protect from Russian air attacks.
CARTER: We have an obligation to do that.
MCCAIN: We haven't done it, Secretary Carter.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's killed 250,000.
STARR: One Republican senator and presidential candidate pressing for direct U.S. action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
GRAHAM: When Russia's going to fight for him, Iran's going to fight for him, Hezbollah's fighting for him, and we're not going to do a damn thing to help people take him down. Do you see any credible military threat to take him down, General Dunford?
DUNFORD: I think the balance of forces right now are in Assad's advantage.
GRAHAM: Not his advantage. He is secure as the day is long.
STARR: Now, still, given all of this, many fighters, many groups on the ground in Syria, in Iraq, will say that what they really want right now is heavier weapons. The U.S. supplying some small arms, but many groups say to make it work against ISIS, they just simply need heavier weapons -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.
The United States certainly relying heavily on Kurdish militias to carry the fight against ISIS. Kurdish fighters in Syria pushed ISIS back. They're preparing for a U.S.-backed defensive toward the terror group strongholds, including its headquarters in Raqqah, Syria.
CNN's newest senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, went to the front lines in northeastern Syria, where the poorly-equipped fighters do have a small, secret weapon against ISIS. Clarissa is back in northern Iraq right now. She's joining us live from Irbil.
Clarissa, talk to us a little bit about these Kurdish fighters. You spent time with them. They're still facing constant ISIS attacks.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There are skirmishes along the front lines that we visited almost every single day. And just a few weeks ago, the U.S. did air drop 50 tons of ammunition to Kurdish YPG fighters and their allies on the ground inside Syria. But the fighters who we were with said they are going to need much more than that.
WARD (voice-over): These men are at the core of America's latest strategy to defeat ISIS. Manning positions along a vast and desolate frontline with ISIS entrenched in villages just through the haze. They're fighters with the YPG, a force of roughly 30,000 Syrian Kurds, which backed by coalition air power, has dealt decisive blows to Islamic state militants across northern Syria.
Commander Bahuz (ph) is in charge of this front line position in the city of Hasaka (ph), which the YPG took from ISIS in August after months of fierce clashes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They tried to attack us again ten days ago. We were prepared, so they didn't reach their target.
WARD (on camera): But they keep trying. ISIS has control of the next village along, which is just over a mile in that direction. But the men at this base tell us that ISIS fighters often go at night to that building just over there so that they can launch attacks on these positions.
(voice-over): The U.S. hopes the YPG will soon move from defense to offense, taking the fight to ISIS's stronghold in Raqqah. But at makeshift bases across the front line, the fighters we saw were lightly armed, poorly equipped and exhausted by months of fighting.
And senior commander Lawand knows the battles ahead will be tougher.
(on camera): Can you take Raqqah without heavier weapons from the coalition?
COMMANDER LAWAND, YPG (through translator): The weapons we have are not high quality for this campaign. We'll need new, heavy weapons.
WARD (voice-over): The most important weapon they do have but don't want to talk about is this device, which helps the YPG get exact coordinates for enemy positions. Those coordinates are sent to a joint U.S.-Kurdish operations room, and minutes later, fighter jets come screaming in.
Reznan told us he was given a week of training before using the device.
(on camera): Who trained you how to use this? REZNAN, YPG (through translator): Believe me, I can't say. When you
finish the training, it's a secret. But they weren't speaking Kurdish.
WARD (voice-over): A mystery, as is so much of the unfolding U.S. strategy in this critical corner of Syria. The main reason the U.S. is being so circumspect about its support for the YPG, is because the group does have very close relations with its Turkish counterparts, the PKK. And Wolf, the PKK is branded a terrorist organization. And Turkey, a key diplomatic ally, considers it to be the prime domestic threat to Turkey's stability.
BLITZER: Very complicated situation. Clarissa, thanks very much. Stay safe over there. Be careful.
While the fight against ISIS rages, so does Syria's catastrophic civil war. Now U.S. officials say Iran has been invited to join international talks on ending that conflict.
Let's talk about all of this and more with Iraqi member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California.
This represents, Congressman, a significant shift in U.S. policy. For the first time now, the Obama administration saying not only Russia can participate in future talks involving Syria, but Iran is invited to do so, as well. Are you OK with that?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm not sure that at this point Iran is going to play a constructive role. They're certainly not playing a constructive role on the ground in Syria, where they're only prolonging the agony of the Syrian people by prolonging the civil war.
So I'm very skeptical, I have to say, of Iranian participation at this point. Certainly, ultimately in a resolution, all of the regional powers, as well as the United States and Russia, are going to have a role to play. But I'm very skeptical at this juncture that Iran is going to have anything positive to offer.
BLITZER: Several of your colleagues in the House and the Senate, including Senator Tom Cotton, they've already issued statements saying this sends the wrong signal to the pro-U.S. rebels, the moderate rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime that Iran has now invited, Russia's now invited. And there are two -- the key backers of the Bashar al-Assad regime. They're deeply concerned about this, as I see you are, as well.
SCHIFF: Well, I am. And I would love to see us, frankly, provide much stronger support to the Kurds. As we were just hearing that report from Irbil, we ought to be making sure that the Syrian Kurds, as well as the Peshmerga, have all of the material they need. And in the case of the Peshmerga, if they're not getting it from the Iraqi government, we ought to be providing it to them directly.
And likewise for the Syrian Kurds. They're one of the only real effective fighting forces on the ground. And while I understand that would offend Turkish interests and sensibilities, I think we ought to do it anyway.
BLITZER: Pentagon officials say their goals right now include taking over Ramadi, which is in ISIS control in Iraq, but also Raqqah in Syria, which is really the headquarters of ISIS. That effectively will mean more U.S. troops on the ground, not only in Iraq where the U.S. has about 4,000, but in Syria, as well, where the U.S. doesn't have troops. Are you OK moving troops, American troops into Syria?
SCHIFF: Well, I want to learn a lot more about what the administration has in mind.
I mean, here's my concern, Wolf. You know, we're going to launch, it certainly sounds like, a lot more Special Operations in this area along the lines of what we did in the effort to grab Abu Sayyaf. These are very risky operations.
And in order for them to have an impact on the battlefield, you're going to have to have them with, I think, great frequency, because the way that those forces -- and they're the best in the world, operated successfully in Iraq in the past, for example -- was doing a raid, gathering intelligence, exploiting that intelligence and then quickly doing another raid on the basis of what you learned in the first. If they're done infrequently, they may be enough to put our people at risk. But they may not be enough to change the dynamic on the battlefield.
And I suspect ultimately, Wolf, if we want to change the dynamic on the battlefield in Syria, it may very well require imposition of some kind of a safe zone or a no-fly zone. There have been a number of different formulations of that. And I think, much to the regret of the administration, they're going to have to take a fresh look at that.
BLITZER: Would that require this -- some people call it mission creep. Other people say it's a dramatic expansion of the U.S. military role in Syria. Would that require congressional authorization, in your opinion?
[17:30:12] SCHIFF: Well, my opinion, it does require that, particularly if it puts us in conflict with the regime forces, which I think it very well would.
But frankly, even without that, even in the present day, I think that we are operating well beyond the scope of the current authorization use force and I think well beyond the president's power under Article II. So I think we're on very shaky legal and constitutional ground domestically, as it is, but certainly, if we are going to escalate in those terms, I think the president ought to come to Congress and seek another resolution.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, a political shocker. A new national poll shows Donald Trump isn't No. 1 among Republicans anymore. So what's Trump doing to catch up with Dr. Ben Carson?
BLITZER: A new national poll shows Dr. Ben Carson now edging past Donald Trump for the first time. We're awaiting the start of a Trump campaign rally in Iowa, where several new polls also show he's fallen into second place.
Our CNN political reporter, Sara Murray's in Sioux City for us right now. So how's he reacting to being No. 2 in Iowa polls and now in a national poll?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Donald Trump seemed stunned to find that he's lost the lead. He's back here in Iowa tonight, where he's going to be speaking at a school. He was here just a week ago, talking to a crowd of thousands, and he seems to be coping with losing the lead by lashing out even harder against Ben Carson.
MURRAY (voice-over): Dr. Ben Carson is going toe to toe with the entire Republican field. And he's winning the latest round.
DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the right color. Because that way if you get blood on them, you can't tell.
MURRAY: First time since taking the lead months ago, Donald Trump is no longer on top nationwide, leaving the businessman struggling to explain the shift.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't get it, you know, to be honest with you. I'm a little bit surprised.
MURRAY: Carson ekes past Trump with Republicans, 26 percent to 22 percent nationwide in a new CBS/"New York Times" poll. Today, Carson picking up an endorsement from an MMA fighter.
CARSON: That's a good picture right there.
MURRAY: The fight to lead the field increasingly looks like a two-way race, as every other Republican remains stuck in single digits.
CARSON: It's a marathon. It's not a sprint. Polls will go up and down over the next year. No one should be terribly alarmed, and no one should be terribly excited.
MURRAY: A cornerstone of Carson's appeal, like Trump, he, too, is a Washington outsider at a time of growing frustration with the political class. It's an image he embraces in his latest campaign ad.
CARSON: I'm Ben Carson. I'm running for president, and I'm very much outside the box.
MURRAY: Meantime, as Trump loses the lead, he's lashing out, claiming Carson wants to do away with Medicare. TRUMP: Ben wants to knock out Medicare. I heard that over the
weekend. He wants to abolish Medicare. And I think, you know, abolishing Medicare, I don't think you're going to get away with that one. And it's actually a program that's worked. So it's a program that some people love.
MURRAY: A claim Carson denies.
CARSON: The program that I have outlined, using health savings accounts, starting from the time you're born until the time you die, largely eliminates the need for people to be dependent on government programs like that. But I would never get rid of the program.
MURRAY: As recently as Sunday, Trump said he was open to Medicare alternatives.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Do you also agree with Ben Carson when he says Medicare probably won't be necessary?
TRUMP: Well, it's possible. You're going to have to look at that.
MURRAY: The other GOP contenders are looking for new ways of getting noticed.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've about had it with these people.
MURRAY: Today Ohio Governor John Kasich declaring he's going to call out other candidates on their rhetoric.
KASICH: I'm fed up. I am sick and tired of listening to this nonsense, and I'm going to have to call it like it is as long as I'm in this race.
MURRAY: Now, this tougher tone from Kasich and the battle between Carson and Trump could all come to a head on the GOP debate stage tomorrow night.
As for tonight, here in Sioux City, Iowa, consider it something of a dry run for Donald Trump. This is another state where he's now trailing Ben Carson in the polls -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll stand by, see what he says. All right. Thanks very much, Sara, for that.
Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, out chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar; and our CNN political commentator, the "New Yorker" magazine's Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza. Guys, we've got a lot to discuss. The political news is intense right now. Let's take a quick break. We'll reset when we come back.
BLITZER: We're back with Ryan Lizza, Dana Bash, and Brianna Keilar.
Ryan, are we seeing a serious problem for Donald Trump right now?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think so, right? I mean, he's lived by the polls. His whole -- sometimes all he talks about is how he's up in the polls. And I think the reason most candidates don't talk about being up in the polls in June, July, August, September, is because they know it's not sustainable.
And so now he set himself up to look like a failing candidate, because he's not dominating the polls. And it's not just now in Iowa. Now we have this "New York Times" poll that has Carson ahead, as well.
And I think it -- I think it undermines his main message, is that he's a winner and he's always going to be ahead in the polls.
The other thing is, if he and Carson start getting locked in a sort of murder-suicide pact, that is the best thing for the candidates beneath them. If you're Jeb Bush, Rubio...
BLITZER: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, some of the others.
LIZZA: ... you want Trump and Carson to take each other out.
BLITZER: So how does he deal with this? How does he get his numbers back up to being No. 1, Brianna?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I don't exactly know what the answer to that is. I think that, you know, I would be a very well-paid consultant to Donald Trump if I did.
But what I would actually think would help him would be if he'd laid a foundation of being very familiar with policy, showing that he's really smart on the issues in a way that we haven't quite seen really at all in domestic or foreign policy in the first two debates.
This is an opportunity for him tomorrow night, if he can show that he has -- that he isn't just a one-trick pony who is riding on sort of the fact that voters who, you know, honestly at a phase where they weren't paying attention all that much, will gravitate towards him and towards his personality.
I do think in a way we're seeing a sign of a desperate Donald Trump, this thing he said about Ben Carson's religion, I think that is -- that's really I think a swipe that's even sort of a low blow for what we've seen from Donald Trump.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Dana, you're there in Boulder, Colorado, getting ready for tomorrow night's Republican presidential debate. What are you -- what are you hearing that the notion of Trump, Carson, how are they going to deal with each other?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, you know, despite the fact that Ben Carson is now leading in several polls in Iowa and then this latest poll you were talking about nationally, "The New York Times" poll, he's not going to have that center position in the debate here tomorrow night. That's still Donald Trump because it's based on a host of polls, as we know from our experience, hosting and moderating a Republican debate.
But I think it's going to be quite different in that there's a lot more at stake for Donald Trump. He's got to really show his chops. And I think there's a lot more at stake for the other candidates. Never mind Ben Carson but the other candidates who kind of see blood in the water with regard to Trump especially and might strike in a way that they were reluctant to before because, for the past, what, several months, I think the experience has been you strike at Trump and you're the one who loses.
So I think that's going to be fascinating to watch. But also, on Ben Carson, he has a lot to lose as well. He was -- he's been able to kind of fade into the background a little bit at some of these debates and, you know, kind of wind up with a really strong finishing speech, for example. I think he's not going to have that opportunity. If he's leading in the polls, he's going to be kind of the target for a lot of these candidates who want to take him down.
BLITZER: I suspect you're absolutely right. Guys, stand by. Much more on the political race for the White House coming up.
Also, another story we're following, outrage pouring in over that video of a student being thrown across the classroom. The school board is meeting right now. The FBI is getting involved. Stand by for the latest developments.
[17:52:17] BLITZER: Just a little while ago, President Obama weighed in on the new congressional deal to avoid another government shutdown and a default on U.S. debts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last night, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together around a long-term budget agreement. I'm pretty happy about that. And it's an actual bipartisan compromise, which hasn't been happening in Washington a lot lately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But not everyone is happy about this deal. Our senior political reporter, Manu Raju, is up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, although the president warmly is welcoming this deal, it certainly left a whole bunch of Republicans fuming right now. What's in the deal?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, I mean, Republicans are really scrambling to lock down support as we speak, largely because a lot of those measures that are in the deal. This deal would raise domestic and defense spending by roughly $80 billion over the next two years, lifting budget caps that were set and enacted into law. In addition, it would spend roughly about $30 billion for emergency war spending. That is part of the money that is not offset.
Now the areas that are offset, meaning there are corresponding cuts in the budget, come from cuts to things like crop insurance programs, an effort to cut Social Security disability benefit program as well as a slight shave off of Medicare that leads to pay for that $80 billion.
But another bigger controversial thing in this proposal, Wolf, is to raise the national debt ceiling into March of 2017. That will really take this fiscal fight off the table in this election year, in 2016. And Republicans, some conservatives, are very upset about that because they believe they're giving away a key tool to negotiate and force the White House to make concessions on spending.
So, right now, Republicans are trying to lock down support and alleviate a lot of those concerns that I just mentioned, Wolf.
BLITZER: You're talking to your sources up there on Capitol Hill, Manu. Can it pass if the conservative wing, shall we say, of the Republican Party doesn't support it?
RAJU: I think it still can. There is a lot of confidence among Republican leaders right now that they can get this through by relying heavily on Democratic support. We think that the Republicans will be badly divided on the House floor tomorrow, but it still should be enough to push it over the finish line. But that one issue that I mentioned earlier, crop insurance, that is -- those cuts to that program has caused a lot of concern from rural lawmakers who are threatening to revolt and vote against that.
So right now behind the scenes, Wolf, Republican leaders are trying to see if they can win over some of those lawmakers from those agriculture-heavy districts. We'll see if they're able to do that, Wolf, but it looks like tomorrow will be a big day on Capitol Hill, not just with this vote, but also with the vote to nominate Paul Ryan as speaker, and John Boehner wants to get all this off the table for Ryan to assume the speakership this week.
[17:55:09] BLITZER: Big day tomorrow. We'll cover it, obviously, together with you, Manu. Thanks very much.
Coming up, you saw the shocking video by now, and now the FBI is also investigating the violent takedown of a high school student by a sheriff's deputy who moved in after she allegedly refused to leave the class.
BLITZER: Happening now, boots on the ground. The Pentagon chief says the U.S. military is ready for direct action on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. Will President Obama give the order to escalate the war against ISIS?
Hostile waters. China sends an angry warning to the United States after an American warship sails near an island Beijing claims as its territory.