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U.S. Deploying Ground Forces to Syria; Angry GOP Suspends Plans for NBC Debate; Rubio Draws New Attention After Debate; Black Lives Matter Activists Disrupt Clinton Speech. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 30, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: breaking news.

U.S. troops to Syria. President Obama reverses course, authorizing Special Forces commandos to deploy to Syria and assist in the fight against ISIS on the ground. The U.S. opening yet another war front in the Middle East.

Iran at the table. America's adversary joins the U.S., Russia and others in Syrian peace talks, finding some common ground. But deep divides remain over the future of the Syrian dictator. Will the U.S. be able to force out Bashar al-Assad?

Plucking the peacock. The Republican National Committee suspending its debate with NBC. The GOP fuming over the candidates' face-off on CNBC, calling the tone of the questioning, quote, "petty and mean- spirited." And tonight, CNN is learning what the campaigns are doing in response.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A major shift by President Obama now formally authorizing U.S. boots on the ground in Syria for the first time to help fight ISIS forces.

The White House says less than 50 Special Forces commandos will deploy to Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria to advise and assist local troops already battling the terrorists. At the same time, the United States is sitting down with Iran, Russia and other countries for talks on ending the bloody war in Syria that led to the rapid spread of ISIS.

Still on the table, the future of the Syrian president, Bashar al- Assad. We're covering all that and much more this hour with our correspondents and including Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

But let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr first to begin our coverage. Barbara, you have new information about what this new U.S. mission on the ground in Syria will entail.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf. The White House started it all off today, saying it would be a small

number of Special Forces on the ground, but behind the scenes, here at the Pentagon, there is already talk the mission could grow.


STARR (voice-over): President Obama secretly told Defense Secretary Ash Carter weeks ago he wanted faster progress in the war against ISIS, in both Syria and Iraq, and to come up with a plan, a U.S. official tells CNN.

Now, the president has ordered a small number of Special Operations forces into northern Syria to help local forces fight ISIS.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does expect that they can have an impact in intensifying our strategy for building the capacity of local forces inside of Syria to taking the fight on the ground to ISIL.

STARR: The team's less than 50 troops could include members of the Army's elite Delta Force, Green Berets and Navy SEALs. Their mission: to provide ammunition, communications, intelligence and supplies to local Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground. The danger: They could wind up coming under fire from ISIS fighters.

Until now, the president had long said he would not put troops in combat, especially in Syria.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria. American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria.

STARR: And the White House insists that is still true.

EARNEST: These forces do not have a combat mission. This is not, in any way, an attempt to diminish the risks that they will face or the bravery that they will need to summon to carry out these operations.

STARR: The Special Operations forces are expected to be sent from Irbil, Iraq, across the border into this area of northern Syria. The U.S. will use F-15 and A-10 jets at nearby Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to strike targets around Raqqah, the ISIS capital. The U.S. wants anti-ISIS forces to be able to take back the city.

The top U.S. Special Operations commander recently underscored what the U.S. troops can provide.

GEN. JOE VOTEL, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: A lot of our intelligence comes from talking to people on the ground. This is a very unique capability that Special Forces offers for us, because they are out there with the people. They talk to local leaders.


STARR: You are all going to hear a lot about that city of Raqqah. That is the center of ISIS power, fighters, money, communications, in Syria. It is going to be, officials know, a very tall order to get it back from ISIS hands -- Wolf.

[17:05:14] BLITZER: Still a significant shift in U.S. policy under way right now, Barbara, thanks very much.

The White House announcement came as Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting in Vienna with diplomats, including his Russian and Iranian counterparts to try to broker some sort of political solution to the 4-year-old Syrian civil war.

One of the thorniest issue, the future of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is here with me. She's got new details.

Elise, what are you hearing about this initial round of talks? Is there any indication they've moved closer, getting the Russians and Iranians to agree to get rid of Bashar al-Assad?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is supposed to be a conference about political transition, right, meaning transfer of power to someone other than Assad, and the group agreed on 11 points, but nowhere in that was talking about a political transition. There was talking about governance, and keeping state institutions intact.

Now, everybody that follows Syria knows that the regime and the institutions of the state are very closely together. A lot of them are allies appointed by Assad. So it's not really like you can cut the head off of the snake, and then the snake acts the same way. It's really -- Assad is really the state. So take a listen to Secretary of State John Kerry speaking today.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister Zarif and I and others agree to disagree. The United States' position is there is no way that President Assad can unite and govern Syria.


LABOTT: So that says to me, Wolf, that there is no agreement on Assad. They're going to meet again in a couple of weeks, but they have not unlocked this main sticking point of what to do with President Assad. And that says to me that they're moving towards a deal with the opposition where there -- at least if not Assad himself, very top members of the regime are going to be still in government at the end of this.

BLITZER: And in the midst of all think, the U.S. invites Iran to come in for the first time. That was a significant shift in U.S. policy, as well, to participate in discussions involving the future of Syria. At the same time, Iran goes ahead and arrests, detains yet another American citizen in Iran, seemingly poking their eyes at the United States -- their fingers in the eyes of the United States? LABOTT: That's right. His name is Siamek Namazi. According to

reports, he's a 40-something-year-old businessman, of Iranian and American citizenship, was arrested earlier this month while visiting a friend in Iran who was doing some business there.

And he had spoken out, actually, against U.S. sanctions in favor of building bridges between the U.S. and Iran. And it says that, listen, even though the U.S. and Iran are at the same table, hardliners in Iran are still trying to make sure that everybody knows that they are not open for business. Still trying to torpedo that nuclear deal, Wolf, which is expected to be adopted in a few days.

So I would expect that there'll be more of these accesses by Iranian hardliners to say that it's not -- things have not really changed.

BLITZER: Yes. There's one other theory also, in addition to that, that they're arresting more Americans, potentially to hold as some sort of swap because they want some Iranians who are being held in American jails to be released. They want to do a prisoner swap, if they think that they can get some more Americans under their, in their prison system, maybe they can -- they've publicly spoken about some sort of swap like this. So maybe that's one of their -- one of their intentions, as well. We'll see what happens on that. Very worrisome development.

Thanks very much, Elise, for that.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us is the Democratic congressman, John Garamendi of California. He's a key member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you, Wolf. Very, very interesting day today.

BLITZER: It's an important day, and there are several significant changes unfolding. I want to get your sense of what's going on. First of all, the decision to send up to 50 U.S. Special Operations commandos into Syria. Seems to suggest all of a sudden the president now does support having combat boots on the ground in Syria, albeit very limited, at least for now?

GARAMENDI: Well, we've always known this to be a very slippery slope. We always knew that there would be an escalation that would take place. And I think those of us that watch this closely anticipated this would happen.

That's one of the reasons we wanted to have an authorization to use force specifically for Syria. We never have had that. So the president is basically free to go about this in any way he likes, and we'll see what happens here.

I think the real trouble will come if we go in with brigades or heavy infantry, armor and the like. We've not done that yet. We're clearly looking at these as Special Operations. Are they dangerous? Americans are going to be in harm's way. We've already seen one death.

The question is, will it make a difference? Well, let's hope so, but what is really making a difference is the negotiations that are now underway, and specifically, the people that -- the countries that are involved in those negotiations. This is a very, very important change.

[17:10:11] BLITZER: I know you and several other members of Congress, including a whole bunch of Democrats, as well as Republicans, think the president needs new congressional authorization to move these troops into Syria. Does he have the authorization? He says he doesn't need that kind of authorization. He's already got it. What's your argument why he doesn't have that authorization?

GARAMENDI: Well, he's basically using the 2002, '03 authorization to use force in Afghanistan, where it said, go after al Qaeda and the Taliban. Well, he's able to stretch all the way across Iran, Iraq, and into Syria, saying that these ISIL folks are really part of the al Qaeda, Taliban network. It's a -- a legal argument. We could probably argue it forever and a day.

The fact of the matter is there will not be a new authorization to use force, because frankly, Congress doesn't want to run the risk of having to vote. Much better to stand back and blame the president for any failure, and then take whatever credit would fall towards the congressional representatives.

It's unfortunate, because this is a war. This is not just a police action. It is a war, and the Constitution's quite clear that only Congress can declare war.

And what's important here is that when Congress is involved, and if Congress does approve it, then we have the American public buying in to what is going to be a dangerous situation.

Now, we could be hopeful. While this is going to put American forces at greater risk, we can be hopeful of the other things that are taking place simultaneously, and we'll see what happens. This is a very, very important day, as you've said a moment ago.


GARAMENDI: It's going to play out in ways that we would hope would be positive.

BLITZER: And a lot of people say 50 U.S. commandos, Special Operations forces, going after the ISIS stronghold, the capital of ISIS, really, in Raqqah, which they -- which they hold with an iron grip, is certainly not necessarily going to be enough. A lot more U.S. troops, potentially, would be necessary, not only air power but on the ground, as well.

We have more to discuss, Congressman. There's other developments happening right now. Much more right after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:17:20] BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. The major reversal by President Obama, now authorizing formally that American boots on the ground, go into Syria for the first time.

The White House says less than 50 Special Forces commandos will advise and assist local Kurdish forces, largely in northern Syria, who are battling the ISIS terrorists.

A senior Defense Department official tells CNN about two dozen U.S. commandos could be in Syria within a month.

We're back with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a key member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Are you afraid of what they call mission creep unfolding right now, Congressman?

GARAMENDI: Not afraid, but it's happening. I've anticipated this from the very beginning of the bombing more than a year ago, that we would, eventually, have troops. I've always thought that they would be exactly what's happening now, Special Operations forces of various kinds operating there.

And actually, I don't think this is the first time. If I recall, there was a raid of Special Operations forces into Iran -- excuse me, into Syria, some time ago.

But the fact of the matter is, we're there. We're in for a dime. We're clearly in for a dollar, and they're going to be in for billions before this is over.

The question is, what will be the result of it? Clearly, we have managed to stop ISIS's advance. We've rolled them back in a few places, but they are very, very lethal. They're just as nasty and a terroristic as ever. And they are creating, together with the Syrian civil war, an incredible amount of pressure on our allies, on Jordan, on Turkey.

And now with the exodus in Europe, we're seeing a different political landscape developing, in which a whole lot of countries want the civil war to end, in part, because of the carnage, because of the deaths, in the country, as well as the exodus of, and the pressure that the refugees are putting on the surrounding countries and Europe.

And you take a look at Russia. The ISIL situation presents -- presents a very serious problem for Russia. Radical jihadism is alive and well in Russia today, and there are perhaps a couple of thousand or maybe more Russians, Muslims, who are working in the ISIL camps, part of that learning the -- learning all that they need to know to come back to Russia and cause problems here.

All of this comes together and takes us to what is really the most hopeful event of this day, which would be the Vienna negotiations that are under way.

BLITZER: Well, you're not really confident that that's going to convince the Iranians or the Russians, for that matter, to abandon support for Bashar al-Assad, do you?

GARAMENDI: No. Not at all. I would expect that they would continue to support Assad, and the question then is, what kind of negotiations would, then, result from this multi-partied event? Probably, and hopefully, an end to the Syrian war and a transition to a broad-based government without Assad. That's not going to be easy, but I think that's possible.

BLITZER: Well, let's see if they can do that. If they do that, there will be some Nobel Peace Prizes out there for some of the key players involved. I'm not holding my breath, though, suspecting that that's going to take a long, long time.

Let's get into this linguistic battle that's underway right now. The White House says that these forces who are now about to be deployed into northern Syria do not have a combat mission. But they're clearly going into a combat zone. They will have a combat role.

Do you understand why they're refusing to say these are combat boots on the ground right now? Even though these young men and women who are going in there, they're going to be clearly in danger and will be engaged in combat with ISIS?

GARAMENDI: I really think the White House ought to just be just up front and very clear.

These troops are going to be in harm's way. They're going to be either in active combat or very, very near it. We know that artillery and rockets can reach out miles and miles. So let's just recognize that these troops are in harm's way. They are going to be in, near and quite possibly actively engaged on their own part in combat. I fully expect that. I'm sure that they expect it.

And with -- let's not dance around words. Let's be very clear what's happening here. What's happening is the United States is actually actively engaged in a combat against ISIS on the ground. Not with a lot of troops, but with Special Forces on the ground.

Are those boots? Yes, those are definitely boots. What do we have? A couple dozen. So let's multiply by two. Lots of boots and more coming.

What's going to be the result of this? Well, Americans are going to be in harm's way, and there's going to be some, I would suspect, tragedies.


GARAMENDI: That's the nature of war.

Now, what will be the result of it? I think that has an awful lot to do with the kind of pressure that Russia is putting on the -- on other factions, including ISIL, from the Syrian government's point of view. Assad's pressure that we're putting on, pressure that Turkey's putting on. Can we see some sort of a victory? Possibly. Can we see a stalemate?

Yes, we already have that. Can we see a negotiated settlement of the civil war and then everybody go after ISIS? Let's hope so.

BLITZER: That would be good, if that were to happen.

All right, Congressman. As usual, thanks very much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the Republican Party takes revenge after a debate party -- a debate party officials say was unfair.

Plus, the chaotic scene as protestors disrupt a Hillary Clinton speech.


[17:28:02] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news today, stunning reversal by the Obama administration, now ordering U.S. Special Forces ground troops into Syria to help in the fight against ISIS.

Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, our CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. He's a former CIA official. Also joining us, our military analyst James "Spider" Marks, retired U.S. Army major general; and our CNN senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. She's just back in London after spending time on the front lines in Syria and Iraq.

General Marks, what's the point now, 50 U.S. combat Special Operations commandos going in. What could they do?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. Far too little, too late. What they can do, however -- clearly, there was a very conscious decision to do this -- is they can provide some real tactical training for those elements, those platoons and companies that they can be a part of.

But these are 50 highly-trained guys who are going to be able to gather these forces together and maybe improve that capability on the front lines. But in terms of making a game-change move, this truly is just simply a political...

BLITZER: Because Phil, these ISIS terrorists, they withstood all the opposition from the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. He's got a lot of manpower, a lot of fire power. The Iranians are in there, thousands of troops with Hezbollah from Lebanon. All the Russians who are now in there, as well. You've got Kurdish fighters, moderate rebels trying to fight them.

They've withstood all that. You think 50 U.S. commandos going in is going to get the job done?

MARKS: That's not the point, Wolf. You mentioned Iran and Russia, and how much they're doubling down in Syria. In the last 48 hours Secretary of State Kerry shows up in Vienna. The

Russians are big time, as you know in Syria, including conducting airstrikes. The Iranians have lost flag officers, generals in Syria. And Secretary Kerry has to show up and say, "We're serious in the conversation about end game."

The Americans have given him a pair of deuces, not a pair of kings, but a pair of deuces who say, "You guys are big in this." We're into it, as well. You've got to negotiate to get Assad out.

BLITZER: Clarissa, yesterday we spoke. You were in Irbil in northern Iraq. You're now back in London. You were in Syria. You

[17:30:00] saw these Kurdish fighters who are trying to deal with these ISIS troops in northern Syria. Is this White House move now to send up to 50 U.S. combat troops, commandos, if you will? Is it really going to have any significant role?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to really see, Wolf, what kind of an impact such a small amount of advisers could have, other than, as we were just saying, training, helping them out with some tactical procedures, but what they really need from our experience on the front lines, talking to these fighters, what they don't have are heavier weapons, armor-piercing weapons, body armor, armored vehicles.

If we're talking about potentially sending this newly formed coalition into Raqqah, which is an ISIS stronghold, an Arab stronghold, these are predominantly Kurdish fighters then it's going to take more than a few dozen advisers to have any real impact. My guess personally based on the time that I've spent on the ground would be that these advisers are there more at first to really just get the lay of the land, to see what's possible. And, also, to try to facilitate this coalition.

You'll hear this narrative over and over again from the Pentagon. This isn't the Kurds. It's a coalition. It's the Syrian Democratic Forces. They're very keen to show that it will be Arabs who are at the tip of the spear of any sort of offensive on Raqqah, but currently what you have is about 30,000 Kurds and 5,000 Arabs, and I'm guessing that part of the role of these advisers will be to try to get all of them to play nice together.

BLITZER: The problem, though, Phil, as you well know and the Kurds, the courageous fighters, they're good fighters, but as Clarissa has been reporting, they don't have the arms, they don't have the body armor, they certainly don't have -- some of them are in sneakers or sandals. They don't even have boots, combat boots to deal with this. They're going to need a lot of help and so far the U.S. has been reluctant to do so without the authorization of the regime in Baghdad.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't see that changing. There's some critical players on the battlefield. ISIS, obviously, and the Al Qaeda affiliate is one. The Russians along with the Syrians, Hezbollah, the Iranians, others, we support a sliver of the opposition that does not have a snowball's chance in hell of ousting Assad. This is about us saying we want a place at the table in negotiations but this does not change life on the ground in Iraq.

BLITZER: You heard Congressman Garamendi, a general, say he sees a slippery slope. He sees mission creep. He says it's already started. Fifty now but that number is going to grow, if the U.S. really wants to get the job done.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, I disagree. I don't see this as a slippery slope. I see this as simply -- as Phil described. This is the United States trying to put something on the table but it's insignificant to make a difference.

Look, we have acknowledged that Assad is going to remain in power, with this type of insertion of forces. Assad is going to remain in power and that we really just want to try to make a small compliment to this and it's really not in our best interests. That's what our strategy is.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by because we're going to continue to follow the breaking news, a significant day here in Washington right now as far at the wars in Iraq and Syria are concerned, but other breaking news we're following.

This breaking news in the presidential race. Hillary Clinton's speech turned into a bit of bedlam today when protesters started chanting and they wouldn't stop. We're going to tell you what happened.

And the Republican Party hits back at NBC because of this week's controversial debate.


[17:37:51] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the 2016 presidential race. Amid the fallout from this week's debate, the Republican Party today suspended plans for an upcoming debate on NBC. Also the campaigns are getting together to make new demands about debate formats and questions.

Let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, tell us about what the Republican National Committee decided to do suspending its participation in the NBC News debate.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And this is an unprecedented move by the RNC. They are very angry with the way this week's CNBC debate went so they're really announcing that they have suspended their participation and their partnership in the upcoming February debate with NBC. Basically, in essence, to get a little revenge on NBC here. The chairman today sending a letter to the top brass at NBC announcing this move. They said, quote, "CNBC's moderators engaged in a series of gotcha questions, petty and mean- spirited in tone and designed to embarrass our candidates."

Now NBC has responded tonight. They say they are disappointed and that they will work in good faith to try to resolve this, but all of this also comes at the same time this weekend on Sunday, many of the campaigns will gather in Washington to discuss how they can really join forces to push for changes in the next debate up. That's in just two weeks, Wolf, on the FOX Business Channel.

BLITZER: There's another development. You're out there on the campaign trail right now with Marco Rubio. After being criticized, as you know, he was criticized for missing lots of Senate votes. He's now changed his campaign schedule showing up for an important vote overnight. What's the latest on that front?

SERFATY: That's right, Wolf. Marco Rubio just arrived here in Sioux City but he did cancel his earlier event today to show up for that 3:00 a.m. vote in Washington against the budget deal. But of course, this comes amid the intense scrutiny on his campaign and him as a senator, that he has not showed up for many votes while he's running for president. The Rubio campaign, though, pushing back on this notion that that's in any sort of response to this scrutiny. They say that he is very much against the budget deal and he wanted to show up on big votes.

[17:40:03] BLITZER: He's speaking right now. We're showing our viewers some live pictures.

All right, Sunlen. Thanks very much.

Let's discuss what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Joining us, Rebecca Berg, national political reporter for Real Clear Politics. Also our chief political correspondent Dana Bash, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our CNN political commentator, the "New Yorker" magazine's Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza.

Gloria, is Marco Rubio now the biggest threat to Jeb Bush's path to the nomination?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he is a huge threat to Jeb Bush, which is why you saw Jeb attack him the other night, albeit a little inartfully because Rubio kind of hammered him in his response on the voting record. I think when you see Marco Rubio's debate skills and as Republican voters watch Marco Rubio debate, you can see Republicans saying, who do I want going up against potentially Hillary Clinton? Is somebody who's really sharp as a debater? Marco Rubio.

Also, looks like change. Younger, newer, not a dynastic candidate and also if you look at the polling, he is viewed very favorably and enthusiastically by Republican voters, is Republican voters second choice if they like Trump or Carson. He's very acceptable to those people. So he kind of blends the establishment lane with the Tea Party lane, and could become a consensus candidate. So that's a long way of saying, yes. Big threat.

BLITZER: But as you know, Dana, some of the Bush supporters out there, they're really going after Rubio on his record of personal finances, and they're even suggesting that Mitt Romney back in 2012 didn't select him as his vice presidential running mate because there were questions there in his background. What are you hearing about this?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, the former Romney chief of staffer, his top aide, Beth Meyers, insists that that's just not true. That he passed the vetting and he wasn't chosen because they wanted Paul Ryan more. But regardless of that, whether that was or wasn't the reason in 2012, of course, this is an issue that people who don't want Marco Rubio to be president they've been pushing. You know, from the beginning we've seen sort of the evidence of the opposition research trickled around about the mortgage that he had foreclosed on when he was House speaker in the state up in Tallahassee.

About, you know, the fact that he is and had been in debt. About the fact that he cashed out of his -- one of his 401(k)s or IRAs. But I think regardless, there's no question -- there was no question leading into the debate this week that Marco Rubio was seen as the biggest threat to Jeb Bush, and there's no question that they are playing for the same people and we know from after the debate that a lot of donors who were on the fence between Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush said, you know, we're going to go with Marco Rubio.

BLITZER: At least some of Jeb Bush's criticisms of Rubio for not showing to vote, which is his day job as a -- seemed to be hitting on. He did show up for the support and vote overnight. That's what he campaign about.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he wanted to show up for this vote, not only maybe to push back against that criticism but also to say that he's against the deal.

BASH: Exactly.

BORGER: I think that much more of it.


LIZZA: Rand Paul was going to be there, you know, sort of filibustering it, although he didn't really filibuster it. Ted Cruz was there. He came out against it. So I think for campaign reasons he had to be there and show that, you know, he didn't back this deal. I do think the -- Rubio the other night, he got a pass on these issues on his finances because by that point in the debate the crowd had sort of turned against the moderators. Everyone on stage was frustrated with the questioning and he sort of just said, I'm not going to answer that question, because that's off of research.

I don't think that's going to be enough going forward. Of course this is why we have primaries so these candidates get vetted. He's going to have to talk about the litany of things that Dana just mentioned with a little more specificity.


LIZZA: He's had -- he answered it before. He talked about it in his memoir, he noted that he didn't have great bookkeeping skills. It's not going to be enough for him to just say oh, this is the biased media throwing off of research at me.

BLITZER: What are you hearing, Rebecca, about the main decision Reince Preibus and the RNC went ahead in today suspended the upcoming Republican presidential debate that NBC was going to host?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, they have a few considerations right now from the RNC's perspective. They not only had to send a message to the media outlets who are going to hold these debates moving forward which they definitely did by putting NBC on notice. But they also needed to send a message to the campaigns right now that they're doing something about this because the campaigns obviously have clamored very publicly for changes after the CNBC debate but what's different is they're also making these points privately to the RNC and putting a lot of pressure on the RNC to try to push the networks, rein them in, and make sure that the questions are going to be more appropriate moving forward. That's exactly what they did.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by because there's more to discuss including some disturbances at a Hillary Clinton campaign event today down in Atlanta. Stay with us. Much more with our panel right after this.



BLITZER: There's more breaking political news we're following. Black Lives Matter activists interrupted a speech by Hillary Clinton this afternoon in Atlanta where she came to announce her support for criminal sentencing reforms and prohibitions against racial profiling. Watch this.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Using the power of the feelings that come forward --


CLINTON: And yes, they do. Yes, they do.


CLINTON: Yes, they do, and I'm going to talk a lot about that in a minute.


[17:50:25] CLINTON: Now -- now, my friends, I am going to get to some very important points that actually prove that black lives do matter and we have to take action together.


BLITZER: She went on with her speech despite the protest. The counter chance including John Lewis was there to support her, he tried to quiet the crowd but in the bedlam, the hall went through a lot of serious problems including there you see the mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reid, as well. He was trying to quiet the Black Lives Matter protesters, as well.

We're back with Rebecca Berg, Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, Ryan Lizza.

Ryan, presumably there are going to be more of these disruptions down the road. These candidates, Bernie Sanders, had to deal with it. They're going to have to deal with this.

LIZZA: Boy, they really -- they had a big impact on Bernie Sanders. Look, Bernie Sanders comes from a state that's overwhelmingly white and he frankly had not addressed any of the issues that were important to one of the major constituencies in the Democratic Party. And he met with them. They protested him and it worked. He's now talking about their issues. He has policy proposals that the Black Lives protesters support. So sometimes, you know, putting pressure on politicians works.

What's unusual about this event is it's at a historically black college. John Lewis, one of the great icons of the civil rights movement was there, and he actually, I understand, helped quiet down the protesters.

BLITZER: And Kasim Reid, the mayor of --

LIZZA: And Kasim Reid. And she has met with the Black Lives Matters protesters in the past. So --

BASH: Hasn't gone so well.

LIZZA: The meeting didn't go so well according to the people who are in the room.

BASH: Right.


BORGER: It's so hard as a candidate, can I just say, to be speaking and you can see how she's struggling there because she's sort of not a natural pal to begin with and she was struggling there on stage because she was trying to relate to the demonstrators but it didn't really work out.

BASH: It is hard. It is hard especially when, you know, look, the fact of the matter is she was speaking to the issues that they were protesting about.


BLITZER: That's the irony of this case.

BASH: The irony, and, and can I just say the idea that she had John Lewis there? I mean, you couldn't ask for better backup than John Lewis in the idea of supporting these issues. I mean, he's an icon. And if the Black Lives Matter don't sort of listen to him, I'm not sure who they will.

BLITZER: But it's going to be a problem down the road, presumably, Rebecca. I assume you agree.

BERG: Absolutely. And these protesters, their only issue I assume is not with Hillary Clinton and her agreeing or disagreeing with them or doing enough to support their cause, it's also to get attention.

BASH: Exactly.

BERG: And attention for their cause and so this was a huge event. Obviously we in the media were covering it closely and so they got exactly what they wanted. They got some attention for their cause and I think that's why we're going to keep seeing these protests. And that's why we have the immigration protest on the Republican side.

BLITZER: Dana, you're going to be hosting "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday. You've already interviewed the outgoing, the former speaker, the new speaker. They're important interviews. We've got a clip from the new speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.


BASH: Do you think this means the end of the road for any hope of being president?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: Oh, I don't -- hope of being president?

BASH: Meaning when you're speaker of the House, it's just -- it's a lot harder.

RYAN: Yes. That's OK with me. That doesn't really bother me. I was -- if I really wanted to be president, I would have run in this cycle for the presidency. I had the chance and opportunity to do. I chose not to do that. So I'm perfectly happy and content with this decision.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think he would have liked to have been president, but I think he's figured out that God has another plan in mind for him and that's to be speaker of the House.


BLITZER: He's only, what, 45, 44 years old?

BASH: Forty-five, almost 46.

BLITZER: Forty-five years old. The question is this, if you're speaker of the House and you do a good job, why can't you become president of the United States?

BASH: Look, anything is possible. It's just a lot harder, a lot harder to do.


BASH: Because it's a really messy job. It's -- you're really in the thick of it. And unless there are, you know, roses and, you know, rainbows and everything is great in the world, which is probably not likely, it's hard to do.

One thing I just want to say, one more teaser, the why that John Boehner described to me how he finally convinced Paul Ryan to run was very interesting, and I'll just say that it has a lot to do with Catholic guilt.

LIZZA: Interesting.

BORGER: Catholic guilt.

BASH: Catholic guilt.

LIZZA: He's second in line to the president now. He's closer to the presidency than ever.

BORGER: Right. And if you're a good speaker, you're going to make everybody angry because your job is to try and accomplish something and if you actually do that job, you're going to make enemies.

BLITZER: But if you accomplish something, you might be popular.

BASH: You might be popular.

BORGER: It's possible but it's --

LIZZA: Let's be honest, the best way to become president as speaker is for the president or the vice president to die.


BLITZER: All right. Guys, here's the important programming note. The speaker, Paul Ryan, the former speaker John Boehner will be among Dana's guests this Sunday on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." That will air at 9:00 a.m. Eastern and Pacific.

There's a breaking news we're following, the U.S. now deploying ground forces to Syria for the first time to help in the fight against ISIS. We're learning new details of the controversial mission. Plus growing military tension with China right now. Did one Chinese admiral threaten war with the United States?


[18:00:03] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, troops on the ground. The U.S. is sending special forces to Syria. A first in the war against ISIS. Is President Obama going back on a promise?