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THE SITUATION ROOM
Beau Biden Remembered; Surveillance Fight; Interview With Texas Congressman Mac Thornberry; Graham Joins GOP Race for White House; CNN Turns 35. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired June 1, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Abandoned by fleeing Iraqi troops. Are they now being used to launch deadly terror attacks?
Close encounter. Russian warplanes buzz a U.S. Navy destroyer in international waters, flying within hundreds of feet, accusing the ship of provocative and aggressive action. Will these confrontations escalate?
Major ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court decides the case of a Muslim woman who lost out on a job opportunity because of her head covering. Did a major American retailer violate her rights by refusing to hire her?
Number nine. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham joins the growing rank of Republicans seeking the party's presidential nomination. How is he setting himself apart from the increasingly crowded GOP field?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following disturbing news about ISIS tonight, ISIS now said to have some 2,300 American Humvees in their possession, seized along with other American-made weapons from Iraqi bases overrun by the terrorist forces.
And now there's growing concern ISIS is using these armored vehicles to launch deadly terror attacks as it sweeps across Iraq and Syria, expanding its territory at an alarming rate.
Our guests, including the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Mac Thornberry, they're standing by, along with our correspondents, who are covering all the stories breaking this hour.
But let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has more on these disturbing gains ISIS is making.
What are you picking up, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just today, some three dozen Iraqi police killed by an explosives-laden tank, showing these new tactics by ISIS leaving the Iraqis in a very tough struggle to make any progress against them.
STARR (voice-over): Airstrikes by Iraqi forces against suspected ISIS militants designed to show Iraqi forces in the fight, but disturbing signs even in government-controlled Baghdad the reality is different. ISIS claimed responsibility for two hotel bombings in the capital, unsettling residents in a city ringed by 100 Iraqi battalions, as many as 50,000 troops, according to U.S. estimates.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: The fact is that ISIS has a lot of momentum right now, so what we're dealing with is a central government that has in essence practically lost control over large sections of the country and large sections of its armed forces. It's a very dangerous situation to be in.
STARR: From Fallujah and Ramadi in the west and Baiji and Mosul in the north, U.S. military officials privately acknowledge, in these Sunni areas, ISIS has gained ground and it not on the defensive, as the Pentagon has publicly said. ISIS' stockpile of captured weapons provided by the U.S. to the Iraqis is growing, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says.
HAIDER AL-ABADI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We lost around 2,300 Humvees in Mosul alone, and we are going to lose more tanks and Humvees.
STARR: All of this raising urgency at the White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA about what happens if Abadi cannot win against ISIS?
ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: On the military side, I actually have asked my staff before I left to look at what we can do to increase our enabling of Iraqi forces.
STARR: So, in the latest on that Wolf, the Pentagon now acknowledging that the first half of some 2,000 anti-armor weapons that the U.S. has been trying to rush to Iraq, the 1,000 of them now distributed to Iraqi forces, they're all there, but only 1,000 distributed. The others are being held in reserve by the U.S. They're not really sure the Iraqis can absorb having such a new advanced inventory, such a great number of these weapons, but these are some of the key weapons the U.S. wants the Iraqis to use to go against those new ISIS tactics, tanks and armored vehicles laden with explosives.
The Iraqis need something desperately to try and take those targets out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I certainly understand that, Barbara, but aren't U.S. officials concerned the Iraqis might simply abandon these anti-armor weapons, as they have abandoned U.S.-supplied Humvees, battle tanks, artillery pieces, other munitions, if they feel threatened by these ISIS terrorists? STARR: Or overrun by them. So, look at the math for just a
second here, 2,000 of these anti-armor weapons rushed to the theater. They're not giving us the exact location, of the 2000, 1,000 distributed to the Iraqi, the coalition, the U.S.-led coalition holding on to the other 1,000 for now, perhaps for that reason, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.
The plug has been pulled now on a key government terror tracking program, at least for now. The part of the Patriot Act that allowed the NSA to collect bulk data on millions of phone calls expired Sunday, putting one Republican presidential candidate right at the center of a huge political firestorm right now.
Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Michelle Kosinski has more what's going on.
What is the latest, Michelle?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
Wolf, even today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to gather the unanimous votes together to possibly move forward and vote on this issue tonight, but, once again, he was blocked by Rand Paul. The White House, meanwhile, keeps urging the Senate to act in the name of national security, calling this an unnecessary risk.
But the White House still won't go so far as to say that the American public is less safe today now that these four Patriot Act programs have expired. They refer us to intelligence officials. They also still won't use any concrete examples of how any of these programs helped in the past. They say that national security concerns prevent them from giving away that information, and they say that they have been used in the past to generate some information that wasn't obtained through other means.
What the White House will do today, though, freely is criticize the Senate. Here's this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Unfortunately, what we have seen is a whole lot of posturing within the Republican Party. There's a lot of politics being played on this, and, unfortunately, it's coming at the expense of the national security and civil liberties of the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: OK. So, now you have Rand Paul pretty much doing a victory lap over this now that these programs have indeed expired, at least for now, but the price he paid is that he's taking a verbal beating from even members in his own party, calling his tactics political posturing and fund-raising. The reality is that this bipartisan bill that already passed the
House, that takes the bulk data collection out of the hands of the government and puts it with the phone companies will likely pass, just with some amendments attached. Some senators, for example, want to make sure that the phone companies are going to collect this stuff in a way that the government can eventually find useful.
Bottom line, Wolf, it's going to take some time, but we could see a vote as early as tomorrow.
BLITZER: We will stay on top of that. Michelle, thank you.
Let's get some more on what's going on. Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He's joining us right now.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: You're welcome.
BLITZER: Do you believe that, as a result of the bulk data collection program being suspended, at least for now, the American public is less safe right now than it was, what, 24 hours ago, before that midnight deadline last night?
THORNBERRY: Yes, I think we are. It would be hard to quantify how much difference that 24 hours has made, but I think we are less safe.
And what's more, I think we're less safe today than we were four or five years ago, because we have increasingly been tying our own hands, limiting our ability to gather information, and that is the key way that we find out about and stop terrorist attacks.
BLITZER: You totally disagree with Senator Rand Paul?
THORNBERRY: Yes, and I think it is wrong for anyone to play politics with national security, whether you're a senator running for president, or whether you're the president.
And I'm reminded that President Obama threatened to veto a defense bill that came out of our committee 60-2 because he wanted to use that as leverage to increase spending on EPA, IRS and other domestic issues. Both ways of playing politics with defense are wrong.
BLITZER: Don't you think though that Senator Rand Paul is sincere, that he really believes this is a violation of the -- of Americans' privacy?
THORNBERRY: I have no doubt -- I can't know what's going on inside his brain.
I think it is disturbing, as I read press reports today, that there were fund-raising appeals going on at the same time that he was making these speeches on the Senate floor. So, regardless of motivations, the result is that I think we have lost a critical capability now.
Hopefully, we will get it back in the next day or two, but we are somewhat less safe today than we were.
BLITZER: Let's talk about what's going on in Qatar right now, because, as you know, that yearlong detention of those five Taliban prisoners who the U.S. released from the Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the prison there, in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's release, that that is now over. Apparently, there's been a temporary extension, keeping these five Taliban guys in Qatar at least for now.
What is the latest? What are you hearing? Because I know you're very concerned about the possibility they could go back to Afghanistan or Pakistan and resume their war against the United States.
THORNBERRY: Yes, I am very concerned, and the only thing that I know is what I read in the newspapers. Remember, this is the case where the administration violated two laws to release these guys by not informing Congress to begin with.
These were folks that were -- did not go through the regular process in Guantanamo to be screened for release. They were never on any potential release list, and yet they were part of the exchange with Bergdahl.
So their -- the restrictions on their travel have expired. I read that they are continuing to have discussions about maybe a six- month extension of those restrictions, but I don't know. I do think these are bad guys, and they pose also a danger to the United States.
BLITZER: But you're the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Chairman. When you say you don't know what the plan is, you call up the Pentagon, you ask them, right? Aren't they supposed to be briefing you on what's going on?
THORNBERRY: Yes, and we have asked the question and we don't know the answer. Part of the problem here, of course, is, it's not just the Pentagon calling the shots. It's the White House.
And, remember, this is the issue that we have had to put some provisions in our defense bill to require the Pentagon to give us the documents that we have asked for, or else they don't get all the money that they have asked for. So this, we have -- it's been like pulling teeth to get information out of the Pentagon and other executive agencies about this whole episode, and it has not gotten better in recent days as far as the negotiations for continuing these restrictions.
BLITZER: Well, when you say they broke the law by releasing these five prisoners, what have you done about it? What are you doing about it? If somebody breaks the law, they have got to pay a price, right?
THORNBERRY: Well, they should. And that's why we have 25 percent of the money going to the secretary of defense's office been stopped, asking for more information, but we also have changed the law.
We have toughened up the law, making it more difficult for this administration to release folks because of what they have done. So we have reacted, and it would be a much better path for everyone if the administration would engage and discuss this with us, rather than having, requiring us to force the information out of them.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, I want to you stand by because there are several questions I have about what's going on in Iraq right now, including this war against ISIS.
Much more with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry, right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the disturbing gains ISIS forces are making in Iraq, including U.S. military weapons and equipment terrorist forces have seized.
We're back with Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas. He's the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Mr. Chairman the Iraqi prime minister himself, Haider al-Abadi, he said today that Iraqi security forces, they lost, get this, roughly 2,300 U.S.-made Humvees when they abandoned Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. ISIS took over those weapons. They're using them now basically as improvised explosive devices.
This is very worrisome, especially considering the fact the U.S. is still providing weapons to the Iraqi military right now. How concerned are you that they might abandon yet more U.S.-supplied weapons?
THORNBERRY: Well, I am concerned about that.
Remember that Mosul was lost about a year ago, so those 2,300 Humvees were lost a year ago. And so what has happened, as far as U.S. and allied strategy for dealing with ISIS in the last year? It has not gone very well, and I think it is true that it is possible that if we don't change our strategy, it will continue not to go well, and we could lose further weapons that we might provide the Iraqis.
BLITZER: Because Barbara Starr just reported from the Pentagon the U.S. now wants to provide, what, 2,000 AT4 anti-tank weapons to the Iraqi military; 1,000 already have been provided.
Are you worried that they could wind up in the hands of ISIS?
THORNBERRY: Of course.
Two things come to mind. One is our military has said consistently that, if they could go into the field with those they train and advise, they would be much more effective. So far, the president has not allowed them to go into the field with those they train and advise.
Secondly, I know a good place to send those other 1,000 anti- armored missiles, and that is to Ukraine, because that's exactly what they're desperate for, and it is only that show of strength that's going to cause Mr. Putin to rethink the next offensive that he's going to launch.
BLITZER: Speaking of Putin and the U.S./Russia relationship, the U.S. Navy today has released very dramatic video. I don't know if you have seen it. We will show it to our viewers right now of a Russian aircraft flying right past the USS Ross -- that's a destroyer -- in international waters in the Black Sea, a little bit more than 1,000 feet away from the USS Ross.
What should the U.S. do about this?
THORNBERRY: Well, I think it's clear that Putin is going to -- is going to continue to push at every opportunity and be more aggressive. He is following exactly Lenin's maxim that probe with a bayonet. When you encounter mush, keep moving and -- until you hit steel.
And so they are conducting very aggressive maneuvers with their aircraft all across Europe and elsewhere. And now against our ship that was in international waters, they're trying to warn us off. And they're going to continue these sorts of aggressive maneuvers to try to intimidate us, like any bully would, to back down.
BLITZER: Mac Thornberry is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.
THORNBERRY: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: All right, let's get a different perspective right now.
Joining us is Dan Pfeiffer. He's a former senior adviser to President Obama. He's our newest CNN political commentator.
Thanks very much for joining us, Dan.
DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan, welcome to CNN.
PFEIFFER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Today is your first day here. It's also the 35th anniversary of CNN, a good day to start.
PFEIFFER: Happy birthday, CNN.
BLITZER: Yes. We will talk a little bit more about that later.
But take us into the mind of the president. You worked with the president for, what, about seven years during his campaigns, then in the White House. You were the communications adviser to the president. The criticism is, he really didn't do enough to convince Congress to extend the Patriot Act. If it was so important to U.S. national security, why wasn't he more vocal?
PFEIFFER: Look, I think there's been lots of criticism of this administration in Congress over the years.
I think this one is particularly unfair. This is a problem created by one senator from Kentucky, which happens to be the home state of the Senate majority leader. That's a problem that a Democratic president can't fix. He's made the case. I think it is going to get resolved eventually. It's unfortunate that Senator Paul decided to play politics and raise money while doing this.
It's unfortunate, but that's really something -- that is a problem. This could have been solved a long time ago, but Mitch McConnell sort of fumbled the ball here.
BLITZER: But it's not just Rand Paul. There are other liberal Democrats, Patrick Leahy, for example. He opposes this program as well.
PFEIFFER: There's not unanimous support in either party for it.
But there's one reason why we missed the -- there are two reasons why we missed the deadline, one, the shenanigans from Senator Paul and the fact that Mitch McConnell did not take this up for a very, very long time. This passed over a year ago in the House, one of the most bipartisan bills to pass the House in the last few years. And they couldn't get it done in the Senate.
BLITZER: What should the president be doing now? Because he obviously wants this bulk data collection, lone wolf collection, all this kind of stuff. He wants to make sure that it continues.
PFEIFFER: I think he's going to get it. I think that people are working behind the scenes, as I understand it, to get this resolved sooner rather than later.
I saw your report from Michelle Kosinski that they think there will be a vote in the next couple of days. And that will be good.
BLITZER: The president's approval numbers in this new CNN poll that we have rating how he's handling the ISIS threat, it's down to only, look at this, 32 percent approve of the way the president's handling the war against is; 63 percent disapprove. That's a disturbing number if you're with the president, right? PFEIFFER: Well, I think it's a disturbing number, but it's
important to understand that polling on national security, often, you end up with people who disapprove of the entire idea of being involved, which would be folks on our side who are against us being involved in Iraq and Syria with ISIS, and then folks who oppose the president simply because he's a Democrat.
And so you can't really worry about poll numbers. You just got to go and try to have the most successful strategy you can.
BLITZER: Another poll number in our brand-new poll, it shows that, what, 61 percent say the fight against ISIS is going poorly right now. In October, only 49 percent of Americans thought it was going poorly. That's an increase that's pretty disturbing as well.
PFEIFFER: Well, look, this is going to take a long time.
I worked with the president when we initiated these efforts last year. And it's going to -- he always said it's going to be -- this is a long-term effort, it's going to extend beyond his presidency. And so we have had some important successes. I think the operation in Syria against one of the top members of ISIS was very important, but there have been setbacks in Ramadi and other places. So, it's going to take time, but progress is being made.
BLITZER: When there's a major setback like there was the other day in Ramadi, a major city in the Anbar province, which falls into the hands of ISIS, like Mosul did exactly a year ago, take us inside the White House.
You hear the new secretary of defense, Ash Carter, say the Iraqi military did not show a will to fight. That's pretty brutal.
PFEIFFER: Well, I think, look, there has been trouble. It has been a struggle from long -- even before we got involved with the efforts of the Iraqi military against ISIS.
They have done better since we got involved, since there was a new prime minister putting together a new, more inclusive government. But there's still a lot of work to do here. And this is a tough threat and there's a lot of work for the Iraqi military to do to get there. And we need better performance. There's no question about that.
BLITZER: I just want to get your quick thoughts a very different subject.
The vice president's son, Beau Biden, passed away this weekend from brain cancer, very, very sad. I knew him. You knew him, a really, really great guy. It's so tragic when you think about the fact the vice president of the United States -- and you have worked with him for a long time as well -- has now lost yet another child.
PFEIFFER: Look, this is heartbreaking. I -- growing up in Delaware, I have been around the Biden family for much of my life. They are one of the most close-knit, most loving families that I have ever known.
And, you know, the vice president if you ever -- if you work in the White House and you ever have any problems in your life who is a family member or anything, the first person who will call you or come to your office to talk to you about is the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, who has a great heart. And every -- I know everyone who works in the White House and has worked -- ever worked with Vice President Biden just -- their heart goes out to the Biden family.
BLITZER: I knew him. Here he is at the -- it was at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. You were there.
I interviewed him on the floor.
BLITZER: You can see some video. He was just a great, great guy.
He volunteered. He went to serve. He served in Iraq. He was well-positioned to become the next governor of your home state of Delaware. And now to lose him like this, so sad.
PFEIFFER: He's the -- the best you could hope for in a person is Beau Biden.
BLITZER: Really was. And our deepest, deepest condolences to his wife and kids and the whole family, great, great guy. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: And welcome once again, Dan, to CNN.
PFEIFFER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the ISIS onslaught and the terrorist arsenal now said to include more than 2,000 American- made Humvees.
Plus, details of a major U.S. Supreme Court decision pitting the retailer Abercrombie & Fitch against a young Muslim woman.
BLITZER: A shocking announcement today by the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, saying that ISIS now has more than 2,000 U.S.-made Humvees seized by the terrorist forces as they overran Iraqi troops and bases.
Let's dig deeper on what's going on. Joining us, former CIA counterterrorism Phil Mudd, our CNN counterterrorism analyst. Also joining us, retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks, our CNN military analyst.
Twenty-three-hundred Humvees, armored personnel carriers, they go in there. They're being used apparently as terrorist weapons, improvised explosive devices. They can go into an Iraqi police station or army base and kill a lot of people. That's what they've been doing.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think that's right. We've seen this traditionally as a terror tactic. And if you look at a facility a terror group will say we're going to use an explosive device, typically on a vehicle to get into the compound. We're just seeing this accelerated in a way I've never seen. That is, using Humvees, using the armored vehicles to go into military compounds. And we've seen devastation I don't think we've seen before using suicide weapons. Just incredible.
BLITZER: One thing they send a Mercedes or whatever, a little truck. It's another thing you send in a Humvee. You're familiar with a Humvee.
JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: A little bit. A Humvee has a lot of room for a lot of cargo. And to Phil's point, these things are not being camouflaged in some way. This is very, very overt. They're uploaded. And it becomes a known deal for anybody who's trying to protect the facility that this is coming their way. So there has to be a tactical solution. That's what the U.S. is trying to do with the AT4, the anti-tank weapon system that they've...
BLITZER: I'm worried about sending 1,000 of those anti-tank weapons into Iraq, giving them to the Iraqi military. Their track record in holding onto U.S.-supplied weapons is not good.
MUDD: Yes, Wolf, you're exactly -- you're exactly spot on. I think the only thing that we can do right now is that we can make sure that, as these things are doled out we don't give them out on demand. We're going to have to give them out in kind of a full flush to get them into the Iraqi forces. They could turn them back around.
BLITZER: Are you worried about that?
MUDD: Sure. What we've seen over the past months going back to last summer, is every time we give the Iraqi weapons they bleed out. My view would be if we decide that we're in this with the Iraqis, that's part of the cost of doing war. It's either go in ourselves and be more responsible for this equipment or give it to the Iraqis and let it bleed. I'd give it to them and let it bleed.
BLITZER: Here's another disturbing development today. The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Saleen al-Jabouri, he says publicly that there was an order given to the thousands of elite Iraqi troops who were in Ramadi, in Anbar province, an order was given for them to evacuate and leave their weapons behind and just run away in the face of a few hundred ISIS terrorists who were there. How do you explain that? MARKS: If it took place, that's abhorrent. And what that means
is there is no leadership, absence of leadership at all levels within the Iraqi military, at least specifically those in Ramadi. This is shameful.
BLITZER: With this guy, Saleen al-Jabouri, he's the speaker. He's the Sunni speaker of the Iraqi parliament. Would he make something up like that? Because that's a very disturbing development.
MUDD: Look, in the land of conspiracy, rumor wins. It doesn't matter what the fact is. This indicates that we're not losing the war against ISIS. We're losing the war to make Iraq a unified state. If you have a senior Sunni official believing a story that says the government won't protect Sunnis, that tells me the rumor out there is that Iraq is fracturing, the military forces are Shia going into Ramadi. The locals are Sunnis, and the Sunni politicians are saying, "Let's run, because the government is not going to protect us." It's an indicator of the direction Iraq is headed.
BLITZER: Another disturbing development today. The Sunni -- the moderate Syrians that the U.S. wanted to train to fight ISIS in Syria, 1,000 of them said, "No thanks, we don't want your training. Because we want to be trained to fight Bashar al-Assad's regime, not these ISIS terrorists."
MARKS: Correct. And that's the problem that you see in Syria. We were too late to the party. In this particular case, we have a strategy. We did not implement that, and we are now Johnnys-come- lately trying to identify, trying to vet, now trying to train folks to go after ISIS. Their primary focus is Assad.
BLITZER: That's a very disturbing development. All right, guys. Thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story.
[18:35:07] Other news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the U.S. Supreme Court decides the case of a Muslim woman who lost out on a job opportunity because of her head covering. Did that company, Abercrombie & Fitch, violate her rights by refusing to hire her? The Supreme Court makes a decision.
BLITZER: We're following two major rulings out of the United States Supreme Court today. One the case of a Muslim woman who was denied a job with the clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch because of her head scarf. The other, the case of a man who was convicted after posting violent messages on Facebook.
[18:40:07] Let's dig deeper on all of this with former federal prosecutor, our legal analyst, Sunny Hostin; and our CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
So Pamela, let's talk about the first ruling. There was a woman, Samantha Elauf, the Muslim woman who sued Abercrombie & Fitch, because she wanted to wear her head scarf. They said no, and she wasn't given the job. PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Today the high court
said that Abercrombie & Fitch was wrong to deny this woman, Samantha Elauf, a job because of her head scarf, because of her hijab.
So essentially, what today's ruling does is put the onus on businesses and basically says you can't put your head in the sand. If you think someone needs a religious accommodation, you need to make every effort to make that accommodation happen.
So in this case, she wore this head scarf. And Abercrombie & Fitch said, "She didn't tell us that she needed a religious accommodation, so we're not at fault." A lower court agreed, but today the high court said no. If you think someone needs a religious accommodation, that is a motivating factor, the onus is on the business not the employee.
BLITZER: So Sunny, what does Abercrombie need to do now?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think what's fascinating is even before the Supreme Court came down with this ruling, Abercrombie changed their dress code, changed their policy to make these kinds of accommodations. And so I think they knew going into today what the ruling was going to be.
And we all, I think, sort of knew that, because federal law makes it very clear, Wolf, that you can't discriminate on the basis of religion. And when you listen to some of the arguments or some of the questions, rather, from the justices during oral argument, I think it was pretty clear where they were leaning. Justice Ginsburg made it very clear that, while you may be able to ask someone not to wear a baseball cap at work, you certainly can't do that with a yarmulke.
And so we kind of knew going into today where the court was going to rule. Bottom line is you can't discriminate on the basis of religion. And it was just fascinating that Abercrombie was saying, "Well, she didn't ask for this accommodation." You do not have to ask for an exception to a dress policy on the basis of your religious accommodation.
BLITZER: All right. The other big case the Supreme Court decided in favor, 8-1 the ruling, Pamela. Anthony Elonis, he posted several violent messages on Facebook, convicted earlier. The Supreme Court said, "Not so fast."
BROWN: Absolutely. So what this does is it doesn't mean you can post whatever you want on social media now. But what it does for the government is it makes it harder to prosecute cases where someone posts violent messages. In this case the high court ruled in favor of Anthony Elonis. He was showing here. He posted several seemingly threatening messages, Wolf, on his Facebook page. One concerning his estranged wife. He said, "One way to love you, a thousand ways to kill you." He talked about shooting up a school.
So he was convicted based on this standard of how a reasonable person would perceive those messages as a threat. Today the high court said that standard is too low. It should be either recklessness, or if the person intended it as a threat, but it didn't decide what the standard should be. It left that to the lower courts.
BLITZER: Where do we go starting from here?
HOSTIN: I think that the Supreme Court really ducked the issue, and certainly, in his dissent, Justice Alito agreed with that. The Supreme Court had this wonderful case, really, that lined up all of the issues that a lot of people have with the Internet. And that is, you know, when is it free speech or when does it cross the line into criminality, into a criminal threat? They didn't decide that. We have no sort of sweeping policy language coming from the Supreme Court.
What we have is a very, very narrow ruling from the Supreme Court based on this one federal threat law that says, "You know what? You have to look at the mental state of someone."
You have to prove, as a federal prosecutor, Wolf, that someone intended the threats to be real. And that really, I think, is disappointing for so many of us that were watching this case, because it really could have been the opportunity for the Supreme Court to rein in some of what we see on the Internet. That just didn't happen today.
BLITZER: Sunny, Pamela Brown, guys, thanks very much.
Just ahead, Senator Lindsey Graham makes it official today, jumping into the increasingly crowded field of Republican White House hopefuls.
[18:48:46] BLITZER: There's new competition in the Republican presidential race. Senator Lindsey Graham joining the increasingly crowded field of White House hopefuls, staking his claim on foreign policy and national security.
Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is joining us from Clemson, South Carolina, just a few miles from where Senator Graham made his big announcement in his hometown.
Dana, how did it go?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he talked actually a fair bit about the idea of reaching across the aisle on big issues, like immigration reform, which he actually did. He said as president, he would do the same thing to tackle social security and entitlement reform in general, but he also really spent most of his time talking about a muscular foreign policy with him as commander in chief.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Lindsey Graham and I'm running for president of the United States.
BASH (voice-over): With that, the ninth Republican made it official. Lindsey Graham's long-shot run is steeped heavily in his hawkish world view.
GRAHAM: I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us. Not just penalize them or criticize them or contain them, but defeat them!
BASH: Graham barely scratching 1 percent in most polls knows he has a tough hill to climb. CNN is told he's running primarily to force a debate within the GOP on foreign policy.
[18:50:05] GRAHAM: Those who believe we can disengage from the world at large and safe -- and be safe by leading from behind, vote for someone else.
BASH: There are a not so subtle dig on Rand Paul, a non- interventionist and Graham's chief foil particularly on national security. For months, the two have exchanged long distance barbs and Graham was even caught rolling his eyes last month as Paul talked.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight begins the process of ending bulk collection.
BASH: Paul's headline-making filibuster temporarily stopped the government's data dragnet program, which Graham and most other Republicans call essential. It was a welcome contrast for Graham.
PAUL: So, little by little, we've allowed our freedom to slip away. We allowed the Fourth Amendment to be diminished.
BASH: Yet Paul is pursuing a different kind of GOP primary voter, libertarians. His #standwithrand social media hashtag is generating buzz online and dollars for his presidential campaign.
PAUL: When fear and complacency allow power to accumulate --
BASH: He's even using some epic Senate floor speeches in this campaign video, which violated Senate rules prohibiting video of Senate proceedings for political purposes.
Paul's rhetoric is generating some unwanted headlines like making this accusation against opponents.
PAUL: Some of them I think secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.
BASH: This morning, he walked that back.
PAUL: I think sometimes going after people's motives and impugning people's motives is a mistake. And in the heat of battle, I think sometimes hyperbole can get the better of all of us.
BASH: Again, it's not just Lindsey Graham who disagrees with Rand Paul. Nearly every other Republican either officially running for president or thinking about running for president disagrees with him. Now, Paul wears that as badge of honor. His aides insist it's helping boost his popularity in states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
But here in the first primary state of the South, South Carolina, Wolf, this is obviously rich with military traditions and the kind of do whatever it takes mentality seems to be a more resonant. And people like Lindsey Graham are pushing that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, they are.
All right. Thanks very much, Dana, for all of that.
Let's get some more. Joining us, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar, and "New Yorker" Washington correspondent and CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza.
How does Lindsey Graham's formal entry into the race sort of shake up this Republican contest?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it does. Talk about great timing for a muscular foreign policy candidate as Dana describes him. You have the NSA surveillance debate. You have the Iran nuclear talks. You have the question of ISIS looming over the country. And Lindsey graham enters the race as a favorite son and is 7 percent in the polls in his home state.
But he is somebody who can make a difference because if he doesn't win the presidency, I don't think there are a lot of people who would give him great odds of winning the nomination, he can certainly become a king maker here. He can throw his support behind somebody in the early state of South Carolina. So he can have a real impact substantially on the conversations in the Republican Party, not only on foreign policy, but also he has been a force on immigration reform for example. So I say have at it.
BLITZER: You know, he's got the endorsement of his good friend John McCain as we all know. Why as he decided to run this time?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's two issues he brought up in the speech today. One, and the probably most important in his mind, is foreign policy. He really believes that the Rand Paul wing of the Republican Party at least was ascendant. I think it's not as ascendant as it was a year ago and that's partly to the rise of ISIS, and he wants to push back a lot of those arguments.
But frankly, as Dana pointed out, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush are right where Lindsey Graham is on foreign policy. He is not going have a big debate with those guys on foreign policy.
I think -- one interesting thing about Lindsey Graham is, he comes from South Carolina. It has the most conservative Republican electorate in this country. And he has managed to be a few clicks to the left of those Republicans, he's been bipartisan on immigration reform, and on cap and trade. And I think if he emphasizes those issues, that really will bring something unique to this race.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, she is beginning to get some competition. Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, he is drawing huge crowds whether in New Hampshire or in Iowa. And Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, he announced over the weekend.
How does this impact her strategy?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Honestly, I'm not sure that it does. Because we've already seen, truthfully, we've already seen her shift to the left and try to attract the Obama coalition that I think Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have been trying to attract.
What has she said about immigration? She has come out even before these guys were running, saying she wants a full and equal path to citizenship for immigrants and protections for the parents of DREAMers.
[18:55:07] Same-sex marriage she says, it should be a constitutional right.
So, she has already shifted trying to keep together this Obama coalition of the LGBT, Hispanic Americans, African-Americans and so on.
BLITZER: Does the Rand Paul strategy on the NSA surveillance, is that politically smart on his part?
BORGER: Well, it depends who you ask. I mean, the Rand Paul say yes, this is the coalition we're trying to knit together. We want independence. We want libertarians, even some Democrats could vote for us in New Hampshire.
They're raising a lot of money off of this, Wolf, off of his appearance on the Senate floor here. But lots of people who thought that Rand Paul was really a more serious candidate who had some interesting proposals in other areas which by the way he does -- take a look at this in terms of foreign policy national security, particularly since the country is so much more worried about ISIS and saying wait a minute. Maybe this isn't smart.
He does have a generational advantage, though. Younger voters, younger Republican voters are with him on this.
BLITZER: And the libertarian supporters of his dad.
LIZZA: I think you've got to give the guy some credit for this. He has to look at the polls and look at Republican voters are not with him on this. They support the Patriot Act.
LIZZA: And the country has -- the Republican base that he is wooing is not with him, and he is doing this at a conviction. And you got to give a politician credit for doing that.
BLITZER: But he is sincere. He really believes what he is saying. Politics, you forget about. But there's no doubt you know him. He is sincere about this.
KEILAR: He is sincere about it. But you have to wonder what his strategy is at this point. He is certainly upsetting Republican leaders.
And let's keep in mind, that there may be -- the House has passed this bill. The Senate will send it back. There may be some changes. None of them will be Rand Paul's changes, right? These are Republican endorsed changes perhaps that maybe lengthen the period of time from when the bulk data collection is handed over to phone companies, but not Rand Paul's changes.
So, what's the real change?
BLITZER: Brianna, thank you very much. Ryan, guys, thanks very much.
This is an important day here at CNN. CNN turns 35 years old today. In fact, this hour exactly 35 years ago, CNN began reporting the news.
Anderson Cooper is back with us right now, taking a look at some of the remarkable stories all of us have covered over the past -- I've been here for 25. You have been here for, what, abo8ut 13 years.
Anderson, tell us a little bit more about some of the work that you're most proud of. Because I know you're very proud of the coverage that you and our team did in Haiti.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I would certainly say Haiti, hurricane Katrina, the tsunami. I think CNN has this extraordinary ability to marshal global resources on a big story like that.
And send teams from all around the world. You and I have worked together in Israel during the fight against Hezbollah as well as many times actually in Israel. And I think that's one of the things. I mean, those days, the month spent in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 was probably the most extraordinary time or one of the most extraordinary times.
And I think there is no other network that can marshal the kind of resources that CNN can.
BLITZER: Absolutely right. You've also had some of the lighter moments on your program as well. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
It made me giggle every time I read it. He hasn't commented on this incident.
(LAUGHTER) All right. Sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. How has "The RidicuList" evolved over the years? Who came up with that idea to begin with?
COOPER: Yes, I have the sense of humor with a 12-year-old boy, with a giggle of a 12-year-old girl unfortunately. It's not a good combination. The name "The RidicuList", Charlie Moore, my producer, created. And we have an amazing writer, Faith Clevenger (ph), who usually writes it and Jack Ray (ph) sometimes writes it as well. And we have a great team of writers.
And I like sometimes I'm in on the writing of it, sometimes it's a surprise, because they know if they -- a lot of times they'll tell me don't read this in advance. Don't work on this in advance because if you read it raw, it's going to be a good reaction. And that was certainly the case with that one.
BLITZER: Love "The RidicuList," even though I've been, I guess the victim sometimes as well.
COOPER: You starred in it. Never the victim. We're having fun with you.
BLITZER: I always see it as a badge of honor, Anderson. Love "The RidicuList".
COOPER: We're having fun with you, not at you.
BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Anderson will be back in an hour. "AC360" 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
And get this, 9:00 p.m. later tonight, join us as CNN celebrates its 35th birthday with a special look back at the amazing moments that all of us have shared. It's a special report, "Breaking News: 35 Years of CNN." It airs tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.
Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always the tweet the show @CNNSitroom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.