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Russia Launches First Airstrikes in Syria; Jeb Bush Goes One- on-One with CNN; Bush Places Fifth in Latest Poll; Ex-Punk Rocker Now a Terrorist; Joint U.S.-Russia Statement on Airstrikes in Syria. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 30, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Russia strikes suddenly. With little warning Russian jets go into action over Syria. Moscow says it hit ISIS targets, but the U.S. says there may have been no ISIS forces present, and Russia may be attacking other groups opposed to the Syrian regime.

[17:00:23] Bush the disrupter. He's sinking in the polls, and it's make or break time for Jeb Bush. He says he turned things upside down as Florida governor. Can he turn around his own campaign? CNN's Dana Bash has a one-on-one interview this hour.

And dangerous widow. A former punk rocker who went to fight in Syria is put on a terror list by the U.S. Her ISIS husband was taken out in a drone strike. Now she's calling for attacks in the west and recruiting other women to join ISIS.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news. Russia launches its first airstrikes in Syria, saying it targeted ISIS positions near the city of Homs. That's an area where various anti-regime groups are active, but it is not, repeat not, an ISIS stronghold. In fact, the U.S. defense secretary, Ashton Carter, says the Russians hit places where there were probably no ISIS forces at all. And may be pouring gasoline on the fire, his words, in Syria.

Russia says it was asked to act by the Syrian president, Bashar al- Assad. A U.S. official says the Russians attacked Bashar al-Assad's enemies. The U.S. got a heads up before the strike, though one official says the Pentagon was taken aback by the Russian action.

I'll speak with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has the very latest on the breaking news -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Pentagon taken aback may be the most polite way of describing the drama now between the U.S. and Moscow over all of this. Because it unfolded in a very bizarre fashion.

A Russian general turned up this morning at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, read a note to the defense attache, saying that Russian airstrikes would begin inside Syria within that hour. And in fact they did.

The Russians told the U.S. to get its war planes out of Syria. The U.S. declined. U.S. missions are continuing there.

And the problem is just what you said. From the U.S. point of view the Russians are not attacking ISIS, which is what the U.S. wants. They are conducting strikes in areas where there are anti-regime militias, and those strikes will bolster Bashar al-Assad.

Listen to what defense secretary Ash Carter had to say about this.


ASHTON CARTER, CNN DEFENSE SECRETARY: One of the reasons why the Russian position is contradictory is that exactly the potential for them to strike, as they may well have, in places where, in fact, ISIL is not present. Others are present. And this is one of the reasons why the result of this kind of action will inevitably simply be to enflame the civil war in Syria.


STARR: Pour gasoline on the fire is how the secretary put it.

What is the next step now? Carter is assembling a team of U.S. military personnel to try this sit-down talk to the Russians about what we've mentioned, the so-called de-confliction. If there's going to be Russian war planes in the air and U.S. war planes in the air, how does everybody stay safe? How do they communicate? How do they know where each other is flying? Those talks are hoped for but not set yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Russians told the U.S. in that little heads up they did give -- they told the U.S. stay away. Don't fly any of your own planes. But the U.S. is continuing its own airstrikes in Syria, right?

STARR: Indeed, Wolf. Now let's be clear. Where the Russians currently are flying, they are in western Syria. Again, where anti- regime forces are very strong. The U.S. focusing on ISIS. That's northern and essentially eastern Syria, trying to strike those ISIS supply lines into Iraq.

But small comfort there, because what the U.S. doesn't know is where the Russians may strike next.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you. Let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

Elise, just yesterday, Secretary Kerry told you that Russia's involvement actually presented an opportunity to the United States. How does that look now in light of what has happened today?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Wolf, you heard Secretary Carter, and I think he wasn't willing to say that explicitly, but he was saying that that was the hope. Clearly, Russian actions on the ground are not showing that.

I mean, what U.S. officials are saying, there is no ambiguity what Russia is doing. That's really to control the air space and really be the force setting the agenda on the ground.

[17:05:04] Secretary Kerry is meeting with foreign minister -- Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov as we speak. We're waiting for them to come out and speak to the cameras. And obviously, we'll show our viewers some of that.

I think what Secretary Kerry wants to do is have a discussion not only with Russia, but you're also hearing from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the anti-Assad crowd that is saying that this is only going to fuel the sectarian conflict. And there is a lot of concern that those countries will not accept what Russia is doing on the ground. They could start sending more money, more weapons into the situation. And that could really enflame the conflict, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stand by to hear what the secretary, Secretary Kerry has to say following his meeting with Lavrov. Elise, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on what's going on right now. Joining us is Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She's a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well. She's an Iraq War combat veteran.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us. Do you know what the targets were, what the Russians actually struck today?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Wolf, first of all, aloha. Thanks for having me on your show.

I think it's important as we look at what has evolved today with Russia's strikes that we really keep a cool head about things. You know, I know that we are in high points of disagreement with Russia at different times, but we've got to remember through all of this that our objective overall and especially there in Syria and Iraq is defeating our enemy, defeating ISIS, al Qaeda, al-Nusra, those Islamic extremist groups who are threatening us and civilization as a whole.

So when we look at what Russia has done, Russia is saying that they were targeting ISIS targets. There's questions about what other groups are actually in the area. The fact is, you have these groups -- al Qaeda, al-Nusra, et cetera -- who are -- they want to take out Assad. That's their bottom line. That's their goal. We've got to remember our goal, which is to take out ISIS and defeat our enemy.

BLITZER: What some say the goal should also be, and the U.S. has said this now for the last several years, to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, who they say is a butcher who slaughtered 200,000, 300,000 of his own people, 7 million homeless right now, displaced people internally, eternally. He must go.

GABBARD: There's no doubt, Wolf, that Bashar al-Assad is an evil, evil dictator who has done tremendous harm to so many people.

Again, I go back to the necessity for us as the United States to learn from our lessons in the past. The same things that are being said about Assad were said about Saddam Hussein. They were said about Gadhafi in Libya.

And let's look at the status. Let's look at the state of affairs in Libya and Iraq today. The question that the administration and no one else is advocating to take out Assad is answering is what happens next.

I'll tell you what happens. What happens is Assad gets taken out. ISIS and these Islamic extremist groups walk in the front door. Then we're talking about a very serious threat, because not only do they have more territory, but they're taking over Syria's highly capable weapons systems, military systems, and being able to really prove themselves to be a far greater threat than we've seen thus far.

BLITZER: It's a fair point.

Congresswoman, as you know, we're awaiting a statement from Secretary Kerry. He's meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov, right now. There you see the microphone at the United Nations. We'll have coverage once he emerges from that meeting.

But it does look very awkward right now. President Obama met earlier this week on Monday with President Putin at the United Nations. There you see the two of them, a sort of cold handshake once they got together for their little meeting. And Lavrov's been meeting with Kerry, and all of a sudden Russia launches these strikes, apparently taking the U.S. by surprise. How awkward is this?

GABBARD: Yes, sure, there's going to be some awkward conversations there.

But I think another awkward point that I see in all of this is that, as we've seen today, members of the administration criticizing what Russia has done and targeting this city in Syria, targeting these groups like al Qaeda and al Nusra who want to take out Assad, but not seeing the irony in the fact that the United States is standing silently by and supporting Turkey as Turkey takes out the Kurds, who have been our most reliable, most effective ground fighting force in our fight against ISIS.

So I think there's some hypocrisy here when you're seeing the criticism that's being waged there. And we've got to look again. What is our objective, who is our enemy and who should we be working with to be able to defeat that enemy.

BLITZER: So are you suggesting, Congresswoman, that it may not necessarily be in the immediate U.S. interests to see Bashar al-Assad go? GABBARD: Wolf, I'll tell you directly. It would not be in our U.S.

interests, in the national interests of the United States and the security of the American people to see Bashar al Assad go now.

We've got to remember our objective. We've seen what happens in the past when the United States gets distracted by regime change and nation building missions. This is why we're fighting this Islamic extremist threat today, because after 9/11, our leaders back then and unfortunately have continued today to be distracted away from defeating our enemy.

[17:10:15] So we're in a position now where they are stronger, fiercer and with greater numbers than we've ever seen before.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, I need you to stand by. There's much more to discuss. Situation in the region is pretty bleak right now. Much more with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard right after this.


[17:15:08] BLITZER: The secretary of state, John Kerry, has been meeting at the United Nations with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. One of them or both of them might be coming to the microphones to report on what's going on. The breaking news we're following: Russia today launched airstrikes in Syria.

U.S. officials say there may be, though, no ISIS forces in the target areas. The areas targeted by the Russian aircraft.

We're back with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee. She's also an Iraq War combat veteran.

Do you have any idea right now what Russia's overall intentions are in Syria?

GABBARD: Wolf, I think that's hard to say. I think there's no question that Russia has long been an ally of Assad. So their presence there, frankly, is not surprising.

I think what's interesting to note here, though, are the similarities between what we see happening now in Syria with actually what happened in World War II. We saw some different types of alliances during World War II, where the American leadership at that time allied themselves with Stalin to fight against and defeat their common enemy in Nazi Germany and Hitler.

People were saying horrific things. There's no question about Stalin's responsibility for killing millions of people. Stalin was worse than, you know, Saddam Hussein, Assad, Gadhafi and all these guys combined.

But the American leadership at that time saw the necessity of joining forces and staying very focused on exactly who was threatening the American people, who our enemy was at that time, and built alliances with those who shared that common objective and got the job done. If that hadn't have happened, we'd be living in a very different world today.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying, Congresswoman, it may be necessary for the U.S. to hold its nose, for whatever reason, to go ahead and work out some sort of deal with the Russians, maybe even the Iranians, who have a lot of influence in Syria and Iraq, to try to destroy ISIS.

GABBARD: Yes, Wolf, that's exactly what I'm saying. And again, we have to learn from history. We have to learn from history both with that example I just talked about with Stalin during World War II, seeing what worked. And we've also got to look at our recent past in our country to see what lessons we have to learn about our country getting into this regime-change, nation-building business and really the chaos, especially in the Middle East region, that has ensued.

We've got to remember who attacked us on 9/11 and remember and stay very focused working with those who we need to work with who are focused on that common enemy to defeat them once and for all and not allow this to become this long, protracted war for five, ten, 20 years. We cannot afford to allow that to happen. We've got to take decisive action and take out those who threaten us.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment. We don't have a lot of time, but you see what's going on in Kunduz. That's one of our largest cities in Afghanistan, a city of about 300,000 now taken over by the Taliban. You see Afghan troops trained by the U.S. with U.S. equipment, U.S. spending tens of billions of dollars to train those Afghan troops, fleeing that area. Sort of reminds me of what the Iraqi troops trained by the U.S. did in Mosul, and ISIS still remains in control of Mosul. How disheartening is this to you, an Iraq War veteran?

GABBARD: I mean, it's disheartening, Wolf, on so many different levels. Personally as a veteran but also when I look at the American taxpayer dollars and the lives of those who paid that ultimate price serving in Afghanistan.

When we look at this corruption that still exists within the Afghan government, their inability to stand up on their own, the fact that their economy is really based on the charity of the American taxpayer, that they don't have -- that they have not, even after all these years, stood up and taken responsibility for their own future.

Afghanistan is a complicated place with many different elements. We've got the Pakistani ISI now, the Afghan government saying they were involved with this takeover and attack working with the Taliban. And now we, unfortunately, have ISIS also present there in Afghanistan.

So it's a complicated mess, and it's a very unfortunate situation that we're dealing with today.

BLITZER: While I have you, Congresswoman, you recently introduced a resolution recognizing the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities like the Yazidis, the Christians in Iraq and Syria by ISIS. You said this was, in effect, genocide that they're committing. You want the U.S. to start providing refugee status to them. Why is this so important to you?

GABBARD: Well, Wolf, we're seeing two issues here. We're seeing this incredible humanitarian plight with all of these refugees, who really many of them, have no way out of these countries. These religious minorities who are being targeted specifically because of their faith, with Christians and Yazidis and other religious minorities in the region.

So as the United States announces that they're going to be taking more refugees, there are two reasons why we should prioritize these Christians, Yezidis and religious minorities at the top of that list.

First of all, because many of them have already been vetted. Tens of thousands have already been vetted. They've already linked up with sponsors here in the United States. They just need a ticket to be able to get here.

And secondly, we do have a very real concern about the vetting of these refugees, who they are, do we have Islamic extremist terrorists working their way through this crowd of refugees. By prioritizing these religious minorities, prioritizing these Christians, we take care of both of these concerns.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, thanks very much.

GABBARD: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard joining us. Once again, we're waiting to hear from the secretary of state, John Kerry. He's expected at those microphones at the United Nations following his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov.

Also coming up, the U.S. designates the widow of a prominent ISIS operative and terrorist. We're learning new details of her efforts to recruit American women to ISIS.

Plus, Jeb Bush talks to CNN about his struggling presidential campaign, his rivals including Donald Trump and why he says he'll ultimately be the Republican presidential nominee. Everyone needs protein, every day


[17:26:04] BLITZER: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush now mired in fifth place in a brand-new poll that puts him behind Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and his old friend Marco Rubio, with Bush garnering the support of only 8 percent of Republican voters surveyed nationwide.

Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, caught up with Jeb Bush in New Hampshire, where they spoke about his low poll numbers, his strategy, the frontrunner, Donald Trump. Dana is joining us now.

So Dana, how did it go? What did he tell you?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting conversation, Wolf. We talked about the kind of event that he's actually going to do in about an hour here where I am here in Bedford, New Hampshire. A town hall where he's hoping to, one by one, explain to voters that he is not the Bush that people might think he is. He is a different kind of guy. He is the Washington outsider that Republican voters are looking for.

But it's not going to be easy. Take a look.


BASH: Governor, we just came from an event you had here in New Hampshire, talking about the epidemic of substance abuse here in the state and around the country. And you talked about the fact that, when you walk into a room, you can tell immediately which families have been afflicted by this because of their family members. Talk about that for you personally and also specifically because of your daughter's addiction, how that has played into you as a candidate.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It played into me as a governor, first and foremost, and it sensitized us to the challenges families face all across this country. And you literally can see the hurt and the pain of a lost loved one or someone who's struggling with addiction for sure. It's so complicated, because there's mental health challenges combined with addiction. And no one -- it's hard to diagnose. It's really hard, very frustrating for families.

BASH: Definitely learned a lot there. Let's talk about taxes.

BUSH: Yes.

BASH: Donald Trump released a tax plan this week. You tweeted out that it looked familiar to you, because you thought that there were some similarities. But you've also said that he's not a real conservative, that he's almost a Democrat in disguise. So how does he have those characteristics if not a real Republican but still have a similar tax plan.

BUSH: Well, so he's had two views on taxes. One, the largest tax increase since the beginning of mankind. Literally, 14.5 percent tax on assets that would have devastated the economy, would have been a tax increase in the tens of trillions of dollars. And now he's come up with a proposal that would create, according to the Tax Foundation, on a static basis $10 trillion deficits over ten years.

Now, there will be some dynamic effect on it, but that whole will be resolved. It's not a serious of a plan as it should be. But the fact that he's actually proposing something is encouraging. Every time he talks about policy, he's not insulting somebody, that's a good thing for the primary.

BASH: Does this convince you more that maybe he is serious about being a Republican, the fact that he proposed something that is not that dissimilar to what you proposed?

BUSH: Well, it's dramatically different as it relates to, I think, our plan of simplifying the code and reducing corporate rates and simplifying for personal -- for personal rates without blowing a gigantic hole in the deficit is a much better plan for high sustained economic growth.

But look, we're going to have a chance to focus on this. I can't wait to hear see what his plans are about other things. Because up until now it's really just been bluster.

BASH: Let's talk about the state of your campaign. You entered this race as a front runner. And in just three months you've lost more than 50 percent of your support. You went from double digits to single digits.

BUSH: Yes.

BASH: What do you think changed?

BUSH: First of all I never considered myself a frontrunner.

BASH: But you were in the polls.

BUSH: I knew I had to overcome perceptions related to people that don't know me. So if you're in New Hampshire, if there's a television on, hopefully you'll see this -- an ad that we've put up, and the Right to Rise PAC has currently put ads, up as well, talking about my record.

[17:30:08] So as I get to talk about how I cut taxes, reduced the size of government, created the most ambitious school choice programs in the country, turned the whole system upside down as a disrupter, I can tell that story and lay out my plans for what I would do in Washington.

And over time I think that's what people are going to decide. They're going to decide this -- who they're going to want to nominate as the party's nominee based on who has the leadership skills to fix a few big things. Who can take it to the Democrats in the general election. And who can do the job.

I mean, ultimately this is not about the loudest, you know -- it's not an entertainment. We're not auditioning for some kind of show here. We're running for president of the United States. And who sits behind the big desk matters as you get closer to February in these early states, not October.

BASH: You talk often about the fact that this is a marathon. This isn't a sprint.

BUSH: I've changed it. It's a triathlon now.

BASH: It's a triathlon. OK. So I'm not sure...

BUSH: Longer.

BASH: Exactly. I'm not sure what part of the triathlon we are now. But...

BUSH: We're swimming.

BASH: Yes. Slow and steady wins the race, you say.

BUSH: Yes.

BASH: But I've talked to some of your supporters, even some of your donors who are concerned. I'll just give you an example. One of your significant donors told me, "It's as if we keep investing in a company and as a shareholder we're not seeing any sales."

BUSH: Who is that?

BASH: What do you say?

BUSH: Who is that person?

BASH: I don't want to say.

BUSH: Yes, he doesn't either, I guess. Look, the fact is that we've got a plan. We're executing on the plan. I'm convinced I'm going to win the Republican nomination, and I'm going to do it in a way that will actually make it possible to win the general election, as well.

And I am who I am. I think people want authenticity. They want -- they want someone who has the leadership skills to turn ideas into reality. I got to do that as governor of Florida. I can do it as president of the United States. And I'll convince people of that.

BASH: And why do you think that there is kind of a feeling of a little bit of trepidation there?

BUSH: This is the way campaigns work.

I told the story this morning on a radio interview here about seeing John McCain in October the year before he won the nomination in 2007. He was alone in the Atlanta airport, holding a bag over his shoulder that he could not raise his arm up because of being tortured in a P.O.W. camp, by himself, and he won the nomination. And he did it because he's a good man. He had -- people knew that he could lead. And over time that's what people in New Hampshire knew. They decide who their presidents going to be.

BASH: Let's talk about one of your friends, Marco Rubio.

BUSH: Yes.

BASH: He's also kind of taking a slow and steady approach, not unlike yours. Some Republicans I talk to think that he would just be a better alternative for Republicans to Hillary Clinton or even a Democrat, because people looking for a fresh face, a new name, a new generation might go to him. Why -- talking to voters out there, why should they choose Jeb Bush and not Marco Rubio?

BUSH: Because I'm a proven leader. I disrupted the old order in Tallahassee. I relied on people like Marco Rubio and many others to follow my leadership. And we moved the needle: led the nation in job growth; reduced the role of government; reformed the things that were broken; rook on some powerful interests; and we won. And I can be that powerful disrupter in Washington, D.C.

Look, we've had a president who came in and said the same kind of thing: new and improved, hope and change. And he didn't have the leadership skills to fix things. In fact, he's been the greatest, most divisive president in modern history. What we need is someone with proven leadership to fix things. And I believe I have those skills.

BASH: You talk about Washington. Your very good friend John Boehner...

BUSH: Yes.

BASH: ... obviously is leaving. And I've talked to some Republicans who say it's a bad omen for Jeb Bush. Not just because the two of you are good friends. But because...

BUSH: Why would that be?

BASH: ... you're both perceived as kind of out of touch with today's grassroots. How do you counter that?

BUSH: So John Boehner passed through his body repeal of Obamacare, reform of the FDA, passed a budget that limited spending. In fact, spending has been limited under his leadership. And it's smaller today than it was four or five years ago as it relates in the post- stimulus era.

BASH: So why wasn't that enough?

BUSH: Because you have a small number of members of the Republican caucus that want more. And they're willing to disrupt the whole process to be able to get what they want. But they're not going to get what they want. I mean, the irony of this is the next leader is going to have the exact same problems.

BASH: So are you concerned, though, that that small portion of the Republican caucus in the House is being fueled by a lot of the same Republican primary voters that might be looking the other way?

BUSH: Well, if you look at it from that perspective, than 90 percent of the Republican caucus that wants to continue to advance the cause of conservative principles put into law, is the better place to be, isn't it, than the 10 percent.

BASH: Last question. Tonight there is a Jeb Bush event at the exact same time here in New Hampshire there is a Donald Trump event. Why should New Hampshire voters come to see your event and not his?

[17:35:13] BUSH: They probably are going to be watching -- getting ready for Thursday night football. I don't know.

So if they want to hear someone who's authentic, who has plans for the future, who has leadership skills to fix a few big complex things, who will listen to them, and, you know, not necessarily entertain them, then they should come to my event. Or come to both. I don't care. I mean, I'm happy to compare and contrast.

I believe I have the leadership skills to fix the complex things that our country faces. And we should be a right to rise society again. And more people today don't believe we are. That's my motivation to run. It has nothing to do with Donald Trump or anybody else.

BASH: Thank you, Governor. I really appreciate it.

BUSH: Thanks.

BASH: Great to talk to you.

BUSH: Yes.


BASH: So you see there, Wolf, he insists, just like I've been hearing from his campaign aides, that they are not changing what they are doing. That they still believe that people are just beginning to pay attention. Unclear if that's true.

I will just give you one little anecdote. I spoke to a woman who came in here. She said she was candidate shopping, as many Republican voters do about this time here in New Hampshire. I said, "What do you think of Jeb Bush?"

She said, "Well, I think he's great and he would be a great president. But he just isn't dynamic. He can't catch fire." That, I think, sort of sums up part of what Jeb Bush has to try to change, especially for people like that. She said she's going to watch this town hall and see if she -- he can convince her.

BLITZER: And by the way, Dana, we've repeatedly invited Senator Rubio to appear here on CNN over the last six weeks. He's repeatedly declined. We hope he accepts our invitation in the coming days.

Dana, stand by with us. We're also joined by our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. We have a lot to talk about, reaction to what we just heard from Jeb Bush, the race for the White House. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[17:41:42] BLITZER: Breaking news. The Russians today launched airstrikes against targets in Syria. We're standing by for a statement.

The secretary of state, John Kerry's, been meeting behind closed doors with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. We expect them to walk out any moment now. We'll have live coverage of that once it happens. A major story unfolding right now.

In the meantime, we're back with our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel; our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Jamie, Jeb Bush says patience is his strategy. You've been talking to your sources. Is it more than that? What are you hearing?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, luckily, they have enough money so that they can be patient. But nobody expected that they would be at 7 or 8 percent at this time. And, you know, the campaign is pushing and saying, "Oh, the donors are not panicked." The donors I'm talking to are not happy. They are very concerned.

Three things. One is they think he's rusty out on the campaign trail. No. 2, lots of unforced errors.

And the third thing is, as Dana said, dynamic. One donor said to me, "He needs to stand up straight, wear a jacket, get rid of those glasses and put some energy out there, as Donald Trump says. You know, if you're going to be a leader you have to look like a leader."

BLITZER: Donald Trump always ridicules him as having low energy. Might be a nice guy, he says, but got very low energy.

In this new "USA Today"/Suffolk University poll, and Donald Trump is still atop. He's the front runner by a significant number. But take a look at this, Gloria. It says when it comes to favorability, he's not at the top. Carson's at 40 percent. Fiorina 38 percent. He's down at 27 percent.

BORGER: Yes. Sixty-one percent unfavorable.

BLITZER: These are among Republicans.

BORGER: These are among Republicans.

Let me just say it's very hard to win a general election when you have very high unfavorable rating. People have to like you when they vote for you for president.

If you look at the numbers that we've been seeing recently, a majority, 85 percent of Democrats dislike Donald Trump. More than half of independent voters dislike Donald Trump. Even Republicans don't really love Donald Trump.

So the question is, can he tone it down?

And what I think we've been seeing from Trump recently is an effort, in his own Trumpian way, to kind of pull back a little bit. And remember, he told Erin Burnett the other night, "Yes, maybe I've been a little childish." And try and act a little bit more presidential, because that's what people are looking for.

That's what the Jeb Bush people hope Bush will give them as an alternative to Donald Trump: somebody who looks serious and substantive, although without the style.

GANGEL: The adult in the room.

BORGER: Well, they hope.

BLITZER: Let's not forget: in this new poll, he's still way ahead.

BORGER: Yes, he is.

BLITZER: Among all the Republican candidates.

Dana, you had a chance, you sat down for this interview with Jeb Bush. You followed him out on the campaign trail. Talk a little bit about his demeanor. Does he seem ready for a fight? Or is he discouraged by these low polls?

BASH: If he's discouraged, he's certainly not going to show it. I mean, it would be hard to imagine that he would.

I'll tell you what I have found fascinating being out with Jeb Bush, whether it was in Estonia this summer or here in New Hampshire or elsewhere on the campaign trail.

When you're in the room with him, he comes across as very comfortable in his own skin. He's clearly very smart, very steeped in policy.

For example this morning as you heard in the interview he started out the day here in New Hampshire having a very serious discussion about the epidemic of drug addiction here in New Hampshire and particular on how to deal with that.

He had so many details just in his head about how you coordinate government areas and so on and so forth. But it's very obvious it doesn't necessarily always come across on TV. And it's something that we've seen with other politicians in the past. But it really seems to be accentuated when it comes to Jeb Bush. It's almost like he had to kind of over-perform and over-animate when he's in person for it to come across as a little bit more dynamic on television.

That's certainly the sense and reminded of that every time I see him in person how different he is even to people here who are seeing him face to face.

BLITZER: And Jamie, it's interesting. Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, he's now slightly ahead of Jeb Bush in this new national poll. He's really going after Donald Trump more assertively than he has in the past. Is there a risk, though, in doing that?

GANGEL: Look, other candidates have had problems when they did this, but Rubio is being very clever. And he may just be one of those lucky people who knows how to do it with the right touch. He's going straight for Trump almost in a Trumpian way. He says Trump is too sensitive. He said Trump flips out. But he seems to have a light touch. And I think it's working.

BLITZER: Certainly he's moving up in the polls.

All right, guys. Thank you very, very much.

Remember, we're now less than two weeks away from the first Democratic presidential debate. CNN will be hosting it, October 13th in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The breaking news we're following, Russia's first airstrikes in Syria today. Is Vladimir Putin targeting ISIS or something else?

Plus, the ISIS widow recruiting American women to join the terrorist forces. We have new details we're just learning.


[17:51:31] BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from the Secretary of State John Kerry. He's been meeting behind closed doors with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. This following the breaking news, Russia today launched airstrikes against targets in Syria. The U.S. is not happy about that. We'll stand by for this news conference from John Kerry. We're following the breaking news.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern over the growing number of women within the ranks of ISIS and now the United States has listed a terrorist former punk rocker turned ISIS recruiter. She's the widow of a notorious ISIS operative.

Brian Todd is here. He's been looking into this for us.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm told tonight Wolf, that she's a very dangerous person inside ISIS. We have chilling new information from U.S. officials on women who have become terrorists. The House Homeland Security Committee says more than 30 American women have joined or tried to join ISIS and as Wolf, mentioned, we have new intelligence tonight on this woman from Britain, a widow who has become a prominent member of the terror group.


TODD (voice-over): She reportedly played guitar in a punk band, had a checkered past in Britain, and analysts say she was eager for adventure. Tonight Sally Ann Jones is designated a global terrorist by the State Department and the British government has asked the U.N. to ban her from traveling, to freeze her money.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: I think Sally Jones is the most visible woman in ISIS right now.

TODD: The sheering image of Jones now, she's dressed as a nun pointing a pistol at the camera.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Her stature will grow in the global jihadi community. She's somebody that's been able to build up a significant Twitter following.

TODD: With postings like this, quote, "You Christians all need beheading with a nice blunt knife and --


BLITZER: We're going to interrupt that report. Here is the secretary of state with the Russian Foreign minister.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: The first instruction to us was to make sure that the military of the United States, the coalition led by the United States on the one hand and the military of the Russian federation were now engaged in some operations in Syria, at the request of the Syrian government. Get in touch and establish channels of communications to avoid any unintended incidents, and we agreed that the military should get into contact very soon.

Number two, we also discussed what the president's told us about the -- promoting political process. We all want Syria democratic, united, secular, Syria which is a home for all ethnic and confessional groups, whose rights are guaranteed, but we have some differences as for the details on how to get there. But we agreed on some steps, which we will undertake very soon and our experts will undertake soon together with other countries including the United Nations on creating the conditions for options to be used, to be applied, to promote the political process.

And I believe that this meeting, as a follow-up to the decision -- discussions between the two presidents, is a very useful occasion to promote constructive and safe approaches to the situation in Syria and around it. We agree to remain in touch with John, and as always, we're -- we're available for contacts with each other. Thank you very much.

[17:55:03] JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Sergey has described the meeting that we had which we would both concur was a constructive meeting. I re-laid and reiterated concerns that I expressed in the course of the U.N. Security Council meeting which was led by Russia today, concerns that we have obviously about the nature of the targets, the type of targets, and the need for clarity with respect to them, and it is one thing, obviously, to be targeting ISIL. We're concerned, obviously, if that is not what is happening.

So, as Sergey said to you, we agreed on the imperative of as soon as possible, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, but as soon as possible having a military-to-military deconfliction discussion, meeting, conference, whoever, whatever can be done as soon as possible because we agree on the urgency of that deconfliction.

Secondly, we did discuss a number of different ways to try to address the conflict itself and several options were agreed to be further discussed. I need to take those back to Washington, to the president and to our team, and I'm sure Sergey will likewise discuss them with President Putin and his team, and we will follow up on that, for certain, because we also agreed that it is imperative to find a solution to this conflict and to avoid escalating it in any way or seeing it intensified by forces beyond anybody's control.

And finally, the Foreign minister and I agreed that there is even as we don't have yet a resolution with respect to some critical choices in that political solution, we think we have some very specific steps that may be able to help lead in the right direction. That needs to be properly explored and so we finally agreed we have a lot of work to do and we're going to get to doing that work as rapidly as possible, understanding fully how urgent this is in the context of refugees flowing out, the impact on Europe, the impact on the region.

And understanding also that we need to see Syria kept whole, unified, secular, democratic and those are big agreements in that regard and now we need to work on getting there. So we will stay in very close touch and continue to work on this.

Thank you all very much. Thank you.

BLITZER: John Kerry, the secretary of state, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign minister, making statements, refusing to answer reporters' questions following their meeting behind closed doors. They're both trying -- clearly trying to put their best face forward in the face of a very tough situation.

Today Russia launching airstrikes against various targets in Syria, airstrikes the U.S. was not very happy about but now Sergey Lavrov saying the meeting was very useful and constructive. He says that there are some steps to try to achieve some progress politically and trying to deal with Syria.

John Kerry saying that he's got to go back to Washington and bring these issues to the president and other officials.

Elise Labott, our global affairs correspondent. Elise, they tried to put a positive spin on what's going on behind the scenes, though. Everything I'm hearing, there's deep U.S. concern over what the Russians did today.

LABOTT: Very much so and also concern that, you know, John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov have been talking, have been trying, Wolf, for weeks to try and get this political process together. Obviously the Russians have their support for Assad but Secretary Kerry was supposed to bring along the Saudis, the Turks, the anti-Assad crowd into some kind of general larger diplomatic process where you could try and get something going.

The U.S. new all too well that, you know, the Russians were building up their military on the ground but what Secretary Kerry was hoping was that if you can put that in the context, what the Russians say was an anti-ISIS campaign. In the larger context and parallel of trying to get some kind of political transition that you could go after ISIS and you could also try and calm the very fragile political situation on the ground.

Now clearly, what the Russians have done in the last 24 hours has really changed the reality on the ground, Wolf. What U.S. officials say that Russia is really trying to dominate the air space, not only the air space but also become the force on the ground that is dictating the agenda and that makes the U.S. very uncomfortable.

BLITZER: Elise, stand by, happening now, breaking news, Russia strikes dropping bombs on Syria and telling American warplanes to stay away.