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Trump Debate Demands; Crisis in Israel; U.S. Drawdown in Afghanistan Delayed; Source: Biden Family 'Totally on Board' for 2016 Bid. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired October 15, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will the conflict he promised to end outlast his time in office?

Israel on edge. New clashes erupt after weeks of bloodshed and terror. Now Israeli citizens are being urged to grab their guns. I will ask a top Palestinian official how this cycle of violence can be stopped.

Secret bunker revealed. Iran shows off an underground missile facility in a sinister-looking video that includes a warning to its enemies. Is it a dangerous taunt on the heels of the Iran nuclear deal?

And Trump's threat. The Republican front-runner says he may boycott the next GOP presidential debate. He has a list of demands to participate. Will they be met?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, a major reversal in President Obama's strategy that will make America's longest war even longer. The president announcing today he's abandoning his plan to withdraw most U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

He says thousands of troops to need to stay on the ground to keep America safe.

Also breaking now, new clashes exploding between Israeli forces and Palestinians with tear gas and Molotov cocktails flying after a series of knife attacks and deadly violence. Israel now is recruiting civilians to help bolster security encouraging those who legally own guns to carry them.

We have correspondents, analysts and newsmakers standing by as we cover all the news that is breaking right now.

Up first, our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's got details.

Barbara, the president effectively handing off this Afghanistan war which has been going on for 14 years to his successor.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf. That is correct.

Of course, in Afghanistan, it's about preserving security and the problem of preserving security may be a problem for years to come.


STARR (voice-over): As the Taliban show their biggest win in years, briefly taking over a city in northern Afghanistan, and an ISIS and al Qaeda continue expanding their ranks across Afghanistan, President Obama says the situation is still too dangerous to cut the size of U.S. forces still fighting in the country's longest war.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bottom line is in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile. And in some places, there's risk of deterioration.

STARR: The administration had sought to end U.S. involvement in the 14-year war that began less than one month after the 9/11 attacks. The plan had been to cut dramatically the number of troops next year. Now the 9,800 troops will remain through most or all of 2016, dropping to 5,500 in 2017.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Afghan security forces' uneven performance in this fighting season also underscores that their shortfalls will persist well beyond this year.

STARR: The country remains fragile. The Taliban in a surprise attack last month seized Kunduz, a major city in Afghanistan. In the fight to push the Taliban back, a U.S. airstrike hit a hospital, killing doctors and patients.

And just last weekend, U.S. forces participated in a huge raid on an al Qaeda training site, while touted as a success, it shows extremists are still operating there. The four-star commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan had made clear he was not ready for a quick drawdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In your professional military judgment, conditions on the ground at the present time would require some revision of the withdrawal plan to a Kabul-centric 1,000 personnel by the end of 2016; is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will stop my foot, sir.

STARR: Some Republican presidential candidates want more troops, President Obama's decision not the final word.

OBAMA: I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next president. And as conditions improve, we will be in position to make further adjustments.


STARR: The nation's longest war, Wolf, not over yet and a lot of concern that ISIS now is digging in, in Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

Also tonight, the United States keeping very close watch on Iran's missile arsenal after an ominous video revealing an until now secret underground military bunker.

Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is with us.

Is Iran muscle-flexing now and is that seen as dangerous by the U.S.?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: There is certainly a message for the domestic Iranian audience here. The timing key, and all this coming as the Iranian Parliament just approved a nuclear deal with the West.

However, these moves show real military capabilities as well. The latest missile battery seems designed to be protected from U.S. airstrikes.



SCIUTTO (voice-over): Sixteen hundred feet deep under a Iranian mountainside, a hidden arsenal, Islamic Revolutionary Guard soldiers at attention and dozens of missiles on their launch vehicles. Set to dramatic music, Iranian state TV broadcast these images, boasting it is just one of many protected sites around the country.

GEN. AMIR ALI HAJIZADEH, IRAN (through translator): The missiles in various ranges are mounted on launchers on all bases and are ready to be launched, that is, if our enemies make a mistake.

SCIUTTO: The release comes just days after Iran launched a new- generation long-range ballistic missile, which the U.S. says violates an existing U.N. Security Council resolution banning ballistic missile testing by Iran. The U.S. is now referring the matter to the U.N.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Nobody will turn a blind eye to the destabilizing activities that Iran continues to prove capable of in the region.

SCIUTTO: Now Iran is expanding its military operations inside Syria. The U.S. believes as many as 1,000 Iranian troops are on the ground, joining thousands more fighters from the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah. The White House says Tehran is acting out of desperation.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The fact that they're having to ramp up their support and to do it in a more public and conspicuous way I think is an indication that what they have been doing so far hasn't really worked. SCIUTTO: But Iran is not alone. A delegation of Iranian

officials arrived in Syria Wednesday to discuss a new pact with Russia aimed at propping up the Assad regime.

ALAEDDIN BOROUJERDI, IRANIAN OFFICIAL (through translator): The Russians, too, are backing a political situation to end the crisis in Syria, but at the same time because terrorists do not understand anything but force, naturally that same language has to be spoken to them.


SCIUTTO: U.S. officials have said consistently that they would welcome military action by countries such as Russia or Iran if it is against ISIS, but it's very much the U.S. assessment that Russia and Iran are intent on one goal, that is, propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

And, Wolf, this has many potential consequences, certainly lengthening the war, setting up a proxy war between Russia, Iran and the U.S. It is not seen as a good development here in Washington.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and our CNN military analyst retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Peter, what do you make of Iran's decision to release footage of this until now secret ballistic missile facility?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it goes together with the missile test they did over the weekend, which was a ballistic missile precision-guided which they also advertised, and is a way of saying, hey, we may have done this agreement with the United States, but we still have these, you know, ambitions regionally and these capacity military to exercise them.

And it shows that the Iranian regime is not a unitary regime, hard-liners and people who are, you know, more sympathetic to the American position. And this is the hard-liners speaking.

BLITZER: General Hertling, from a military standpoint, how well- equipped is Iran right now in achieving what it wants to achieve?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, you got to understand there's basically two armies within Iran. There is the normal army about 400,000 strong, and then you have your Iranian Republican Guards.

That's about 100,000-plus or minus strong. The regular army not well-equipped. The Quds Force, the Republican Guard, are very well- equipped and they're very well-trained. They have a budget of about $14 billion to $17 billion a year, we estimate. They don't have very good equipment, but they're trying to improve their rockets and their missiles and their artillery. But I think they have been under sanctions for several years, so

it's going to be tough to build that force very quickly, although Russia is now certainly having a hand in giving them some equipment.

BLITZER: Peter, let's talk about the president's reversal as far as troops staying, U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan today. Today, he said almost 10,000 will continue being there for most of next year, 5,500 the following year.

Earlier, a couple years ago, a year-and-a-half ago, he said all U.S. troops with the exception of those protecting the U.S. Embassy in Kabul will be out. Is the decision in part the result what has happened in Iraq, neighboring Iraq, as a result of the full withdraw of U.S. forces a few years ago from Iraq?

BERGEN: Well, surely that must be part of the calculation.

When you have ISIS establishing control of parts of eastern province Nangarhar in Eastern Afghanistan, when you have the fall of a major city to the Taliban for two weeks, you know, not of this looks good. And the fact is it wasn't a good idea in the first place to withdraw troops. The Afghan government has been begging the United States to say the Afghan people are in favor of a long-term international troop presence.

They see American troops as a guarantor of their stability and a sort of bulwark against other countries interfering in their outside affairs.

BLITZER: Do you agree, General Hertling, that it was a mistake for the president ever to say he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan?


HERTLING: No. Being familiar with campaign planning, Wolf, this was the best estimate about 18 months ago when you're talking about a long-term plan.

At the time, situations on the ground were very different. The enemy was different, and, as we say in the military, the enemy always gets a vote. Things have changed in terms of the enemy and the capability of a nation, Afghan security force, to address that enemy. So I think it's a good move and it's not an unexpected move to have General Campbell come in with this request for more forces.

BLITZER: Do you see a time, and you have studied this, Peter, for a long time, Afghanistan, where the U.S. could actually make a clean break, leave Afghanistan, leave the security work, the military work there in the hands of Afghan security and police forces and not have to worry about a resurgent Taliban or al Qaeda?

BERGEN: Insurgencies like the Taliban could go on for decades. We have seen in Colombia an insurgency go on for half-a-century.

BLITZER: So, U.S. will have to stay for decades in Afghanistan? BERGEN: It depends.

One thing is the way we signal these things. The Afghans don't care if it's 10,000 troops or 5,000. They want us to sort of say, hey, that we have a commitment there, that we have plan to be there for a long time. Obviously, there is a difference between 10,000 and 5,000 from a military point of view, but it's mostly about building confidence with the Afghan people and Afghan government that we have a long-term commitment.

We have negotiated, Wolf, by the way, a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan until 2024. The architecture is in place for us to be there for some significant length of time.

BLITZER: The frustration, though, is that the U.S. has been there now for 14 years, the longest war in U.S. history, having spent hundreds of billions of dollars training these Afghan troops and they still can't get the job done.

And the critics point out they have been fighting in Afghanistan among themselves for hundreds of years. What's to make the U.S. think it can stop the fighting even if the U.S. spends a few more decades? That's the criticism you hear about this decision by the president to keep forces in Afghanistan and they are going to be spending $15 billion a year next year to keep those forces there.

A lot of people say bring those troops home, stop spending the money over there, but I know you disagree with that. I know General Hertling does as well.

All right, guys, that's the criticism that I'm hearing from a lot of our viewers out there.

Just ahead, how far will the Palestinians go to try to end a wave of terror and escalating clashes with Israeli forces? I will ask the top Palestinian negotiator.

And there's breaking news about Vice President Joe Biden and a possible White House run. We're learning some new information right now from our sources and we will share it.



BLITZER: Tonight, fresh anger and bloodshed in the West Bank.

Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters clashing in Bethlehem. Israel has been ratcheting up security after weeks of surging violence, including a series of terror attacks by Palestinians armed with knives. Now the Jewish state is encouraging many of its citizens to go ahead and arm themselves.

Let's go to Jerusalem and our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman -- Ben.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this spate of violence has gone on now for almost two weeks and already it has dramatically changed the daily habits of many Israelis.

(voice-over): Almost two weeks of lone wolf attacks, and once again Jerusalem is on edge. Daily, city residents either witness scenes like these or see them on TV. For those who lived through previous waves of violence, there is a sense of deja vu.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember riding on the buses then and it's a similar feeling as now. It's almost like we're looking like this around us more, not knowing if that really would help, but just more conscientious of when we're walking, when we're talking. Like, right now, I'm more aware with peripheral vision.

WEDEMAN: Sharon Gat served in the Israeli special forces for more than 20 years and now runs a company providing weapons training for security guards and ordinary people.

SHARON GAT, ISRAEL CITIZEN: The civilians that come over here are under a lot of pressure. People want to protect themselves, protect their families. They feel they cannot walk without a weapon in the streets because the attack can come from anywhere.

WEDEMAN: The Israeli government has made it easier for citizens to obtains weapons licenses. Less lethal means of defense are available, but they're selling out.

(on camera): Do you have any pepper spray?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't have it. Empty.

WEDEMAN: All sold out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sold out. Don't have it in right now. Maybe next week, maybe. You can open it and you can -- if something attack you...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a self-defense tool. It's good for a woman, for girls. It's cheap and it's very easy to use with this.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Such things may help adults, but the sense of vulnerability, especially for the young, is more difficult to address.

NAOMI BAUM, PSYCHOLOGIST: Yes, it's knowledge that it is scary, it is scary. I'm scared. You're scared. We're all scared. But we don't let that fear paralyze us.


WEDEMAN: Psychologist Naomi Baum has been treating trauma victims for almost 20 years. Her advice to parents? BAUM: Try to keep routine as much as possible, regular meal

times, regular bedtimes, reading books, doing all the things that you do with your children within your level of comfort.

WEDEMAN: A level of comfort that falls with every new attack.

(on camera): And the longer this violence continues, many are asking is this the new normal, Wolf?


BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem for us, thank you.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he is open to meeting with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to try to end this current wave of terror and tension, but he's also questioning the Palestinian leader's commitment to peace in very strong words. Listen to what he said today.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think we should stop immediately this wave, this wave of incitement against Israel and these attacks, murderous attacks against Jews.

The point of my statement is simple. I'm willing to meet him, he's not willing to me, and you ask me about the resumption of negotiations? Come on. Get with the program. These people don't want negotiations and they are inciting for violence.


BLITZER: Let's ask the top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, about that. He's joining us on the phone from Jericho in the West Bank.

Saeb, thanks very much for joining us.

Will President Abbas meet with the prime minister in Jordan, let's say, without preconditions? Is that a possibility?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, it seems to me that the prime minister of Israel is doing everything, arming his people, attacking, killing.

You know, 34 Palestinians have been killed in the last three weeks, eight Israelis. It's a very sad situation, very unfortunate situation and you recall, Wolf, that the one who made me unemployed 18 months ago and stopped the negotiation was Benjamin Netanyahu.

Now Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking military solution, arming his people, putting roadblocks, dividing Jerusalem by separating Arab Quarter. The only thing no one is talking about is that if this prime minister stands tall and reach out to the Palestinian neighbor and tell me, I feel you, I hear you, I know your urge for independence, your freedom, your dignity, we're going to make a two-step solution, we're going to see a Palestinian state, Wolf, we have recognized Israel's right to exist.

And the only way out for us and the Israelis is not through more military solution, more violence. It's through the two-state solution. It's through a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel on the 1967 line.

It's Netanyahu who has destroyed me as a negotiator, as a moderate camp. It's President -- it's Prime Minister Netanyahu who increased settlement activities in supposed to be land of the Palestinian state by 22 percent since 2009, when he came to office and when President Obama called upon him to seize settlement activities.

He chose settlement, dictation, and incursions, and closures and siege and military solution. And the only thing he forgot is that undermining the two-step solution will provide Israelis and Palestinians with no peace and no security. It will provide us with this situation.

I hope and pray that this man, Benjamin Netanyahu, instead of continuing his campaign against us, smearing us and saying that we're no partners and doing settlements and dictations, rather than peace and negotiation, will reach out to Palestinians and tell them, I feel you and hear you about your independence and freedom, and you will have your state.

BLITZER: Because he says -- Netanyahu says he's ready to meet with President Abbas. President Abbas obviously not ready to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

There is another development. I want to explain what's going on. And in the address he delivered on television to the Palestinian people, President Abbas put up a picture of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, Ahmed Mansara, alleging he had been killed by Israeli police. That video went viral showing him bleeding on the ground.

The Israeli government later released two videos, one showing that 13-year-old running with a knife moments before he was taken down by Israeli police, then the other video showing the boy is still alive, he's actually being treated in a hospital by Israeli doctors right now.

The question is, did President Abbas actually know the boy was alive, he hadn't been killed in the violence?

EREKAT: Wolf, there were two cousins, Hassan Mansara and Ahmed Mansara. They were both 13 years old. Hassan Mansara was killed immediately. Ahmed Mansara was wounded and he's being hospitalized.

And the name Mansara was used. I think, if there is a mistake that was made, it was a mixup between Hassan and Ahmed. But that's not the point. The point is the killing field, 13-year-old kids are dying, are being killed. That's the point.

We need a political solution. We need an Israeli government that will understand that keeping this occupation, they claim that they enact East Jerusalem and they make Jerusalem the so-called eternal capital of the state of Israel. He's dividing it today.


He's sieging all the Arab quarters of Jerusalem, putting roadblocks and cement blocks. Wolf, we need a political solution. He has foiled President Obama's effort to achieve the two-state solution. No one has done more to achieve the two-state solution more than John Kerry, the secretary of state of the United States. He foiled him. He foiled all of us. He had done nothing, Benjamin Netanyahu, but destroy the Palestinian moderate camp and the Israeli moderate camp.


BLITZER: Saeb, why not take this awful situation right now and use it as an opportunity to try to calm things down and have this meeting between Netanyahu and President Abbas?

EREKAT: Wolf, the point is we have met with Mr. Netanyahu any time he asks for it.

The question is not whether we meet or not. The question, what do we meet him about? He has said -- if you recall, last March, I was with you, Wolf, when he said a Palestinian is said not on my watch. And I told you on that program that night, I told him this message will destroy and devastate Palestinian minds. He will take hope from the Palestinian minds.

He will push us towards more blood and that's exactly what is happening now. Let him declare that he will stop settlement activities. Let him declare that he will recognize the state of Palestine. Let him declare that there will be a Palestinian state living side by side the state of Israel.

Look, I'm no match to the Israel and the American Congress and the Senate with a country of 5,000 tanks, 3,000 planes, nuclear weapons. But if they really want peace and security, they must understand that it's also my peace and security. I'm their neighbor. I'm their neighbor.

We have recognized the state of Israel right exist and 78 percent of historic Palestine. And I'm yet -- hope and pray that this prime minister of Israel will stand tall to say, I recognize the state of Palestine's right to exist next to the state of Israel on the '67 line. This is the key to hope. This is how you end violence. This is how you provide peace and security, Wolf.

BLITZER: In the meantime, the violence is obviously going to continue. Let's hope it doesn't. But it's an awful situation right now.

Saeb Erekat, thanks very much for joining us.

EREKAT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead as Joe Biden weighs whether to jump into the presidential race, we have new details on how his family now feels about that possibility.

And Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders takes a break to show off his dance moves on "Ellen," lighting it up to the sounds of "Disco Inferno."


BLITZER: Breaking news in the presidential campaign. CNN is now learning that Joe Biden's family -- his family -- is on board for him to jump into the presidential race.

[18:32:27] Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's here. We've got all the latest on the fight for the Democratic nomination.

First of all, tell us what we're learning about the Biden family and their position on whether or not he should run for president?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's another indication Vice President Biden is getting close to a decision. My colleague Jeff Zeleny says Biden has been reaching out to supporters in early states, saying that, yes, his family is on board and also to discuss an entry into the presidential race.

Biden dodged this question today when reporters asked him about it. And Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, she's been out on the campaign trail all day long, courting Latino voters.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Feeling some post-debate confidence, Hillary Clinton looked like she was test-driving running mates, snagging the endorsement of rising Democratic star and possible vice presidential pick, Housing Secretary Julian Castro.


ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Clinton accused Republicans of parroting Donald Trump on a crucial issue for Latino voters: immigration.

CLINTON: They all, to a degree or so, sound like him. They just don't have the pizazz and the hair.

ACOSTA: Her campaign is also hammering the GOP over comments made by Republican Congressman Richard Hanna, two weeks after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed to suggest that the committee investigating Benghazi was designed to damage Clinton and on the heels of whistleblower Major Bradley Podliska's claims to CNN's Jake Tapper that the committee is out to get her.

MAJOR BRADLEY PODLISKA, FORMER RESEARCHER FOR BENGHAZI COMMITTEE: I think that there is a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.

ACOSTA: The Clinton campaign fired back, saying the Benghazi inquiry has zero credibility left.

Aiming for a different kind of credibility, Clinton's rival, Bernie Sanders, showed off his dance moves on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: Have you ever been in handcuffs?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. I don't know exactly what you mean by that.

ACOSTA: Joe Biden was doing some tap dancing of his own, avoiding questions once again about whether he will run for president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you made your decision yet? Is there still an opening for you in the race, sir?

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here to greet President Park. I'll talk to you all about that later.

ACOSTA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) meeting the conventional wisdom in Washington, the vice president's window of opportunity is closing.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The Las Vegas debate, CNN moderated is a historic moment for Hillary Clinton. It reminded people why she is good and formidable. And I think it lessens the chances that Biden could enter.

BIDEN: Hey, how are you?

[18:40:5] ACOSTA: But Biden supporters argue there is still space for the vice president to join the race.

STEVEN SCHALE, DRAFT BIDEN STRATEGIST: With the stature he would bring to the race, the minute he got in the race the entire narrative would change and we'd start talking about the first debate in Iowa in November.


ACOSTA: Now, three senior Democratic officials tell me Biden is still in a holding pattern, and one of those sources says Biden is leaning towards a no on this decision on whether to run for president.

We should caution that Biden's office still says he is yet to make a decision on whether he is running. And Wolf, as for that tidbit about his family being on board, it's very important to note a few weeks ago, Dr. Jill Biden said through a spokesperson that, yes, she's very much on board with whatever her husband decides -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what he decides. It's going to probably come in the next few days. Thanks very much for that.

Let's bring in our political reporter, Sara Murray; our chief national correspondent, John King; our political commentator, Ryan Lizza. He's a Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" magazine. And our senior political reporter Manu Raju.

John, is there still a lane, though? Practically speaking, politically speaking, for the vice president to jump into this race?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's the sitting vice president, and he's the popular vice president to a president who's still popular in the Democratic Party. So is there a lane? Yes. Is there a wide lane? Absolutely not.

He doesn't want to be to the left of Bernie Sanders, who put in quite a passionate performance in the debate, energized his supporters that he already had, and introduced himself to millions of other liberals across the country who now know who Bernie Sanders is. They'd only heard about him before.

Hillary Clinton has essentially frozen the establishment Democratic slot in this race. I'm told, as the vice president makes these calls, Wolf -- he's been making for them months, and he has a series of regional calls he makes to people in key states.

I'm told the reaction today is much colder, much more sour, saying, "Mr. Vice President, I'm with you if you go, but I talked to my friends here in Iowa, talked to my friends here in New Hampshire, and there's a lot of buzz that Hillary Clinton had a good strong debate performance. And if you want to do it, do it but recognize the hill is very steep."

BLITZER: What are you hearing, Ryan?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not a whole lot. Not a whole lot, but I do think just politically, the lane that John talks about has never really been there, absent some dramatic collapse of Hillary Clinton.

She -- if she wins this nomination, we'll look back at the spring and even 2014 as the point at which she won, because she scared everyone else out of the race. I mean, you watch that debate the other night, yes, Bernie Sanders did fine, but the reason Hillary Clinton dominated is because, let's be honest, she does not have strong competitors, right? And that's a great way to win a primary, is to make sure you clear the field.

I think -- I think Biden's play has always been, if the Benghazi scandal heated up, if the e-mail scandal did something, if there were questions about her finances in the Clinton Foundation and all the sort of general buzz of scandals that seems to always swirl around the Clintons, he was the sort of insurance policy for the Democratic Party if she collapses. Maybe he'll still run, but I'd have to say politically, it's -- it does not look very promising for him, beating her.

BLITZER: She's scheduled to testify next week before that select committee on Benghazi, Manu; and she's been getting a lot of help from Republicans, as we just heard from Jim Acosta, yet another Republican congressman now saying that committee was set up to try to hurt her politically. Huma Abedin, her top -- one of her top aides, advisors, going to

testify tomorrow. What do we expect to unfold in the coming days?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Huma Abedin testimony is going to happen behind closed doors, Wolf. There are going to be mostly staff members there interviewing her. We're probably not going to get a whole lot of information about what she said. It is going to be transcribed, and what the committee is trying to do is figure out what she knew before, during and after those attacks.

I'm told they're really not going to dive deep into her role with the Clinton Foundation, and other questions about the e-mails really are not going to be a big subject of that -- that interview. But it will be a big subject next week when Hillary does go before that committee next Thursday.

This is going to be a very long hearing. There's going to be four rounds of questioning, at least. Twelve members will get ten minutes each to question her. Republicans will have to push her hard but tread very carefully because of that very issue. It now looks like a partisan investigation. Yes, they want to trip her up. They don't want to look like they're in a political witch hunt. It's a kind of a difficult balance, Wolf.

BLITZER: She really did get, Sara, a lot of help from these Republicans, whether Kevin McCarthy or Congressman Hanna, suggesting yes, basically, there was a political effort to try to hurt Hillary Clinton. That's going to help her going into this hearing.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's getting help now from Republicans. She's getting help from Bernie Sanders, going on the debate stage saying America is sick of hearing about your e-mail.

Look, I think the challenge for this committee now, especially when they're questioning Hillary Clinton, is to sort of explain again to the public why they are doing this. That this is about figuring out how innocent people were killed. That this is about getting to the bottom of this and making sure that it never happens again.

And it sort of feels like that part of the conversation has been lost, and the committee is not really pointing out "Here is what we found in this investigation. Here's how we prevent something like this from happening."

And if they want to be able to stand firm and say, "We're doing this for a reason, not just as a witch hunt, I think they need to get back around to that point."

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. We have much more to discuss, including Donald Trump. He's riding very high in the latest polls. He's turning his attention from fellow Republicans, targeting some Democrats. He's now calling Bernie Sanders a maniac and a socialist/communist. [18:40:11] And Trump doesn't like the arrangements for the next

Republican presidential debate. He's actually threatening a boycott. Could he have company if he really decides to sit this one out?


BLITZER: Tonight Donald Trump is issuing a new threat. He says he'll boycott the next Republican presidential debate unless some demands he has are met. Ben Carson's also now threatening to be a no- show.

Our political reporter Sara Murray has the latest on the GOP race, what's going on. Is this debate really, really in jeopardy?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, you know, Donald Trump looks like he's ready to go to battle with CNBC. He's threatening to pull out of that debate if CNBC doesn't agree to limit it to two hours and allow opening and closing statements for the candidate, and while Trump may have a big lead in the polls, tonight, the money race is heating up.


MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, new fundraising numbers show the Bush campaign isn't going anywhere.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's an amount that's -- will be competitive for sure.

MURRAY: Bush raised $13.4 million in the third quarter, a haul that puts him near the top of the GOP pack. But Dr. Ben Carson besting Bush with $20 million last quarter. And Texas Senator Ted Cruz isn't that far behind.

Bush's latest numbers should calm some concerns from donors who've watched their candidate fall behind in key early states as Donald Trump surges.

Trump still sits atop the GOP field. Now, he's trying out some general election style attacks.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I don't win, I consider it to be a massive failure. That means primaries, that means win the election because otherwise, hey, we've all had a lot of fun, but nothing is going to happen. I watched Hillary last night with -- we're going to give this, we're going to give that, we're going to give that, she's the poor woman, she's going to give everything away because this maniac that was standing on her right is giving everything away, so she's following him. I call him a socialist/communist, OK? Because that's what he is.

MURRAY: The front runner hedging his bets, taking on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the same breath.

(on camera): So why go after Bernie Sanders if you think Hillary Clinton was the stronger candidate, if you think she's winning? TRUMP: Well, you never know what's going to happen. You may

never know. I mean, I may think she did better. I thought she probably won last night. Some people might have thought he did. I have no idea who the candidate is going to be. We're going to have to see.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, one of Trump's sharpest critics, Carly Fiorina fielding a question today about Muslims in the U.S., the same type of question that tripped up Trump weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Muslims, they're really raising the heck right now. They want us to change our country to suit them. If they don't like the United States, get out of here. Take your camel and beat it.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, people are so frustrated and angry with the immigration situation. Let me say that one of the most important things about this nation is that we judge people as individuals. So, I'm not willing to condemn any group of people. I'm willing to judge each individual.


MURRAY: So now we see Bush has respectable fundraising numbers, if he really wants to pacify the worriers, he's going to need to prove that the war chest can actually make a difference and move him higher in the polls, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss what's going on.

John King, Donald Trump, he's ahead in the polls consistently now for months, the national polls among Republicans, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada. Has anyone ever not received the presidential nomination for being ahead this long in these four first states?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This deep, this close. We're 100 plus days from Iowa voting is the significant question. You can go back and look at Hillary Clinton being ahead for a long time in the dramatic polls back in 2007.

But by this point, we were seeing Obama was starting to move and you know the race was very different. We can go back and there were 40-something days when Rick Perry was the leader for the Republicans. Rudy Giuliani had a pretty you know, President Giuliani back in 2007, 2008, with the whole thought it was going to be Clinton versus Giuliani, never happened.

But for this long period of time, in both the national polls and state polls, you cannot find in recent history someone who's been ahead especially for the Republican nomination that long and history of the Republican Party is when you get this close to the voting, never mind the Bachmann effect or the Herman Cain effect or the Rick Perry effect, when you get this close to voting, that's usually a pretty good sign of what's going to happen in the Republican Party.

So, Trump is here to stay. Does that mean he's going to be the nominee? Most Republicans, they'll think no. You even had his friend Ted Cruz in recent days say, "I don't think so." You're going to see spending against Donald Trump pretty soon because all the other campaigns have realized he's not going away. Maybe he's plateaued but he's still leading nationally, still leading in the first four nominating states.

Look at the history of nominating. You start winning in the early states, there is a steam roll effect.

BLITZER: You win all four of those states, you almost certainly are going to be the nominee.

A lot of Republicans and you know this, Ryan, they are beginning to think it is really possible that Donald Trump will be the nominee and will face-off against Hillary Clinton in presidential debates.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think I disagree a little bit with John in terms of what the polls mean.

I think the number that, two numbers that strike me -- one, the non-Trump number in this race is two thirds to three quarters of the Republican primary saying we want someone else besides Donald Trump, right?

Number two, if you look at his approval rating, right? He does not much growth. There are a lot of Republicans who say they would never vote for him. And if you look at the candidates that have gone on to win the nomination, they have combined favorability rating and approval rating with that lead in the polls.

[18:50:06] And so, look, it's -- there aren't that many case studies, right? There haven't been that many nomination fights, so something new could happen anytime. And we're definitely in a new universe with him.

KING: You're actually right, but the point is, he benefits from the big field. If everyone --

BLITZER: Because a lot of these states are winner take all.


KING: If everybody stays in, if everybody stays in, Trump is a lot more real than people thought he was. And again, if you get into a one on one, a two, or three-man race, that's a different calculation.

BLITZER: Sara, some of these things are winner take all. If he gets 40 percent, that's all.

MURRAY: Yes, that's a great point. And, look, I think there was a lot of scoffing at the Donald Trump operation early on, and saying they weren't really building a ground game.

I've been traveling with him and I can tell you, that's not the case. I mean, I was at his event in Virginia last night, they had people standing outside, getting signatures, getting people on the ballot, getting those signatures notarized right there. They're not messing around when it comes to the ground game, and that could put Trump in a position where he snaps up these delegates, and maybe if he can't win, he gets to play some kind of kingmaker.

BLITZER: So, a lot of people now think, not Jeb Bush, necessarily, not somebody else, Kasich, but Marco Rubio might eventually emerge as the main threat to Donald Trump. What do you think?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And he's also the threat to Jeb Bush. Bush all along has recognized that, that Rubio occupies a similar lane in this Republican field that he does. And Jeb, all along, has tried to position himself as the Trump alternative, and that has had some effect, but not the total effect that it's actually affected the rest of the down ticket, rest of the presidential field.

The question for Rubio is now, can he emerge, can he become the clear Trump alternative, assuming that Ben Carson falls off? We've seen Carly Fiorina struggle on the polls recently. Can he emerge? He posted a good fundraising numbers. He's very close to Jeb Bush.

Once the money starts being spent on the air war, we'll see this race really take shape.

BLITZER: What's also clear is that Trump has a lot of money. He doesn't spend a lot of money, because he doesn't need apparently to spend a whole lot of money.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, Donald Trump has made very harsh comments about women. But in a CNN exclusive, his daughter, Ivanka, suggesting he's an equal opportunity insulter.


IVANKA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: Look, my father is very blunt, he's very direct. He's not gender specific in his criticism of people.



[18:56:40] BLITZER: Tonight, a new defense of Donald Trump's treatment of women from his daughter. Ivanka Trump sat down with CNN's Poppy Harlow for an exclusive interview.

She was asked about some of her father's most controversial comments. Listen to this.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Your father points to you telling him that he's been on the campaign trail, quote, "really misunderstood on his views about women." He has said some things that have -- about women that have shocked many people about Carly Fiorina. He said, "Look at that face, would anyone vote for that?"

About Megyn Kelly's questioning about him in the first FOX debate, "There was blood coming out of her wherever."

Ivanka, what was your reaction to that?

IVANKA TRUMP: Well, I think a lot of the sensationalism around this was orchestrated largely by the media. Look, my father is very blunt. He is very direct. He is non-gender specific in his criticism of people, and people that he doesn't particularly like, or people that he does like but thinks they are wrong on a particular issue.

So, you know, I don't think that he's gender targeted at all. Like I said, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I wouldn't be high- level executive within his organization if he felt that way. So, he's always supportive and encouraged women, and truthfully, he's proven that through decades through his employment practices, through his hiring practices.


BLITZER: Ivanka Trump also gave her take on the first Democratic presidential debate and her personal connection to the Clinton family.


HARLOW: You are very good friends with Chelsea Clinton, and she gave a recent interview and she said, quote, "I love Ivanka", and she said both of your parents running potentially against each other in a general election has not affected your friendship.

How do you guys navigate that? Do you not talk politics? Do you talk kids?

IVANKA TRUMP: We -- it has not been an issue for us. I have great respect for her. She's been a great friend to me. I've been a great friend to her.

So, you know, the politics of our parents is not relevant to our friendship.

HARLOW: I asked a lot of the women here at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit and sat down with a group of them at the Democratic debate last night. I know you watched.

What did you make of the debate and who do you think would be the most formidable candidate against your father who is leading still in all of the Republican polls?

IVANKA TRUMP: I thought the debate was excellent. I thought the debate was interesting to watch. So I enjoyed watching. Like I said, I'm a business person, not a politician. So, I'll leave politics to other members of the family and the many, many people who are involved in the race on both sides. So, we'll see who emerges.


BLITZER: Thanks to Poppy Harlow for that interview.

Ivanka Trump, clearly, clearly a very polished woman. A lot -- she could be a huge, huge political asset for her father, who's doing remarkably well, as we've pointed out in all the national polls among Republicans, as well as the early states. He's ahead decisively in all those states. We'll sure be hearing more from Ivanka Trump down the road.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Please tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

Please be sure to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM once again tomorrow. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer right here in Washington.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.