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THE SITUATION ROOM

Rutgers University Women's Basketball Team Speaks Out; Halliburton's Dealings With Iran Under Scrutiny

Aired April 10, 2007 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, hurt and shocked by racial and sexual slurs. The Rutgers University women's basketball team agrees to meet with the shock jock Don Imus. Is that approach right for the team? Is it right for America? I'll speak with the head coach of that women's basketball team.

We're getting word of a new battle in Baghdad right now and there is also new word of a security crackdown deadly effect on American forces there.

And Dick Cheney's old company says it's finally finished doing business with Iran, but there's a ban on trading with the enemy, so what was Halliburton doing there in the first place?

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

Up first tonight, fresh wounds and America's struggle with racial tension and sexual slurs -- the Rutgers University women's basketball players insulted by Don Imus have some choice words of their own for the suspended radio host from deplorable to despicable. And now they are preparing to stare Don Imus down and chew him out.

Our Mary Snow is following this controversy for us. What are they planning on telling Don Imus when they finally get together?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they plan on telling him how hurt they are. They say they are angry and insulted. They say they are willing to meet with Don Imus privately in the hope that something good will come out of it, but they're not sure yet whether they're willing to accept his apology.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): These are the women of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and they are ready to confront Don Imus for a number of offensive remarks, including this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they've got tattoos and some hardcore hos. There are some nappy- headed hos there; I'm going to tell you that now.

KIA VAUGHN, RUTGERS BASKETBALL PLAYER: I'm a woman and I'm someone's child. And you know it hurts a lot. It does hurt. HEATHER ZURICH, RUTGERS BASKETBALL PLAYER: What hurts most about this situation is Mr. Imus doesn't know one of us personally.

SNOW: But he soon will. The team has agreed to meet with the talk show host at what's being called an undisclosed location. Imus requested a meeting. He publicly apologized for his comments and his radio show and TV simulcasts were suspended for two weeks. For now team members are stopping short of joining others, asking for his resignation. And the coach of the team says the issue does not stop with Imus.

VIVIAN STRINGER, RUTGERS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL COACH: To utter such despicable words are not right, whether spoken by black, white, purple or green, male or female, tall or short, skinny or thin, fat, whatever, it is not right. It's time for everybody to reflect on what is going on.

SNOW: And part of what is going on is a question being raised about demeaning language Imus used that is also in rap and hip-hop music. The captain of the team Rutgers junior Essence Carson says just because those words are used in lyrics doesn't make it right.

ESSENCE CARSON, RUTGERS BASKETBALL TEAM CAPTAIN: All that matters is that it's wrong. We ask and as a society we're trying to grow and trying to surpass that and get to a point where we don't classify women as hos. We don't classify African American women as nappy-headed hos.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now Essence Carson, the team captain we just heard from, is a straight-A student and an accomplished musician. And those are the kinds of qualities Rutgers officials would like their players to be recognized for -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do some of these Rutgers women feel that potentially they could be used by Don Imus to try to recapture his own reputation?

SNOW: You know that is something that they talked about. They said when they met to talk about whether or not they should meet with Don Imus they questioned whether they were being used to cleanse his image, so to speak. They pointed out that he has been in controversy, embroiled in controversy a number of times before, but they said in the end they decided that it was worth going forward in the hope of accomplishing something good.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks for that.

There's also more fallout coming in tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM over this Imus controversy. This is where it could really hurt him and the prospects of his radio show ever getting back on the air. The office supply store chain Staples and the Bigelow Tea Company just announced they are yanking their advertising from his program. We're going to stay on top of this part of the story, as well and we're going to have a lot more on this controversy, a lot more on this story coming up this hour, including my special interview with the head coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team, Vivian Stringer. She is an amazing, amazing woman. You are going to want to hear what she has to say about the state of racism and sexism in America right now.

Other news we're following though tonight, President Bush urging Congressional leaders to meet with him next week to try to hash over their serious differences over an Iraq war spending bill. But he is refusing to back off his threat to veto House and Senate measures that include timetables for withdrawal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democratic leaders in Congress are bent on using a bill that funds our troops to make a political statement about the war. They need to do it quickly. And get to it my desk so I can veto it. And then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without further delay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Democrat leaders say if Mr. Bush wants to meet with them, he needs to show some flexibility. They say they want serious negotiations without any preconditions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president wants a blank check and Democrats will not give it to him. Contrary to what the president is saying, Democrats are accountable and we want to hold the administration accountable, as well. They want a blank check for a war. They've walked away from their own benchmarks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Meanwhile, the significant U.S. troop deployment in Baghdad may be making life a little bit safer for the residents there, but Americans are paying quite a price.

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is joining us. The new plan to secure Baghdad, some suggesting at least from the U.S. military perspective, it could be backfiring.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well I don't know if backfiring is the right word, but one thing that is clear, the so-called surge strategy is resulting in a surge of U.S. casualties for the first three months of the year. If you look at the numbers for the first quarter of 2007, it shows that for three consecutive months, the casualty numbers have been over 80 a month.

That the first time since the beginning of the war. At the same time Iraqi civilian casualties are down by as much as 27 percent, according to the U.S. military. Now of course the whole goal of this surge is to increase the security situation for the average Iraqis, but it does appear that at least in the short term, the U.S. military is paying a heavy toll in terms of its casualties -- Wolf. BLITZER: I've heard some commanders, and I know you have as well, Jamie, suggest this is the price United States is going to have to pay for quote, "success".

MCINTYRE: Well I mean that's right. No one said that this surge was going to be easy. It's tough urban combat, but they do think it's going to make a difference over time. But one of the other trends that's becoming clear is that U.S. commanders want to keep up this pressure. And right now in the Pentagon there are all sorts of proposals floating around for various plans to extend U.S. troops in Iraq for longer periods of time in order to maintain the surge. Because frankly, they cannot maintain the surge with the current rotation plan with troops only serving one year tours of duty in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie at the Pentagon. Thank you for that.

And there was a very dramatic example of that casualty surge today right in the heart of the Iraqi capital. Joining us now our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware.

Michael, as we are speaking now, it looks like there's been some sort of incident or maybe even a significant battle right in central Baghdad. What do we know?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, welcome, to the war, Wolf. What we know at this stage from the U.S. military is that at about 7:00 a.m. this morning local time here in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces were conducting what the military said was a routine coordinate search. That means they surround an area and then go essentially knocking door-to-door, searching, looking for weapons, bad guys that sort of thing.

Now, at some point a group of insurgents opened fire on these American and coalition Iraqi forces with small arms. By the end of the battle, there was four Iraqi soldiers dead, and only three insurgents dead, but in the meantime, 16 American soldiers have been wounded. Now, we don't know how bad, if any of them are critical, but 16 American soldiers.

Two more Iraqi soldiers wounded and reports of a child who was wounded. Helicopters were called in for help. They got shot up a little bit. Had to go home and land. And then they took to the air again. I mean this is happening in Iraq. It just happened right in the center of the capital and it couldn't be missed.

BLITZER: And also happening today, a suicide bombing this one involving an Iraqi woman. What do we know about this instance?

WARE: Well, we've seen this before, unfortunately. I mean, it's an infrequent phenomenon, but it's certainly not unheard of, the use of female suicide bombers. Now, though American soldiers constantly try to maintain their guard, one can't help but be less suspicious of a woman, given that most of the hostilities here are conducted by the men.

What we know is that this woman with explosives strapped to her body walks into a crowd of men who have come to join the police in the province of Diyala, just north of the capital here in Baghdad in a small town known as Muqdadiya. Muqdadiya used to be a fairly mixed Sunni-Shia kind of place, but I haven't been there for some time. My friends who are still there tell me most of the Shia have been driven out.

Why -- because like much of Diyala it's become an al Qaeda stronghold. So this looks like al Qaeda hitting back at anyone who dares to join the police and work with the occupier.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Before you reach for those French fries or that hot fudge sundae, consider this, the number of Americans who are 100 pounds or more overweight has increased by more than 50 percent since the year 2000. It's a stunning statistic. A study by the nonprofit Rand Corporation found that 6.8 million adults were morbidly obese in 2005, up from 4.2 million adults only five years earlier.

Morbidly obese, more than 100 pounds overweight. And the numbers suggest that it might be even worse because the data was based on something called self-reported weights and heights. And we all know that when we're asked we tend to lie about how much we weigh. The researchers added the increase in weight loss surgery has not made much of a dent in morbid obesity in this country.

Two hundred thousand people had that stomach stapling surgery and stomach bypass last year up from just 13,000 in 1998. Overall, two- thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, two-thirds. And that puts them all, of course, at a higher risk for things like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, you name it.

So here's the question. Why is the number of morbidly obese Americans, 100 pounds or more overweight, shot up so dramatically in the last five years, more than 50 percent increase? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those statistics are truly, truly amazing and horrendous, Jack.

CAFFERTY: We're just going to seed here.

BLITZER: Terrible. Thank you. We'll get back to you shortly.

Coming up...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was totally abominable, despicable and I was personally hurt because my young ladies who I've been entrusted to protect, love, discipline and prepare for life were so badly hurt by an adult. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The coach of the women's basketball team at Rutgers University slammed by Don Imus -- find out if she can really forgive and forget -- Coach Stringer here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me.

Also, doing business with Iran -- we're going to find out how Halliburton managed to get around sanctions.

And the backwards Bush clock -- counting down to the end of an era -- Jeannie Moos will have a special report.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll be speaking later this hour with the head coach of the Rutgers University basketball team. That's coming up -- more on the Don Imus uproar.

But there's some other important news we're following. Over at the Justice Department specifically, there's even more heat on the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales tonight. And it's coming from the U.S. Congress.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. Andrea, the gloves sort of came off today, didn't they?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They really did, Wolf, and you saw House Democrats really flexing their new legislative majority when they slapped the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, with the very first subpoena since the investigation into the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys first began. They say they want lots of documents, new documents and big sections from existing documents that they have that they say were blacked out the Department of Justice said for privacy concerns -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So is the Department of Justice going to go along with this or will they resist?

KOPPEL: Well it's hard to say right now. I think it's really a case of who's going to blink first. They say that they want to cooperate, but they say they already have cooperated. Remember, next Tuesday, Gonzales is going to be in the hot seat over in the Senate. He's going to be testifying before the Judiciary Committee. And we heard one of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Schumer today saying, hey, if we don't get those documents, not just in the House, but over in the Senate before he testifies, he may have to come back a second time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, OK, we'll cover that next week as well. Thank you, Andrea, for that.

Meanwhile, the vice president, Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton says it has finally wrapped up its work in Iran -- this, years after the U.S. government began investigating a possible violation of a ban on such activity.

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman for the latest -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Halliburton says they finished phasing out their work in Iran, but the big question for many people here in Washington is what were they doing there in the first place?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): American companies and citizens cannot legally do business with Iran. It is forbidden under the U.S. government's economic sanctions against that country, but Halliburton got around that problem by using a foreign subsidiary, which they own. And that's why critics say Halliburton was relying on a loophole.

CHARLIE CRAY, DIR. CENTER FOR CORPORATE POLICY: Well, Halliburton set up this bogus brass plate subsidiary in the Caymans in order to effectively say that they had this company that was incorporated offshore.

FOREMAN: Halliburton was subpoenaed by the government in 2004 over transactions with Iran. Its subsidiary provided about 30 million to $40 million worth of services to Iran each year, but Halliburton says that's only one percent of its overall business. It maintains the subsidiary's work in Iran complied with U.S. law and was carried out by non-American personnel. Halliburton has not reported any further investigative activity, but at least one senator still wants to close the loophole that Halliburton used.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: This should have been done some time ago, during the time that they were helping Iran increase its revenues. Helping them produce their oil.

FOREMAN: The issue has become political in part because when Vice President Dick Cheney was head of Halliburton, he opposed the sanctions on Iran, saying quote, "we're kept out of there primarily by our own government. I think that's a mistake." But asked about it in a 2004 debate, the vice president seemed to reverse himself, saying he supports U.S. sanctions on Iran.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At the time I was talking specifically about this question of unilateral sanctions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Next door to Iran in Iraq Halliburton has one fewer headache than last week. The company says it has finished splitting off Kellogg Brown and the KBR unit which the Pentagon's inspector general accused of mishandling government contracts there in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're also following that other development, Halliburton's decision to move their offices, at least for the chairman and the CEO, to Dubai from Houston. I know congressional investigations are underway and the full impact of what that means for this company.

Tom Foreman reporting -- thank you.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- what will she say when she meets Don Imus face-to- face?

Plus, the test results are now in. We're going to find out who the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby really is and why this isn't necessarily the end of the story.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM. What do you have? What are you working on, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of things to tell you about, Wolf.

Remember when hail pummeled space shuttle Atlantis back in February? Well, the damage was apparently worse than anyone realized. NASA now says work to repair the shuttle won't be done in time for next month's scheduled launch, so it's now being pushed back until June 8 at the earliest.

A surprise plea bargain -- the trial of a Tennessee teenager, Kenneth Bartley, Junior, accepts a 45-year sentence for shooting and killing a high school official and wounding two others. Jury selection in his case was already underway. He could have faced life in prison if convicted.

It's over. Well not really, but we do know who the daddy is. A judge in the Bahamas rules that Anna Nicole Smith's former boyfriend Larry Birkhead is the father based on DNA test results. Smith's boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, says he will not appeal the ruling. The judge has scheduled another hearing for Friday to determine who gets custody of the baby. So see, it's not over.

And take a look at this -- a stolen truck plowing into traffic on a highway in central Israel. Officials say the driver was fleeing from police and trying to bypass traffic by driving on the highway's shoulder. See him there? Eleven people were injured in the mayhem and a dozen cars damaged. The 19-year-old suspect is now in police custody. That's ugly, Wolf.

BLITZER: What a nightmare that is. They should take his license and throw it away.

COSTELLO: I'm sure they will. BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much for that.

Just ahead, confronting Don Imus and his hurtful words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that it's extremely important that our players, parents as well as coaching staff has an opportunity to look Mr. Imus in the face and have dialogue with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team talks to me about where this controversy over race and gender and insults goes from here.

And find out who is counting down the remaining days of the Bush presidency, for better or for worse.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, environmental groups are hailing the decision. Today the U.S. announced renewable fuel standards for cars and trucks. Experts say the goal is to help cut greenhouse gasses that fuelled global warming by encouraging greater use of ethanol and other alternative fuels.

In Turkey, police suspect a man was trying to hijack a plane to take it to Iran. A passenger says the man tried to approach the cockpit, told the flight crew he had something in his belt and said he wanted to go to Iran. Officials say he was not armed and all on board that plane are safe.

And in New York, medical officials using some new DNA techniques to identify another victim of the World Trade Center attack -- officials say the 66-year-old man was on American Airlines flight 11 on 9-11.

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

Let's get some more now on our top story, the controversy over Don Imus' racially charged insults of the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

CNN's Carol Costello is getting reaction from presidential candidates among others. What are they saying, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, they are finally saying something Wolf, but you know this controversy is becoming a political hot potato. And you know that when advertisers start to pull out. Staples and Bigelow Tea will pull their ads from Imus' show in protest and now some of the presidential candidates are speaking out, although some say it's about time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I watched the basketball game last night between -- a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women's final.

COSTELLO (voice-over): He's been condemned throughout the country, Al Sharpton calling him a sexist, a racist. Journalist Gwen Ifill, once a target of Imus, describing his Rutgers slur as a shockingly concise sexual and racial insult tossed out in a volley of male camaraderie by a group of amused middle-aged white men. So, why the long silence by some of those men and women running for president? We did hear from John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has apologized. He said that he's deeply sorry. I'm a great believer in redemption.

COSTELLO: But although I asked for comments from the Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Biden, and Giuliani camps...

IMUS: I did a bad thing.

COSTELLO: ... it was only after Imus' suspension that I started getting responses. Barack Obama saying: "The comments of Don Imus were divisive, hurtful and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds."

And Hillary Clinton?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of his barbs, so I understand, I'm a public figure, but it just went way over the line.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He seems sincerely sorry about it and he seems like someone who will endeavor not to do that again, and I'll take him at his words.

COSTELLO: Some say while the candidates' comments are welcome, they should have called for Imus' dismissal. In the Newark, New Jersey, area, where some of the Rutgers players are from, Councilwoman Mildred Crump is not happy.

MILDRED CRUMP, NEWARK, N.J., CITY COUNCIL: The presidential candidates need to step up to the plate and acknowledge the fact that they don't support him.

COSTELLO: Some say the slow response is, well, politics. What candidate wants to get caught up in an ugly controversy? And hey, it's hard to dis Imus. His show draws millions. But for Newark and its mayor, Cory Booker, well, you won't catch him on Imus.

MAYOR CORY BOOKER, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: It's not something I'm interested in doing. I have not seen the kind of contrition that would be satisfactory to me personally. And seeing the impact of his words within my community, it is just something that I wouldn't choose to do, no. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And later today, Hillary Clinton also said: "I've never been asked to go on his show and I never wanted to go on his show, and I certainly don't ever intend to go on the Imus show."

We'll see if others follow suit as this controversy grows -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Carol Costello reporting. Words clearly sting. In our "Strategy Session," we want to talk about Don Imus' racially-charged comment that the coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball deem and is calling, quote, "deplorable, despicable, and unconscionable."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now, our CNN political analyst, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala; and Amy Holmes, a former speechwriter for the former Republican majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Guys, thanks very for coming in. I know, Paul, you've been a frequent guest on the Don Imus radio show. What is your reaction to what has happened? And specifically, whether you think he should be fired? Would you go back on that show if he gets to keep his job?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think first off, you have to say that what he said was wrong. Wasn't just wrong, it was racist. And it wasn't even just racist, it was sexist. In just three little words, he insulted more than half of America. And it was completely wrong.

What do we do going forward then? I was interested in hearing Congressman Ellison talk about the need for reconciliation. I think the impressive thing here is that these young women from Rutgers, the basketball team who were the victims of this assault, today said they would be willing to meet with Imus and to accept his apology in person.

And I think that's important. Because now these women are empowered. Nothing gives you more power than the power to forgive. And they have a chance now to move from stars to victims to heroes. And my boys are going to be watching. They will be role models for my kids. I think it's -- I think the punishment fits the crime.

BLITZER: Two weeks' suspension?

BEGALA: Yes. That is a serious punishment, but I don't think you throw away a 40-year career based on that.

BLITZER: And you would go back on, assuming he gets to keep the job?

BEGALA: Absolutely, tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get your reaction Amy. You are an African-American woman, what do you think?

AMY HOLMES, CONSERVATIVE STRATEGIST: I think a two-week suspension is not appropriate. And I think that being a radio broadcaster is a privilege, not a right. And I think Don Imus abused that privilege. I would like to see his sponsors, the New York Stock Exchange, Newsday, Random House, Simon and Schuster, withdraw their support of him.

They are not obligated to financially support this type of language. What he said was racist, misogynistic, and it is a part of our popular culture to have this ritualistic degradation of African- American women. And it needs to stop. It can start with Don Imus. I would like to see it go further.

BEGALA: I think the way it stops though, Amy, is with healing and reconciliation and forgiveness. I was taught an important lesson when Trent Lott made a racist joke, said America would have been better with a segregationist president than Harry Truman, I was one of the many people who jumped on him, said he was unfit to be the majority leader.

The first person to call him on it was John Lewis, congressman from Georgia, one of the heroes of the civil rights movement. But when Lott apologized, Congressman Lewis was so moved by that apology that he publicly came out and forgave him against most of what the Democrats were saying.

And that really taught me a lot. He forgave Trent Lott. And I think now that Imus has apologized, he is not George Allen who said a racist thing, and then lied about it and pretended he didn't know what it meant. He is someone who said a racist thing in a totally was trying to make a joke and now has apologized. And I think it becomes incumbent on us to offer forgiveness, reconciliation and move forward.

HOLMES: But, Paul, I think we know there is a difference between personal forgiveness -- these young ladies I think today could not have been a more devastating refutation of Don Imus and the ugly things that he had to say about them last week.

But there is a difference between them personally forgiving him, and that's completely up to them, and what we do as a culture and a society when it comes to his profession, which I think is a very different question. And we don't need...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So Senator Lott shouldn't be in the Senate? He should lose his job...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: Well, Senator Lott did lose his leadership. And...

BEGALA: He is back in the leadership.

HOLMES: ... that's -- Senator Frist became my boss. I think as a...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But he got a suspension, basically. Your party...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: ... culture we can say that this...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... put him back in charge in the Senate.

HOLMES: ... is unacceptable and respectable people would not go on the air with a man who says these types of things about African- American women. I mean, we don't have to go over those words again. But they don't fly out of a respectable person's mouth.

BEGALA: I think it's a double standard then. If you have a lower standard for a United States senator than you do for a radio host, I think you are playing politics here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Paul Begala and Amy Holmes speaking with me earlier. Up next, it's the coach's turn, that would be the head coach, Vivian Stringer of the Rutgers University women's basketball team. She is an amazing woman. She is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And hot politics, Newt Gingrich takes on John Kerry over global warming. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The head coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team speaking out about Don Imus, his racially-charged slurs against her players that has incensed people across the country, and the possibility of forgiveness.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from the campus of Rutgers University, the basketball coach, Vivian Stringer.

Coach, thanks very much for doing this. First of all, congratulations on an amazing, amazing season. You and your young women did what a lot of people thought was impossible. And what a horrible, horrible way to see all that success undermined by what Don Imus did.

What was the immediate reaction, Coach, of the young women who played for you, a lot of them, I think, half of them freshman, when this uproar developed?

VIVIAN STRINGER, RUTGERS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL COACH: Wolf, first of all, thank you very much for your congratulatory notes. We were very, very hurt, angry, dismayed, in a nutshell, stunned by what we perceived as sexist and racist remarks made by Mr. Imus.

BLITZER: Did you have any idea of what a huge controversy this would cause?

STRINGER: Well, you know, I think that based upon how I received it, I took it as an affront to all women. And I would hope that all people, period, be they black, white, purple or green, that in this year, or in this century, the 21st Century, that anyone would be subjected -- and we're talking about young women between the ages of 17 and 22, young women who have done nothing more than to be stellar students in the classroom and outstanding basketball players and representatives of their state.

But to be subjected to those kinds of racial and sexist remarks were beyond any level of comprehension. And yes, we're hurt and we're angry, and -- but I was very proud of the way our young ladies conducted themselves in light of all of this.

BLITZER: And they were amazing today at that news conference, which a lot of us watched.

I want to go back to Don Imus specifically. I assume you had heard of him and his radio show, but had these young women on your team, did they know who he even was when they heard of these words?

STRINGER: I would venture to say that 99 percent of them never heard of Don Imus. I, as a listening adult from time to time, have heard him, and I did understand the nature of his show. Not that I appreciated it much, but nonetheless, did hear it, and there had been some good things.

But was totally stunned and hurt to understand where these kinds of remarks came from. And it was totally abominable, despicable, and I was personally hurt because my young ladies, who I've been entrusted to protect, love, discipline and prepare for life, were so badly hurt by an adult.

It's hard for me to understand how any network or any people -- any group of people could listen to a person who takes pleasures in hurting young people, our future. That I don't understand.

BLITZER: He has been apologizing, as you know, over the past couple days. I want you to listen to what he said on NBC's "Today" show earlier today, specifically referring to your team.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IMUS: I'm going to serve it without whining because, as bad as I feel, I don't feel as bad as those young women at Rutgers do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was referring to the two-week suspension he got from CBS Radio and NBC. What do you think? Has he done enough? Are you ready to forgive and forget?

STRINGER: At this point -- particular point, I'm not ready to make a judgment at all. I think that it's extremely important that our players, parents, as well as coaching staff, has an opportunity to look Mr. Imus in the face and have dialogue with him.

I think that any good conscience-level people would do that. And we certainly intend to give him that opportunity. And I think that after that we will determine what we perceive as his sincerity and what attempts are going to be made to rectify, or better still, address these situations.

I think that we've all gained as a society if we learn from this. I think that had this perhaps not happened, and while I could have felt bad about our loss in the national championship game, if we've learned and gained a lesson in life that's going to benefit everyone, then all was not lost. Because I think that these young people continue to show us as adults what it means to have a moral fiber, how to conduct themselves, and how to be the right people.

So, I am anxious for Mr. Imus, you know, to present himself. And I'm particularly anxious to allow our young ladies to meet him face to face. And perhaps some good can come of this, and I sincerely hope and pray that it does.

BLITZER: What will you say to him, in a nutshell, Coach? What's the basic message you want to convey to Don Imus?

STRINGER: Well, I think that -- as with all things, I think that, you know, people should always reserve judgment until they have seen for themselves and they know, because you don't make statements and you don't make judgments. And of course that is something that he would know and could tell me that himself. But also, you know, the power of the mouth and the airwaves that allow impressions to be made or heard.

We have an awesome responsibility. And any time that we are before a camera or we have the opportunity to speak to literally millions of people and shape ideas, that he, and all of us as adults need to do the positive thing and the right thing.

You know, I wonder, because I have two sons myself who, you know, represent so much of this world, and I want them to learn about respect and equality and dignity. And I want my daughter to be respected in that same way.

And I think that -- what can he do to make sure that this world is a better place and a society? And it starts with him, it starts with each and every one of us. He has given a time for all of us to reflect on this, and so what he can do specifically, I'm not sure. I think that I'm going to leave that more to the young ladies that represent us so admirably here at Rutgers University.

BLITZER: Coach, you've got a terrific team, they're great students, they're great athletes. Most important, they are great young women. And they've got a great role model in you to look up to.

Thanks very much for doing what you're doing.

STRINGER: Thank you so very much, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, John Kerry versus Newt Gingrich, the face-off. Just how heated did their global warming debate get earlier today on Capitol Hill?

Plus, a presidential countdown like none other. It's called the Bush backwards clock. Stick around, you'll see it right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: John Kerry versus Newt Gingrich, a would-be and a maybe wannabe, arguing over how to save our planet. Here is our national correspondent Bob Franken -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, John Kerry and Newt Gingrich sounds like great political theater, but they had the audacity, the audacity to throw in some substance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): There was more similarity between the two than just their big hair. Both agree that global warming is a crisis. But then as one might expect, the two parted ways.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: We're not arguing over whether it should be urgent, we're arguing over whether bureaucracy and litigation is a better way to be urgent, or whether science and technology translated by entrepreneurs into products is a better way to be urgent.

FRANKEN: Indeed they were arguing about that.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And you can't just sit there and say, oh, let the market respond. And that's like saying, Barry Bonds, go investigate steroids. Or like saying, Enron, you take over the pensions for America. Not going to happen.

FRANKEN: But this was Kerry versus Gingrich. Couldn't we have some conflict for crying out loud? Some pain, some pleasure? Sure we could.

GINGRICH: What you want to do is create a level of pain sufficiently great that in order to avoid the pain, they'll go raise the capital. What I want to do is create a level of pleasure sufficiently great that in order to have the pleasure, they'll go ahead and build the plant.

KERRY: On the contrary. There's no level of pain. Either way, it's a question of how you distribute the benefit. The benefit is that you're going to reduce the carbon and preserve the planet. Now, if you call that pain, I call that upside benefit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Are we talking sparks or what? At one point Kerry referred to this as the environmental version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Nobody applauded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob Franken reporting for us, thank you, Bob. And this note, New York City officials today announced the city will cut its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by the year 2030. Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying, and I'm quoting now: "You can no longer deny science and bury your head in the sand."

Stay in New York with Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: John Kerry and Newt Gingrich debating global warming. It's getting desperate out there. The question is, why has the number of morbidly obese Americans shot up dramatically in five years? Morbidly obese is described as being at least 100 pounds overweight. And there are more than 6 million adults who qualify.

Morley writes: "Because the largest demographic group in history has arrived at the age when obesity is a big problem. The Boomers are spreading."

Zeke in Phoenix: "As more families slip into poverty, they're forced to buy worse food. In most First World countries, healthy, bland food is cheap, the junk food costs a fortune. But like how most of the world welcomes sex and abhors violence, we have reversed that. And we're paying the price."

Andrea in New York City: "Having come down 170 pounds from weighing 400 pounds at the age of 18, without diets pills, operations or diets, my honest answer to your question is the blame cannot be assigned to any one thing. Morbidly overweight people are not lazy slobs by choice. No one happily chooses that kind of prison.

Bill in Pennsylvania: "Jack, common sense tells us that eating out, ordering in is the lazy way of eating. Gone are the days that families sat together at dinner time, truly enjoyed a meal cooked by mom. Too many moms working today, fewer of them are home preparing meals. It's a national disgrace."

Oliver in California: "Why the rapid rise of obesity in this country? Because everyone is sitting around watching cable news shows all day long. And yes, I'm overweight, too. It's the beer."

Margo in New Jersey writes: "It's simply due to the fact that Americans have everything right at hand. Between the remote control, cordless phones, cell phones, nobody gets up to do anything. Remember the days of having to get up to change the channel on your TV or running to answer to your phone? What else can laziness do but encourage the muscles to turn to fat."

And John says: "Too many viewers going to the refrigerator during the 'Cafferty File.'"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. We post more of them online along with video clips of this here stuff -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it is good stuff, indeed. I'll see you tomorrow, Jack. Thanks very much.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. That means Paula is standing by. Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi, Wolf. Thanks, appreciate it. We've got today's big stories coming at you, just about seven minutes from now. We're going to hear more from the captain of the Rutgers basketball team and from its head coach, wait until you hear what she has to say about Don Imus tonight.

And in our week-long series, "Debtor Nation," the dirty little secret behind the nation's mortgage meltdown. You are not going to believe how little training some of these brokers have. And the consumers certainly pay a price for that, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Paula, thanks very much. Paula coming up in a few moments.

Brace yourself, will gas cost more this summer than last year? We'll have the latest on that.

And critics count down the seconds left -- the seconds that is, in the president's second term. CNN's Jeanne Moos standing by to take a "Moost Unusual" look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's going on, Carol?

COSTELLO: A couple of things to tell you. A new political showdown in the works right now over embryonic stem cell research. The Senate moving toward a vote on a bill that would lift the president's 2001 ban on federal funding for any new embryonic stem cell studies. The president threatening a veto.

And here's some cold comfort for drivers. The Energy Department says it expects rising gas prices to stabilize over the summer driving season, but still peaking at an average of $2.81 a gallon. Still, that is three cents lower than last summer's peak. And by the way, the price of a gallon of gas has skyrocketed 64 cents since January. Now you know. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I filled up my car just today. Thanks very much for that, Carol.

What do you do when your days are numbered and everyone is watching? Our Jeannie Moos is in New York with a "Moost Unusual" story that's changing literally by the second.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You can countdown to the New Year. You can countdown to lift-off. But if the Bush administration has you down, here's a countdown designed to bring your spirits up.

The Backwards Bush Clock was dreamed up by Vince Ponzo and his fiancee right after the president's re-election.

VINCE PONZO, BACKWARDSBUSHCLOCK.COM: We were pretty much heartbroken by the fact that...

MEREDITH STRICKER, BACKWARDSBUSHCLOCK.COM: Depressed, disappointed.

PONZO: ... he had gotten re-elected.

MOOS: So why not count down the days, the hours, the minutes until President Bush leaves office?

(on camera): Wow, down to the tenth of a second?

PONZO: Yes.

MOOS (voice-over): There is a wall clock, a desk clock and most popular of all...

PONZO: That's a key chain.

MOOS: ... they dropped their countdown key chain off at "The Colbert Report," in the same night, the host showed it on the air. Bill and Hillary Clinton received them. A congressman handed them out on the Capitol floor. And the other night, Senator Barack Obama mentioned them when David Letterman asked him about the endless presidential campaign.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These give out these key chains that have a countdown on how many days are left in the Bush administration, which I used to think was really funny until I realized that's how long I have to campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

MOOS: How you look at time ticking backwards depends on your point of view. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a backwards clock in New York City Hall that says, "make every day count." And White House chief of staff Josh Bolten has handed out similar clocks to remind everyone not to waste the administration's remaining time. Vince Ponzo has sold almost 100,000 key chains. At about $9 a pop, he doesn't consider it disrespectful.

PONZO: It's more of a coping mechanism.

MOOS: Their customers asked for a new design on the key chain. STRICKER: They didn't want to look at his face every day.

PONZO: Or more specifically, a smiling Bush.

STRICKER: A smiling Bush face.

MOOS: So here is the redesign. Vince left his job as a V.P. at a bank to work out of a New York apartment selling backwards Bush key chains over the Internet.

STRICKER: And we are really having a party when that gets down to zero.

PONZO: Yes, when that gets downs to zero.

STRICKER: People have asked us, you know, will it explode?

MOOS: Explode, no, but if time doesn't fly when you eye a regular clock, well, maybe time will fly for a lame duck whose days are literally numbered, 650 and counting, until the sun sets on the Bush White House.

Jeannie Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And let's go to Paula in New York.

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