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THE SITUATION ROOM
Romney Barely Says "Mormon"; Home Foreclosure Relief; Interview With Glenn Beck
Aired December 6, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Mitt Romney's gamble of faith. He barely says the word "Mormon" in his long-awaited speech on his religion.
Did he fall short of the standards set by JFK?
Plus, President Bush tells struggling homeowners help is on the way. Will a new deal with the mortgage industry ease the foreclosure crisis, and is it any different than a bailout?
And the White House admits the president could have been more candid. How long did he sit on new intelligence about Iran's nuclear program?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up first this hour, Mitt Romney finally tries to explain how his Mormon faith would and would not influence him in the White House, but the Republican's long-anticipated speech today may have raised a few more questions about his religion than it answered.
CNN's Dana Bash covered Romney's remarks down in Texas. Dana's standing by live with us now.
He tried to cover a lot of his bases in this clearly very passionate speech that he delivered, and the question is, did he pull it off? Did he reassure potential voters out there?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to take some time for the answers to those questions to come out, Wolf, but, you know, Romney aides fully admit that a major risk in this speech was not pleasing everyone, but they also will privately say that this was as much about tactics as it was substance.
The Iowa caucuses are coming very soon, and Mitt Romney is not doing as well. So this was intended to give voters a fresh look at their candidate.
BASH (voice over): For Evangelicals skeptical a Mormon is really a Christian, he offered this...
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind. BASH: For those concerned a Mormon president would be beholden to a church they don't understand or trust, this...
ROMNEY: No authorities of my church, or of any other church, for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.
BASH: And this is the only time he mentioned his religion by name...
ROMNEY: I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it.
BASH: ... aimed at those who wish he would disavow its most controversial teachings.
ROMNEY: My faith is the faith of my fathers. I'll be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they're right, so be it.
BASH: A defining moment for a number of reasons, including the greatest threat to Romney's candidacy right now, a former Southern Baptist preacher, Mike Huckabee, making major inroads among Iowa Evangelicals like John Stilley.
JOHN STILLEY, IOWA VOTER: I'm turned off because of his religion. Nothing against his religion, but what I know about it, I just don't like that religion.
BASH: But anyone looking for Romney to better explain Mormonism will be disappointed.
ROMNEY: No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith, for if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of people of all faiths.
BASH: One influential Southern Baptist leader Romney invited says the candidate passed his test.
RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: Judge me on my policy positions, judge me on my vision for the country. Don't judge me on my religious faith. Now, I think that will resonate, at least with Baptists, because we do believe in the separation of church and state.
BASH: But Christian conservatives also believe that faith firmly belongs in the public square, and so that is why Mitt Romney tried very hard today, Wolf, to speak their language, to say that he believed that the founding fathers talked about God for a reason, and he says that anybody pushing secularism is wrong -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The venue very interesting, the presidential library for the first President Bush. Who was invited to this event, and why was it done there? BASH: You know, Mitt Romney -- his aides say that he simply feels comfortable here. He gave another major address here in the spring on foreign policy. And George H. W. Bush really likes to invite people to come and speak. He likes it to be a forum for discussion.
Rudy Giuliani has been here, John McCain. He's even invited some of the Democratic candidates. George H. W. Bush, the 41st president, made perfectly clear though, Wolf, at the beginning that he is not endorsing Mitt Romney or anybody else, but they thought this was a good forum for him to give this speech.
Quite interesting, of course, that we're about 90 miles from Houston, Texas. That, of course, is where John F. Kennedy made his major speech on Catholicism 47 years ago.
BLITZER: Back in 1960.
All right. Thanks very much, Dana. We're going to have a lot more reaction coming in to Mitt Romney's speech.
About six million Americans are members of the Mormon Church. Some tenets that are unique to Mormons, they believe that Jesus visited ancient America, that God has a physical body, and that there is no original sin. They also believe in holding proxy baptisms for the dead.
The church also teaches that the Garden of Eden was not in the Middle East but in Missouri.
Now to another major story that we are following. New help on the way for homeowners reeling from America's mortgage crisis.
President Bush today announced the plan to freeze interest rates for five years on some of those risky subprime mortgages. The rates on many of those loans are scheduled to rise in the coming months, threatening to trigger a new epidemic of foreclosures that could affect a whole lot of people out there. The president insists this new deal with the mortgage industry does not amount to a government bailout.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The rise in foreclosures would have negative consequences for our economy. Lenders and investors would face enormous losses. So they have an interest in supporting mortgage counseling and working with homeowners to prevent foreclosure.
The government has a role to play as well. We should not bail out lenders, real estate speculators, or those who made the reckless decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our personal finance editor, Gerri Willis. She's watching this important story for us.
Let's be clear, Gerri, this is not a complete resolution of this crisis. It's a narrowly focused fix for a certain element. What's going on?
GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well put, Wolf.
You know, this is how it works. It will freeze rates for some subprime borrowers for five years, as you said before. Now, 1.2 million borrowers are eligible for refinancing consideration, but what is anticipated is that some tens of thousands of people will actually be helped.
Remember, this is not a government-mandated program. This is a voluntary program that the industry has really put together.
Another thing we heard today that was new was that there will be some kind of monthly report from lenders that will help us understand what kind of progress they are making. But at the end of the day, remember, we've had 1.7 million people file, go into foreclosure this year -- 2.3 million mortgages are resetting next year, in the next 12 months, so we could have another wave of folks going into foreclosure, and this program will speak to a narrow slice of those.
BLITZER: All right. Of those homeowners who have these adjustable rate mortgages, who will be eligible to get this new benefit, a freeze on their rate for five years?
WILLIS: Well, the loans that will qualify are those that originated between January 1, 2005 and July 31, 2007, this summer. Now, their loans have resets. That means their adjustable rates go higher between January 1, 2008 and July 31st of 2010.
Now, you must also meet credit score standards. And the resets would make profits unaffordable for the folks who are getting this help.
So you have to be paying that mortgage right now, making your payments faithfully. But when the reset hits, you're unable to afford it. If you could afford that reset or if you couldn't even afford the teaser rate, you're not going to be part of this program -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But not everybody is happy with this deal. Who is criticizing it right now?
WILLIS: People on the left and the right. They are taking hits from both sides here.
Some folks see it as a government bailout, despite the fact that the money going to this from the federal coffers would be for counselors only. And then people on the left saying that it's not going far enough, it won't help enough people, it won't solve the problem for so many folks who were given loans that they couldn't afford in the first place.
BLITZER: Gerri Willis, thanks very much. Useful information for a complicated story but an important that we're following.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Americans are worrying more about domestic issues like subprime mortgages and the economy -- pardon me -- healthcare and immigration, and they are worrying less about the war in Iraq. There's a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll out suggesting registered voters still cite the Iraq war as the most important issue that they will take into account when they vote for president next year.
It's raised twice as often as the next issue, which is the economy. But back in April, the war was cited three times as much as any other issue. So that's a significant decline. The poll also show that when domestic and economic concerns are combined, they are mentioned more often than the war, terrorism and foreign policy by nine percentage points, and that's a reversal of the poll results from last spring when the war-related issues dominated.
After the war, Democrats say healthcare is the number two issue. Republicans say it's illegal immigration.
The change of priorities is also being felt on the campaign trail. You'll notice we don't hear as much talk from the candidates about Iraq as we used to. We are hearing more about immigration, healthcare, the subprime mortgage crisis, et cetera. You will recall illegal immigration was the hot issue, by far the hottest issue in last week's Republican debate.
So here's the question: Why is the war in Iraq less important, and domestic issues more important, to voters now than they were last April?
E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And illegal immigration was a hot issue in the last two Democratic presidential debates as well. You'll remember the whole issues over drivers' licenses and illegal immigrants.
You remember that issue, Jack, right?
CAFFERTY: Hillary Clinton remembers that issue.
BLITZER: She certainly does, Jack.
Thanks very much. Stand by. We will get back to you shortly.
He's an outspoken Mormon and he was in the audience for Mitt Romney's big speech on their shared religion. Did the Headline News host Glenn Beck like what he heard?
He's standing by live to join us. I will ask him. Plus, new information about how and why a mall shooter carried out his deadly rampage.
And startling new numbers on teen pregnancies. A reversal that's likely to make a lot of parents and their kids nervous.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney's big speech on his Mormon faith today is putting the spotlight on that religion. One prominent Mormon is Glenn Beck. He's the author of a huge bestseller entitled "An Inconvenient Book." It debuted at number one on "The New York Times" bestseller's list. He's also a member of our own CNN family, he's the host of a program on Headline News that airs every night at 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Glenn, thanks very much for joining us.
GLENN BECK, AUTHOR, "AN INCONVENIENT BOOK": You bet, Wolf. How are you?
BLITZER: And congratulations on the book. It's a powerful book.
I want to get to it in a moment. I assume you're even surprised at how well it's being received.
BECK: Oh, I'm living the American dream.
BLITZER: It's a great country, isn't it?
BECK: Yes, it is.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about the speech.
You were there. You went down to College Station to listen to Mitt Romney. What did you think?
BECK: Yes. I thought it was a homerun. I didn't know what to expect. You know, I didn't know what he was going to do, if he was going to get into doctrine or whatever.
And I was hoping that he would -- I mean, if I was giving the speech -- and this is why I will never be president -- I would have said, you know, if I am a Mormon and I vote for another Mormon because he's a Mormon, I would be a pinhead. If I see a Mormon running for president and I won't vote for him because he's a Mormon, I'm also a pinhead. There's more to the story.
He said that in a much nicer way. You know, but he's running for president.
BLITZER: But the question is, I assume he delivered this speech because he and his political strategists were nervous that some Christian Evangelicals don't like the Mormon faith, and he wanted to try to reach out to them.
Do you believe he converted any of those who see the Mormon faith as a cult? Did he win over some political supporters?
BECK: Oh, you know, Wolf, I don't know, because, I mean, normal people might have questions about the faith and say, well, I don't know about this. I don't know about that. But believe me, go ask a Mormon if you really want to know. You will never get them to shut up about the faith.
They will be over with the bikes and the white shirts and ties before -- before you know it. So I don't know.
If you really want to know, I wonder how many people can be converted who hold that position. I spoke to Jerry Falwell right before he passed away. I talked to him off the air and on the air about this very topic.
And he said two things to me. On the air, he said, it's not an issue. We're not electing pastor and chief.
The thing he told me off the air was, he said, while I disagree with the Mormon theology, he said every Mormon that I ever met has been a decent human being. Well, that's not, of course, universally true. There are bad people in all faiths.
That's the way we should be looking at this. I'm not going to -- as a Christian, I'm not going to not vote for Joe Lieberman because he's a Jew and doesn't look at the messiah the same way. I voted for Joe Lieberman.
I'm not going to vote for somebody because they are a Presbyterian or a Catholic. That doesn't make sense to me. That doesn't sound like America.
BLITZER: On that point, I'm sure millions and millions of people totally agree.
Now, you have an incredible story yourself and you tell some of it in your new bestseller "An Inconvenient Book." But tell our viewers a little bit what attracted you to the Mormon faith because you weren't born a Mormon. You converted.
BECK: No. Yes, honestly, to tell you the truth, my wife wouldn't marry me unless we had a faith. And so we went on a church tour and...
BLITZER: Because she wasn't a Mormon either.
BECK: No, she wasn't. And it was the last thing I wanted to be because, you know, I -- look, back in the 1800s, when Mormons first started running for the Senate, the papers actually said that Mormons had horns on their head. And I don't know if mine are showing right now, but, you know, I heard all of this stuff about Mormons and I did my own investigation on several churches. What attracted me to this, honestly, was the people and the families. I got to the point to where I saw the families and I saw the difference that it made in people's lives, and I wanted it. And if they had Kool-Aid in the basement, I got to the point to where, OK, I will drink the Kool-Aid.
Unfortunately, they don't, which would be nice if they did, because then I could wash down all of the cookies that we seem to eat. But I just wanted my life to be changed.
I honestly wanted that moment of redemption. Because I was -- Wolf, in 1999, I was a guy that was struggling to pay a rent of $695 a month. I'm not that guy anymore. My life has totally changed, and it's not just about money. It is about a wealth of friends and a wealth of peace, of peace of mind and peace of conscience.
BLITZER: Why do you call it "An Inconvenient Book"?
BECK: Marketing. The first chapter -- I mean, it's 21 of the world's biggest problems.
The first chapter is about global warming. And it's the solution to those problems. And in a nutshell, it starts with global warming. It ends with what's really, I believe, going on on the border and why we don't solve it. And then everything in between -- you know, dating and marriage and everything else.
It's got a lot of comedy in it. And I think the biggest problem is our political correctness.
We are not allowed to really exchange ideas. We are not allowed to talk about global warming unless you have the right side of the border, unless you're a racist, or whatever. And it goes back to Mitt Romney.
When you look to what is happening with Mitt Romney, this is insane that in America, we can't appreciate each other's faith. I look at faith as giant pieces of a puzzle, that everybody has a piece of the puzzle. Some bigger than others.
BLITZER: Here's a question that -- sorry to interrupt -- that is intriguing. Let me get your thought.
His father, Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, was governor of Michigan. He ran for president back in 1968, and at that time virtually no one cared that he was a Mormon. It really wasn't an issue. It wasn't a problem at all.
Why is it a problem right now? What happened in America?
BECK: It's not. Wolf...
BLITZER: What has happened in this country that all of a sudden Mitt Romney is finding that he's got to address this issue.
BECK: I don't think it is a problem. I think it is a problem for the media. I think it is a problem for those who have an agenda in their own conservative party.
I mean, I really, really like Mike Huckabee. He is a fine, good man. I know him. I have met him. But for him to come out and say, well, I don't know if I would vote for a Mormon or not is really, honestly, reprehensible.
That's just not the way we do things in America. There is no Church of England here. You don't have to subscribe to a certain faith.
As Mitt Romney said in his speech today, it's not about our faith. It's about our values, it's about our principles.
I just want to know a man believes in something, that it makes him a better person, makes a better family, which makes better neighborhoods, and makes a better country in the end. And will actually stand up for what he believes in.
That's the way you vote for a president.
BLITZER: Glenn Beck has got a hugely successful radio show, a hugely successful television show, now a number one bestseller on "The New York Times" called on "An Inconvenient Book."
I hope you will come back and join us in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BECK: Love to. Thank you very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Glenn, for coming on.
BECK: You bet. Bye-bye.
BLITZER: The concrete gave out and parts of a garage at a shopping mall simply collapsed. You're going to find out what may have caused this parking catastrophe.
And move over Mitt Romney. Republican rival Mike Huckabee is talking about his religious faith today as well, with, of all people, the martial arts star Chuck Norris.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: "He could have been more precise." That's the exact quote from a White House official about President Bush. It involves just when he learned about the recent bombshell regarding Iran's nuclear weapons activities.
Details coming up.
And it's alarming nearly everyone hearing it -- teen pregnancy in the United States is now on the rise after a 14-year decline. Are programs that encourage teens to abstain from sex failing? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, President Bush makes an overture to a man he said in the past was part of the so-called axis of evil. So why is the president now writing a personal letter to North Korea's Kim Jong-il?
The man who allegedly took hostages at Hillary's campaign office explains his actions to CNN. He also explains why in his words he wished people would have killed him.
And a senator demands to know if some mega churches are buying expensive cars, mansions and jets for their famous TV evangelists. But when asked to open up church books, one of those preachers has a simple answer -- no.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
So what did he know and when did he know it? Right now that's what some people are asking about President Bush.
It's been three days since the world learned about a new U.S. intelligence report that says Iran actually stopped its nuclear weapons program back in 2003. Now there are questions over when President Bush first became aware of even that possibility.
Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's standing by. He's watching this story for us there.
A lot of people anxious to know what the administration is now saying about it, because there's been some confusion.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is a rare case where one of the president's comments has been contradicted by his own press secretary, prompting a clarification today from the White House.
HENRY (voice over): White House Press secretary Dana Perino admitted President Bush could have been more accurate about when he learned that Iran's nuclear weapons program may have been halted.
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can see where you could see that the president could have been more precise in that language. But the president was being truthful.
HENRY: The president's candor is at issue because, at his Tuesday news conference, dominated by questions about the new national intelligence estimate on Iran, he said this:
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John -- Mike McConnell came in and said, "We have some new information." He didn't tell me what the information was.
HENRY: But it turns out, at that meeting, the president did get at least some information about Iran halting its program, according to Perino's new account of that August briefing by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.
PERINO: McConnell told the president if the new information turns out to be true, what we thought we knew for sure is right: Iran does, in fact, have a covert nuclear weapons program, but it may be suspended.
HENRY: Perino also now says McConnell specifically told the president in August that this information might cause the intelligence community to change its assessment of Iran.
PERINO: He didn't get any of the details of what -- what the information was, in terms of what the actual raw intelligence was.
HENRY: Perino said McConnell stressed it would take a long time to check out the new intelligence carefully. But the key question is, given that private uncertainty in August, why did the president continue to publicly suggest Iran was an imminent threat?
PERINO: He's told there's new information that -- confirming what we thought to be the case: that they were pursuing a nuclear weapon. And they had actually a nuclear weapons program previously undisclosed.
HENRY: But Senator Democratic Leader Harry Reid today put out a blistering statement demanding to know why the president and Vice President Cheney did not basically cool some of the public charges they made this fall, Reid saying -- quote -- "It was exactly this type of misleading rhetoric that led us into a misguided war in Iraq" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry watching the story for us -- thanks for the follow-up, Ed.
Just a short while ago, the House approved a sweeping energy bill. It requires a major increase in the fuel economy of cars and trucks, mandating an industry average of 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. The bill also repealed billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks and encourages the use of renewable fuels.
The practical effect of this bill for all of us depends on who you ask.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's up on Capitol Hill watching this story.
It looks like, based on what I'm hearing, Democrats and Republicans have very different views.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf.
Democrats say, this bill will save drivers money. Republicans say, not so fast.
YELLIN (voice-over): Democrats say the energy bill will relieve the pressure on your pocketbook by making cars more fuel-efficient.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: This provision alone will take American families an estimated $700 to $1,000 per year at the pump and reduce oil consumption by 1.1 million gallons per day.
YELLIN: But there's a catch. More fuel-efficient cars are more expensive, and, in the short term, it will cost consumers more. One consumer advocacy group estimates, the price of the average car will go up $1,000 to $1,500. And it's estimated it will take two to three years to make that up in gas savings.
Republicans insist, other aspects of the bill will drive up the cost of gas and electricity.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They seem to have a no-tax-left-behind policy. All of this is a squeeze on the taxpayer's pocket.
YELLIN: The bill wipes away almost $10 billion in subsidies for the oil and gas industries. Republicans and the American Petroleum Institute say, that will be passed on to the consumer.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: You can't tax your way to energy independence. You can't tax your way to providing a greater supply of energy in America.
YELLIN: And they insist the lack of incentives for domestic oil exploration will drive up prices and keep us dependent on foreign oil.
But Democrats say, no, the bill encourages companies to develop alternative sources of energy, which would reduce our use of foreign oil.
REP. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: The renewables revolution which we will be ushering in through this bill and the RES provision is good for business, it's good for the environment, and it's good for the security of our nation.
YELLIN: Now, Wolf, the White House is threatening to veto this bill in its current form. Harry Reid says, the Senate will vote on it, perhaps as soon as this weekend -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica, thank you very much. We will watch what happens. Experts disagree on just what's causing it, but virtually everyone agrees it certainly is alarming. Many more teens are getting pregnant, and it's a sharp reversal of a long-term trend, an actual rise in teen birth rate, after a 14-year decline. And that's reviving an old debate. Do programs that encourage teens not to have sex actually work?
Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York watching the story for us.
You have been looking at all the numbers coming in and the debate. What's going on?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, no one is saying for certain whether the rise in teen pregnancy is in fact a trend, but it is bringing attention to abstinence-only programs and the roughly $176 million the federal government spends on them each year.
SNOW (voice-over): When the 2006 birth rates for teenagers were first gathered by the Centers for Disease Control, the head researcher said she was so surprised by the results, she wanted to make sure there wasn't a mistake. The numbers compiled by the CDC show a 3 percent increase in the teen birth rate, reversing a 14-year decline.
Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, blames the rise in part on the Bush administration's abstinence-only sex-ed programs.
CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Unfortunately, what's happening is, young people are -- are sexually active, and they are not using contraception. And I think that's what this -- this new CDC study shows.
SNOW: Don't blame abstinence programs, says the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, which explains the teen birth rate rise this way:
ROBERT RECTOR, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW IN DOMESTIC POLICY STUDIES, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: They want to have children very, very much. They feel they ought to wait until they are a little older, but, gee, waiting isn't all that critical.
SNOW: Just whether abstinence-only programs works has been a subject of debate since President Bush advocated them.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the parts of our welfare reform reauthorization is to promote abstinence. Let me give you a reason why we should. It works every time.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SNOW: The White House called the rise in teen pregnancy an unwelcome development, adding: "We will be interested to understand what are the causes of the increase and whether it's an anomaly following a long decline in rates or a trend."
Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton touted family planning programs during her husband's administration for a steady decrease in the teen birth rate, adding, "Under President Bush's leadership, we maying falling off track."
Planned Parenthood says, even during the decline, the teen pregnancy rate was higher than it should have been.
RICHARDS: We still have in this country the highest teen pregnancy rate of the most developed countries in the world. And, in the 21st century, I just think we can do better.
SNOW: Now, the CDC does point out one positive point, which is that the birth rate for girls between 10 and 14 declined. That was the only age group showing a decline -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow watching this story for us, thanks very much.
One of Mitt Romney's prime rivals is grabbing part of the spotlight when it comes to talking about faith. Mike Huckabee is also talking about religion. But he's doing it with a TV and movie martial arts star. We will update you on that.
Meanwhile, did Mitt Romney ease concerns of those uneasy about his Mormon faith? We will discuss that in our "Strategy Session."
And John Edwards as Mr. Nice Guy. Is he turning over a new leaf from what some had seen as bitter attacks against Hillary Clinton? John Edwards standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On the same day as Mitt Romney's major speech on his faith, another Republican presidential candidate is also tackling the same issue.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She is watching this story for us.
Who else, Abbi, is talking about faith in America?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Mitt Romney's speech today was streamed live on his Web site, MittRomney.com, but a discussion of faith was going on also at the Web site of rival Republican Mike Huckabee, perhaps not surprising. Huckabee is a former Baptist preacher.
But this discussion was going on with Chuck Norris. This is one of a series of Webisodes that two men taped several weeks ago, and they're being released online. Today's, that was taped previously, but released this morning, was on faith, did not mention a specific candidate or a specific religion, a general discussion from Mike Huckabee about how his faith guides him.
Chuck Norris is becoming a staple on Mike Huckabee.com, ever since that endorsement ad of last month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN AD)
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My plan is secure to border, two words: Chuck Norris.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TATTON: It's an ad that became hugely popular online, one of the reasons that Mike Huckabee's Web site has been rising in traffic some think that the campaign is now trying to capitalize on, an online mobilization drive happening today at that Web site, trying to get supporters who have already discovered the site to reach out online to other people who may not have done -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
Even Mitt Romney could not ignore the obvious comparisons between John F. Kennedy's famous speech on his Catholic fake and the Massachusetts Republican's remarks today.
Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is standing by. He's got more on this story.
So, how similar were these two speeches, the Kennedy speech back in 1960, the Romney speech today?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, some similarities, more differences.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): 1960, John F. Kennedy speaks in Texas about religion and politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: 2007, Mitt Romney speaks in Texas about religion and politics.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion.
SCHNEIDER: Theodore Sorensen was a Kennedy aide who helped JFK write his 1960s speech. Could Kennedy have delivered Romney's speech? TED SORENSEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR JOHN F. KENNEDY: No. Mr. Romney's position on many of the issues is very different from JFK's.
SCHNEIDER: Kennedy said:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Romney said:
ROMNEY: In recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meeting.
SORENSEN: Romney emphasized the role of religion in public life more strongly than JFK did or would have.
SCHNEIDER: Kennedy said:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Romney scoffed at the view that -- quote -- "Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life."
ROMNEY: I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my presidency, if I were elected.
SCHNEIDER: In his book, "The Making of the President 1960," Theodore White quotes Sorensen as telling a friend, "We can win or lose the election right there in Houston on Monday night."
SORENSEN: That speech, which was nationally broadcast and frequently rebroadcast, certainly took a lot of poison out of the anti-Catholic issue and reassured all reasonable people.
SCHNEIDER: Romney's speech aimed to heal a narrower divide, between Mormons and Evangelical Christians. At the same time, it may have opened a divide between Americans who believe faith should play a central role in public life and those, like JFK, who believe it shouldn't -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Excellent historical perspective for us. Thanks very much, Bill Schneider. And thank Ted Sorensen for us as well.
As President Bush officially unveils his plan to ward off a wave of foreclosures, not everybody is thrilled with the plan. We will talk about it. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
And, later, Jack Cafferty wants to know, why is the war in Iraq less important and domestic issues more important to voters now that they -- now that they were last April?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: He said what he wanted to say, but was it exactly what some uneasy voters wanted to hear?
Right now, many are asking if Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney eased concerns of those uneasy about his Mormon faith.
Joining us now in "Strategy Session," our CNN political analyst and conservative commentator Amy Holmes and Republican strategist John Feehery.
Wanted two people from the right side, or, shall we say, the more conservative side, of the political aisle to join us discuss whether or not Mitt Romney actually achieved what he wanted to achieve, reassure Christian Evangelicals, the Christian right, that they should trust him.
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, I talked to the campaign, and they were very happy with the reaction, in particular Richard Land, who is the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was on CNN earlier today. They were thrilled with his endorsement, the fact that he agreed to travel to Texas to listen to the speech and then go on television and say that he liked what he heard. It was very important politically for Mitt Romney.
It's also known that Richard Land is a sort of informal adviser to Fred Thompson. So, the fact that he was willing to say such good things so publicly, so openly about Mitt Romney is good for Mitt Romney.
BLITZER: What do you think?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I -- I agree with what Amy said. I think that, with Land, that's a big deal.
I thought it was a good speech. I thought it was very passionate. The problem, I think, that he has is, he's trying to convince people that faith is important, but a lot of those people are not going to agree with him on his faith.
Unlike JFK, who basically said, I'm not going to take orders from Rome, what Romney is saying is, hey, listen, faith is very important and informs what I'm doing, and you don't have to agree with everything I believe in, but you have to agree with that I'm a good person.
And that's kind of a tough sell with some of these Christian conservatives. BLITZER: That he's a good person? Because he has led, by all accounts, a pretty excellent life, in terms of his family values and his religious convictions.
FEEHERY: Not that he's a good person, but that he -- that the doctrine doesn't matter, that what matters is -- is that I'm a good person.
I think that that's the hard sell for some of these folks. But you know what? He's leading in the polls, and he might -- this might be good for him.
HOLMES: And, really, John, I think you would agree with me that the question of this speech was not if, but when. And, when you combine the August Pew research that found 31 percent of Republicans having an unfavorable view of Mormons, and then have this "Huckaboom" happening in Iowa, Mitt Romney had to get out there and try to reassure those voters -- voters. He may have strengthened his support...
BLITZER: Well, that's -- that's a good point.
BLITZER: Do you believe he delivered the speech now, perhaps earlier than he wanted to, because of the Huckabee boom?
FEEHERY: Well, I think he had to deliver it now, as May said. I wish he would have delivered it a couple months ago, because, you know, you don't want this being the thing on people's minds.
If you're Mitt Romney, you want to talk about your competence, your ability to -- to actually deliver for people. You want to talk about issues that people care about outside the religious realm. The one thing you don't want to talk about is Mormonism, in my view.
BLITZER: I think everybody will agree it was not only a passionate speech, but a well-crafted speech, with a lot of history in there.
And he -- and he went all the way back to the beginning, 1774, when he said, there were crises. There were men who were involved in forging this country of ours who had different religious beliefs, but they got together.
I want to play this little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Then Sam Adams rose and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character as long as they were a patriot.
And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God, they founded this great nation. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's when he got a really strong standing ovation. There were people who were crying. And it looked like he was getting a little choked up himself; he was getting emotional -- a passionate moment in that speech.
HOLMES: It was indeed, Wolf. And it drew upon something that even -- that is a very big topic in the Evangelical community, which is the role of faith in public life.
And then he was referring to our founding fathers, that this is something that is intrinsic to American democracy, that we get our rights derived from the creator, not from a fickle government. That was very important for Evangelicals to hear.
And it also showed the human side of Mitt Romney, the emotional side. You know, outside of the beltway, there is still some suspicion that he's a little slick, the slick hair, the man tan, if we can call it that. And, today, he showed that he really had those deep convictions.
BLITZER: Well, did he go too far, though, in suggesting maybe this separation between church and state shouldn't be ironclad as JFK suggested back in 1960? Is he going to alienate some people as a result of that?
HOLMES: You know, it's interesting you talk about historical perspective. Thomas Jefferson was a deist. I think he's probably turning around in his grave thinking about all this religion back in the public sphere.
A lot of people are going to be turned off about -- about this invasion of religion in the public sphere. Obviously, it's a very important part of the Republican primary, but you have to be careful as you go through this. What does everyone else think who is not involved in this, who are not Evangelical, who want to have a strong separation between church and state?
Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, all those folks were deists. And that's a -- how would a deist run today? That's a good question.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we will leave it right there, but the subject clearly is not going away.
Amy and John, thanks for coming in.
HOLMES: Thank you.
BLITZER: Supreme Court justices are against it, but you might soon be getting a unique glimpse inside the highest court in the land. And the man who allegedly took hostages over at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in New Hampshire explains his actions to CNN. He also explains why, in his words, he wished police would have killed him.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker today: a new move to put cameras inside the U.S. Supreme Court. A bitterly divided Senate panel today approved a measure allowing TV coverage of the high court's public proceedings. That's despite the fact that the justices are strongly against the idea. The bill now goes to the full Senate. The Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on TV coverage in federal trial in appeals court. We will watch the story.
Lamar Alexander has been tapped to round out the GOP leadership in the Senate. The former Tennessee government and presidential candidate was elected Republican conference chairman. That's the third-ranking leadership post. He beat out North Carolina Senator Richard Burr.
Alexander replaces Arizona's Jon Kyl, who is moving up to the number-two job of Republican whip, now that Trent Lott is retiring.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Jack Cafferty is joining us again with "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: Interesting recent development: poll numbers indicating that the war in Iraq has become less important in the national dialogue than it was last spring. We wanted to know why the war is less important and domestic issues are now more important to voters than they were in April.
Rich writes from Texas: "I don't think Iraq is any less important, especially to those who have family members serving there. It's all perception. If your son or daughter, mother, brother, or father were being shot at in Iraq, your priority would not be interest rates or what bill Congress is trying to cram pork into week after week."
Jay writes from North Carolina: "Now that things are going well in Iraq, thanks to the surge, all the critics and the media are silent. Didn't the Democratically-led Congress run on ending the war in Iraq? Nancy Pelosi is zero for 40 on Iraq. Bush's war is no longer Bush's war now that things are going much better."
Danny in Las Vegas: "We know Iraq is a hopeless cause. Now we're scared that this country is falling apart as well."
Manny in Virginia: "The war is still important, but we're now realizing the huge damage to our economy the war is causing. We're piling up debt at an incredible rate, which will drive our country into bankruptcy and force Congress to kill all our social programs."
Gigi in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota: "If the media paid as much attention to the mayhem going on in Afghanistan, where we have lost ground, as it does the latest disappearing young woman or the job losses being blamed on illegal aliens, maybe the war would be more on people's mind. As the grandmother of a Marine, it's the most important issue to me" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: President Bush unveils an unprecedented plan to stem the mortgage meltdown and try to help thousands of Americans keep their homes. But is it too little, too late for thousands more facing foreclosure? We're reading the fine print for you.
Also, will Iowa be the make-or-break state for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards? I will ask him. He is standing by live. We will talk about that and his new tone on the campaign trail. A one-on-one interview with Senator Edwards, that's coming up.
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