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Which Candidate is Getting Donations from U.S. Troops?; Is Obama's Following Cult-Like?, Tracking the Recovery After Hurricane Katrina

Aired February 15, 2008 - 17:00   ET


Republican presidential candidate John McCain is poised to pick up a key endorsement. Sources tell CNN the former president, George Herbert Walker Bush, will endorse the GOP frontrunner, with efforts underway right now to schedule an event next week in Texas.

Meanwhile, McCain is fighting back against his Democratic presidential rivals, who criticized him for talking about a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq. Listen to what he told CNN's Larry King in an exclusive interview.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've been in Japan for -- since 1945. We've been in South Korea since 1950 -- actually, it's really longer than that. We're in Kuwait right now -- American troops are. American -- we have an American base in Turkey, as you know. Look, American troops -- we've been in Germany since the end of World War II.

The point is anybody who understands American public opinion and the nature of this conflict knows that it's casualties. It's casualties. And this strategy is succeeding. And neither Senator Obama nor Senator Clinton had any experience or knowledge to know that this surge would succeed. And then they've been saying up until a couple of days ago that there's no way that the Iraqi government would function politically.

Guess what? They just passed a law for Sunnis for provincial elections; a budget, which we haven't been able to do here in Washington. So the security -- if they understand warfare -- and I'm sure they do. Let me just put it this way. Counter-insurgency, you provide the military a secure environment and then the political, economic and social process moves forward. So it's not a matter of how long we're in Iraq, it's whether we succeed in Iraq or not.

And both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton want to set a date for withdrawal. That means chaos. That means genocide. That means undoing all the success we have achieved and al Qaeda tells the world that they defeated the United States of America. I won't let that happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Still, McCain's message may not necessarily be all that well received by some rank and file members of the U.S. military. We're learning that significant numbers of U.S. servicemen are actually throwing their financial support behind the most vocal of the anti-war candidates. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us.

Brian, who's getting the most donations from U.S. troops?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the winner, by far, is the man who has surprised us since this campaign began with his overall fundraising ability.


TODD (voice-over): If you're basing your vote on a candidate's position on Iraq, Ron Paul and Barack Obama won't leave you confused on where they stand.

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's unconstitutional. It's an undeclared war.


TODD: Those blasts could be striking a positive cord within the U.S. military. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the government's information on campaign contributions, Ron Paul is by far the leading recipient of cash from current members of the military.

Among those who gave more than $200, the group says, Paul brought in more than $210,000 last year. Fellow war opponent Obama is far behind, but places second, with more than $94,000. John McCain and Hillary Clinton are an even more distant third and fourth.

MASSIE RITSCH, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: For the military to be making such a bold statement, at least among the groups that it is contributing, does say something about their feelings about the candidates and about the war.

TODD: Observers say military donors, like all contributors, make up only a small percentage of voters. And according to our Republican exit polls from the primaries, cash doesn't always translate into votes. McCain is still the leading vote getter among Republican voters who say they've served in the military. Ron Paul barely registers.

Rick Weidman is with Vietnam Veterans of America -- a non- partisan group that helps active duty and retired military members. He says for those still serving, the draw of Obama and Paul goes well beyond their positions on the war.

RICK WEIDMAN, VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA: People who are for Ron Paul are very passionate because he wants to shrink government and he wants to improve military pay and he wants to improve retirement pay and he wants to improve services to veterans. Obama does, too, from a different perspective. It's holding people accountable for what they're supposed to be doing to alleviate problems that veterans have and that current active duty people have.


TODD: But those who track campaign contributions say the Iraq War still does play a big part. The Center for Responsive Politics says before the invasion, about three quarters of contributions from military members went to Republicans. Since 2003, they say, that figure has dropped to about 60 percent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, do those who watch this trend suggest that McCain is showing any vulnerability with military voters?

TODD: No really significant vulnerability. Rick Weidman says among those who are contributing to Ron Paul and Obama, there may be a perception that they're a little more out front on benefits issues and things like that than McCain is. But John McCain is still very strong overall among the broader population of military voters.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

Barack Obama has some new union backing that could swing voters his way in some of the upcoming primaries and caucuses. The Service Employees International Union, out of the country's largest, is educating Obama. It represents almost two million workers nationwide. That comes one day after Obama picked up an endorsement from the 1.3 million United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Obama has some very passionate supporters out there and some are suggesting some may be a little bit too passionate. Let's go to Carol Costello. She's watching the story for us.

What can you tell us about this so-called Obamamania that's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, you've heard the criticism of Barack Obama -- he's all flash and no substance. But now critics have taken that one step farther, saying the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality.


COSTELLO (voice-over): He takes the stage and his supporters go wild cheering -- some crying, some shouting, "I love you!"

OBAMA: And my faith in the American people has been vindicated because they are ready for change.


COSTELLO: Many political observers say they've never seen anything like it. Thousands wait in line to see him. And it seems with every speech, they always latch onto Obama's three favorite words...

OBAMA: Yes, we can.

COSTELLO: Obama supporters wildly respond, chanting enthusiastically along with their candidate. But it's a scene some increasingly find not inspirational, but creepy. "L.A. Times" columnist Joel Stein calls this Obama outpouring "Obamaphilia," although he admits he's fallen for it, too.

Others call it cult-like. Conservative columnist David Brooks compares Obama to a messiah and his supporters to members of the Hari Krishna. Soon, Brooks says, Obama's people will be selling flowers at airports.

"Time" magazine's Joe Klein writes, "Obama's message is becoming dangerously self-reverential. The Obama campaign, all too often, is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is," he says. All of this is not lost on Obama's opponent.

CLINTON: There's a big difference between us -- speeches versus solution, talk versus action. You know, some people my think words are change. But you and I know better. Words are cheap. I know it takes work.

COSTELLO: But others say the criticism is unfair. Obama does talk policy. But Berkeley's George Lakoff says at this moment in time, Democrats want something different. "Yes, we can" may sound empty, but Lakoff says voters understand it intuitively.

PROF. GEORGE LAKOFF, U.C.-BERKELEY: He's comparing himself to not only Hillary, but other Democrats who have said no, we can't -- we can't overcome Bush.


COSTELLO: And Lakoff says the pundits just don't understand that, but the voters do. But even Obama supporters are a little mystified by Obamaphilia. Joel Stein wrote in the "L.A. Times," "The dude is Urkel with a better tailor." He went on to say, though, "But how can you root against a guy who believes he can change the world?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers remember Urkel. I don't know if Jack Cafferty does, but I certainly do. All right, Carol, thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.


More bad news for Hillary Clinton. Some African-American leaders are now rethinking their support for the former first lady. Congressman David Scott of Georgia says he's defecting from the Clinton camp and will instead support Barack Obama. Scott says he has to represent the wishes of his constituency. His district voted more than 80 percent in favor of Obama on Super Tuesday. Also, "The New York Times" reports that civil rights veteran, Congressman John Lewis, also of Georgia, is switching his superdelegate vote to Obama. They quote Lewis as saying, "In recent days, there is a sense of movement and a sense of spirit. Something is happening in America and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap."

Lewis' spokeswoman says the story is inaccurate, that the Congressman has left the option of changing his superdelegate support on the table, but he hasn't made the decision yet. Barack Obama was asked about the story today. He says, "I think increasingly, the superdelegates that I talk to are uncomfortable with the notion that they will override decisions made by the voters."

What this shows is there's a growing sense, then among some of the party's black leaders that they shouldn't stand in the way of Obama's historic run for the nomination and that they shouldn't go against their constituents' wishes. One black supporter of -- from Clinton, Missouri, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, describes some of this. He says Congressman Jessie Jackson, Jr. of Illinois, an Obama supporter, recently asked him, "If it comes down to the last day and you're the only superdelegate, do you want to go down in history as the one to prevent a black man from winning the White House?"

Here's the question: What does it mean if some African-American leaders are rethinking their support for Hillary Clinton?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

There's not a lot of good news for Hillary Clinton out there these days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We've still got a few more contests to go. We'll see what happens in Wisconsin and Hawaii next Tuesday, then Ohio and Texas a couple of weeks later. All right, thanks very much, Jack. You're going to standing by.

So will the endorsements from the former president, George Herbert Walker Bush and Mitt Romney, actually help John McCain close his gap with conservatives? I'll ask our own conservative, Glenn Beck. He's standing by to join us live.

Also, my interview here in New Orleans with Magic Johnson. You're going to find out why he's supporting Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama.

And we'll go to sea with the U.S. Navy as it tries to balance U.S. security with saving the lives of whales.

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


BLITZER: Republican presidential frontrunner John McCain is poised to pick up an endorsement from the former president, George Herbert Walker Bush. McCain got rival Mitt Romney's backing yesterday. But will it help him shore up conservative support?

Let's talk about that and more with CNN's Glenn Beck. His very popular show is on "CNN Headline News." It airs weeknights, 7:00 p.m. Eastern and 9:00 p.m. Eastern. I think it also re-airs on the weekends.

Glenn, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What do you make of this potential endorsement next week from the former president for John McCain?

BECK: You know, I don't -- you know, here's the thing that's amazing, Wolf. First of all, conservatives, they say -- especially conservatives that listen to talk radio are all zombies and they just follow the leader. I don't know anybody that's following these leaders. I don't -- you know, maybe some are. It doesn't make a difference to me.

The other thing was, of course, if Romney -- if he tells the, you know, the church or the church tells him to do something, of course they'll all fall in line. Well, here's Mormon -- one Mormon who says I don't really care. He endorses John McCain and says you should take another look at him. I've taken --

BLITZER: You haven't jumped aboard the McCain bandwagon, yet, Glenn...

BECK: No. No.

BLITZER: Is that what you're saying?

BECK: Wolf, I've taken about 1,400 looks at John McCain. Really not that interested. Has he got anything new?

BLITZER: Well, what's the alternative? Let's say it comes down to McCain versus Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. What does a good conservative do?

BECK: You know, I've been really wrestling with this and I -- and a lot of people don't believe my answer, but it's true. I don't know what I'm going to do, at this point. I don't think I'll know until I close that curtain, quite honestly. I am tired of -- I used to be a guy who said well, it's better than the alternative.

But you know what? We have spent so much time -- on both sides of the aisle -- saying well, this is better than that. Well, at some point, these keep moving so close together that this becomes that. And then it doesn't make a difference. And I think we're almost there.

BLITZER: Well, were you disappointed that Romney decided yesterday to formally endorse McCain?

BECK: No, not disappointed, just -- well, I guess -- yes, maybe a little disappointed because I don't -- I don't understand it. It could be that, you know, the best scenario that I have in my head -- and I don't know. I don't know the governor. I didn't talk to the governor about his decisions. He doesn't consult me.

But the best thing I can come up with is he knows how much trouble we're in economically. And with Huckabee wanting to spend an additional $54 billion, Hillary Clinton wanting an additional -- I don't even know what it is -- $190 billion and Barack Obama another $200 billion and some, with John McCain coming in and saying I'm going to spend an additional $7 billion, he's priced to move.

BLITZER: And so that's encouraging on that, on the spending...

BECK: Yes.

BLITZER: ... on the spending level.


Yes. I mean maybe -- maybe that -- because that's, you know, Romney's gift is knowing how to work with the economy and being, you know, somebody who can turn things around. And maybe that's why he threw his support there.

I was disappointed on the other option which, I think is, you know, look at me, I'm a good little elephant -- because the Republicans all stand in line. It seems like oh, it's your turn to run for president.

BLITZER: How important would be McCain's vice presidential running mate? The conventional wisdom over the years is nobody votes for a vice president, they vote for president. How significant, though, would McCain's pick be?

BECK: I think it depends. Usually, I don't really care about the vice president. But with George Bush, it did make a difference with a lot of Americans. It made a difference to me that it was Dick Cheney.

But it would be -- it would have to be the right vice president. For instance, if he decided, you know, well, the economy is really important and, you know, I've read Greenspan's book, I need somebody who's better on the economy, so I'm going to go for Romney, I wouldn't buy it because I don't think he likes Mitt Romney.

And so I don't -- I don't see him saying hey, Mitt, come on into the office here, I need to talk to you about the economy. If I believe that the two have a real relationship and he is offsetting McCain and would be able to say, wait a minute, Mr. President, this is not the direction to go, then maybe it would make a difference.

But, in the end, the president has to make decisions quickly. He has to make them from his gut. And John McCain's gut and my gut just don't -- don't line up.

BLITZER: All right...

BECK: With that being said, Obama is a -- is a frightening guy that I think is going to be a combination of JFK and FDR spending.

BLITZER: Oh, is that why you think...

BECK: J --

BLITZER: ... you're calling him frightening, because of liberal views, spending?

BECK: Because of -- no, no, no. Because of -- he's got the charisma of JFK -- even maybe more so. I mean your report at the top of the hour was fantastic. He is really a captivating personality. But he also, if you look at what he talked about on what he wants to spend this week, he is a New Dealer. He is a guy that wants this gigantic government.

And so you introduced the FDR style of government, with the kinds of things that FDR was doing -- go back in history and actually look at what he was doing -- with that, you know -- and I don't mean this in a -- the best word I can think of -- and I don't mean it in a slam -- with that cult-like personality with somebody who can say come on, I can take you there. You couple those two things together and you can -- you can turn into some scary roads.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, Glenn. But I know what his response is going to be, because he's given it to me. He's going to point out, take a look at what happened during seven years, so far, of this Republican administration. The national debt has gone from $5 trillion to $9...

BECK: Oh, more...

BLITZER: ... almost doubling at $9 trillion.

BECK: That's why -- that's why when they say that conservative talk radio has been zombies for the GOP, they couldn't be more wrong. Those are people who don't listen. We've been ringing that bell forever. This president is not a conservative. He has been spending us into oblivion.

BLITZER: Glenn Beck, thanks very much for coming in.

BECK: Thank you.

BLITZER: The basketball legend, Magic Johnson, is backing Hillary Clinton. But will he support Barack Obama if he were to get the nomination? I'll ask him. My one-on-one interview with Magic Johnson. That's coming up.

And we revisit New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward -- one of the hardest hit areas in Hurricane Katrina. Why is it still a wasteland two-and-a-half years later? What's going on?

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the State Department is dropping a policy banning people with HIV from serving in the Diplomatic Corps. HIV-positive applicants for the Foreign Service will now be considered on a case by case basis. The change follows the settlement of a lawsuit filed by a man who was denied a diplomatic post because of his HIV status.

If you got a flu shot but have still come with what sure feels like the flu, guess what? It probably is the flu. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the current vaccine covers only about 40 percent of the flu viruses circulating this season. They say that's making for a particularly active flu season. Forty-four states are now reporting widespread flu activity.

Newly released documents reveal that during trade discussions with the United States, officials in 1973 -- former Chinese leader Mao Zedong proposed sending the United States an unusual Chinese import -- women. The documents show that Mao twice made the offer to then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, offering to send the United States as many as 10 million Chinese women. Kissinger is quoted as saying that U.S. officials would study the proposal, which he called "novel."

Check out this video. A car a la James Bond that can be driven underwater. And it's even a convertible. It was developed by a Swiss company and will debut at the Geneva Auto Show next month. The car is completely power by electric motors and includes a compressible air tank so that the driver and passengers can, you know, breathe. As for the price tag, the company will only say that it that will cost less than a Rolls Royce -- which costs at least $400,000. So, maybe it would be a good second car -- Wolf.


BLITZER: I don't think so. Not for me.

All right, Carol. Thanks very much.

There's a lot of talk underway these days about those Democratic Party insiders -- the leaders who could be decisive in choosing the party's presidential nominee. So is having all that responsibility a blessing or a burden? Frank Sesno puts you in the shoes of a superdelegate.

Plus, he was one of the greatest setup men in NBA history. Now, Magic Johnson is trying to add another assist to his total. You're going to find out why he's on Team Clinton this election season. My one-on-one interview with Magic Johnson here in New Orleans. That's coming up.

And Jamie McIntyre on special assignment aboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific Ocean.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf -- we're here aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, about 70 miles off the coast of California.

Coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM, why the Navy says it takes saving the whales as seriously as defending the nation.


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

Happening now, an oil pipeline explosion in Texas sends flames nearly 400 feet into the air. There are no reports of injuries. Firefighters have shut off the supply and are now waiting for the rest of the oil to burn itself off.

Just moments ago, President Bush took off on Air Force One, bound for the West African nation of Benin. The president will highlight U.S. aid projects on his five nation African trip.

And the former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, says the U.S. isn't in a recession yet. But Greenspan says the U.S. economy is clearly on the edge of slipping into negative growth, with the odds of recession at 50 percent or better. Yesterday, his successor, Ben Bernanke, was more optimistic.

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

Let's get to our weekly segment "What If?"

We'll go to our CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno -- Frank?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what do these people have in common -- Adrian Fenty, Donna Brazile, Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Larson? They're all superdelegates -- nearly 800 of them headed to the Democratic convention. As we know, governors, senators, Congressional members, party leaders -- some famous, some not -- all of them important and all of them under increasing pressure.


SESNO (voice-over): What if you were the kid who, like Willy Wonka, suddenly had all the candy? You'd probably have a lot of new friends -- kids who ignored you before but think you're cool now. But what if the Democratic convention is like that, where the superdelegates are the cool kids, the ones with the candy, the votes that will decide the nominee?

It's started. Superdelegates are suddenly very popular -- lots of attention and e-mails and phone calls. Gosh, Madeline Albright has been dialing for Hillary. Tom Daschle has been working the phones for Obama. Chelsea and Bill have been on the line.

NANCY LARSON, SUPERDELEGATE FROM MINNESOTA: They're all trying to say why they're electable. And who's going to be the better president.

SESNO: What if you were going to the convention as a superdelegate? You might already be losing sleep over it? SAM SPENCER, SUPERDELEGATE IN MAINE: I feel uncomfortable with the idea that superdelegates could play a decisive role in the elections.

SESNO: But if the primaries don't produce a clear winner, you'll have to decide. Will you go with your personal favorite? The candidate you think can win the White House? Or the person your district or your state supported? And what if you're accused of overturning the will of the pledged delegates? You may be accused of tearing the party in two, maybe even along racial or gender lines.

LARSON: They never anticipated that we would have two superstars locked in a dead heat. I'm hoping a decision gets made before we have to step in.

SESNO: You may already have had visions of the divisive '84 convention when superdelegates helped Mondale beat heart. And Democrats know what happened after that.

Remember Willy Wonka. Sometimes having the candy is no fun at all.


SESNO (on camera): Back at the wall for just a minute to take a look at some superdelegates pledged, for example, to Barack Obama. You have got governors and senators for Barack Obama. Some to Hillary Clinton. You have senators and congressional members. What do they have in common? They hold public office. They're elected. So their own political calculations are factored in.

As one Democratic congressional member told me, a superdelegate is a man or woman looking after his or her own interests, too. By the way, if you want to know more about super delegates there's a map and there's a Web site, of course. It's at -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Frank Sesno, thank you.

More than two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still struggling to recover. Some of the hardest-hit areas are nothing more than a waste land. In our look at "Uncovering America", we visited the Lower Ninth Ward earlier today with Peter Kovacs, he is managing editor of the city's "Times-Picayune" newspaper. And we talked to a woman who lost her family home.


BLITZER: This is really devastating. Talk about what's going on over here. Because there were houses. Lot after lot.

PETER KOVACS, "NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE": The channel on the other side of this wall filled up with water. The wall gave way. And a torrent of water came through this area and washed these houses into each other.

BLITZER: That's the destruction of one house over there clearly destroyed by Katrina, right?


BLITZER: Here it looks like somebody wants to rebuild. They have got a little trailer going on.

KOVACS: You can see the trailer. And you can see the footing for a foundation. They're pouring a foundation to build a house. So they're coming back. And people live in trailers. They are about 40,000 people living in trailers.

BLITZER: In these little trailers.

KOVACS: Yes. And about three quarters of them are in a trailer at the property so they can watch the rebuilding.

BLITZER: This looks like a new roof, relatively speaking.

KOVACS: Yes, they have a new roof. And I can't tell if those are new windows. But it does look like they're trying to rebuild it and it's a brick house. So it withstood the water better than most of the houses in this neighborhood. They're not going to have a lot of neighbors when they get back.

BLITZER: Yes, they were thousands and thousands of people living here. Now there might be dozens and dozens.

KOVACS: Yes. And these were closely-knit neighborhoods. These were owner-occupied houses.

BLITZER: And most of the people who lived here are never going to come back.

KOVACS: Yes. That's true. And most of the people who lived here, the houses were in the family for more than one generation.

BLITZER: This was your house once. Right over here. Your mom lived here.


BLITZER: Really? So there's nothing here now. So why are you here now? We just met as I was walking around. You popped up.


BLITZER: Tell us why you came back.

FLUKER: I came back for a funeral. But I was coming back to show my mother there is nothing left. She put all her time and money into it. She's been doing pretty good, learning to accept it. Now he's really going to accept it. She's seeing it for herself.


BLITZER: Multiply that story, only one story by literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands and you get the picture of what has happened here in this area. The region's ongoing crisis has many voters feeling like they've been left behind in the race for the White House. CNN's Sean Callebs reports.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are crisscrossing the country. But forgive John Reese if he's not enthused. These are pictures taken today in New Orleans, two and a half years after Katrina. Reese, born and raced here, is a contractor with no shortage of work. And he's wondering why presidential hopefuls aren't doing more to promote recovery in the Gulf.

JOHN REESE, CONTRACTOR: It's a lost opportunity for them. You've got a lot of voters down here. You probably can collect them all if you congresswoman down here and give some interest.

CALLEBS: Pat Lonergan has been back in his Lakeview home for more than two years. He says the New Orleans area still has pressing needs. Shoring up levies, replenishing wetlands that act as a buffer from a hurricane storm surge, and getting people out of trailers and back in their homes. He, too, wonders, what about this region?

PAT LONERGAN, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I certainly think that we deserve the amount of attention that international affairs gets. Hey, this is our country. We live here. We pay taxes.

CALLEBS: Some have been here but ...

JEFF CROUERE, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We've really been forgotten by the major candidates. And it's a tragedy.

CALLEBS: Jeff Crouere is a political commentator in New Orleans. He points out John Edwards tried to focus attention here. He started and ended his campaign in New Orleans after getting little traction. This year Louisiana got Bill, not Hillary. Barack Obama drew thousands just before winning the state's February 9th primary, but GOP frontrunner John McCain has done nothing here. And Crouere says expect Democrats to play up the recovery issue.

CROUERE: I think Obama or Clinton, if they kick it up in a general election, could win the state on that issue.

CALLEBS: With our without federal assistance, people like Reese aren't giving up.

Are you optimistic about the future? Do you think this area is going to come back?

REESE: It's going to come back. It's going to come back. The people haven't stopped. It's just slow.

CALLEBS: Sean Callebs, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: The basketball legend, Magic Johnson will be joining me right here. We're in New Orleans to talk about the race for the White House among other subject and why he's lending star power to Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama. He's going to tell us what's going on.

Plus a woman condemned to be beheaded for witchcraft. You're going to find out why only a king can save her.

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


BLITZER: The State Department right now trying to reassure the international community about a planned shoot down of a broken American spy satellite. U.S. diplomats around the world are being instructed to inform foreign governments the action is designed to inform people not to test a program to attack their communications and intelligence capabilities.

Let's go to our space correspondent Miles O'Brien. He's been looking into details of this plan.

Miles, this plan certainly isn't cheap, but the bottom line here is what? Is there really an effort needed to protect people from hazardous debris?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Wolf. First of all, it's $40 million the taxpayers, you and I, are going to be spending to knock this dormant satellite out of the sky, turn it into lots of little pieces. The question is how much of a risk was there in the first place? The fact of the matter is space debris has been falling on us ever since the beginning of the space age.

And no one has gotten hurt by it. One woman in Texas has a glancing blow by some small piece that fluttered down. She was never injured. The odds of someone getting hit by a piece of this were really astronomical, if you will.

That said, there is something to consider with this. Most of the satellites that have fallen down in the history of the space age have been up there for a long time. And their fuel has been expended. In this case, this particular satellite, this experimental, top secret, eye in the sky has all of its fuel on board still, Wolf because it never operated properly.

And it's hydroxene and it's nasty stuff. So if the Pentagon can turn it into small pieces and cause that hydroxene to burn up in the atmosphere, we're so much for the better. But there is still, Wolf, there are a lot of people who say this is just an opportunity for the U.S. to try out all that Star Wars technology that we've spent billions of dollars on over the years.

BLITZER: So what exactly is the real downside potentially, $40 million, that's what we're talking about to destroy it and the downside would be what, worst case scenario? O'BRIEN: That's the thing. The say there's no downside. If they miss we still have the scenario we're talking about ...

BLITZER: What if they did nothing. If they didn't spend the $40 million, just let it fall into the earth's atmosphere and crash some place.

O'BRIEN: Best chance, it would probably land in the ocean. Seventy-five percent of the earth is ocean. That's probably where it would land.

BLITZER: Miles, thanks very much. We'll watch this story with you.

A leading human rights group is calling on the king of Saudi Arabia to pardon a woman sentenced to die for alleged supernatural acts. Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is following the story for us. She's joining us now with details.

What's going on, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Saudi Arabia is a close U.S. ally and a big supplier of oil. But it's often under fire for its record on human rights.


VERJEE (voice-over): A Saudi woman faces death by decapitation. Accused of being a witch.


VERJEE: U.S. based Human Rights Watch says Falzal Filal (ph) was arrested in 2005 by the religious police who raided her home near the Jordanian border and say they have hard evidence to prove witchcraft.

WILCKE: The evidence is a foul smelling substance. A white robe with money inside tied notes. A robe on a tree near a house. Witnesses who say that they become impotent after being bewitched by her.

VERJEE: Falzal, the rights group says, was beaten, forced to confess, and had no lawyer. She later recanted her confession.

WILCKE: That was a miscarriage of justice, a travesty of justice from start to finish.

VERJEE: The verdict says she confessed to having sex with evil spirits. The death sentence was overturned by an appeals court but later reinstated "to protect the creed, soul and property of this country."

This is the latest in a string of controversies. The religious police in Saudi Arabia have great influence and operate as an enforcer of public morality. They recently threw a married American businesswoman in jail for sitting with a man at a Starbucks at the capital in Riyadh and banned anything red, even roses, for Valentines Day.

Most shocking, in 2002 they stopped schoolgirls from escaping a burning building in Mecca because they were not wearing proper Islamic dress and would not let firefighters rescue them. Fifteen died.


VERJEE (on camera): Falzal's fate is now in the hands of Saudi King Abdullah. He's either going to sign her death warrant or halt her execution. Wolf, CNN was able to reach a Saudi official who did not offer any comment on the case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. Zain Verjee reporting.

He's one of basketball's greatest legends and Magic Johnson is now putting his star power behind Hillary Clinton. Coming up he'll explain why he chose to support Hillary Clinton and what he'll do if Barack Obama wins the nomination. My one-on-one interview with Magic Johnson. That's coming up.

Plus, the U.S. military versus environmentalists. Scientists say the Navy is hurting whales. CNN's Jamie McIntyre, he is on board a Navy ship to try to find out what's really going on. His report just ahead.

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


BLITZER: The biggest names in pro basketball are right here in New Orleans this weekend for the NBA all star game. You can catch all the events, by the way, on our sister network, TNT. Last hour I spoke to Charles Barkley who is backing Barack Obama. Let's hear from another legend who is backing Hillary Clinton.


BLITZER: Magic Johnson, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's talk about politics a little bit. You're on the line for Hillary Clinton. What do you think? Not looking so great necessarily, at least not right now.

JOHNSON: Exactly. But I think that, you know, the thing that I love the most is that the party is united. And we have got a lot of young people out here voting now for the Democratic Party. Yes, she's lost, what, eight in a row, I think, primaries. But I feel really good. I still feel she's the best candidate.

BLITZER: Why do you? Because a lot of African Americans are really excited. He's getting 70, 80, 85 percent of the vote right now in some of these more recent primaries among African Americans. Tell us why you think she would be a better president? JOHNSON: I still go back to the experience and the expertise and also her foreign relations. Things that she's been doing for a long, long time. Health care issues. Everybody wants health care for everybody. But you have to have been in that fight to understand what has been the pitfalls, why everybody doesn't have health care.

So, it's those type of things that I still think she still has the edge on Obama. But at the same time he's done a wonderful job of rallying new voters over to the Democratic Party. That being young people. First of all, he's energized the young voters. As well as he's brought some independents over.

BLITZER: If he got the nomination you would be happy, too?

JOHNSON: Oh, yes. I would be happy and I am going to go work for him. I would go out and try to make him the president of the United States. But at the same time ...

BLITZER: Do you think a lot of his supporters would feel like that about Hillary Clinton? If she got the nomination. Do you think they would be demoralized because they're so enthusiastic about him right now? You would easily make the transition from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. But what about the other way?

JOHNSON: I think at first it would be a shock to them. You have young people now. Because you have got young people now. At the end of the day they say if it's John McCain or Hillary Clinton they're going for Hillary Clinton at the end of the day.

BLITZER: You think so?

JOHNSON: Oh, I know so. I think America wants a change. They want a change from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. And that's who is going to bring them change.

BLITZER: He does appeal to independents, though, John McCain.

JOHNSON: Yes, he does. But at the same time he's still linked to bush no matter what happens. And so we feel really good. Look at what the voter turnout has been for the Democratic primaries. It's been amazing. And I think that you're going to still see that even if Hillary wins. But at the same time, give Barack credit --

BLITZER: You have to be proud that an African American has reached this level. That he's on the verge potentially of being the Democratic presidential nominee.

JOHNSON: Wolf, I'm just probably like a lot of others. I never thought he would do this well and rally non-blacks around him. Because if you look at a lot of states that he has won, there's been a lot of states that very little blacks live in those states.

BLITZER: The Midwest and --

JOHNSON: Exactly. He's done an amazing job. And I am proud. And I hope really that both of them end up on the same ticket at the end of the day.

BLITZER: Really?

JOHNSON: I would love seeing that. I think a lot of others would love seeing it as well.

BLITZER: Seeing, from your perspective a Clinton/Obama ticket.


BLITZER: That's the so called dream ticket.

JOHNSON: That's the dream team. It's just like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic all playing together on the dream team.


BLITZER: Magic Johnson joining me just a little while ago right here in New Orleans.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: Question this hour is what does it mean if some African American leaders are now rethinking their support for Hillary Clinton?

Dean writes this: "It means that many Americans, black or white, are rethinking their support for Hillary Clinton. Just look at the last 10 primaries. Obama is winning people over and electability is starting to become an issue. Obama can beat McCain in November while polls show Hillary may not. Hillary as a nominee does us no good if her high negatives cost us the general election in November."

Lawrence writes: "I am a black 42-year-old retired naval officer. I personally think it's wrong to switch a vote based on color or sex. However, I do think at the end of the day, Obama will have the popular vote and all superdelegates need to side with a winner. If this primary is taken with the candidate with the country's Democratic support, brace yourself for some true shock."

Rob writes: "We say racism is dead yet 80 percent of blacks vote Obama while whites are split 50/50. It seems to me the roles of the past have changed and now this black delegate business only confirms the facts I have just stated. People are not looking at who is the most qualified, connected and experienced, but instead, just like the majority of people fell for Bush's promises, they now seem to be in a spell under Obama's sweet talk."

Daniel in New York: "Of course they're rethinking their support. Many of them signed up because they thought they were on the trail going to the final destination. Now that it looks like that train isn't going to make it to the station, they realize they may have got on the train too early."

Justin in Florida: "I don't think it's racial. I think it's a sign that like everyone else they are tired of the same old. It's a new time, a new day, and time for real change, not just in the look but in the way of thinking. Who else inspired a nation like this?"

And finally, Darrel says: 'It means they see that Hillary is very insincere in her words and body language and Obama is charismatic and puts forth a lot of ideas. The real question is, who cares? No one is beating McCain unless his vice president pick is Bud Selig."


BLITZER: Thanks very much. See you in a few moments. Jack Cafferty. Coming up my interview with the basketball legend Charles Barkley. You're going to find out why he's backing Barack Obama, what his own political plans are.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The U.S. Navy right now is locked in a battle with environmentalists over its use of antisubmarine sonar. At issue, whether the blasts of loud underwater noise are harming whales and other marine mammals.

Here's CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.


MCINTYRE: Wolf, here aboard the USS Momsen off the coast of California, the U.S. Navy is trying to make the case that it's just as interested in saving the whales as it is with defending the nation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whales, five hundred meters out.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The Navy is demonstrating for CNN's cameras how it turns down the sonar as soon as whales come within 1,000 meters and shuts it off completely if they are within 200 meters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standby, whales, bearing 030, 200 meters out moving port to starboard.

MCINTYRE: Here's what sonar sounds like to the whales. And the Navy turns down the volume by six decibels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six decibels. Which essentially 75 percent. It's like taking your flashlight and taking 75 percent of your flashlight out.

MCINTYRE: The Natural Resources Defense Council has just won several rounds in federal court.

JOEL REYNOLDS, NATIONAL RESOURCE DEFENSE COUNCIL: The court cited evidence that whales have been found to stand and die in the wake of this kind of sonar kilometers away from the source. Not a question of a couple of hundred of yards.

MCINTYRE: In the latest ruling the judge concluded a national security exemption granted by President Bush was constitutionally suspect. That could send the case to the Supreme Court.

(on camera): So what's happening to the whales? Despite millions of dollars of research, scientists aren't really sure. One theory is that these beaked whales, the deepest diving sea creatures are surfacing too fast after they are frightened or disoriented by the sonar creating a version of what divers know as the bends.

(voice-over): The Navy says it learned a lot from an experience in 2000 when too many sonar ships combined with a narrow underwater channel drove 16 whales to beach themselves in the Bahamas. Seven of them died.

DONALD WINTER, NAVY SECRETARY: We recognize the importance of protecting marine mammals and several of the endangered species.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The main thing sailors use to watch for whales are their own two eyes. These 20 power binoculars used for hunting submarines are just as good for spotting whales.

(voice-over): The Navy argues modern diesel-electric submarines operated by many of America's potential adversaries are so quiet that the days when sonar operators like Jonesie in the 1990 movie "The Hunt for Red October" could find them by just listening to passive sonar are long over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On sonar. Target is now coming out of our starboard bow.

MCINTYRE: Nowadays to find a diesel submarine when it is running silent and deep on batteries requires bouncing sound off its hull with active sonar. Still, the sailors insist they want to be good stewards of the sea.

LT. CMDR. MARC DELTETE, USS MOMSEN: I just had a son about three months ago. I want to make sure that when he's older, I want to make sure there's whales out here he can see.

MCINTYRE (on camera): As with many scientific mysteries, this one is going to take more research to determine exactly what effect sonar has on whales and the U.S. Navy this year is spending more than $16 million funding that independent research and Wolf, that's more than anyone else in the world.


BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre on assignment for us. Jamie, thank you.