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Dolly Declared a Hurricane; Construction Vehicle Used as Weapon in Jerusalem; British Prime Minister Sets Loose Date for Troop Withdrawal from Iraq

Aired July 22, 2008 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, there's breaking news. Dolly is now a hurricane. And hurricane warnings on the Texas coast are bringing new fears of massive flooding -- residents already scrambling to get ready or get out of the way as Dolly gathers strength in the Gulf. Stand by.

A bloody rampage in Jerusalem. A Palestinian again turns a construction vehicle into a weapon, crushing cars on the streets near a hotel where Senator Barack Obama will be staying.

And after a firsthand look, Obama says the security situation in Iraq has improved. And that's sharpening the debate on who was right on the war. Obama or John McCain? We're going to hear our own CNN contributors, what they have to say. James Carville and Bill Bennett, they're standing by live.

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

But we begin with breaking news this hour. The wind is now up. The waves are up. And it's only expected to get worse. Hurricane Dolly is everything -- is now eying the South Texas coast. The National Hurricane Center put out a new advisory, just moments ago. We'll speak with its director in just a moment.

But, first, let's go out to the scene. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now live from South Padre Island, right on the path of this storm.

It looks, Brian, like it's intensifying. It's now a hurricane. A formal hurricane. Expected to hit sometime tomorrow. Give us the latest.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, a hurricane means the winds are above 74, 75 miles an hour. And you can see the surf behind me is starting to kick up. I'm standing just about in it right now. We're going to walk up a little -- up the beach here a little bit. You can see there are rain bands forming behind us. A lot of people still on the beach trying to get a last kind of glimpse of this before the storm hits ashore. And some of them not necessarily heeding warnings from local officials to get off the beach. They're not calling for this area to be evacuated.

But a few miles away from here in Brownsville, Texas, that town is right in the path of Hurricane Dolly. Folks there know how to get ready.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): One of the most popular spots in Brownsville? Four large piles of sand between an elementary and middle school. A long line of cars snakes down the driveway, then far down the road. People have to show I.D. to prove they live here. And no one gets more than 20 bags of free sand. Maribel Vallejo has waited two hours, but she's been through hurricanes here before and isn't complaining.

MARIBEL VALLEJO, BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS RESIDENT: Well, I'm being patient because it's something we have to do to avoid any flooding going into our homes. I'm not in a flood zone, but just to prevent, protect our homes.

TODD: Those who don't want to wait pay for sand at the local home depot where there's a run on four by eight foot plywood sheets. And the only generators left are used. This home is right in Dolly's path. And on every street people are hammering, drilling, and stacking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We put in sandbags. Now have to go inside the house.

TODD: Brownsville Mayor Pat Omata has been through several hurricanes, right now with Dolly still projected to be a Category 1 hurricane, he's urging residents not to panic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't think it's mandatory to evacuate. People can evacuate voluntarily if they want to. But I think we can weather this storm out just by being vigilant and staying indoors.

TODD: Some oil companies with rigs offshore are taking no chances. Helicopters have been shuttling back and forth since Sunday, evacuating hundreds of workers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And as you can see, again, from the surf behind he, as our photographer, Bill, he'll pan down the beach a little bit. You can really see the surf has really started to kick up here. The storm just hours away from making landfall very near here. What that means is, what we're told by the National Weather Service is the winds could become as strong as maybe between 100 and 115 miles an hour. By the time they make shore tomorrow, roughly about 9:00 a.m. local time, that's 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. And the winds could be that strong even when they move inland, Wolf.

What's the big concern right now with officials here and in Brownsville is the rainfall that's going to come. We were told by the National Weather Service expect at least 10 inches of rain in those areas, maybe 15 in some places. That is going to cause major problems with flooding. We'll bring you that when we know it.

BLITZER: Brian is on the scene for us on South Padre Island. Stand by, Brian. I want to get the latest forecast directly from Bill Read. He's the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Director Read, thanks very much. Give us the sense -- Brian is in South Padre Island in Texas right now. How worried should folks over there be?

BILL READ, DIR., NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, we're going to have a hurricane come ashore there during the day tomorrow. Probably in the early morning hours, and they'll have adverse weather from now on in. As you can see on the satellite loop behind me, the bright white colors are the increasing intensity at the center of the storm. Aircraft, hurricane hunters just reported back right at the time of the advisory of hurricane-strength winds at the surface, so we have upgraded it.

Switch over to the track forecast, and this is the track that we're anticipating in the next 12 to 24 hours. It's going to come onshore, and then it's going to move very slowly, right up the Rio Grande. That's our big concern is on the beach you're going to have very high winds. Storm surge up to about five or six feet in the -- just to the near and to the right of where the center actually makes landfall. So, it's not going to be a picnic out on Padre Island.

BLITZER: We're talking a Category 1, what, 74, 75 miles per hour, or much more than that?

READ: I don't -- we're not anticipating too much more from that. You got to allow for some fluctuation. So, up to that point. But we are forecasting to it be in the Category 1 range. The officials here are prepared for a category -- up to a Category 2 hurricane in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Again, our biggest concern, though, is going to be after landfall, the very heavy rain that will occur there.

I'll show you that on this next graphic here. The area highlighted in red there is the area subject to the heaviest rains that they were talking about. Average of 10 inches in some places, in excess of 15. That will cause severe ponding and could become really problematic for many of the villages and communities down in that area. Much as what happened with the rainfall way back in '67 with Beulah.

BLITZER: Stand by for a second, because Chad Myers, Director Read, is our severe weather expert. He's joining us right now. I know he has a question he wants to ask you as well.

Chad, go ahead.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Mr. Read, I think the problem we'll see now is people are going to focus on the eye landfall and I think we need to stress that conditions are going to go downhill from here rather rapidly. And if you are on a barrier island, you will need to get off that island before tomorrow afternoon. Because by the time tomorrow afternoon hits, they'll be no way to get off those islands. READ: That's -- that's correct. Anyone in the far south Texas barrier islands that don't want to ride out the rough conditions of a hurricane, should be leaving now and not waiting until tomorrow. It will be too late. The low roads that come from your -- your beach houses and hotels there could easily be overwashed and would make travel extremely dangerous and not recommended.

BLITZER: Chad, quickly -- Chad, just show us the -- from that map behind you, where we expect this hurricane to hit.

MYERS: Wolf, what's going on now is the eye walls have really become much more concentric. They become much more visible on the radar picture here, and we are now beginning to see a real eye. And I think the hurricane hunter will find that eye later on today, even a little bit better.

But here's the map you're talking about. Coming onshore as a Category 1. and Mr. Read will tell you that the hardest thing to forecast is not the path, but the intensity. Because you get eye wall replacement cycles is what they're called. This thing could go fluctuate a high 2 to a low 1 in just a few hours. And you have to watch where it thing comes onshore.

And the middle of the cone is still is around Brownsville. But it goes almost all the way to Corpus Christi and as far as south into northern Mexico. It's not done yet. This thing could still wobble back and forth. If you're there you have to prepare for a hurricane, possibly a 90-mile-an-hour hurricane and that's no picnic.

BLITZER: No picnic at all.

Chad, stand by. We're going to check back with you. Director Read, we'll be checking with you tomorrow. Good luck to everyone out there. Bill Read is the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty, he's got "The Cafferty File" in New York.

This is going to be a hurricane -- Category 1, Category 2. People should not be at all complacent.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's no such thing as a good hurricane.

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: Regardless of what category it is.

All right, talk suddenly, and this started yesterday actually, talk suddenly heating up that John McCain might name his vice presidential partner sometime in the next few days. Maybe even before the end of the week. Sources tell CNN there have been recent discussions at the highest levels of the campaign about doing so, but there are some other ideas on the table as well. Hold off until after Barack Obama has named his V.P. pick, or have McCain name his running mate after the Democratic convention.

Campaign sources say all these options have been discussed. So far, no decisions have been made. Meanwhile, McCain's scheduled to meet with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal tomorrow which could spark speculations that he's on the short list for vice president. He's a young guy, mid-30s is all. If an announcement should come this week, it definitely could grab some of the media attention away from Barack Obama's travels overseas.

Usually, little importance is given to vice presidential picks. But some people believe it could be more significant because of McCain's age this time around. He'll be 72 next month. Politico reports that McCain's string of recent verbal slips have people wondering if the mistakes that he's making now might be due to his age. Yesterday McCain talked about the Iraq-Pakistan border. No such thing. Afghanistan shares a border with Pakistan, not Iraq. He recently referred to Somalia instead of Sudan as well as twice mentioning Czechoslovakia, a country that hasn't existed for 15 years.

Last year McCain referred to President Putin of Germany instead of Russia, and, of course, this spring he confused Sunnis and Shiites while on a trip to the Middle East. The McCain campaign points out Obama's made plenty of his own flubs. And they point out that McCain spends more time than Obama does talking off the cuff, taking questions from voters and reporters.

Here's the question, then: How important is John McCain's vice presidential pick? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

It's the new focal point of the race for the White House. The success of the so-called surge in Iraq. So, which candidate stands to benefit the most? Our political contributors, James Carville and Bill Bennett, they're standing by live to weigh in. And you know they will.

Also, the Dalai Lama reveals what it would take for him to return to Tibet and become a Chinese citizen. Tells our Carol Costello what's going on in an exclusive interview. That's coming up.

Plus -- new developments in the scandal that toppled two top television news anchors. One of them now facing federal charges.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just a short while ago the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, arrived at Israel after pledging to work for a breakthrough in peace negotiations as soon as he's, quote, "sworn into office." But hours before Obama set out for the latest stop on his Middle East swing, a Palestinian attacker in Jerusalem turned a massive construction vehicle into a weapon in an eerie and bloody replay of an earlier incident. CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, concerns about Senator Barack Obama's security during this Mid-East tour may be well founded. Not necessarily because he's been targeted, but simply because, as we saw here in Jerusalem here today, just down the street from Senator Obama's hotel, this can be a dangerous place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): It was deja vu. A policeman shoots the driver of an earth-moving machine who had gone on a rampage in central Jerusalem.

Moments before a civilian had fired the shots that stopped the driver in his tracks. The driver, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, had crushed several cars, wounding more than a dozen people. Israeli police are calling it a terrorist attack.

On July 3rd, Fasam Dwayad (ph), another Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, drove his bulldozer down the busy street in front of the CNN bureau, mangling one car after another, turning a bus on its side. He crushed three people to death and wounded dozens of others, before an off-duty soldier shot him dead.

The latest attack took place just down the street from the hotel where presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, will stay during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

MICKY ROSENFELD, ISRAELI POLICE SPOKESMAN: We have no specific warnings that were received about a possible terrorist attack takes place. We worked through -- all year round in order to prevent these types of attacks from taking place. But obviously after this attack, we've heightened security and will continue to do so, considering the important visit scheduled to begin this evening.

WEDEMAN: In Amman, Jordan, before arriving in Israel, Obama commented on the incident.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I strongly condemn this attack and will always support Israel in confronting terrorism and pursuing lasting peace and security. Right now, my thoughts and prayers go out to all who were injured and to their families.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: There's no indication there was any link between what happened here today and Senator Obama's visit. But it is a reminder of just how volatile this region can be. Especially for a man who may soon have to deal with all its problems -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben, Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem for us.

And we do have some stunning I-Report photos of today's rampage in Jerusalem. Take a look at the bullet-riddled cab of the earthmover where the driver was shot to death and one of the vehicles struck by the attacker, a passenger car ripped open and crushed. The pictures, by the way, were taken by a freelance photographer, Daniel Dreyfus, he's from San Diego, interning in Jerusalem with a photo agency. We'll have much more on this story later.

He's won a Nobel Peace Prize, but he's a tough-talking advocate for religious freedom in Tibet and he's been accused by China of fomenting violence there. Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaking out in a CNN exclusive.

Let's bring back Carol. She had a chance to speak with the Dalai Lama in this exclusive.

Give us some of your impressions.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: My impressions, he's a very charming man. He's funny and he giggles. And he's clearly frustrated with China, although he says he's excited that china will take the world stage for the Olympics and he said he's glad that President Bush decided to attend the opening ceremonies. The Dalai Lama also summed up his feelings about President Bush and the president's lack of reality.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): I've always heard the Dalai Lama is charming and disarming. I know firsthand that it's true. He jokes, then giggles to disarm. But there's a steeliness to him. He can be quite tough with his words.

(on camera): I was reading so many blogs about you and so many articles, and there was some interesting quotes that they've attached to you. And one of them came from a blog. And it said that you said that you love President Bush, but he lacks understanding of reality. Did you say that?

DALAI LAMA, EXILED TIBETAN SPIRITUAL LEADER: I love him. Because since my first visit, I noted he as a human being, very nice, very open, very straightforward. My first call at that time, within a few seconds we became very close friends. So I love him.

COSTELLO: Well, when you said he lacks understanding reality, what did you mean by that?

DALAI LAMA: That is I think the United States sort of analyzation about the situation. Then, Saddam Hussein, there, so called mass destructive sort of weapons and these things. It seems the information not complete.

COSTELLO (voice-over): The exiled Tibetan leader was presented the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush last October. For his 50-year fight for religious freedom for Tibet. Exiled by China, he's been accused of instigating violent demonstrations in Tibet and of sabotaging the Olympics, set to begin in Beijing August 8.

(on camera): Some say you're encouraging people to disrupt the Olympic Games. Are you?

DALAI LAMA: No.

COSTELLO: Would you come out and say to people please not to disrupt the Olympic Games.

DALAI LAMA: Yes, I said it.

COSTELLO: Can you say it again?

DALAI LAMA: Now, no use.

COSTELLO: Why no use?

DALAI LAMA: I repeat it 100 times. No effect. So, I'm human being. I have certain sense. So, seeing no use, so it's better to keep quiet.

COSTELLO (voice-over): The Dalai Lama's envoys have been meeting with Chinese officials about Tibet, the Olympics and about the Dalai Lama returning to his homeland.

(on camera): The Chinese government says for you to come back, you must become a Chinese citizen. Is there any possibility of that happening?

DALAI LAMA: If Tibetan people really happy, satisfied, then one individual Tibetan, no problem.

COSTELLO: But would you become a Chinese citizen?

DALAI LAMA: Oh, yes.

COSTELLO: Yes?

DALAI LAMA: Particularly yes.

But there is a reason, a certain purpose to become a refugee. Now, nearly 50 years pass, still, the problem still remains there.

COSTELLO: So you would not go back to china today and become a Chinese citizen?

DALAI LAMA: No, no.

COSTELLO: But you're open to the idea?

DALAI LAMA: Oh yes, of course. We are not seeking separation. As the whole world knows. The Chinese seem to still not know.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Chinese officials are worried the Dalai Lama cannot control a small minority of Tibetans, who do want an independent Tibet and will use whatever means necessary, including violent protests.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO: Of course, China is eager nothing go wrong at the Olympics, so it is not likely the Dalai Lama would attend. As anyone's guest, his presence would certainly overshadow China's glorious moment.

BLITZER: And you can really see the charm come through that you were referring to.

COSTELLO: Yeah, but it was steely underneath. He may giggle and smile, but, you know, his words pack a punch.

BLITZER: Good work, Carol, thanks.

The current Dalai Lama by the way is the 14th to hold that title. He was born back in 1935 to a peasant family in Tibet and at the age of two he was identified by Buddhist monks as a reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Tibetan Buddhists believe him to be the latest manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion. The Dalai Lama was enthroned back in 1940. In 1950 he assumed political power as Tibet had a state and government and as Chinese troops actually invaded Tibet, the Dalai Lama actually went into exile back in 1958.

A drastic change of look. How it helped an accused war criminal live an almost completely normal life for more than a decade.

Plus -- a "Batman" star arrested. What happened? What's going on? We'll tell you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

What do we have, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, Britain's prime minister said his country will withdraw some of its troops from Iraq by the beginning of next year. Gordon Brown made the comments today before the House of Commons in London. He's not specifying when the number of troops will come home or when the withdrawal will start. Britain currently has 4,100 troops stationed in Iraq.

Federal regulators are announcing a safety recall of 115,000 baby pacifiers. The company that imports the pacifiers from Malaysia says pieces can become detached, posing a choking hazard. The pacifiers are sold under the name "It's my Binky" and feature personalized words and designs. No injuries have been reported.

He catches criminals on screen, but in real life the star of a new "Batman" movie might not be doing a good job of building his superhero resume. British media and police say Christian Bale, "Batman", was arrested and questioned after being accused of assaulting his mother and his sister at a London hotel. Bale's attorney issued a statement that there was no assault and that Bale cooperated with police and that the police filed no charges. I believe, Wolf, they are saying it was alleged verbal assault, whatever that is.

BLITZER: Do we know if the Joker was involved in this at all? Because his fingerprints could be all over it.

COSTELLO: No, I don't think so. But Christian Bale seems to be off the hook, so to speak.

We'll talk about it later, Carol. Thank you.

John McCain banking on the success of the surge in Iraq to help his prospects. But could it also do more for Barack Obama? Our political contributors, James Carville, and Bill Bennett, they're standing by live to assess.

Also -- you might be shocked at where the FAA is looking for the next generation of air traffic controllers.

Plus, a popular Philadelphia news anchor is facing federal charges for spying on his co-anchor.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now -- improvements on the ground in Iraq. John McCain and Barack Obama each trying to use them to their advantage. But who will they really help? I'll speak live with our political contributors, James Carville and Bill Bennett. They're standing by.

Also -- is this the man called the "Butcher of Bosnia"? With a white beard? Practicing psychiatry? How an accused war criminal charged with genocide actually hid in plain sight for more than a decade.

And the air traffic controller landing your next flight could be the kid next door. Why young people, even teenagers, are now being recruited into the control tower.

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

Barack Obama now in Jerusalem on a Middle East swing that's part fact-finding mission, part photo-op. Earlier in Jordan, Obama spoke about his visit to Iraq, acknowledging that violence has declined. But once again vowing to withdraw combat forces within 16 months of becoming president. Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching the story for us.

All right. Bill, right now, where does the Iraq War debate stand?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it has really become two debates. One over the past, the other over the future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Barack Obama concedes that security in Iraq has improved.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans believe they have Obama cornered.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would seem to me he would -- he would admit he made -- he made a mistake in not supporting the surge.

SCHNEIDER: He doesn't. He says the policy has been costly and distracting. McCain's response?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He was wrong then. He's wrong now. And he still fails to acknowledge -- he still fails to acknowledge that the surge succeeded.

SCHNEIDER: Obama wants to shift the argument from a debate about the past, whether the troop buildup was right or wrong, to a debate about the future, what to do now.

OBAMA: For weeks now, Senator McCain has argued that the gains of the surge mean that I should change my commitment to end the war.

SCHNEIDER: Over the past year, more Americans have come to believe the U.S. is making progress in Iraq. But has that increased public support for the war? No. Could McCain be undermining his own argument for staying in Iraq when he says...

MCCAIN: The strategy is not succeeding, it -- we have succeeded.

SCHNEIDER: As a conservative columnist recently wrote: "The more the surge succeeds, the more politically advantageous it is for Obama. Voters don't care about the surge, they care about the war."

Obama has gotten crucial support for his timeline for withdrawal from the Iraqi government.

OBAMA: I welcome the growing consensus in the United States and Iraq for a timeline.

SCHNEIDER: On the issue of what to do now in Iraq, Obama feels he has McCain cornered. If the U.S. has succeeded in Iraq, why doesn't McCain want to get out?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: McCain says he will get out only when conditions on the ground are right, and that the commanding general opposes a timeline. Obama argues that as president he can't ignore his commanders' advice, but he doesn't have to follow it exactly. He has to, in his words, factor in their advice, because the president has priorities besides Iraq, like other fronts in the war on terror, and the U.S. economy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now on how the Iraq situation, the Iraq turnaround, if you will, can affect this presidential campaign. We'll bring in a pair of CNN contributors. The Democratic strategist, James Carville, and Bill Bennett, the host of "Morning in America," a conservative national radio show. He's also a fellow at the Claremont Institute.

What do you think, Bill? Does Obama have a point that things seem to be falling in his place with the Iraqi government itself agreeing with him, you know what, 16 months is a pretty good timeline?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, the trap that was laid for Obama didn't work. He sprung the trap. He escaped the trap. In fact, gained some real advantage here. The endorsement, if you will, by Maliki of Obama was helpful.

BLITZER: It was almost stunning.

BENNETT: Yes, that's right. And the McCain campaign has to wonder why it recommended so heartily that he go. That being said, it's also true that he's the beneficiary of policies which he vehemently opposed, the surge. The surge has worked. It has clearly worked. He said four times he was opposed to it. He said it would have the opposite effect.

The reason that he is there, able to argue for withdrawing troops is because of the success of the surge. These two lines have met. His argument about wanting to bring the troops out and because of the success of the surge, it becomes more plausible. He's the beneficiary of policies McCain pushed and the soldiers followed but...

BLITZER: So, who gains politically more? Let me bring in James.

BENNETT: Yes, yes, indeed.

BLITZER: Who gains more politically from the success of the surge?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I just can't imagine anybody having a better week than Obama is having, anybody having a worse week than McCain is. And I mean, he's right, Maliki saying it was a huge deal, and then McCain had driven up the stakes of this trip and driving up the stakes and interest and everything.

It's obvious that Obama is having a good trip. It's obvious that Maliki, for whatever reasons, I assume that he thinks Obama is going to be the next president, so he wants to say something helpful.

And then back at home, McCain couldn't have been -- had a worse time with his idiotic gaffes, blaming Obama for gas prices and bad visuals and everything else. So yes, it is. And Obama is just having one of these golden weeks. BLITZER: But some would argue that that question he was asked yesterday about, you know, if you knew then what you know now about the surge, would you have voted for it? And he said no.

CARVILLE: Right. I mean, we can argue and they certainly can say the surge is the reason it's happening. Other people will say it happened because of other reasons. I think that it's perfectly legitimate for Republicans to say, look, we advocated the surge, the surge is working. That can be debated.

It's just like perfectly legitimate for Democrats to say, but the country now is saying starting the war was a mistake. That's a legitimate political discussion to have. I'm just saying McCain right -- this is one of those golden weeks, and who knows if it will come around again, and Obama is having it, it's just one of these really bad weeks that McCain has had.

BENNETT: I have a bad feeling we he went in the gym and shot the three-pointer. I had a...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I think it was twice he had a three-pointer.

BENNETT: This is what you know, you know this -- your team is in trouble.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Yes.

BENNETT: But, again, yes, look, and the endorsement by Maliki. Let me make it worse for us. President Bush said last year when the government of Iraq wants to us leave, we'll leave. That makes it harder to say, well, if our generals say we should stay, we should stay. So that may complicate it further.

But, again, I thought it was odd, kind of intransigent. He didn't need to be this stubborn on the surge when he had said four times, you know, that he wouldn't support it. He should support it. It clearly was the reason for success...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But these politicians, as you know, whether it's Obama or McCain, they never like to admit they were wrong, just as Obama wouldn't admit that he was maybe wrong on the surge, McCain won't admit maybe he was wrong on going to war.

BENNETT: I don't know why, because I do know people who admit they're wrong and when they do, it usually passes pretty quickly. He had such a good week. I mean, he did have advantages here, but I think he could have. It's just -- it's just odd to deny the success of the soldiers and the surge. It's clearly the reason...

(CROSSTALK) CARVILLE: I don't think he denies the success of the soldiers. I think you can legitimately debate, I'm not here to do that, whether adding 20,000 people is the reason that that the violence is down. How long it happens, I don't know. But I'm just saying, for political reasons, Obama couldn't be having -- he's right, when he made the three-pointer, everything seems to be going his way. And McCain, they look like to me almost like their campaign is being sabotaged.

BLITZER: You've worked with foreign governments in the past. Why did Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, give this present to Senator Obama?

CARVILLE: Because he thinks Obama is going to win it, and he's going to have to deal with him for four years.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

BENNETT: That may be. There's a history though too with Maliki. He was never in favor of the U.S. coming in. He's a Shiite, he has close ties with Syria. You know, we worried about him hugging up to Ahmadinejad and so on. And he's doing some of this for domestic consumption, of course.

BLITZER: Because it's popular to say, get the Americans out.

BENNETT: Sure it is. And, look, give Obama the day. You know, it was a big political win. But let's remember why he's able to be there and declare that things may be over soon, because of the success of the strategy John McCain had.

BLITZER: Let's also not forget that this trip is, for many aspects, the Afghanistan, the Iraq part, he was in Kuwait, that part is over. But as you know, the Israeli/Palestinian issue tomorrow is going to be a very sensitive potential minefield out there and then he heads off to Western Europe, Germany, and France and Britain. He has still got -- he has still got some major challenges ahead of him.

BENNETT: If he gets Israel and the Palestinians settled, at peace, I'll vote for him.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, that isn't happening tomorrow.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... that's a pretty high order. But you know what, I mean, but you just have to say, so many good things have happened. If you're still holding your breath because if something bad happens, then the press will sort of blow it up, because -- but it has been a heck of a week. And McCain, whatever they...

BLITZER: Does this make any sense at all, this buzz out there that maybe McCain even as early as this week could announce his vice presidential running mate? Does that -- does that -- is that just a diversion, or is that serious?

BENNETT: McCain has got to do something. And it has not been a great week for him. He has got to focus this campaign. He has got to sharpen this campaign. And he has got to sharpen the criticisms of Barack Obama. I think there are plenty to be made. The vice president thing would make some news, and he does want to change the subject.

BLITZER: Does it make sense to you? Does it have the ring of credibility?

CARVILLE: You know what, he has got -- I don't think so. Because he has got a problem. When he goes to Minneapolis, a lot of Republicans are not crazy about him. He has to create some excitement. He has got to have some element of drama there other than fights in the platform committee about issues that they'd really rather not have a fight about.

I think they need to take a deep breath and try to figure out not whether they were right with Obama, because there wasn't much they could do about that. How did this gas ad get out? Blaming Obama for high gas prices? How did this photo get out? How did some of the mistakes they made? They've really got to take a deep breath over there and they need to stop digging themselves into this hole.

I'm generally skeptical. I think McCain is going to surprise us with his veep pick, though, I do believe that.

BENNETT: I think the sooner he reassures conservatives, Wolf, in the base, the better. So I think if he were to -- it depends on who the choice is. If it's somebody who is very reassuring to conservatives, if it's Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, I think it's a good thing.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there, guys. James, thanks very much. Bill, always a pleasure.

I'll be speaking with John McCain about his criticisms of Barack Obama over Iraq, other substantive domestic and foreign policy questions as well, issues you care about. The interview with John McCain, right here, in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday. And guess what? You can take part in the interview yourself. Send us your questions via CNN's iReport. You can submit your questions at ireport.com/situationroom and watch the interview with John McCain here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday.

Could teens take control of America's skies? That sounds ridiculous, but the FAA is rushing to find new recruits to work in airport control towers, some of them actually fresh out of high school.

And late-night television faces its biggest shake-up in a decade- and-a-half. Jay Leno will be leaving, but guess what? He's not going quietly. Also, we're going to have the latest on Hurricane Dolly. It has been upgraded. It's about to hit Texas. We'll tell you what's going on. Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. There's a developing story just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Let's check back with Carol for what we know.

What do we know?

COSTELLO: Yes, it's pretty scary. We don't know very much. But we do know a Continental flight carrying seven members of Congress had to make an emergency landing in New Orleans. The plane had taken off from Houston. The air masks dropped down. The plane made a sharp dive, and it did land safely, as far as we know, in New Orleans. Don't know the names of the seven Congress people aboard that plane. We're trying to find that out. And as far as we know, there are no injuries. Although I can't say that for sure. All of this according to WDSU. I'll try to find out more and pass it along -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our affiliate KHOU says Congressman Ron Paul was aboard that flight, Carol. But we'll continue to monitor it. Get some more information and we'll report back to our viewers, as we always do.

The biggest shake-up in late-night television in more than 15 years is now looming with "The Tonight Show's" Jay Leno now setting his departure date. But the story may not end there. Our entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter has more -- Kareen.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 2009 will mark a major transition in power, not just at the White House, but in late-night TV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's "The Tonight Show," with Jay Leno!

WYNTER (voice-over): How many times have we heard this famous show open?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jaaaaay!

WYNTER: You won't be hearing it much longer. The reigning late- night TV titan's days "Tonight Show" host are officially numbered. It's no joke. NBC announced Jay Leno's last show will be May 29th of next year. Conan O'Brien will succeed him as the new host June 1st.

JAMES HIBBERD, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Conan O'Brien does skew younger. The thought from the ad sales department is -- you know, is if Conan can do ratings in the same ballpark as Jay Leno, but still have his younger skewing demographics, that will definitely be a win for NBC.

WYNTER: O'Brien, whose show "Late Night" current airs after Leno, will also have a new replacement. Actor and former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Jimmy Fallon will take over as "Late Night" host next spring.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Barack Obama also in Afghanistan, and Bill Clinton went with him. Bill Clinton was with him -- well, at least that's what he told Hillary.

(LAUGHTER)

WYNTER: So following his stint at NBC, where can we expect Leno to pop up next? Apparently we're not the only ones asking questions. On Monday, Leno, in full disguise with a beard and bald head, showed up at an NBC executive session that included reporters and grilled NBC on his future. Asking, will Leno still be paid the rest of the year? Is it true you've offered Jay Leno a fifth hour on the "Today" show? Will "Manimal" come back?

NBC wants to keep Leno at the network in an unspecified role. But there's speculation he'll bolt for ABC where he might directly compete against "The Tonight Show."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All signs pointing to Jay Leno wanting to going to ABC basically to stick it to NBC, going at 11:30 where he would go against Conan, but at the same time he'd be going against Letterman, his longtime rival.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER: However the transition turns out, there's no question, this is the biggest shake-up in late night since Leno took over for Johnny Carson in 1992 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kareen, I know you'll watch the story for us. Kareen Wynter out in L.A.

Teenagers in the control tower. Don't look now, but recent high school graduates could soon be in charge when your airliner is taking off and landing.

And are news organizations biased in favor of Barack Obama? Lou Dobbs standing by to take a closer look at that. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So what do you know about the air traffic controller landing your plane? Most passengers don't think twice about it, but they might if they learned that the controller could be as young as 18 years old. Let's go to Deborah Feyerick, she's working this story for us, 18 years old, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, Wolf. That's the gist of it. If you've been to an airport recently, you know that the skies are busier than ever. Air traffic controllers working long hours, demoralized by pay cuts and work rules that many call restrictive. Those who can are retiring and the FAA, facing a massive vacuum, is looking to hire some 15,000 air traffic controllers in the next decade. They'll have youth on their side, but is that a good thing when it comes to landing planes?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (voice-over): Ever thought of a career landing planes? With the majority of the nation's air traffic controllers reaching mandatory retirement, the FAA is racing to find recruits. Advertising on Web sites like YouTube, MySpace, even Craigslist.

ROBERT STURGELL, FAA ADMINISTRATOR: We are targeting a new generation, and we're trying to connect with them where they are.

FEYERICK: NBC host Jay Leno laughed about it.

LENO: We don't trust them to drive a car, but land a 747, yes, no problem!

FEYERICK: But veteran air traffic controllers like union rep. Dean Iacopelli say it's no joke.

DEAN IACOPELLI, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Would you want a kid fresh out of high school with no experience whatsoever put into those situations where split-second life-and-death decisions need to be made? I wouldn't.

FEYERICK: The FAA plans to hire and rigorously train some 3,000 new controllers this year alone. The majority, 24 and younger.

STURGELL: The 18-year-olds today can go off to war and serve this country. So, we will train the folks we hire and we will make sure they're fully certified to serve in our facilities.

FEYERICK: The Union says the real problem is hands-on experience. That by 2011, a whopping 60 percent of all air traffic controllers will have been on the job less than five years.

IACOPELLI: We have 40 people who are here now who have absolutely no air traffic experience whatsoever. And somehow they need to get up to speed to the point where they can handle traffic, you know, in the nation's busiest, most complex airspace.

FEYERICK: But Ian Lazarus, a senior at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology across from New York's LaGuardia Airport says, he's ready.

IAN LAZARUS, COLLEGE SENIOR: It's education and experience. They both come together at one point.

FEYERICK (on camera): No question?

LAZARUS: No question at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Now the FAA admits there will be times when airports will be tight on staffing. It takes two years for new air traffic controllers to become fully certified following an apprenticeship. The FAA is offering $20,000 bonuses to entice veteran air traffic controllers to stay on at the nation's busiest airports, more for people with experience who are willing to actually move to places like New York -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deb, why so many retirements right now?

FEYERICK: Well, the majority of the ATC -- traffic controllers were hired in 1981, after the PATCO strike when President Reagan fired controllers who didn't voluntarily return to work. Those people have now been on the job for 25 years, so they're entitled to retire. Because of some of the job stresses, because of some of the stuff that has been going on with their union contracts, they're taking those retirements now.

BLITZER: All right. Those guys work hard and they are under a lot of stress. Deb Feyerick, working the story for us in New York.

Let's go back to Jack. He has got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: How old are the kids who fly jets in the Air Force?

BLITZER: Some of them are very, very young.

CAFFERTY: They're young, right? I mean, that's no big deal. You give them the right training, no reason the kid can't do that stuff.

The question this hour, how important is John McCain's vice presidential pick? And we got an e-mail that raises a very interesting question about this entire story. So pay close attention, there may be a quiz.

Pietro in New York: "It's important because Cheney has rewritten the role of V.P. The days of having Spiro Agnew. McCain might want to pick Mitt Romney because of his economic strengths, McCain's biggest weakness. But McCain looks small, old and inconsequential next to the tall, handsome, presidential-looking Romney. So that could backfire. If McCain wants to win, he ought to pick Hillary Clinton."

Terry in Arizona writes: "It's very important, Jack, the person must be young, but not so young as to make McCain look as old as you." Now that's cold. "Smart, but not so smart as to make McCain look as ignorant as Bush."

Sophie writes: "Why would McCain's V.P. pick be important when he is so irrelevant to the conversation about improving the country? Two screw-ups following two more screw-ups. No, it's not important who his V.P. is. Maybe if his geography and social study skills were better, it would be important."

Here's the letter that's interesting in terms of this entire story. You remember, Bob Novak was the guy who originally broke the story yesterday. Scott in California writes: "Important news for Jack, Bob Novak himself said today that he suspects that he was used by the McCain campaign and that yesterday's so-called leak was, as everyone expect apparently professional journalists could tell, a head fake designed to try to steal at least a few moments of media coverage. Congratulations, you were all played."

Stacy in Boston: "It's important, you can be his pick will be much younger, more energetic, and from a red state that's now in play for the Democrats. Thus my suggestion is he pick Elvis."

And Mike in Pueblo, Colorado: "McCain should pick a very young running mate, maybe Miley Cyrus or Dakota Fanning, then he could advertise that the average age of the ticket is 40-something."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at cnn.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there among hundreds of others.

Interesting idea that they might have floated this story out there just so that they would get exactly what they got, which is for the news media to pay attention to it and treat it seriously for a day or so.

BLITZER: And it wouldn't be the first time that Bob Novak was used to float a story. He has been writing these columns for years and years and a lot of ideas have been floated in his columns, as he well knows, over the years as well. Jack, stand by. We're going to have a lot more coming up.

Dolly now a hurricane and bearing down on Texas. We're tracking this dangerous storm. Stand by for the latest.

And allegations of news media bias in favor of Barack Obama? We're going to be talking to Lou Dobbs in a moment. He has strong opinions, as you know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So, is the news media biased in favor of Barack Obama? Let's ask Lou Dobbs. He has got a show coming up in an hour.

What's the answer?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": The answer is, are you kidding me? Of course, the news media -- I mean, why do you think Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson, Brian Williams and everyone else who can get toted along on this Obama cavalcade through the Middle East and Europe is going along?

I've never seen anything like it, Wolf, you haven't either if you're going to be honest with everybody. Never in your professional life have you ever seen anyone turn out for a candidate the way the national news media has for this man. And it's absolutely a joke.

BLITZER: But you felt like this when he was running against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards as well, right?

DOBBS: Well, did I feel this way, or did I know what I was seeing?

BLITZER: You sensed that the media were biased...

DOBBS: I knew it, and I was corroborated by the -- a number of research polls -- Opinion Research polls, in point of fact, showing a huge preference in the part of the media -- perceived preference in the media, for Obama.

I mean, this has been going on since December of last year. And the sort of darling way that the national news media, most of which is liberal -- and that's fine, we've been in it for years, it's not a new problem, but the very idea that they were -- I say, acting surprised or shocked by it all. Come on.

BLITZER: I know Lou is going to have a lot more in one hour. Lou, thanks.

DOBBS: Thank you.