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THE SITUATION ROOM
Ike Takes Aim At Texas; Bill Clinton Will Help Obama; Special Ops Terror Hunt; Tribute to 9/11 Victims & Heroes; Palin's Record on Pork; Obama Attacks on Economy; Palin Takes Question; Ike Eyes Texas; Joe Biden Revealed, Life Changing Aneurysm
Aired September 11, 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: Happening now, a massive storm, already a mass killer, bearing down on Texas. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing Hurricane Ike right now. We've got the latest forecast. It has just been released from the National Hurricane Center. Stand by.
There was bitterness and anger during the primaries, but now Barack Obama and Bill Clinton seem to be getting together for a meeting of the minds. The former president will go out on the campaign trail.
But will he put his heart into it?
And a huge change in the war on terror. U.S. special ops forces getting the go-ahead from the president to go into Pakistan without Pakistan's permission.
Will this bring them closer to Osama bin Laden?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A monster storm measuring -- get this -- 700 miles across.
Let me repeat -- 700 miles across. And looking here like it fills most of the Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricane Ike takes direct aim at Texas right now. There are mass evacuations underway, with storm warnings up as far east as the Alabama border. Ferocious winds stretching out hundreds of miles and some spots along the Gulf Coast are already reporting flooding.
Ike could it land near Galveston and the metro area of Houston, where four million people live. The nation's largest refineries -- they could be on the storm's bad side.
Let's go straight to our severe weather expert, our meteorologist Chad Meyers. He's looking at this monster. We just got a new update. What do we know -- Chad?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We know, Wolf, that this storm now goes directly over Houston. For a while, we thought Brazoria County, kind of off to the right, going to miss Houston a little bit, maybe by a few miles.
Now, in fact, it hits the south side of Galveston Island and up through -- right through the Houston shipping channel.
That is a terrible, terrible new event that just came out about two minutes ago. Hurricane warnings are in effect. And this is not going to change. The water is piling up. The waves are pounding all the way from Cape San Blas through Pensacola down into Waveland and Bay St. Louis, as well.
That's where it is now because this is as close as the storm is going to get. But when the storm moves closer to Texas, this is when we are really concerned.
The shift in the track has now taken it to -- and we knew this was going to shift. It was going to shift left or it was going to shift right. But it shifted to the right and now it is directly over the very populated Houston metro area, with wind speeds somewhere even -- even if it slows down a little bit by the time it gets to Houston, the winds right there, right offshore, 120 miles per hour. The winds in Houston will at least be 100 miles per hour there. And that's a very populated area -- millions of people there -- to have wind speeds that high.
If you don't know what you're doing, you need to get out of Houston now.
BLITZER: Well, if they can't fly, where do they go?
Because it looks like that hurricane is moving within a few hundred miles of that area. And I pointed out, four million people live in the greater Houston area.
MYERS: Yes, it's a problem, because if you take I-10 West and you try to get to Austin, Austin is still going to have winds to 40 or 50. That's not bad, but you still may lose power. You almost have to go to the hill country. And the problem with that is you're not going to find a hotel for miles out there.
So you can go to the east and try and get away from it. At least you have Baton Rouge and the areas here to the east. You might find something to get away from. And there's no reason to go north because you're going to follow the path of the hurricane itself. I know -- I know there's going to be millions of people that batten this thing down and try to make it through. And it's not going to be a good sign. This is a really dangerous path for the people of Houston, with storm surge, too, into Galveston Bay.
BLITZER: And as bad as it it's going to be for Houston, Galveston is -- I see a category three hitting Galveston there. There was a hurricane that destroyed Galveston, as a lot of viewers know. How -- I'm really worried about all the folks in Galveston.
MYERS: We are not going to have one person on Galveston Island. We won't have one person all the way down probably anywhere in Brazoria on these barrier islands. You need to be away from the barrier island.
This barrier island will be over washed. There will be water completely over the top. Even on the north side of Galveston Island, where there's a big sea wall, you're still going to have water over the top of the island washing into the bay on the other side. This is (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: We're showing, Chad, some -- an animation of that surge at Galveston. Take a look at this and narrate. Tell our viewers what we're seeing in this animation.
MYERS: Well, what happens is that -- it's not like a wall of water like a tsunami, but it's a building tidal surge, one wave after another. Every wave is six inches higher than the past one. And there's the water pushing right over. And there it goes. But it will eventually make its way all the way over the island and dump itself into the bay, which is on the other side of Galveston Island.
All of that water will also go up here into Galveston Bay. And that water is going to push up through the bayous and there's going to be a lot of water into Houston, as well.
And anywhere from League City and Baytown and all those areas, you need to get out of there. I can't stress it anymore now. There's no more reason to stay there. You just need to go, because your house is probably going to be seeing the water if you're anywhere along this bay. All the way along, this bay is going to fill up with 15, 20 feet of water. And if you're not that high off the ground -- and there's a lot of people that live within that -- your house is going to be underwater.
BLITZER: So, Chad, let me just be precise.
BLITZER: You're saying that every single human being should leave that entire area ASAP?
MYERS: Yes. That's -- I'll tell you what, Wolf, you and I talk a lot about Florida hurricanes and are we going to move our families. If my family was in Houston, I would be moving them now.
BLITZER: All right. Well, that's pretty serious -- pretty serious stuff. And Chad knows what he's talking about.
Stand by, Chad. We're going to be coming back to you.
I'm very worried about what's going on in Texas. As we say, hundreds of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate those low lying areas of the Texas coast.
CNN's Sean Callebs is joining us now from Houston, where he's getting ready for what looks like it's going to be a monster. Are residents heeding the advice -- Sean? Are they getting out of Houston?
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they really are, Wolf. We're staying at a service station here just off I-45 North, which is where all those people are coming -- where all those people are actually coming from in trying to avoid the situation that Chad was just talking about.
The Interstate is up this way. It's simply bumper to bumper traffic, but it is moving. And that is in stark contrast to what we saw three years ago during Hurricane Rita. If you remember, that Interstate just became a parking lot.
Well, the city has undertaken some significant changes in its evacuation plan. Let me explain this to you.
Three years ago, they basically said, OK, the community of Papina (INAUDIBLE) that's what, a community of 50,000 people.
What they're doing now is saying this area code -- this zip code, rather -- you need to evacuate. So instead of 50,000 people out of Pasadena, they're telling about 1,200 people to get out. And that's important because these interstates are going to be extremely crowded for the next 24 hours.
We just got off the phone with the EMC here in Harris County, which, of course, is Houston area. And they told us they expect the roads are going to be very crowded tomorrow morning and they don't want people getting on the roads after noon tomorrow, because that is when they expect these powerful winds -- these tropical force winds are going to begin to pound this area.
And how significant is it that it's coming up the shipping channel? We heard Chad talk about that. I want to play you something that the governor said just a short while ago. And this is really frightening stuff, so pay attention to this. He said his worst nightmare is the thought of a category five hurricane coming unimpeded up that shipping channel and people not evacuate. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Without an evacuation, that model shows 1.5 million people dead. I did not misspeak. That's not 1.5 people displaced, not 1.5 people who are flooded out. It's 1.5 people who are dead. That's the -- 1.5 million, excuse me. That's it the power of what we're talking about. And that's the reason that this evacuation -- if your county calls for that evacuation, do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CALLEBS: So that's the big concern coming out of this area. Now, we are seeing people flock to stores like Home Depot and Lowe's. They're going to try and board up, because there is going to be significant flooding pushing from that area.
One of the things we're going to keep an eye on in the next couple of hours, Wolf, the city is going to make a decision on contra flow -- opening up both sides of the Interstate to lessen the flow of traffic coming up from the south. They're going to make that after rush hour. I mean, Houston is a huge city -- the fourth largest in the country. So anytime during rush hour, it's busy -- and especially crowded like it is right now.
Also, the airport, Wolf. The airport here tomorrow is going to shut down at 2:00 Central time. So if you're going to get out of Dodge, get out of Dodge quickly -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We're really worried about all those folks in Houston right now, in Galveston, in that whole area.
Sean Callebs is on the scene for us.
Federal, state and local authorities are all playing a role in helping to prepare for the response.
Kelli Arena is following all of these preparations for us -- now, Kelli, you just got out of a briefing with FEMA officials.
What are these authorities most concerned about right now?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here's the deal. Agencies are preparing for, as you heard, a very powerful storm. The problem is that it's been so unpredictable.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is urging everyone in the area to listen to state officials and evacuate if they're told to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This is not a game of chicken with Mother Nature. Mother Nature will win that game. This is a time to heed the instructions of your local officials and do what they tell you to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ARENA: Now, this storm could have a wider impact, as well, Wolf. There are 20 refineries at risk in the area. By the end of the day, they will all be shut down or reduced capacity. Energy officials expect that there could be constrained gasoline and diesel supplies, as they wait for the refineries to come back online.
And officials stand ready to release stocks from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if necessary. Some chemical plants, as well, also at risk. The Coast Guard says that it's moving to protect ports which, as you know, are vital to the nation's economy -- putting large vessels to sea. They're mooring those that cannot be moved.
In terms of public safety, officials say that there will be planes, high water vehicles and other rescue craft available. Forty emergency response units are situated in 14 different locations.
HHS is providing support already for evacuation of patients out of the hospitals and so on, providing ambulances, airlifts. Officials say if you evacuating, be sure to take your medicine, also, your medical history if you can, because all of those things will be helpful.
But the bottom line here, Wolf, they say get out if you're told to go.
BLITZER: All right. I hope these people are listening and heed the advice, because their lives literally are on the line.
Kelli, thanks very much.
We're going to stay on top of this story and not let you down. We'll get you all the latest information. Much more on Hurricane Ike coming up.
Also, other news we're following, including a fire that shuts down the chunnel. Traffic comes to a halt inside the 30-mile tunnel between Britain and France. It's a vital link under the English Channel.
And U.S. Special Forces can launch raids into Pakistan without Pakistan's permission. President Bush said to give the go-ahead for a big step in the war on terror.
Lots of news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There was anger and some bitterness during the primary season. But Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were all smiles today.
Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching what's going on. They had lunch and I assume they talked about strategy during these remaining days of this campaign.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you'd be surprised. We are told, at least by the Obama campaign, that, in fact, they talked about lessons that have been learned and how the world changed since 9/11, that Barack Obama complimented Bill Clinton on the work he's done with his foundation and Bill Clinton complimented Barack Obama about his campaign and that, yes, they did talk about it -- but very little.
And, you know, Wolf, in politics, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a picture. And we got that picture today -- the two of them together, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Of all the tensions during this campaign, it has been the greatest between these two men. They did let the photographers and journalists in at the top of the session. And certainly there was no sign of that former bitterness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going out this month, as soon as the -- as soon as my global initiative is over, I'm going out.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're putting him to work. QUESTION: Will you be out frequently? What's (INAUDIBLE)?
CLINTON: Yes. Well, I've agreed to do a substantial number of things and whatever I'm asked to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: What do you think of the state of the race, Mr. President?
QUESTION: What did you think of the state of the race right now? (INAUDIBLE)?
CLINTON: I predict that Senator Obama will win and will win pretty handily.
OBAMA: There you go.
OBAMA: You can take it from the president of the United States. He knows a little something about politics.
CLINTON: That's what I think is going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Probably not the most comfortable looking picture, but they are on their way.
We do know, Wolf, and reported yesterday, that the two of them, at the moment, are intending to campaign together later this month in Florida. We've been hearing a lot about John McCain's gains in Florida. Taking Bill Clinton down there in that I-5 corridor that John King was talking about might be enormously helpful to the Obama campaign -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He could be a huge asset for Barack Obama, as well as Senator Hillary Clinton, as well.
Candy, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you to talk some more about this. Remember, 54 days until the election.
Meanwhile, there's been a major turnaround in the war on terror. U.S. special operations forces getting the go-ahead to go into Pakistan with or without the approval of the government of Pakistan.
Will this bring them closer to Osama bin Laden? Brian Todd has been working this story for us. Explain what's going on -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a huge amount of frustration is behind all this -- frustration that seven years after Al Qaeda's deadliest hit on America, the terrorist group still flourishes on the soil of a U.S. ally. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
TODD (voice-over): A seismic change in the rules of engagement for hunting down terrorists in their strongholds. President Bush has authorized U.S. Special Forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without getting permission from the Pakistani government first. That's according to a senior American intelligence official.
That official says Pakistani leaders will be notified during an assault or after the fact. Publicly, Pakistani officials deny knowledge of this order and maintain the position that U.S. forces cannot operate freely inside their borders.
HUSAIN HAQQANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: It is not in the interests of the global war against terror to antagonize the people of Pakistan by unilateral actions.
TODD: But the U.S. intelligence official believes the Pakistanis are aware of the new directive, which the official says has been in place for months. One U.S. official says an American raid last week in Pakistan's tribal region, near the border with Afghanistan, was launched without formal permission from Pakistan. That operation has strained relations between the two allies. The Pakistanis say more than a dozen civilians were killed. But a U.S. official says there's no evidence of that.
Analysts say the new tactics are the result of growing frustration among U.S. officials that until very recently, Pakistani forces haven't done enough to counter the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Pakistan. That's where they've been launching attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan.
Now that U.S. Special Forces have the green light to go into Pakistan without permission from Islamabad, will be it a game changer in the hunt for Osama bin Laden?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It might help. I mean, what you really need to get -- change the game is really good intelligence about where Osama bin Laden is. That hasn't happened now for almost seven years.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: U.S. officials continue to say that they believe bin Laden is somewhere along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Peter Bergen says that's like saying someone is "in Virginia." But the hunt may be helped by the increase in predator drone attacks inside Pakistan. They've gone way up just in the past few months and netted results. But Pakistani officials say they've also killed many civilians -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, you've been speaking with current and former U.S. officials. Has there been a lot of debate going on to give a green light to go into Pakistan try to get after these terrorists?
TODD: We're told there has been a lot of debate. It wasn't like President Bush just decided one day recently to give this authorization. A former U.S. official tells us there have been months of debate within the administration about the options for going after militants in those tribal areas of Pakistan -- the benefits, the risks, what would happen if something goes wrong, if someone is kill or captured. What is the plan for dealing with all those mishaps?
A lot of debate. It was a very deliberative process, that's what we're told.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Brian, for that. Brian Todd working this important story.
So what might this all mean in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, who's still at large seven years after 9/11? Let's bring in President Bush's former homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. She's now a CNN national security consultant. Thanks very much, Fran, for coming in.
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: It's good to be here.
BLITZER: What do you make about all of this, the suggestion that, well they -- they can now go into Pakistan without necessarily getting formal authorization from the government of Pakistan?
TOWNSEND: Wolf, as you know, the president and I, when I was part of the administration, had said if there was specific intelligence, the president...
BLITZER: Actionable intelligence...
TOWNSEND: Actionable. Yes.
BLITZER: ...was the words the president used to use.
TOWNSEND: That's right -- that no options we were off the table. Look at the recent history. We've seen a change of government. We've seen increasing activity in the tribal area and we've seen cross border activity against our own troops and Afghan troops on the Afghan side of the border.
I think people shouldn't be surprised. How long were we going to be expected to take this? I can't confirm the existence of the order, but I can tell you that it's not surprising to me, seeing the developments as we've seen in that tribal region.
BLITZER: Because there's apparently -- and take us behind-the- scenes if you can -- there's still mistrust that the Pakistani intelligence service, maybe the Pakistani military, if you share information -- coordinates and locations or things like that -- that might get in the hands of bad guys. The U.S. really can't completely trust those elements in the Pakistani government.
TOWNSEND: Well, as you know, there's been allegations back and forth to your point about mistrust -- about the ISI, the intelligence service in Pakistan's relationship -- historical relationship with the Taliban. That really explains why there's concern on U.S. -- on the part of U.S. officials.
BLITZER: Because when you speak to Pakistani officials, they say you know what, if you have information, let us know. We'll go out and implement it. We'll go get the bad guys.
TOWNSEND: And that hasn't always been our experience, where we've had -- where U.S. officials are passing intelligence and it's not acted on in a timely way or at all. You can appreciate a growing sense of frustration among those targeting officials want to be in a position to take action.
BLITZER: I can only imagine how frustrated President Bush and Vice President Cheney must be, especially today, on the seventh anniversary of 9/11, and with their days in office obviously coming down to only a few, that Osama bin Laden remains at large.
TOWNSEND: Well, I think the frustration is shared by many throughout the intelligence and law enforcement communities. There are thousands of people who have been working against this target, who want to see him captured or killed. And I'm quite sure you're right. I'm sure the administration continues to be frustrated by this.
BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks for coming in.
TOWNSEND: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: The sounds of "Amazing Grace" echoed at the Pentagon today. We're going to tell you how the nation is remembering a day few will ever forget -- September 11th 2001 -- and how America is paying tribute to those who died on that tragic day exactly seven years ago.
And Senator Joe Biden revealed -- he's telling CNN about the moment that changed his life forever.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love you and you left us a wonderful daughter. You can be very, very proud of her. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To all the family members, survivors and people that want to be here and couldn't find the strength, my sister and I will leave a flower at each footprint for you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Flowers and heartbreak at New York's ground zero today, as the nation marks the seventh anniversary of 9/11. Nearly 3,000 people died when planes hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Over at the Pentagon, a new memorial was unveiled at the site where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed that day. CNN's Jamie McIntyre is over at the Pentagon at the new memorial, watching all of this. I remember in your reports from that day how moving they were -- Jamie you were there then and you're there right now.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And seven years to the hour, there was a very moving dedication ceremony for a powerful memorial.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): President Bush was flanked by his wartime defense secretaries and top military adviser as he stood in silent tribute. With a dramatic flourish, the 184 individual benches, each engraved with the name of a person killed September 11th, were smartly unveiled by an honor guard from all the military services. It was as if a sea of blue parted to reveal the sanctuary below.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The day will come when most Americans have no living memory of the events of September 11th. When they visit this memorial, they will learn that the 21st century began with a great struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror.
MCINTYRE: The memorial is intended to serve as a place of quiet contemplation. Its design details are laden with symbolism. Each cantilevered bench is engraved with the name of a victim. They are aligned along the path the plane followed -- the orientation toward or away from the building depending on whether the person died on the plane or in the Pentagon.
The running water beneath each bench is intended to foster reflection. And in years to come, the park will be shaded by a dense canopy formed by what are now young saplings of paper bark maple trees.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, now 76, called the memorial a silent monument to the resolve of a free people.
DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have been acquainted with the night. We have taken its measure. In the darkest of times, we stood together.
MCINTYRE: Current Defense secretary, Robert Gates, said the Pentagon, the seat of military power, is also now a place of remembrance.
ROBERT GATES, U.S SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We as a nation will not bow to those who so cruelly took them from us. These are not the ruins of attackers. They are the fortifications of memory, of love and of resolve.
(END VIDEO TAPE) MCINTYRE: And, Wolf, as you noted, I was here that day seven years ago. You can read more of my personal reflections at my blog at AC360.com. And there, Wolf, you will also see the picture I took that day that got me arrested -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jamie. Thanks very much. Jamie McIntyre, our man at the Pentagon
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Did she or didn't she seek millions of dollars in federal funds from Washington?
We have a fact check on Sarah Palin and those earmarks.
And Joe Biden revealed -- the Democratic vice presidential nominee is telling CNN about a life-threatening experience he went through and how it made him a changed man.
And a fire in the chunnel causing a big problem.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. All that coming up.
As John McCain's running mate, the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, is speaking out against pet spending projects But as a small town mayor, did she work hard to get her hands on those federal handouts?
CNN's Randi Kaye has been doing some digging in Alaska.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Three little words a through as to where she once stood on earmarks scrawls in the margin of this memo to the Wasilla City Council back when she was mayor. We did well. It was June 14th, 1999, when Palin wrote this does not include our nearly $1 million from the feds for our airport paving project. Then added those three words "we did well."
LARRY PERSILY, WORKED FOR PALIN: She was hungry for fund from the federal government that could help her community.
KAYE: Longtime journalist Larry Persily worked for the governor for several months but doesn't believe she has the judgment or qualifications to be vice president. As to earmarks, he says --
PERSILY: When she was mayor of Wasilla from 1996 to 2002, she was in there looking for federal earmarks from congress just as much as anyone.
KAYE: As mayor, Palin hired a lobbyist to help funnel federal dollars to her hometown and not just any lobbyist but the former chief of staff for Alaska Senator Ted Stevens who at the time was chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee which doles out federal cash. The lobbyist helped Palin secure $600,000 for a new bus facility, $1.75 million for dispatch center technology, $2.4 million to upgrade water and sewer facilities.
STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: Wasilla did pretty well once they got into the earmark game.
KAYE: In the last four years Palin was mayor, the city of Wasilla with a population of just about 5,000, scored $27 million in earmarks says the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense. The state was doing pretty well, too. Perhaps Alaska's most egregious earmark, the bridge to nowhere, the target of Senator John McCain.
In 2006, Palin ran for governor promising to support the now infamous bridge to nowhere. But after being elected governor, she rejected it. McCain and watchdog groups were already targeting the bridge to nowhere by then. Palin said the price tag had become too high and the money could be better used for other projects.
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I told the congress thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere.
ELLIS: She is telling only half the story as far as the earmarks.
KAYE: In fact, she was securing earmarks just as John McCain was fighting to slash them. Years ago, he even identified some of her projects. But that was then.
Since becoming governor, Palin has cut the earmarks the state asks for. But this year, Alaska had more earmark requests per person than any other state.
Alaska's Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell defends Palin's record.
LT. GOV. SEAN PARNELL (R), ALASKA: She's a fiscal hawk. I'd say that she has worked to reduce the number of earmarks.
KAYE: Palin asked for $256 million in earmarks her first year in office, $197 million her second year.
Why the apparent change of heart?
ELLIS: She turned against earmarks when she saw that the nation turning against earmarks.
KAYE: Did the governor change her tone on them because they game unpopular?
PARNELL: I don't think so. I think she saw them for what they are. As you're in office longer, you begin so see the cumulative effect of earmarks from Wasilla to Pensacola to all across the America, the thousands of earmarks and you see the corruption that can come from those.
KAYE: For 2008 and 2009, her office has asked for nearly $8 million federal dollars to upgrade a remote airport after it was handed over by the navy. The FAA says it handles only eight scheduled flights a month. Also, $4 million to research sea crab stocks.
Why is studying is sea crabs and rockfish worth more than $5 million?
PARNELL: Because they're found in federal waters and state waters and they will impact federal commercial fishing interests as well as state.
KAYE: Meanwhile, John McCain has vowed not to spend taxpayer dollars on earmarks like researching the DNA of bears in Montana. The McCain campaign defends her record on earmarks saying small towns like Wasilla, Alaska, depend on them to take care of basic needs.
Randi Kaye, CNN, Anchorage, Alaska.
BLITZER: We're going to -- we're just getting in some transcripts, some information from Sarah Palin's first television interview. We'll share with you what she's saying. Stand by for that.
Also, the presidential candidates together at ground zero. They'll be together at tonight's presidential forum at Columbia University. You're going to see it live here on CNN. What do they need to do tonight?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All right. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Sarah Palin has just given her first interview to ABC News and ABC News is now releasing some excerpts from that interview. Charlie Gibson asking Sarah Palin whether or not she believes that god has a plan for the United States as far as war is concerned. Are we fighting, he asked a holy war and among other things, Sarah Palin says this. She says, "I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that are believe are god given, Charlie and I believe that those are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That in my world view is a grand the grand plan." Charlie Gibson then follows up, with, "Are you sending your son on a task that is from god," referring to her son about to be deployed to Iraq. "I don't know if the task is from God, Charlie. What I know is that my son has made a decision. I am so proud of his independent and strong decision he has made, what he decided to do and serving for the right reasons and serving something greater than himself and not choosing a real easy path where he could be more comfortable and certainly safer."
We're reviewing some other elements of the transcript that ABC News has released. We'll share some other details from you coming up. But let's discuss what all of this means with our political strategist, democratic strategist Hilary Rosen is joining us and Alex Castellanos, our republican strategist.
Hilary, you just heard of what she says about God having a plan. It was a reference to some remarks she made in her church awhile ago that are circulating the video is circulating on YouTube. What do you make of this?
HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think she backed off a bit and talked about a more modest plan for creation. I don't think that's much of an issue right now. I think, you know, on 9/11 and with so many moms still sending their kids off to Iraq, it's not a day for politics but kind of is a day for policy and the fact that we are still in this war still spending $300 million a day when our candidates tonight are talking about service and community and $300 million a day in job training or in health care costs or building new homes could do so much in the united states that there is no plan for ending this war that has nothing to do with 9/11 seems to me, you know, a rational discussion.
I think Barack Obama and John McCain tonight ought to focus on how are we going to bring America back into service for itself and what does that mean for us.
BLITZER: That's the theme of tonight's forum, Alex. Service to the nation an appropriate theme on this seventh anniversary of 9/11. I suspect in the course of the separate interviews that will be conducted with these two presidential nominees we'll hear some differences, some potentially significant differences. Alex?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We will may but of course, I think to Hillary's point tonight is all about what brings us together and not what sets us part. Whomever tries to play up differences tonight will lose.
Though something does happen this evening. We're all victims of kind of emotional conditioning. When there are big searing events in our lives and things remind us of them, we go back to that emotional place. For example, if there's a hurricane, we all kind of remember, republicans didn't do a good job with that. When we're talking about security, we do remember that hey, we need this election about strong and certain leadership. I do think it has that kind of impact.
BLITZER: Although this time, Alex, the polls show the war on terror certainly not a big an issue as it was four years ago, that the economy is issue number one by far.
CASTELLANOS: Well, I think and for good reasons. We're in a period of global uncertainty and global competition and we want it look at these two candidates and who wants to grow Washington's economy and who wants to grow America's economy. That's a choice. Also one reason the war is less of an issue is frankly we're being more success follow over there and there is a plan to get us out. We're making progress on that. It's been clear that McCain's position has been the plan is victory.
BLITZER: In Iraq there seems to be progress in Iraq but certainly it's going the other way, Hilary, in Afghanistan. ROSEN: And I would challenge it in Iraq, as well. You know, we're looking at the surge quelled violence and it was supposed to George Bush said pave the path for elections for a new oil law. Well, now the elections are being canceled. There is no oil law. You know, I don't think that we're getting as much progress in Iraq as they're telling us. Barack Obama can make that case about the money we are still spending with no political end in sight. And when we look at the real cause of terrorism and who caused 9/11 in Afghanistan, you know, we've fallen off and it's something that people do need to focus on because it affects our domestic economy, as well.
BLITZER: Alex, listen to Senator Obama last night. He had a serious comment on David Letterman's show. I wanted to play this little clip for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think what we're going to see is she shares John McCain's view that the policies of George W. Bush have worked pretty well. Right? So McCain has said we've made great economic progress. The economy's fundamentally sound. You haven't seen any separation between them and what we've seen over the last eight years. So the bottom line is, if you think the last eight years haven't worked, if you think that the government can do a better job creating jobs, building the economy, making sure that kids can go to college, providing health care to people who don't have it, then it's hard to figure why you would want four more years of exactly the same policies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's not only linking Sarah Palin to John McCain, he's linking her to George Bush. But go ahead, Alex.
CASTELLANOS: Well, you know, it's good solid politics 101. I think Obama's decided he may have trouble beating John McCain and Sarah Palin but it would be a lot easier to beat George Bush. That's who he's running against. The challenge is both candidates have been on the campaign trail now for a couple of years. And Americans know each of them very well on their own. So, saying that John McCain is George Bush is very tough for Obama. Especially when people know that you know, McCain has opposed Bush as often as he has on important issues like the surge and on campaign finance reform and on the environment, but not only that, but now he's picked a symbol of change, Sarah Palin and they're going to go to Washington with a campaign about reform. So you know, it's very I think it's not the most productive campaign. But when you kind of run out of a positive way to win an election, you try to find a way to define your opponent and make the other guy lose and right now, Obama thinks he can beat George Bush maybe, not John McCain.
ROSEN: I think the republicans are trying to win this election purely based on symbols and not based on reality. And I think that's exactly the McCain strategy to distract from a real discussion of the issues. And you know, that's where they're going to try and go. I think it's a challenge to stop that. BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there, guys. Hilary Rosen, Alex Castellanos, thanks very much.
Federal officials are calling it Mother Nature's mass destruction. Hurricane Ike is taking aim at Texas refinery row and metropolitan Houston and Galveston is in harm's way major league. Local gas stations already are reporting is sporadic outages. We'll have the latest for you on this storm's path.
Plus, Sarah Palin's farewell to her son. He's heading to Iraq. We're going to take you to Alaska where the deployment San Antonio is about to be held.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're tracking the path of hurricane Ike. It's a massive, massive storm and it's picking up strength right now as it churns across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and heads for landfall probably near Houston, Texas, early Saturday right outside Galveston. Gas prices are higher, 20 refineries are shutting down operations already, and hundreds of thousands of people are evacuating. Millions potentially, four million alone in the greater Houston area are in harm's way. As hurricane Ike closes in on Texas, hundreds of thousands of people are trying to get out.
Our Abbi Tatton is looking at some I-reports we're getting in.
This is a real dangerous storm.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: It absolutely is, Wolf. We heard Chad Myers tell you earlier if you're in Galveston, need to get out. But not everyone is doing that. These pictures we just got in to CNN's I-report from Matteu Erchull of him boarding up offices in Galveston, he said that most business owners, most people there are leaving. It's under evacuation order, but he said that a good number are staying there and hunkering down and he has gallons of water and enough to stick around for a few weeks. He said that some people have faith in the sea wall.
The people who have gotten out of the area are encountering scenes like this, long lines at gas stations, and these pictures from Josh Fahler who is in League City a little bit to the north there, and this is what they encounter here and moving away from I-report over to Houston transit, and we have been following this traffic, Wolf, all day with the cameras, and a few people steady traffic and checking in it is 7 miles per hour is how it is moving.
BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.
Let's go to the scene right now. Joining us on the phone is the police chief of Houston, Harold Hurtt.
Chief, thanks very much. How bad is the situation there, because you have millions of people who are deeply worried? CHIEF HAROLD HURTT, HOUSTON POLICE: Well, right now, we are moving 500,000 people out of the Galveston and Houston area where we think that the eye of the storm is going to come on land. I was up earlier in the helicopter today and looking at the evacuation routes and people are moving out better than they were in the last storm we had here. There are not a lot of stalled vehicles. They are not moving very fast, but they are able to get out of the area where the threat is mostly.
BLITZER: Because a lot of people remember what happened in hurricane Rita, when there was a mass evacuation from the Houston area, but I suspect that a lot of people worry that if they try to get into the car with families and few possessions and start driving, limited gas and limited number of hotel rooms if they get to a relatively safe area. Is that the biggest concern?
HURTT: Well, I think that may be the biggest concern, but people should know and we have been telling them for several months now that we have made arrangements to make sure that there are places that are going to provide gas and food, farm sis, any emergency needs. They will be available for people as they travel. We think that the public is much more enlightened this time than last time. They are not taking every family car, but taking what is need. Arrangements have been made for animals and pets and that was some reasons that some people didn't want to leave previously, and we still have some time. We think that the people that need to move out, the people who are in the immediate threat from water, we are telling the people that if there are dangers from water moving, and for wind, we are asking them to stay home and take cover, and that they should be okay.
BLITZER: What I hear you saying, Chief, and correct me if I am wrong, is that everyone in the Galveston area basically should get out of there as quickly as possible, but not necessarily everyone in the greater Houston area, is that is what you are saying?
HURTT: That is correct.
BLITZER: Why some people stay in Houston? Because it looks at least from the projection right now that the hurricane could be a category 1 if it goes over Houston?
HURTT: Well, right now, as far as, of course, Galveston is right on the water and the front, so they have to go out. Some parts of Houston, south part of Houston may be in some threat. Those people have been advised to leave the area, but the majority of the citizens in Houston should be exposed to some high winds and rain, and not the huge surges that are expected along the coast.
BLITZER: So that is why you used the half a million figure before, and you think about a half a million people should evacuate right now as opposed to the 4 million in the greater Houston area?
HURTT: That is correct.
BLITZER: And the biggest concern, chief, right now, what is your biggest concern? HURTT: Is the fact that people don't make the right choice to follow the instructions of the public safety warnings about it is time to leave, make sure they take this route, what equipment to take, make sure you check your vehicle and keep it full of gas, and use good common sense, because we still have some time. As you stated, we are looking at Saturday morning before the storm really hits. We are doing everything we can to keep in contact with the people in the community and public safety people are out. We have been in touch with FEMA, the mayor and the county judge has been talking. We are really doing a better job to keep the people informed in what to do and how to do it and when to do it.
BLITZER: Harold Hurtt is the police chief of Houston. Chief, good luck to you, and all of the people in Galveston and in Houston and that entire area. We are counting on you and everyone else to help everyone get through this really, really monstrous storm. Thank you very much.
HURTT: Thanks for your concern.
BLITZER: Thank you, chief. We will continue to watch what is happening with hurricane Ike.
Also, something that you may have never known about one of the vice presidential candidates. For Joe Biden it was a matter of life and death and became a life changing event. He speaks with CNN's Abbie Boudreau. Stand by for that.
Never-before-seen video of young John McCain after he was released from the notorious Hanoi Hilton prison in Vietnam. How the film was uncovered and all of that and more coming up on THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Biden marked the 9/11 anniversary today in suburban Cleveland with firefighters and police.
CNN's Abbie Boudreau is joining us now. a Abbie, you've had a chance to interview the senator. You are working on a documentary that will air this weekend and you discovered some fascinating details that a lot of us didn't know about Senator Biden.
ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he has had a lot of ups and downs. I asked Senator Biden about two life-threatening aneurysms that doctors found 20 years ago. He had been suffering these horrible headaches and pain and first thought it was just stress or something, but it turned out to be life-threatening aneurysms and he underwent two surgeries. Now after getting out of the hospital, he says he returned to Washington a changed man.
BOUDREAU: How did it change you?
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it gave me a lot more patience. I used to think that every single thing I did was absolutely critical, if I didn't make the meeting, if I didn't make it to the event, and it made me realize that there are very few individual things in your life short of life and death issues that matter, that are singular thing that will matter about what your life amounts to. So it gives me patience and I say they went in and clipped the temper cord when they went in the second time, because I find myself a lot more at ease with everything. I mean, I don't feel nearly as driven as I did before that happened. It just gave me a slightly different perspective.
BOUDREAU: Now I also interviewed his son Beau, about when he nearly lost his father and he still gets really emotional when he talks about remembering a priest and ministering last rights to his dad.
Now Wolf, this documentary of course, will examine Senator Biden's political record. But, it will do so much more than that. It will show you a side of him most people have not seen, that personal side that is so crucial to actually understanding who a person really is.
BLITZER: I can't wait to see it this weekend, Abbie. Thanks very much.
Also, Revealed will have a separate documentary on Sarah Palin. You can see all of those documentaries this weekend, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in probably ways you've never seen either one before. The candidates Revealed, Saturday night and Sunday night at 9 p.m. Eastern. That's when they start, 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.