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Fargo Braces For Flooding; North Korea's Controversial Missile Launch

Aired March 27, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's begin with the breaking news in Fargo, North Dakota right now. No one alive has ever seen a flooding crisis like the one playing out right now.

The Red River has risen higher than it's been in 112 years. It's more than 22 feet above flood stage, and it could rise another three feet before it crests, potentially, tomorrow.

Residents are bracing, ice cold weather to pile sandbags along the river, and more evacuations have been ordered. Thousands of people are affected.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is joining us now. He's following this breaking news story.

Ted, you're right there along the Red River right now, so just show us what's going on.


You can see how fast this river is moving and how high this river is. This normally would be a bridge with a huge amount of open space. And now you can see there is none. The water has come up all the way to the bottom of the bridge structure. And it is racing.

And that has officials worried about the dikes. They have gotten them to 43 feet, which is where they want it to be at this point, just before cresting. They're expecting the river to crest some time over the next 24 hours, and what they're going to be doing is going around. The National Guard is helping every two hours, looking at the spots in the dikes. So far, there haven't been any significant problems. They're going to be doing that all through the night.

Residents are also being asked, if they see any water, call immediately. Right now, it's a game of wait and see. And a lot of people are crossing their fingers and praying for the best -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by, Ted. We're going to get back to you.

I want to head to deeper in the flood zone right now. On the river, some of those emergency officials are checking on residents who are most at serious risk.

Our senior all platform journalist Chris Welch is in Fargo watching this part of the story.

What's the Coast Guard doing, Chris? What are residents doing right now?

CHRIS WELCH, CNN ALL PLATFORM CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the other day, the Coast Guard began patrolling areas where the river has risen.

And, actually, it's a scary thought, because the river has risen, but it's also started freezing on the top. So, now you have got chunks of ice, a pretty thick layer of ice. And it just keeps rising.

And in the area I was in today in north Fargo, things could even keep rising for another two feet. Even though here in central Fargo, it may stay relatively steady, things are getting serious up north, and they're hoping to get people out as quickly as they can.

BLITZER: Are people willing to evacuate, Chris?

WELCH: Well, that's the tricky situation, because what the Coast Guard's running into are people who frankly aren't willing just yet to leave their homes. You can't really blame them. It's hard to leave their homes.

But the city and the Coast Guard are saying, look, some of these waters are so cold. And they're rising very quickly. They're moving very fast. Please come with us and get out.

And we ran into a few people today when I spent time with the Coast Guard on a boat just a little while ago, and they were encouraging people to get on the boat with them. They even found people wading around in this knee-deep frigid water. They said, no, we're not going to wait it out.

BLITZER: All right, Chris, stand by.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is looking at some I-Reports from residents who are preparing for these floods.

Tell us what they're showing us.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these are people who have been desperately trying to protect their homes in the last few days working 24/7, around the clock, on this effort.

We're going to the Rose Creek development. This is the southern part of Fargo right now. Look at the pictures overnight. This is an area that's already been heavily sandbagged, but, throughout the night, throughout the snow, they were providing an extra line of defense, just in case the sandbags aren't enough.

It's an effort that's been going throughout the afternoon, says Kevin Johnson, our I-Reporter who sent us this picture. He says now the residents are really just watching and waiting what will happen next.

BLITZER: And right across the Red River from Fargo is Moorhead, Minnesota, which is in some danger as well.

TATTON: That's the neighboring city, and we're taking you now to an area that's under an evacuation order.

This is from Jen Sondag. She's been sending pictures throughout the week of the efforts going on there. A house right alongside the river there, you can see it's right up against the Red River. And Jen sent us these pictures from a family friend's house, the picture of what's going on inside.


JENNIFER SONDAG, I-REPORTER: Today, they are working on packing up their basement and moving as much as they can upstairs, because, in 1997, our last big flood, the water came up to about here.


TATTON: Wolf, all these stories coming out, they're all online at

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi.

I want to get right to the governor of North Dakota, John Hoeven. He's joining us now live.

Governor, we spoke 24 hours ago. You were deeply concerned, as all of us are. How worried are you about that so-called worst-case scenario?

GOV. JOHN HOEVEN (R), NORTH DAKOTA: You know, Wolf, our people are doing an outstanding job.

They're building this flood protection in anticipation of a crest in the next day or so. But, at the same time, we're preparing for other contingencies, too. We already -- have are in the process of evacuating vulnerable populations.

By that, I mean people that are in the hospitals, nursing homes. Other older people or younger people that may be at risk are evacuating on a voluntary basis, developmentally disabled.

We have activated our evacuation plan, so that people that need assistance and do want to leave, maybe in low-lying areas, that's ongoing.


BLITZER: Governor, let me interrupt for a moment and ask you, right now, it's at, what, 40 feet? It could crest at 41 or 42. If it goes up to 42, walk us through what happens to your community. The city of Fargo, for example, has 100,000 people.


Right now, we're at about 40.6 feet over the flood stage. And the projection is to go up around 42. As a matter of fact, I was just but in a helicopter reviewing the situation, along with the mayor and our adjutant general and others. And that's why we have set a contingency plan in place for helping people evacuate, should it come to that. And, as of right now, people that are in areas, lower-lying areas that are on the riverside of the backup dikes or the contingency dikes, some of the folks, we have said, you may want to voluntarily evacuate.

In addition, we are evacuating the vulnerable populations, like I talked about. So, that's an ongoing part of process.

BLITZER: All right.

HOEVEN: At the same time, though, making sure that we're monitoring these dikes and doing our very best to prevent the flooding.

BLITZER: Governor, good luck to you and to everyone out in North Dakota and neighboring Minnesota. We will be staying in close touch.

HOEVEN: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: All right, let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Have you filed your taxes yet?


CAFFERTY: Well, you better get going, partner.


BLITZER: It's not until April 15.

CAFFERTY: Well, I understand, but the deadline is approaching.


CAFFERTY: I'm just here to help.


BLITZER: I'm get them in every year by April 15.



CAFFERTY: Do you usually get a refund?

BLITZER: Sometimes.

CAFFERTY: How big?


CAFFERTY: President Obama's tackling tax reform, creating a task force to propose ways to simplify the tax code. Yes, that will happen. He wants to reduce tax evasion, close loopholes, make changes in corporate tax breaks. But the main goal, boys and girls, is to raise revenue.

The task force is headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, has only a couple of constraints. The president says you can't propose tax increases for 2009 and 2010. And, after 2010, you can't raise taxes on families that make less than $250,000.

It's estimated there's a $300-billion-a-year tax gap, which is the difference between what taxpayers owe and what they actually pay. And the biggest reason for this gap is under-reporting of income. This isn't always intentional, it says here. Sometimes, it comes from honest mistakes by filers who are confused by a very complex tax code.

"Your Honor, I just didn't understand the tax code."

The group is also expected to suggest ways to simplify different kinds of tax credits. The task force on taxes will present its proposals to the president in December. Then it will be a question of getting Congress to sign off on any changes.

So, here's the question. Give these folks a little help. What changes would you make to the income tax laws?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

Do you do your own taxes?


BLITZER: No, I have an accountant.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Just curious.


North Korea on the verge of a contentious missile launch. The Obama administration could have just minutes to decide whether to try to shoot it down. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, he is THE SITUATION ROOM shedding light on the decision and the danger.

Also, they voiced their outrage at government bailouts. Now it turns out some of these same lawmakers got donations from employees of the companies rescued with your taxpayer dollars.

And critical new details of that boating accident that killed two NFL players now revealed. What caused their vessel to capsize?


BLITZER: All right.

We're back with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. And Tom Foreman is here, as well.

Afghanistan a huge problem, but North Korea right now a huge problem for the United States, indeed, for a lot of our allies, as well. The suspected missile that they're getting ready to launch, an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Admiral, show us what's going on.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Well, basically, what they have declared is a time from the 4th to the 8th of April. We've seen them -- and, Tom, you can bring up just one of those images -- we've seen them stack the boosters.

And -- and there's an expectation, even though that, you know, they -- the North Koreans say this is a satellite launch, what is of most concern to us is we believe it violates the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718. You can see here -- here's the missile itself. Or here's -- I'm sorry...



MULLEN: Right.

FOREMAN: A lot of cloud cover, but that's the site.

MULLEN: And you can see the shadow right here that it casts.

BLITZER: But the question is this. They say, the North Koreans, Kim Jong Il, this is a missile, yes, but it's designed to launch a commercial satellite and poses no danger to anyone.

MULLEN: The United Nations Resolution 1718 says very clearly that the technology supporting the development of ballistic missiles is counter -- is against that resolution, no matter what their package is.

BLITZER: You believe they do have a satellite on that missile?

MULLEN: I actually believe that -- so far, that they intend to do this in the 4th to 8th. What concerns me is the guidance, the engineering, the engines, those are all identical to the kinds of capabilities you'd put on a ballistic missile.

FOREMAN: So you're saying it's -- it doesn't matter what's sitting on top of this missile here. The missile itself is actually the issue?

MULLEN: That's correct.

FOREMAN: The fact that what's sitting down here in this shadow, but we really can't tell what's sitting up top here. MULLEN: No, but the technology that -- that takes this potentially into space is the same technology...

BLITZER: And let's just set the scene for potentially what this means. You think this is a long-range missile, that intercontinental ballistic missile that could actually reach the United States?

MULLEN: Not -- this one, don't know for sure. Basically, what we're seeing, based on what's stacked so far, probably -- probably not. But this works towards the technology clearly that would be able to do that.

BLITZER: You have two options, as far as I can tell, if you wanted to use military options. You either launch a preemptive strike and just destroy that facility right now, which the U.S. certainly has that capability, or you wait until it takes off and then you blow it out of the sky.

MULLEN: Well, I think, actually, I'm not going to talk specifically about options and what we might do. Clearly, we -- we're concerned about what he's doing. I'm very concerned about his history of proliferation of this kind of technology.

Again, there are an awful lot of people who have spoken out strongly, diplomatically and internationally, against what he's doing. And I think it will be very disturbing to the region and -- and potentially with where this could go long term, he can develop a system that could actually target us.

BLITZER: I just want to point out that you are moving some ships, some destroyers into the Sea of Japan. Is that right?

MULLEN: There are certainly precautions that were taken. And I think I saw earlier today some of the ships that we're moving out of Japanese home ports...

BLITZER: U.S. ships?

MULLEN: United States ships.

BLITZER: Because the Japanese supposedly are moving ships, as well. And there's been some speculation they might decide to try to destroy that missile.

MULLEN: Well, each of the country's...

FOREMAN: The missile site's up here, right?

MULLEN: Correct. And so, you know, a launch here could, you know, very clearly go over Japan, which is out here. And, obviously, the Japanese are very concerned.

He's -- he's done this before. And, in fact, the one in 2006 failed, and -- and there was debris from that. And just the debris alone, you know, can be a threat to people in this area. FOREMAN: How technologically capable are the Japanese -- because they made some noise about this -- if they're sitting over here with a warship, what capability do they have to shoot down a missile launch from here?

MULLEN: We've -- we've looked at what the technology is that -- that the North Koreans are development -- developing, and we work very hard to be able to address that from an overall readiness perspective. But I'm not going to go into the details of our capabilities at this particular point in time.

BLITZER: I'm going to show our viewers -- Tom, if you could show us the U. S. , the United States and North Korea, these are thousands and thousands of miles away.

MULLEN: Right.

BLITZER: And the question has always been, do -- would the North Koreans have a capability of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile, potentially with a nuclear warhead, on U.S. soil, whether in Alaska or the West Coast of the United States?

MULLEN: This -- this missile, which he says he's going to launch here in a few days...

BLITZER: Show us.

MULLEN: ... is on -- is on the path to do exactly that, to get it in space and -- and, in fact, be able eventually, with the technology, to reach the United States and very specifically threaten us.

BLITZER: Show us a line of how...


BLITZER: ... could potentially happen.

MULLEN: Yes, I mean, clearly, from here, you know, all the way over here would be one particular arc.

FOREMAN: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland?

MULLEN: Sure. I mean...

FOREMAN: It's that -- it's that capable?

BLITZER: They have that -- they have that range?

MULLEN: They don't have it -- no, they don't have it now that we know of, in terms of the missiles that we've seen, but you add to this missile that they're proving out right now, and they will have it. And your point, Wolf, is the package could be a nuclear weapon, which we know he has.

FOREMAN: Do they have the range so far to reach this far, Hawaii, Alaska?

MULLEN: In -- in some -- in some cases, yes, they could probably get -- they could probably get down to Hawaii.

FOREMAN: So this is not an impossible shot for what we believe they currently have and up here?

MULLEN: Well, within -- I mean, within range of what possibly could happen, you know, is the possibility, depending, obviously, what they do, that it could head for Hawaii.

BLITZER: One final question, political question. Kim Jong Il, the ruler over there, is he still in charge? Or are there others now who are really controlling what's going on, based on what the United States knows?

MULLEN: Everything I have seen is he's still in charge.

BLITZER: So he would make this decision if, in fact, as some have suggested, he would want to test the new American president?

MULLEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Kim Jong Il. Admiral, good luck to you.

MULLEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

MULLEN: Good to see you. Thanks.

BLITZER: A top Senate Democrat is now raising some red flags about President Obama's new war strategy in Afghanistan. I will ask Senator Russ Feingold about his concerns.

And some lawmakers have railed loudest against corporate greed. Guess what? Some of them also may have taken checks of their own from employees of those bailed-out companies.

And some Republicans boasting they're making a comeback, now that President Bush, the former president of the United States, isn't dragging them down.


BLITZER: A lot of harsh words and fuming on Capitol Hill in recent days and weeks, a new round of backlash over government bailouts. Critics say some lawmakers may be protesting too much, given their own history of taking cash.

We asked Brian Todd to take a closer look into this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have combed through the records of about nine firms that received political contributions from employees that have given -- whose employees have given political contributions to congressmen. Each of these firms got about a billion dollars in bailout money since October.

And, just last month, some of the congressmen who have been most vocal about the bailout got some pretty good money from those companies.



TODD (voice-over): They seem as outraged at the bailout recipients as the rest of us.

POMEROY: You are disgraced, professional losers. And, by the way, give us our money back.

TODD: But Democratic Congressman Earl Pomeroy got $1,000 last month from employees of one of those bailed-out firms, Chrysler. That's according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: More bailouts is not a prescription for economic recovery. It's a prescription for further economic decline.

TODD: Republican Congressman Mike Pence, whose political action committee also got $1,000 last month from employees of Chrysler.

Congressional leaders have done even better.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Nobody in America wants all of this money to be given to our financial institutions in the form of a bailout.

TODD: But employees of three of those institutions, Bank of America, Bancorp, and American Express, gave House Republican Leader John Boehner or his political action committee $11,500 just last month.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: A binge of irresponsibility and greed.

TODD: Records show Democratic House Leader Steny Hoyer or his political action got $6,500 from Bank of America employees in February. Just that month, employees of nine firms getting bailout money gave more than $170,000 in contributions to members of Congress or their political action committees.

None of this is illegal. But a watchdog group which monitors campaign money says it sure doesn't look good.

MASSIE RITSCH, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: Congress just doesn't get it. Americans are not going to believe their anger at Wall Street, when, during the day, they're yelling at these companies, then, at night, they're taking money from them.


TODD: Now, we called and e-mailed the offices of Congressmen Hoyer, Boehner, Pence, and Pomeroy.

An aide to Hoyer said he doesn't pick and choose between legal contributions because they don't affect his decisions. An aide to Boehner emphasized his contributions were from individual employees of those companies, not bailout money the companies got, and also said it didn't affect his decisions.

We didn't hear back from Pence's office. An aid to Pomeroy said his outrage was directed more at AIG, but that accepting Chrysler employees' contributions while they're getting bailout money is not appropriate and he will be returning that money -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There are some members who are simply refusing to accept money from employees or others associated with these companies.

TODD: That's right. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank say they're not going to take any money from employees of companies who are getting bailed out as long as this whole thing is going on. It's pretty much a -- it's a hot rod for politicians right now.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Brian, thanks very much.

Secret records about a potential threat to airliners after the miracle on the Hudson -- why is information being kept under wraps?

Plus, a top Republican boasts his party is on the comeback trail, now that George Bush is out of the White House. Could the GOP reclaim control of Congress in a mere two years? The best political team on television is standing by.

And Senate Democrats' warnings about the president's new war strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: What you're essentially doing is potentially creating sitting ducks for a situation that hasn't been handled in Pakistan.



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

Happening now: After days of surges, the stock market fell sharply today. The Dow finished down 148 points. Analysts say the pullback is a natural response to the market's climb this month.

Investigators say inexperience contributed to that boating accident that killed two NFL players and their friend. A new report says the boat was improperly anchored and capsized in the Gulf of Mexico when one man tried to free the anchor.

The FAA wants bird strike damage records kept secret. A collision with geese forced a U.S. Airways flight to land in the Hudson River back in January. The Associated Press reports, the FAA fears the public could misinterpret bird strike information.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, let's back to our top story, the flooding up in North Dakota, a city of 100,000 people, Fargo, North Dakota, now in danger.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

You're getting word on military action. Barbara, what are you hearing?


CNN can now report that the U.S. military, the Pentagon getting involved in this very significant relief effort for the people of Fargo, North Dakota, a U.S. military official now confirming to CNN that 15 helicopters from the active-duty military, not the National Guard, 15 helicopters on their way to Fargo to help move people, supplies, help with the evacuation.

In addition, active-duty military personnel, what we are told is a contingency response force, will be sending some personnel to Fargo. Not clear at this point how many active-duty personnel. The reason, the National Guard there is becoming rapidly overwhelmed. The Pentagon is going to lend a hand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good for them. All right, thanks very much. They need all the help they can get.

Barbara is over at the Pentagon.

President Obama is vowing to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat terrorists in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan. Today, he unveiled his new war strategy in the region. And he gave the order to send in an additional 4,000 troops to train Afghan forces.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Wisconsin, the Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. He's a key member of the Intelligence Committee, as well as the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: You were very critical of the administration in recent weeks for deciding to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan before they even completed their overall strategic review. Now they've completed their review. They released it today.

Was it a good idea to send those 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan?

FEINGOLD: Well, not at this time. I was not very critical of the administration. I merely asked questions about why we would be doing that before we completed our review.

And now I hear the results of the review very well stated by the president -- President Obama. And he made it very clear that he needed to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan. And he obviously understands that Pakistan is what is driving this situation, both with regard to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So why would we have a large troop buildup of 17,000 troops plus now announce 4,000 more for training troops in Afghanistan if, as the president says, Osama bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri, as well as the Taliban leadership that used to be in Afghanistan are in Pakistan?

It doesn't make a lot of sense before you've actually had the steps that need to be taken in Pakistan...

BLITZER: Well, what...

FEINGOLD: crack down on these guys.

BLITZER: What needs to be done in...

FEINGOLD: We have a buildup in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Well, what needs to be done by the U.S. in Pakistan right now in order to satisfy your concerns?

FEINGOLD: Well, the president has announced a number of very valuable steps -- putting maximum pressure on helping the Pakistanis, if they're willing to, to go after these safe havens in the Northwest Territories, and particularly in the FATA Region west of the Northwest Territories; potentially south of there, in Baluchistan -- making sure the government is supported and that there's some economic opportunities for people in that region.

So I don't really have a bone to pick with what President Obama is saying we should do in Pakistan. I'd like to see more done. But it's the sequencing. In other words, if you put 17,000 or 20,000 troops -- tens of thousands of troops -- for over a total of some 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, what you're essentially doing is potentially creating sitting ducks for a situation that hasn't been handled in Pakistan.

And already the Taliban, as reported publicly in "The New York Times," is saying we are preparing for the presence of these 17,000 troops.

Now where is this planning going on?

Principally in Pakistan. BLITZER: But the U.S. is not going to de...

FEINGOLD: So a strategy that puts a big military...

BLITZER: I was going to say, the U.S. is not going to deploy troops in Pakistan. The Pakistani government wouldn't accept that.

FEINGOLD: That's the point. You don't want to put our troops as sitting ducks for a situation in Afghanistan when you're not going to be able to invade Pakistan.

What you have to do is get the Pakistani government, with our help, to crack down on Al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan...

BLITZER: I see...

FEINGOLD: ...before you put our troops in harm's way. In other words, what you do is harden the opposition. You increase the appeal of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, because we look -- we are the occupies, in their view. And what you do is increase the radicalization not only of Afghanistan, but even more dangerously, the radicalization of Pakistan.

So the president's overall view on this seems absolutely correct. And some people, like Carl Levin, my friend, Senator Levin, says hey, you know, we might not be able to deal with Pakistan, we can just handle Afghanistan. I completely disagree. Pakistan is central to this. It's what's driving the situation...

BLITZER: All right...

FEINGOLD: And to just look at Afghanistan is to really stove pipe it and not understand the dynamic between the two countries.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers are deeply concerned about what's going on. I want to play for you this iReporter's comment and question. This is Nino Larocca (ph) from Queens, New York.

Listen to this and I'll get your reaction.


NINO LAROCCA, IREPORTER: I do not support you, Obama, on sending troops to Afghanistan. You're sending kids that have a whole life ahead of them to a death sentence. That's what it is.


BLITZER: Does he have a point?

FEINGOLD: Well, obviously. It could be necessary to send more troops into Afghanistan. But the gentleman has a point, that if we don't have a clear idea of why the troops are going to Afghanistan, if they are not going to a place where Osama bin Laden actually is, where the Taliban leadership is actually driving this, what is the point of having them be in situations where they can be attacked, if that's not the central problem?

The president really had it right rhetorically when he said the key here is -- and he mentioned Pakistan and discussed Pakistan first. The key is first trying to push Pakistan to resolve these issues that are within their own borders and not put unlimited numbers of troops without an exit strategy into Afghanistan. I think it is not a fair thing to do to our troops. And it is not the priority in terms of this situation.

BLITZER: Some have suggested that Afghanistan, for President Obama, could be what Vietnam was for LBJ -- for President Johnson. You lived through that era.

Is that a fair analysis, God forbid, potentially?

FEINGOLD: President Obama is not going to let that happen. He showed it clearly that he understands that the issue here is getting Pakistan to control Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Taliban elements that are helping them. He understands it.

The only concern I have is that somehow the military side of the equation has too much influence here, between General Petraeus and the Armed Services Committee and others. They somehow were able to get into this policy a commitment to greatly increase our troops in Afghanistan in a way that I think is premature and possibly not necessary.

But I do not believe that President Obama will let this go on indefinitely. He understands the risks. And, most importantly, he understands better than any of these other people what the real issue here is. And the issue is the enemy is based in Pakistan. That's the key.

BLITZER: Senator Feingold, thanks very much for coming in.

FEINGOLD: Good to be on.

BLITZER: The Republican Senate leader -- he's speaking rather bluntly about President Bush, the former president of the United States, calling him now: "a millstone around the party's neck."

Can the GOP make a comeback with him gone?

The best political team on television is standing by.


BLITZER: President Obama today taking ownership of the war in Afghanistan, sounding very much like President Bush almost six years ago.

Listen to this.


GEORGE BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our CNN national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin; our CNN political contributor Steve Hayes of "The Weekly Standard;" and our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin.

What do you think, Jessica?

The speech that he delivered today, the president of the United States, could the former president -- with the exception of a few sentences -- have delivered basically the same speech?

YELLIN: There are some striking parallels, Wolf. And it's a problem area for Barack Obama.

President Obama, though, has -- will tell you -- and his officials tell us that the clear difference, in their view, is that they have a narrow justification for this war. It is not democracy building. It is about going after Al Qaeda.

The problem is President Bush also had a narrow focus for his war in Iraq and that evolved.

So there are some tricky areas for him right here. But some of the language recently has been very reminiscent of some of President Bush's words.

BLITZER: Steve, listen to these two additional little excerpts from today's speech.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Iraq, we had success in reaching out to former adversaries to isolate and target Al Qaeda In Iraq. We must pursue a similar process in Afghanistan.

Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable.


BLITZER: All right. He was sort of -- at least in the first part of that little sound bite, seemed to be saying you know what, the strategy -- at least the so-called strategy -- worked.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes. It was very interesting to hear that language out of him today. And I would disagree with him on whether that can be applied the same way in Afghanistan -- not necessarily reaching out to the Taliban. I think there are significant problems with doing that.

But overall, it was a very good speech. I mean I think this was a very positive first step for him.

What I think we will have to watch -- and watch very closely in the coming weeks and probably years -- is whether he can withstand pressure from his left politically here to pull out when things get tough. And I think with this kind of increase in troop numbers and the kind of counter narcotics strategy that they're likely to be pursuing, we will see, I think, a spike in -- in violence and he'll have to stand tough at that point.

BLITZER: Roland, he's getting a lot of praise from conservatives...


BLITZER: ...out there. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate; our own Bill Bennett, in the last hour, praising him. You hear Steve Hayes praising him.

The left, on the other hand, they get nervous.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, the left needs to remember who actually struck the United States on 9/11, in terms of where they were training. It was Al Qaeda. The left needs to be reminded that they talked about that Bush should not have gone into Iraq, that we should have went after the people who attacked us on September 11, 2001.

And so the left needs to get a grip here, OK?

Al Qaeda, the base of operation is in Afghanistan. That's where we need to be. That's where our focus should be. So the president is absolutely right.

So, the people on the left -- so what do they want to do, do nothing when it comes to terrorism?

That's nonsense.

BLITZER: Listen to Senator Mitch McConnell, Jessica.

He's now poised -- at least he thinks he is -- for the Republicans to start thinking of a comeback.

Listen to this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: President Bush had become extremely unpopular. And politically, he was kind of a millstone around our -- our necks in both '06 and '08. We now have the opportunity to be on offense, to offer our own ideas. And we will win some.


BLITZER: All right. I mean I thought that was pretty blunt, describing the former president as "a millstone around our necks."

YELLIN: Yes, I hear from a lot of Republicans on the Hill that there is a huge amount of teeth gnashing over what happened the last eight years, that there's a growing sense of frustration that President Bush put them, they view, in the position that they're in; that they went along with big spending too often. And they want to put as much distance as possible -- as they can from President Bush.

The problem, Wolf, is that the numbers just aren't good for the Republican Party come 2010. Nineteen Republicans are up for reelection versus 15 Democrats. So the numbers are just against the senators.

A lot of those Republicans are in states where Barack Obama won the state. So that already hurts them.

The one issue that could help Republicans is the economy. If this economy is in double digit unemployment when this election rolls around, they could see some pickup. Mitch McConnell could be right.

BLITZER: Some Republicans say it's sort of unseemly for the current Republican leadership to be criticizing the former president.

Steve, what do you think?

HAYES: I don't know. I didn't really take that as a criticism so much as an accurate description of the past two election cycles. I mean I don't think any Republican or conservative or really any sane political observer would say that President Bush wasn't a liability in the past two election cycles.

So I think he's actually just stating reality and talking about the way that he sees Republicans going forward.

You know, I think Jessica's right. It's a tough uphill fight in 2010, given the numbers and given the president's continued popularity.

BLITZER: How worried should the Democrats be, Roland, about a Republican come back.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, the Democrats should be concerned, because when you are in power, when you have the House and the Senate and the White House, all eyes are now on you. The opportunity for the Republicans -- this is where, frankly, that yesterday, in the ridiculous so-called budget they put out, which was a joke -- I mean, if they begin to offer some true alternatives harkening back to the Contract With America with Newt Gingrich, if they begin to have that kind of energy and focus, folks may start perking up. But right now, they really aren't saying anything. And so (INAUDIBLE) to have to see the Democrats sort of, you know, fall behind when it comes to the economy and their leadership, but, also, Republican ideas could help them gain some seats -- not take over, but gain some seats.

BLITZER: All right.

Roland -- Roland starts filling in for Campbell Brown on Monday, by the way, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, while she's on maternity leave.

Roland, good luck.

We'll be watching.

MARTIN: Thanks so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: What changes would you make to the income tax laws?

That's our question to you this hour.

Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.

Plus we'll have more news, coming up.


LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Coming up at the top of the hour on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," urgent talks are underway among the United States, Japan and South Korea, as North Korea is preparing to launch a ballistic missile. It is on the launching pad now and could reach the United States.

Also tonight, the worst flooding in more than a century, sweeping through Fargo, North Dakota. The mayor vowing that if we're going down, we're going down swinging. But the worst is yet to come.

Also tonight, a follow-up to our report on nail salons and spas using flesh-eating fish for pedicures -- a potentially dangerous procedure that could lead to very serious infections. We'll have that story.

And among my guests today, Congressman Thaddeus McCotter on the AIG bonus mess and Professor George Grayson, a leading expert on U.S.- Mexico relations and why our secretary of State is blaming the United States for drug cartel violence in Mexico.

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour.

THE SITUATION ROOM returns in just a moment.


BLITZER: Zain Verjee is monitoring some other important stories right now incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- Zain, what's going on? VERJEE: Wolf, President Obama has nominated former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus to be the secretary of the Navy. Mabus served as governor in the late '80s and early '90s. The 60-year-old Democrat was also an ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President Clinton. The secretary of the Navy is the civilian leader of the service and is responsible for things like recruiting, mobilizing, overseeing ship construction and repair.

An ash cloud shot more than nine miles high today. Take a look at this, after yet another eruption at an Alaska volcano. Today's blast follows several eruptions over the last few days. Forecasters are warning about possible falling ash. The volcano exploded back to life on Sunday on after almost two decades of silence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, stand by for a moment.

I want to bring Jack Cafferty in -- Jack, before we do The Cafferty File, we've got some important information we want to share with our viewers right now involving Zain Verjee.

The good news -- Zain is going off to London to become an anchor of a brand new CNN International morning show that will debut fairly soon. The bad news, Jack, she's leaving THE SITUATION ROOM and heading off to London. And we're going to miss her terribly.

I know you want to say goodbye.

CAFFERTY: Well, she's


CAFFERTY: She's one of the original outlaws on this program. It was you...


CAFFERTY: You and me and Zain and I think Mary Snow and Ali Velshi started with us on this thing about four years...

BLITZER: And Brian. Don't forget Brian Todd.

CAFFERTY: Brian Todd. But the -- the up side is that everybody will understand you in London, because you'll sound just like they do.


BLITZER: Can you say some of those words?

VERJEE: Now, at least I can do that. I can say schedule.

CAFFERTY: Schedule?

VERJEE: I can say controversy.


VERJEE: I can say garage. And...

CAFFERTY: Say goodbye.


VERJEE: Thanks, Jack.


VERJEE: Jack, you can come and visit London any time. I'll take you to see the queen. I'll teach you to say jolly good show, old chap.

Can you do that?

CAFFERTY: Can I stay at your place?



VERJEE: No, you can't.

BLITZER: All right...

CAFFERTY: Then I'm not coming.

VERJEE: I'll put you up in a cheap hotel.


BLITZER: We'll have plenty of opportunity...

CAFFERTY: A flop house will do.


BLITZER: Zain will still come via satellite into THE SITUATION ROOM, hopefully, from time to time, as well.

VERJEE: Thanks, Jackie.

CAFFERTY: Good luck, Zain.

BLITZER: We wish Zain only the best.

VERJEE: Thank you.


BLITZER: All right, Jack, let's get to The Cafferty File.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is -- what changes would you make to the income tax laws?

Anna says: "That's easy. Set a percentage, say 10 percent. Set it for everybody -- no loopholes, no deductions, straight percentage, no matter what your income, everybody pays the same percentage."

Jim in Colorado: "Simplification would be the absolute rule in income tax changes. Eliminate all of the confusing deductions and percentage rules, etc. Most of the complicated rules favor the ones who are bending those rules. Simplification favors the low end of the income tax scale and also favors those who cannot afford costly accountants who specialize in loopholes."

Bob in Florida: "Changes that should be made returning to a 39 percent top tax rate, having hedge fund managers' compensation taxed as regular income, instead of being taxed at the 15 percent capital gains rate, taxing adjusted gross incomes under $200,000 at a flat 10 percent and top it off by removing the income cap on wages taxed for Social Security."

S. In Michigan: "A flat rate tax across the board for all, no sales tax on goods. You want to see the economy take off, that's what we need -- a one page tax code."

Stan says: "I would create a federal sales tax. The benefits are it would be easy to administer, streamline the IRS, encourage savings, eliminate the underground economy and be fair to all. Those are some reasons we'll never see this. Some will argue it penalizes the poor and lower income because they spend 100 percent of their money out of necessity, but the benefits far outweigh the down side."

And finally, Kenny in Illinois: "Anything over $5 million a year, I would impose a 90 percent tax on. Simply put, if you can't live on $5 million every year, you're doing something so incredibly stupid you don't deserve to have that kind of money anyway."

Go to my blog, and look for yours there among hundreds of others.

And once more, best of luck to our food friend Zain, as she leaves us for greener pastures, a bigger paycheck and friendlier surroundings.


VERJEE: Thank you, Jack.

You know I adore you. He's not as crazy and as cranky as he seems.


VERJEE: He's a darling.

CAFFERTY: What's...


CAFFERTY: ...adore?


BLITZER: All right, guys...

VERJEE: Well, um...

BLITZER: ...enough of this. Enough of this.

VERJEE: Well, let me -- let me just (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Good luck. Zain, good luck in London.

VERJEE: I thank you.

BLITZER: You'll come visit us in THE SITUATION ROOM from time to time.

VERJEE: I will. I will.

BLITZER: Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual report. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Some of this hour's Hot Shots.

Jeanne Moss has a Moost Unusual story of one man's allegedly very chilly relationship with his dead mother.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what you call a cold story. A son is arrested for allegedly preserving his dead mother in a freezer for a year-and-a-half, as he lived off her Social Security checks. The two lived together in this Cooks Falls, New York home until 98-year-old Herta Auslander died of natural causes.

Her son Roland scraped by, living off her Social Security funds until a bank got suspicious and called police, who found Mrs. Auslander in a freezer on the porch -- shades of "Psycho," minus the murder angle.





MOOS: Forget Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Auslander's son faces charges of grand larceny and unlawful disposal of human remains, though his lawyer says he already paid back $15,000 to Social Security.

(on camera): How could a son just freeze his mother? GERALD ORSECK, AUSLANDER'S ATTORNEY: Look, he says that he didn't have money for the funeral and what he wanted to do is wait until he had money for the funeral.

MOOS (voice-over): The story got the wheels of our mind turning back to the infamous dead man cashing incident a year or so ago. Two New York City men put their apparently put their dead city friend in an office chair and wheeled him down Ninth Avenue to a check cashing store to try and cash his $355 check.

(on camera): One little complication to the plan -- unlike this chair, the one guys were using to wheel their buddy had no arms, so it was tough just keeping him in the chair.

(voice-over): This one recalls "Weekend At Bernie's," the movie where a couple of guys prop up their dead boss in his luxury beach house.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll see you later, guys.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye-bye, ladies. We'll see you later.


MOOS: The New York incident inspired a scene in "Law and Order".



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So watch the plugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the wrong defense (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, sir, officer. He had too much to drink, that's all.


MOOS: In the real life incident, the charges against the dead man's two buddies were dismissed because the exact time of death couldn't be established and his friends said they didn't realize he was actually dead.




MOOS: These days, your body may be cold, but that doesn't mean your assets are frozen.

Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.


BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne.

And remember, THE SITUATION ROOM now six days a week. Tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, our exclusive interview with the NATO secretary general.

Are the NATO Allies doing enough in Afghanistan?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.