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Shooting Rampage, Hostage Crisis; President Obama's Euro Campaign; Worst Ahead in Afghanistan

Aired April 3, 2009 - 15:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we're continuing the breaking news. "A brutal attack of innocent people," that's what the New York governor says after a gunman ignites a shooting spree, killing many and taking others hostage.

Also, "Yes, we can" could become "No, they won't." Just ahead of the NATO summit, can President Obama convince European leaders of major troop increases for Afghanistan?

And they looked like rock star receptions for the president in Europe, but will he keep feeling the love amid some very blunt talk?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.


And the breaking news this hour, bullets and blood at a center for immigrants in upstate New York. A man walked in with a high-powered rifle, seizing hostages and taking lives. We're told more than a dozen people are dead, including the gunman.

We're standing by for a news conference. The mayor of Binghamton, New York, and others expected to speak and answer reporters' questions.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York following this story for us.

All right, Mary, for viewers who might just be tuning in, tell us what happened.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's start with the very latest information we have to report.

A government source telling CNN the death toll is 13 and five people were injured and taking to local hospitals. The same source says the gunman was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Now, CNN also confirms from a law enforcement source that the gunman did have an I.D. saying he was 42 years old and he was from upstate New York.

Now, this is sound from just a little while ago from Governor David Paterson, the governor of New York, giving an update on the incident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: An individual went into an American Civic Services Center at 135 Front Street in Binghamton and has killed 12 or 13 people. This is a horrible situation.

There's no available data on what's going on there, other than the fact that lives have been lost. And there is absolutely no reason or excuse for this kind of shooting and brutal attack of innocent people right here in New York State.

And so on behalf of the residents of New York, and I'm sure Americans and people around the world, we'd like to extend our prayers to the citizens of Binghamton and to the families who have been obviously traumatized by this event. And I'd like to ask for a moment of silence to that effect.


SNOW: That briefing was more than an hour ago. We do know now, Wolf, as we said, that sources are saying that 13 have been killed.

The incident began at around 10:30 this morning, when a gunman entered the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York, upstate New York. It's an immigration support center.

"The Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin" reports a gunman with a rifle entered the front door of the building after blocking the back entrance with his car. Now, there were reports that roughly 40 people had been taken hostage.

By noon, "The Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin" reports about 10 people came out of the building with their hands on their heads. About 40 minutes later, another 10, clad in white sheets, came out of the back of the building.

By 1:00 in the afternoon, affiliate WBNG TV reported that two men were taken away in plastic handcuffs. Now, affiliate News 10 now quotes the Binghamton police chief as saying the two men who were taken into custody were not suspects, that they were taken into custody as a precaution.

"The Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin" also reports the incident was over about 2:40, and by that time, a S.W.A.T. team was making sure there were no people inside the building. We do know during this ordeal, a spokesman from the Broome Community College tells us there was a request from the Binghamton police to find a faculty member fluent in Vietnamese to communicate with the shooter.

Now, nearby apartment buildings were evacuated. There's a high school around the corner from the American Civic Association. That had been put on lockdown.

And we're expecting an update at 4:30 this afternoon. The Binghamton mayor, Matthew Ryan, will then hold a news conference -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so far, even though there is a name of this suspected shooter out there, we're not reporting that name because we want to make sure we have it right? Is that right, Mary?

SNOW: That is correct. Up until now, we are not -- we have not named that suspect.

BLITZER: OK. Stand by. There's a lot more coming in on this story.

Indeed, the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, says America must find a way to stop the kind of violence we're seeing in Binghamton today. He spoke just a short while ago in New York.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd ask you to keep all those folks in your prayers. It's a prayerful community, and I think it's time that we've got to figure a way to deal with this senseless, senseless violence.


BLITZER: The vice president speaking at the Reverend Al Sharpton's civil rights organization in New York City just a little while ago.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

We're getting iReports coming in from Binghamton. I just want to let our viewers know who aren't familiar with where Binghamton is, it's about 130, 140 miles, upstate New York, north of New York City. And it's relatively small city of about 50,000.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is the scene that the residents of that town were looking at late morning, this morning, in Binghamton. These sent to

You can see them on that Web site right now by local businessman Garo Kachadourian, who works just down the street. He said he was at a diner when he heard this was happening and headed down to the scene to see local police, police with guns drawn around the building at that point.

The building is the American Civic Association, an organization funded by the United Way that, since the 1930s, has been helping immigrants in this community. On any given day, what could be going on at that building would be English classes for the local community, orientation programs going on to help people get in touch with local services in the community as well.

It also serves as a community center. Barn dancing was going on last night. There are luncheons organized there. This is very much a place that people in the community know, that go to functions there.

Garo Kachadourian, who sent these pictures in, I spoke to him just a moment ago. He said right now, that's the scene of local and state police and FBI, all around that building -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hard to understand how this could happen in a civic association place like this. All right, Abbi. Stand by.

I want to bring in Tom Fuentes right now. He's a former assistant director of the FBI.

Tom, thanks very much for coming in.

Give us your thoughts based on the sketchy information we're getting right now.

TOM FUENTES, FMR. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: Well, it appears that it was a loan gunman, possibly a disturbed individual who went to that location and began shooting people. But again, there's going to be a tremendous amount of investigation, following up now, to determine, was that person alone, did he plan this by himself, what was the motivation for doing it?

And then, also, there will be a companion investigation to identify all of the victims, and especially if they're from foreign countries. There will be phone calls coming in to the State Department, to FBI headquarters, from our offices around the world, looking for information as to whether their loved ones are safe in Binghamton. And that will be continuing -- for several days that will go on here. And, of course, you have the massive crime scene of the location itself, which will require evidence response teams now to go into that building and make sure that there are no hidden explosives or other weapons, find all of the bullet casings and other materials that may have been involved in this to be sure that it's absolutely over.

BLITZER: When you say, Tom, it was a lone gunman, perhaps disturbed, it sort of reminds me of the incident at Virginia Tech University back in 2007. I don't know if you're familiar with that incident, but it certainly seems to have some of those earmarks.

FUENTES: It would seem so at this point, but again, law enforcement officials really don't like to speculate in the beginning as to the motives or what was going on, absent other information. Now, if the shooter left a note or some other indication, that would obviously be key evidence, but they'll be analyzing his phone calls, his Internet traffic, if he e-mailed other people, all types of information to try to determine what may have motivated him to go into that building and, again, to be sure, was he alone from the beginning? The Virginia Tech shooting was a lone, disturbed individual, but the shootings at Columbine High School were a couple of individuals involved.

So you can't immediately jump to a conclusion. You need to be objective in the investigation, and that is what's going on right now.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Tom, because we're going to be getting back to you.

Chris Voss is also a 24-year veteran of the FBI, an FBI hostage negotiator.

It looks, Chris, like the hostages have been released. At least that's the indications we're getting right now. Is that your sense? CHRIS VOSS, FMR. KIDNAPPING NEGOTIATOR: Yes, I think probably at this point in time, they're probably still checking the building to see if there are still people that are still hiding out of fear of the gunman, but whatever hostages there were have been released, more than likely.

BLITZER: Based on your experience and based on the information we know -- and albeit, a lot of it is still sketchy, very preliminary, as is the case -- what do you think?

VOSS: Well, unfortunately, this is an individual who feels -- it appears as if he feels that he couldn't successfully navigate the system. A selected location like this indicates -- is an early indicator that he had a problem here.

It appears that he was Vietnamese and was more than likely working on his citizenship. Who knows the sort of roadblocks that he may have encountered and been able to successfully navigate them by a means that we would find acceptable, and with whatever mental difficulties he might have been dealing with? And he finds this is a way to cope out of sheer despair.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have you stand by as well, Chris, because we're going to continue our coverage of this horrific, horrific incident in Binghamton, New York, upstate New York.

We're now being told, by the way, that that news conference has been moved to closer to 5:00 p.m. Eastern, a little bit less than an hour from now, but we'll stay on top of this story.

We're also staying on top of the president's visit to Europe. It's continuing today.

Another story that we're following right now, indeed, two million people out of work so far this year alone. So what does President Obama have to say about that?

And President Kennedy like you've never heard him in a newly released recording. He's concerned about Russia and its trustworthiness as the Cold War raged.

Lots of news happening today, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We'll get back to the shooting incident in Binghamton, New York. Thirteen people dead.

But let's get to some other important news right now, including President Obama's European tour. Even the French are showing the new American commander in chief lots of love today despite concerns about Afghanistan and past feuds with the United States.

Let's go to our senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry. He's joining us now from Strasbourg, France.

A full day for the president today once again, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He even used a town hall meeting today, extremely rare, as you know, for an American president, to open himself up to questions from foreign students. He did that with French and German students today, sort of trying to use a familiar tactic from last year to try to win over some allies now in Europe.


HENRY (voice-over): President Obama's European tour is starting to look like the campaign trail, rousing crowds in France. "Yes, we can" signs in Germany. Even blunt talk at a town hall with local students.

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There have been times when America's shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive. But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual, but can also be insidious.

So let me say this as clearly as I can. America is changing, but it cannot be America alone that changes.

HENRY: The change message is being recycled for NATO as he tries to sell allies on sharing responsibility for the war in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: France recognizes that having al Qaeda operate safe havens that can be used to launch attacks is a threat not just in the United States, but to Europe.

HENRY: While President Nicolas Sarkozy will not put more troops on the ground, he left the door open to training Afghan police and providing development money.

(on camera): I wonder what you say to the president's message about bringing troops forward, maybe military training, helping in Afghanistan.

NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): We totally endorse and support America's new strategy in Afghanistan.

HENRY: Enthusiastic support from someone who just days ago, appeared to be at odds with Mr. Obama over the financial crisis.

SARKOZY (through translator): It feels really good to be able to work with a U.S. president who wants to change the world.


BLITZER: And Ed, you had an interesting exchange with president on North Korea. Let me play it for our viewers.

HENRY: Sure.


HENRY: Thank you, Mr. President. As you just said, you tried to take a step forward this week with Russia in trying to take nuclear warheads out there, make it safer around the world. North Korea seems to be going in the other direction.

Do you have a message or maybe even a warning to North Korea about what consequences they'll face if they go ahead with this missile test?

OBAMA: We have made very clear to the North Koreans that their missile launch is provocative, it puts enormous strains on the six- party talks, and that they should stop the launch. The response so far from the North Koreans has been not just unhelpful, but has resorted to the sort of language that has led to North Korea's isolation in the international community for a very long time.

It is not just us that has said that North Korea should not launch. Japan, Korea, Russia, China, the other members of the six-party talks, have all indicated that this launch should not go forward.


BLITZER: All right, but it's supposed to go forward within the next few days. That's what the North Koreans have been saying, any time from April 4th through April 8th, depending on the weather, presumably.

I've been getting some conflicting signals, but maybe you could clarify, Ed, what's going on.

Last Sunday, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, said the U.S. is not going to shoot down that missile if it's launched, unless it were to threaten, let's say, Hawaii. But then subsequent to that, there's been a little bit less hard statements, shall we say, coming in from top administration officials.

What are they saying to you?

HENRY: They're sort of all over the map on that very question, Wolf. And I think you saw the hesitancy a bit there. The president choosing his words carefully in his answer when I pressed him on the specific of, what consequences will there be for North Korea?

I think they realize in both their public and private statements, they have to be very careful not to ratchet the situation up even worse than it already appears to be, number one. And number two, on the other side, what they feel good about inside the administration when you talk to them is they do feel that the president has laid some groundwork here in Europe in the people he talked about, the presidents of Russia, China, South Carolina -- you go down the line and members of those six-party talks. He's been laying the groundwork for diplomacy so that if North Korea goes ahead, he can then go back to those other folks from around the world and try to build a coalition against North Korea, instead of doing it alone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Thanks very much, Ed. Stand by. We're going to get back to you.

On the ground in Afghanistan right now, top U.S. military officials are taking a fresh look at new explosions of violence and a coalition strategy for fighting insurgents.

Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr is with the U.S. Marines in southern Afghanistan -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Kandahar continues to be a major staging ground, of course, for U.S. military operations here in southern Afghanistan. General James Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, has arrived here to spend several days on the ground across this region, having a firsthand look at the situation.

Violence here, of course, on the rise. The Marines especially have been having a tough time. They've been caught in a number of complex firefights, ambushes, roadside bomb attacks, mortar, rocket fire, small arms attacks, all of it.

The Marines are concerned that they have enough armor protection. They're beefing up that as well.

All the while, the Taliban and the insurgents are also getting ready. There is intelligence that they are increasing their efforts, moving in to remote small villages and towns across this region. There is new intelligence commanders that say that the insurgents are also banding together, trying to get better coordinated to launch their attacks.

Everyone here, Wolf, believes that there will be a coming very tough fight in the weeks and months ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara.

Barbara's with the U.S. Marines in Kandahar, in Afghanistan.

We're standing by to bring you live coverage of that news conference in upstate New York, the shooting rampage. Thirteen people are dead.

Stand by for that.

Also, the president of the United States in his own words on why he's fine with getting some honest criticism from the president of France.




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

Happening now, new details about the gunman in a shooting rampage at a center for immigrants in upstate New York. A source says he was carrying an I.D. that said he was 42 years old and from the area. We're told authorities have gotten a warrant to search the man's home. Sources say 13 people were killed before the gunman killed himself.

We're standing by for a news conference from Binghamton, New York. We'll go there live.

Also ahead, a crumbling bridge on the East Coast on a major interstate. The startling news that it's not getting a dime of money from the economic stimulus package.

And newly released tapes of John F. Kennedy considering a high-stakes nuclear treaty. Fascinating insights into fears that Cold War-era tensions would explode.

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

A possible breakthrough for President Obama's plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announcing he will accept one from Gitmo. Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Obama spoke openly about the prison camp today and the strain it had put on relations between the United States and France.


NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): I believe democracy makes it incumbent upon heads of state to speak the truth and to live up to what they say. I am a longstanding friend of the United States.

But Guantanamo was not in keeping with U.S. values-- at least with my perception of what American values were and are. And I was proud and happy that the United States should have taken the decision that we were hoping for, which was to close down that base. We all were, here in Europe.

My deeply held belief is that you don't combat terrorists with terrorist methods. You combat them with the methods and the weapons of democracy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Sarkozy has been honest, has been consistent. I made the decision to close Guantanamo because I do not think it makes America safer. In doing so, I have been very clear that we're going to do it carefully, we're going to do it thoughtfully. And in order to do it carefully and thoughtfully we are going to consult with our allies and, in certain cases, we're going to need help with detainees that may still pose a risk but we may not be able to repatriate to their countries of origin.


BLITZER: President Obama also had more to say today about his face-to-face meeting with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, during the G-20 summit this week.


B. OBAMA: I had a terrific meeting, a bilateral meeting during the summit with President Medvedev. I think there is a great potential to improve U.S.-Russian relations. I think that it is important for NATO allies to engage Russia and to recognize that they have legitimate interests. In some cases we've got common interests. But we also have some core disagreements.

I think that we should be in a dialogue with them about how we can maintain stability while respecting the autonomy and independence of all countries in Europe -- West, East, Central, wherever they are.

I was a critic of the Russian invasion of Georgia. I continue to believe that despite the extraordinary efforts of President Sarkozy to broker a cease-fire that we have not seen a stabilization of that situation. And I think that we have to send a very clear message to Russia that we want to work with them, but that we can't go back to the old ways of doing business.

I do believe that the United States and Russia, the Europeans and the United States, all have an interest in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that there should be a mechanism that respects Iran's sovereignty and allows them to develop peaceful nuclear energy, but draws a clear line that we cannot have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

I brought this up in my conversations with President Medvedev, and it will be an ongoing topic of our bilateral negotiations. We're very excited about working with France and other countries to arrive at a position with respect to Iran that invites them into responsible membership in the international community, but also makes clear that they have got to act in ways that responsible members -- what's expected of them, that they meet those standards.


BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking in France earlier today. We're continuing to watch what he has to say.

By the way, this programming note for our viewers: On Tuesday, Gloria Borger and I will sit down for an exclusive interview with the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden. The interview will air right here in THE SITUATION ROOM this coming Tuesday -- Joe Biden, the interview in THE SITUATION ROOM, Tuesday.

Michelle Obama is making a terrific first impression on Europe. Did she manage to one-up the most glamorous first lady of France, the former lawyer and former supermodel? They're both ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And President Obama speaks candidly about his regrets during the presidential campaign and now.

And later, in the height of the Cold War, John F. Kennedy considers a nuclear treaty with Moscow -- the fear, the risk, and the uncertainty all caught on tape, tape that has just been released.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're getting additional information on the shooting rampage in Binghamton, New York, at an immigrants' civic center there.

Susan Candiotti is on the scene for us.

Susan, 13 people are dead, the gunman apparently subsequently killing himself. What do we know?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest information we have, Wolf, is this.

CNN has learned from a federal law enforcement source that a search warrant is being prepared to search the home of the suspected shooter. He is said to live in this very area, in the Binghamton, New York, area, and is also believed to be about 42 years old.

Here is what happened. About 10:30 this morning, this shooting rampage began, at the end, 13 people dead, at least five people injured.

A man, we are told, walked into this American Civic Association building. This is a non-government agency that helps refugees and helps immigrants prepare for their citizenship and all other kinds of things.

Then, the man entered the -- the -- the building, used, apparently, two handguns, we are told from a federal law enforcement source. Two handguns have been recovered. And now they are trying to get at the heart of this. Why did he do it? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Susan, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

We're also standing by for a news conference that we're told will begin at the top of the hour with the mayor of Binghamton and other officials -- lots more coming up on that breaking news story.

Meanwhile, another big jump in the number of Americans getting pink slips, instead of paychecks, the jobless rate climbing last month to the highest level since 1983.

Let's bring in Poppy Harlow of

Hundreds of thousands of people, additional people, unemployed.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we got the government's latest jobs report.

People have been waiting for this for week. It came in this morning, the March number, even worse than economists had been expecting. Let's bring you to it quickly: 666,000 jobs slashed by employers in the month alone. Let's talk about it, because it is the highest we have seen, when you look at the employment rate, which now stands at 8.5 percent, the highest in 25 years. If you add up the first three months of 2009, more than two million Americans have lost their job. What is really interesting about this is the dramatic increase we have seen in these job losses. So, let's pull up this chart for you, so you can get an idea of the rapid acceleration.

If you look at January 2008, right after the recession began, we saw just over 70,000 job losses. But let me walk you down here to January 2009, right there, the most we have seen in this recession, 741,000 job losses, Wolf, so, rapid acceleration within just a year of this recession -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How do these job losses -- losses, Poppy, compare with previous recessions?

HARLOW: It's a great question, because we are seeing many more job losses in this recession than we have seen in similar recessions, 5.1 million job losses, folks, since December 2007, when the current recession began.

Now, this recession has been 17 months. The other two recessions we have here for you have been 16 months. But, as you can see, from 1981 to 1982, 2.8 million losses, two million job losses from '73 to '75.

The hardest-hit sectors, no surprise here in this latest report, Wolf, manufacturing, construction both losing more than 100,000 jobs, and professional business services.

The only areas of growth, the only areas, were what we have seen throughout this recession, education and health care.

And, Wolf, let's send on this. The government that usually adds jobs every month, for the first time we have seen in a long time, government jobs were lost as well, Wolf.

Full details on I will send it back to you.

BLITZER: All right, 5.1 million people between last year and so far this year have already lost their jobs, when you think about it, a horrific, horrific number, all those families involved.

Meanwhile, with so many Americans out of work, who's to blame for this steady loss of jobs?

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, have Americans been prepared for all this bad economic news that continues to come out?



SCHNEIDER (voice-over): We were warned even before President Obama took office.

B. OBAMA: It is altogether likely that things may get worse before they get better.

SCHNEIDER: They have.

B. OBAMA: Our jobs report came out today, and it showed that we had lost 663,000 jobs just this month, which has pushed our unemployment rate to 8.5 percent, the highest in 25 years.

SCHNEIDER: Will Americans blame President Obama? Not likely. Overwhelming majorities say they blame banks and financial institutions, large corporations, consumers for taking on too much debt, and the Bush administration. The Obama administration? Only 26 percent.

Typically, unemployment continues to climb for months after a recession is technically over. Remember how important "the economy, stupid" was in 1992? The recession actually ended in March 1991, but unemployment continued to rise until mid-1992.

B. OBAMA: I don't want people to think that, in one or two months, suddenly, we're going to see net job increases.

SCHNEIDER: It's a race between optimism and despair. Right now, optimism is gaining. In January, by better than 10-1, Americans said the economy was getting worse.

Things were still bad in February. By the middle of March, the number who thought things were getting better reached double digits, while less than a majority believed the economy was getting worse. Now optimism is up to 27 percent, although pessimists still have the edge.


SCHNEIDER: We know what is creating the despair, but what's driving the optimism? Well, probably politics as much as anything. "The Washington Post" reports that the sharp rise in economic optimism has occurred among Democrats and independents. Republicans, they don't see any reason for hope -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thanks very much.

I want to go back to Fredricka. She's watching the continuing story that is unfolding in Binghamton, New York, 13 killed in a shooting rampage, the gunman apparently dead as well, self-inflicted.

The president of the United States now releasing a statement, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, all the way from Europe, saying -- quote -- "Michelle and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn about the act of senseless violence in Binghamton, New York today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and the people of Binghamton. We don't yet know all the facts, but my administration is actively monitoring the situation. And the vice president is in touch with Governor Paterson and local officials to track developments."

So, a very sad situation for not just Binghamton, but for the entire United States, the president now weighing in.

And, again, as a reminder, Wolf, at the top of the hour, 5:00 Eastern time, we do expect a briefing coming from Binghamton to get the latest on this investigation. And perhaps still unclear at this point exactly why this gunman went on this rampage, and then allegedly turning the gun on himself and killing himself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of unanswered -- unanswered questions. We will see if we get some answers at that news conference, the mayor in Binghamton and others expected there. We will have live coverage.

Fred, thanks very much.

So, does President Obama regret having to run for the presidency? He answered that very question today. Wait until you hear what he had to say.

And behind two presidents are two very strong and popular women, the meeting between the first ladies Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni being called a fashion face-off. How did it go?

We will tell you -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama's in Europe doing something he often does here in the United States, answering questions in a town hall- style forum like this one.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wanted to know if you -- did you ever regret to have run for presidency until now? I mean, well, did you ever ask yourself, am I sure -- am I sure to -- to manage? Yes.

B. OBAMA: Yes, it's a good question.


B. OBAMA: Michelle definitely asked that question.


B. OBAMA: You know, there are -- there have been times, certainly, during the campaign, and there have been times over the last several months where you feel a lot of weight on your shoulders. There's no doubt about it.

During the campaign, the biggest sacrifice -- the thing that was most difficult was that I was away from my family all the time. In addition to missing -- in addition to being jealous about high-speed rail and the nice trains here, I'm also jealous of the fact that campaigns here only last a few months, whereas in the United States we were running for two years. So I was away from home all the time, and that was very difficult because not only do I have a wonderful wife, but I have two perfect daughters.

And so, you know, I -- I miss them a lot.


B. OBAMA: But the nice thing is now that I'm President, it turns out I have this really nice office in my house called the Oval Office, and so it only takes me a few seconds to get upstairs, and I'm home for dinner every night.


B. OBAMA: You also lose privacy and autonomy -- or anonymity. You know, it's very frustrating now -- it used to be when I came to Europe, that I could just wander down to a cafe and sit and have some wine and watch people go by, and go into a little shop, and watch the sun go down.

And now I'm in hotel rooms all the time.


B. OBAMA: And I have security around me all the time. And, so, just -- you know, losing that ability to -- to just take a walk, you know, that -- that is something that is frustrating.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist, and Republican strategist John Feehery.

I love it when presidents go abroad and they -- they get nostalgic to a certain degree, or reminisce about what is going on back here.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, especially, the president, I thought, was quite relaxed today, when he was referring to his job and -- and how he's handling, of course, the difficult challenges he faces.

I thought the president overall had a good trip. And, clearly, the trip right now is very important, because he's about to basically ask our allies to -- to help out in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But, overall, I thought he -- he did very well.

BLITZER: He's continuing. He's got several more stops in the Czech Republic, in Turkey, so it's by no means over.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He does a great job. This town hall -- town hall meeting, I thought he was terrific. And I say that as a Republican.

I he -- Donna is absolutely right. He's very relaxed. He -- he connects very well to this audience. Kind of a sense, this is home audience. His high -- his approval ratings in Europe are higher than anywhere. And I think that he -- he does a good job of explaining, humanizing himself, and saying, yes, I'm humble.

You know, George Bush did the same thing when he first came in as president. He said, he -- we need to be more humble on national policy, too. So, I think it's a good trip for him so far.

BLITZER: He's -- he has sort of acknowledged that, in the past, the U.S. was seen as arrogant by so many of the allies, especially in Europe.

What -- what impact will this have -- will this have on -- on U.S. standing in the world?

BRAZILE: I thought the president was being honest and refreshing in saying that, but he also discussed that Europe has also fallen short with their own values. And what he's trying to do, clearly, is repair our relationships with allies and -- and trying to strengthen our -- our bonds between, you know, two wonderful continents that really should be friends and allies.

BLITZER: Let me play that little clip of how he phrased it.

Listen to this.


B. OBAMA: In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.


BLITZER: All right, factually accurate?

FEEHERY: Well, I think, you know, like I said, George Bush said the same thing about Bill Clinton.

It's -- there's always a sense in Europe that America is a little bit arrogant. And that is because, a lot of times, Europe doesn't come through. They don't actually step up. That happened with Bosnia. And it's really happening in Afghanistan right now. The Europeans have to take equal cause and shoulder some of the burden with America to help pacify and stop terrorism.

BLITZER: We will see what kind of impact it does have with the European allies, the NATO allies, especially.

Guys, thanks very much.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Michelle Obama is fast becoming a style icon, but are the fashion-conscious French impressed? We're following the first lady's European debut.

And it's a major bridge on the East Coast, and it's literally falling apart. So, why didn't it get any help in the federal stimulus package? We have been digging for an answer.

Also, we're waiting for a news conference in Binghamton, New York, where 13 people are dead following a shooting rampage. The shooter apparently killed himself in the aftermath of that incident. We will go to the news conference once it begins.


BLITZER: One is a former high-powered lawyer. The other is a former high-fashioned supermodel. Now the women married to two of the most powerful men in the world, they meet.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is joining us with more on this story.

Kate, how did it go?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems it went well, Wolf.

Amid a European travel scheduled packed with high-profile, high- powered meetings, this seems to be the picture the paparazzi have been clamoring for.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): The kiss heard round the world.


BOLDUAN: The tete-a-tete between Michelle Obama and France's Carla Bruni may be the most anticipated moment of the Obamas' European tour.

Just look at the headlines, "Fashion Face-off," even "Style Summit."


BOLDUAN: Both first ladies have been called style icons. Both charmed the British, and both are huge stars on the world stage.

But make no mistake, they are very different women, Carla Bruni, an actress, singer, and former supermodel, Michelle Obama, on the other hand, an attorney known for being down-to-earth.

In London, she talked about her humble childhood growing up in Chicago.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: I was the product of a working-class community. My father was a city worker all of his life, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. And she stayed at home to take care of me and my older brother.

BOLDUAN: At the same time, their lives seem to mirror each other, both career-driven, successful, now easily adjusting to the spotlight as wives of a president, the public and media fascinated and fixated on every outfit and photo-op.


BOLDUAN: Now, the cameras will focus on the dynamic first ladies once again when they're expected to have a rendezvous. Tomorrow, they will be joined by other NATO spouses for a tour of a cyber-surgery unit at a French hospital and visit a cathedral -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kate.

We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up this coming hour.

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