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President Obama Visits Iraq; Interview With Vice President Biden; Interview With Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Aired April 7, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a CNN exclusive: The vice president, Joe Biden, is here, and he's talking bluntly. He's talking about global challenges. He says brace yourself for steady job losses. And he is sending a direct message to Dick Cheney, saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "He's dead wrong.

Also, surprise, the first Iraq visit by President Obama. Wait until you hear what he told the troops and his direct message to the Iraqis.

And the investigation into the shocking killings of three police officers reveals a truly shocking mistake.

All that, plus the best political team on television.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

The vice president of the United States is known for saying exactly what is on his mind, and today he did just that. Joe Biden sat down with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, and me for an exclusive interview.

He was candid and at times he was unflinching. But he used some of his harshest language when asked about the last administration.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Let's talk about your predecessor for a moment, if I might.

Former Vice President Cheney took a big swipe at your foreign policies, this administration's foreign policies. And he told John King of CNN recently that President Obama's actions, all over the world, have made us less safe.

Was Dick Cheney out of line?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know if he's out of line, but he was dead wrong. This administration -- the last administration left us in a weaker posture than we have been any time since World War II, less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever had been in the past, two wars under way, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world.

And so we have been about the business of repairing and strengthening us. I guarantee you, we are safer today, our interests are more secure today, than they were any time during the eight years...

BORGER: So, we're more safe?

BIDEN: We are more safe. We're more secure. Our interests are more secure, not just at home, but around the world. We are rebuilding America's ability to lead.

I remember President Bush saying to me one time in the Oval Office -- and he was a great guy. I enjoyed being with him. And he said to me, he said, well, Joe, he said, I'm a leader. And I said, Mr. President, turn around and look behind you. No one's following.

People are beginning to follow the United States again as a consequence of our administration.

BLITZER: What are you doing differently as vice president as compared to Dick Cheney?

BIDEN: Well, I think the biggest thing we're doing is, I'm operating in concert with the president.

There are not -- there are -- look, everybody talks about how powerful Cheney was. His power weakened America, in my view. Here's what I mean by that. What I mean by that was, there was a divided government. There was Cheney as his own sort of separate national security agency, and then there was the National Security Agency.

There was Powell, who didn't agree with Cheney, and Cheney off with Rumsfeld. I mean, there was a divided government, a divided administration. The strength of this administration is that the president and I work in concert.

We -- I am very straightforward in my views. I'm as strong -- I hold them as I strongly as I ever had, but they're done in the concert of one National Security Agency, a united national security team.


BLITZER: One more question, though, on national security before we move to the economy, because there's a lot of concern right now. And I'm sure you're concerned. How worried are you that the new government of Israel under Prime Minister Netanyahu will launch a strike to take out Iran's nuclear facilities?

BIDEN: I don't believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that. I think it would be ill-advised to do that. And so my level of concern is no different than it was a year ago.

BORGER: OK. We will move on to the economy now.

Mr. Vice President, "The New York Times" had a poll recently, today, in fact, which says that 70 percent of the people in this country -- 70 percent -- now believe that somebody in their household is going to be out of work by next year.

You're head of the middle-class task force. We have lost two million job in first three months of this year. When are we going to start seeing jobs being created in this country on a large scale?

BIDEN: First of all, I think the poll reflects how smart the American people are.

People, 20 percent more people -- 20 percent of the people now think we have laid the foundation for strong economic recovery. That's up from 5 percent. Seventy percent realistically are still worried about someone in their household may lose a job in the next year.

This president has been the most straightforward and honest about the state of our affairs. He's indicated that unemployment will continue to rise this year, in all probability. You look at the figures, in every major recession, this is how it has worked.

Now, unemployment and reemployment lags behind economic growth. So, it's a legitimate concern on the part of people. The question is, we went out there and we came up with a major recovery package of over $700 billion, which we are spending now, to prevent another 3.5 million to four million jobs from being lost in the meantime.

We think we can stabilize the economy, but it's going to take...

BLITZER: When? When?

BIDEN: It will take at least another year before you start to see employment.

BLITZER: During this year, are jobs going to continue to go away?

BIDEN: Yes, there will be additional...

BLITZER: During the next 12 months?

BIDEN: There will be an additional job loss.

The idea -- you're not going to see reports this calendar year saying there was no job loss this month. That is not going to happen.


BLITZER: I want to just follow up on this, because, so far, as you know, the first three months, two million jobs, five million plus jobs lost over the past -- since January of last year. BIDEN: Right.

BLITZER: So, what you're saying is that, throughout 2009, every single month, it might not be 600,000 jobs lost, but there's going to be a loss of jobs every month?

BIDEN: There will continue to be job losses the remainder of this year.

The question is, will they continually go down before they begin to rebound and employment -- we go down to zero job loss and back to employment?

Look, every major economist -- when -- the last major recession in '82, job gain lagged 18 months to two years behind unemployment, the so-called GDP, when we officially say we're growing and we're no longer in a recession. The measure for this administration will be whether or not at the end of our term middle-class people's standard of living have risen and not fallen, not merely whether the GDP rises.

BORGER: Would you rule out a second stimulus package?

BIDEN: I wouldn't rule anything in or not. But, look, Gloria, we haven't even totally laid out...

BORGER: Likely? Not likely?

BIDEN: No, I think it's much too premature.

Look, we had the most incredibly robust stimulus package, of which there's over $500 billion hasn't been spent out yet. It's in the process of doing what we have to do, not only to create jobs, but also to lay a foundation for a strong economic growth in energy, education, health care. And that's what we're doing now. We're putting those blocks in place.

BLITZER: The president says he's either going to save or create, what, three million, 3.5 million...

BIDEN: Three-point-five million to four million jobs. And, yes, we will.

BLITZER: Over what period of time, if we're going to just be losing jobs throughout this year?

BIDEN: No, no, no, over the -- look, every economist, as you know, you have had on your program has indicated that had we done nothing we would have lost an additional four million jobs this year, an additional, on top of what we already lost.

BLITZER: So, that's how you're doing the math?

BIDEN: And, so, no, it's not just doing that. We're going to actually create jobs.

But you're creating jobs in sectors that are new sectors. You are going to see a lot more jobs in energy. You are going to see a lot more green jobs created. You're going to see the beginning of a platform for solid economic growth not based on a bubble.


BLITZER: More of the interview with the vice president coming up later this hour, including your I-Report questions, your video I- Report questions, to the vice president. He answers some of them.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Airline travel may be improving, which is a good thing, because it couldn't get much worse.

A private study based on government stats found that the rates of lost bags, late arrivals, passengers bumped from overbooked flights and consumer complaints all declined last year. The industry actually had its best overall performance in those ratings in four years.

Half of all complaints involved baggage or flight problems like cancellations or delays. The average on-time performance was 3 percentage points better than 2007. Now, there's something to write home about.

Almost one-fourth, though, of all flights still late. One expert says the improved performance isn't surprising, because 2007 was the worst year for the airlines in the study, believed that in 2007 the air transport system reached capacity, 770 million travelers. Last year, that number was down to 741 million.

And airlines are reporting weak demand for the first quarter of this year because of the weakened economy. Even if airline travel's improving, though, there are still issues. High fuel costs, sluggish economy forced many airlines to reduce their schedules, raise ticket prices, tack on fees for everything from luggage to pillows.

The most outrageous fee probably comes courtesy of Ryanair. The CEO of that Dublin-based airline wants to charge passengers to use the toilet in flight. He's asked engineers at Boeing to design toilets with doors that open only if you swipe a credit card.

He will change his mind on this issue when people start going in the aisles.

Here's the question: Has airline travel become a more pleasant experience lately? Go to, and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's not a good idea to charge people to go to the bathroom on flights.


BLITZER: All right.

CAFFERTY: It's just ridiculous.

BLITZER: Yes, totally, totally. All right, thanks very much.

The vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, answers our questions, and your questions as well. More of our exclusive interview, that's coming up this hour.

Plus, a surprising and risky visit to Baghdad. President Obama wraps up his overseas trip with an important message to U.S. troops.

And rescuers right now clawing through the rubble, they're trying to find survivors, but as the death toll climbs from Italy's killer quake, aftershocks posing a brand-new and very dangerous threat. We're going there live.

And a plane is stolen in Canada, chased by U.S. Air Force fighter jets for hundreds of miles as it flies in U.S. airspace. Was the pilot hoping to get shot down?


BLITZER: Right now, President Obama's traveling back from his trip abroad. Earlier, he surprised the world. The president flew straight into Iraq's danger zone. He went there to deliver a very important message to U.S. troops and to the Iraqis.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's traveling with the president -- Ed.


ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president is following in the footsteps of his predecessor by sneaking into Iraq, but also by trying to rally the troops. He's not an anti- war candidate anymore. Now he's the commander in chief.

(voice-over): A secret trip to Baghdad, President Obama's first to a war zone since taking office. A chance to hand out 10 medals of valor and fire up several hundred U.S. troops at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The main point I want to make is, we have not forgotten what you have already done. We are grateful for what you will do. And as long as I am in the White House, you are going to get the support that you need and the thanks that you deserve from a grateful nation.

So thank you very much, everybody.


HENRY: The president told the troops the next 18 months will be critical, and they can't let their guard down, but said they are close to handing the mission off.

OBAMA: It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.

HENRY: The idea of an unscheduled stop was not a total surprise, though speculation here in Turkey focused on it being Afghanistan since much of Mr. Obama's European tour focused on rallying support for his new strategy there. Aides said the president chose Iraq because the flight from Istanbul to Baghdad was just over two hours aboard Air Force One, and he wanted to express his gratitude in person.

Mr. Obama huddled with General Ray Odierno, the commander charged with implementing the president's plan to remove all combat troops by August, 2010. And he pushed Iraqi leaders to settle lingering political differences such as how to distribute oil revenues.

OBAMA: We strongly support political steps to be taken to resolve differences between the various factions within Iraq and to ensure a more peaceful and prosperous future.

HENRY (on camera): Throughout his eight-day tour of Europe, the president said, even though he opposed the war, he now believes it's his duty to end it responsibly -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much. Have a safe trip back to Washington.

President Obama called the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, expressing condolences and offering help to the Italian people devastated by a powerful earthquake. Today, a powerful aftershock sent rescuers scrambling from beneath some unstable rubble.

The death toll has now climbed to far more than 200, and tens of thousands of people remain homeless.

CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney is joining us now from Central Italy.

You felt the aftershocks earlier today. It was pretty terrifying, I take it, Fionnuala?

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it had a magnitude, Wolf, of 5.6 and it was felt as far as away as Rome, which, of course, the earthquake which happened here on Monday morning in the early hours which had a measurement of 6.4 was also felt in Rome.

And I should say that, within the last half-hour, we have had two smaller, but quite severe, aftershocks, so -- which really are keeping people literally awake, because those people who are able to stay in their homes cannot sleep with any degree of comfort with these aftershocks continuing to happen.

And there are those who believe that these are more aftershocks than one might expect following an earthquake such as the one we had on Monday.

I should say that I'm coming from a piazza in the middle of the town of L'Aquila, was very severely hit by this earthquake. Behind me, there's now been built as what's known as a tent city, 100 tents, 700 people living there. And these are people who couldn't really get out of town. They had nowhere else to go and they didn't have friends and family that they could go and visit.

And they don't know how long they're going to be here for, because they're not allowed back into their homes. And as long as these aftershocks continue to happen and until their homes are deemed safe, they will be forced to live here on handouts essentially.

BLITZER: There was some suggestion, Fionnuala, that some scientists had actually predicted this earthquake, but that the government sort of discounted all of that, and, as a result, there was no warning given to the folks there. What do you know about this?

SWEENEY: Well, there is some controversy about this.

There is a geologist who said that he was predicting that an earthquake would happen. There are some that are saying he didn't predict it in the right region. He says he did. He says that he was told not to publicize these fears on the Internet.

The government say they don't really want to get into this at the moment, Silvio Berlusconi saying yesterday let's discuss the predictability of earthquakes after we have rescued everybody that we can.

And, on that point, Silvio Berlusconi visited here today, the Italian prime minister, and he vowed to rebuild this particular town, saying he would find money from either Italian coffers, private individuals, and possibly the European Union, but also saying somewhat ominously that he expected the search-and-rescue operation to continue for another 48 hours only, saying after that he didn't expect any more people to be found alive.

But a bright note in what is a very grim situation, three people were found in the rubble tonight from L'Aquila, and they are now in hospital.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to all the folks there.

Fionnuala, thanks very much.

And there are many relief organizations on the ground right now. They're actively helping victims of this earth quake in Italy. You can find links to many of those organizations on our Impact Your World page. That's at If you want to help, that's what you should do.

The vice president of the United States takes questions from I- Reporters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To what extent would you say that President Obama is capitalizing on your foreign policy experience now to drive the foreign policy agenda?


BLITZER: Vice President Biden answering our questions and your questions.

Plus, North Korea's rocket launch, does Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin, find it too close for comfort? Why she's warning right now against cuts in missile defense programs.

And a plane stolen in Canada chased by U.S. fighter jets, was the pilot trying to get shot down?


BLITZER: Prosecutors have charged a Canadian flight student with piloting a stolen plane into the United States. They say the stunt was a suicide attempt.

Thirty-one year-old Adam Dylan Leon was charged today with transportation of stolen property and illegal entry. The unsettling airborne encounter stretched from Ontario, Canada, all the way to Missouri, and it was triggering alerts wherever it went.

We asked CNN's Brian Todd to take a closer look to explain what exactly happened here -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of tension in the skies, Wolf, mainly because this pilot, Adam Leon, never communicated verbally while in flight with the fighter pilots or with the ground controllers tracking him, and he had plenty of opportunity. He took off from Thunder Bay, Ontario, at about 3:00 p.m. Eastern time yesterday.

Authorities were notified. F-16s were scrambled. They tracked him. Then they intercepted him at about 4:38 p.m. Eastern time. He had flown over Lake Superior by that time. They repeatedly tried to get his attention. Despite that -- despite that attempt and trying to get him to land, he stayed up more than five hours longer, finally landing on a road in Missouri at 9:43 p.m. Eastern time.

Now we're learning more details about the pilot's disposition and how close he might have come to getting shot down.


TODD (voice-over): Approaching the United States, a stolen plane from Canada. American fighter jets were scrambled to engage it after it crossed into U.S. airspace, but the pilot did not respond.

MAJOR BRIAN MARTIN, NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND: I mean, when you have an F-16 sitting beside you as you are flying in a Cessna, you can't help but notice the aircraft is there. After the pilot decided not to listen to our nonverbal signals, we -- we decided to tail it.

TODD: As the pilot headed over Wisconsin, the capitol building in Madison was evacuated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Literally told get -- get as far away from the capitol as you can.

TODD: But the pilot was allowed to continue until he finally ditched on a highway in Missouri after more than six hours and was arrested at a convenience store.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was just sitting there drinking a Gatorade.

TODD: A Missouri State Trooper tells CNN, the suspect told them he was depressed and -- quote -- "He hoped to get shot down by our Air Force."

How close did he come?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You would never take yourself into a situation to ask for shoot-down authority unless you felt pretty certain that this was a dramatic threat.

TODD: A North American Aerospace Defense Command official tells us the pilot, Adam Leon, was deemed not a threat while he was in the air. The threat level is gauged by a number of factors, says former homeland security adviser Fran Townsend, including communication with the pilot, a background check, looking for erratic flying, the size of the plane -- a smaller plane is a smaller threat -- and whether the plane is heading near any possible targets on the ground.

The Pentagon tells us, in this case, the question never reached the level of asking Defense Secretary Robert Gates to decide.


TODD: Just how quickly did the military respond to a possible terrorist threat? Officials say the jets took off less than 20 minutes after getting the order and intercepted the pilot 35 minutes after they took off, Wolf, a pretty quick response. The actions of those pilots, the F-16 pilots, really averted a catastrophe here.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd, for that.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have just met in Cuba with not with the president, Raul Castro, but with his ailing brother, Fidel Castro. We're following the breaking news. We're going to speak with the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus. There you see her, Barbara Lee, Democrat of California. She is going to explain what happened in Havana.

And it was your chance to question the vice president. In our exclusive interview, one of CNN I-Reporters wanted to know if President Obama is capitalizing on the vice president's foreign policy experience. You are going to hear how Joe Biden responded.

Also, you heard it here. Biden says Dick Cheney is dead wrong about the U.S. being less safe under the Obama administration. So, who's right?

And the investigation into the shocking killings of three police officers reveals a truly shocking mistake.


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

Happening now, breaking news: U.S. lawmakers meet with Fidel Castro. Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus talk with the former Cuban president of Havana, as well as the current president, his brother Raul.

In Pakistan, U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, they sit down with the country's foreign minister to discuss the fight against al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

And a federal judge sets aside the corruption conviction of the former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. He blasted prosecutors for misconduct and ordered an investigation. All of this, plus the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: But first, let's get the latest on the breaking news -- dramatic developments. For the first time in three years, American officials have actually sat down and met with Fidel Castro in Havana.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were in Havana. They were led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who's joining us now.

She's back in Washington with the delegation.

How did this come about?

It's not every day, as we say, that Fidel Castro, who's very sick, actually receives Americans.

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, let me say, we asked for the meeting with Fidel Castro. We had visited Cuba over the last few days because we think it's time to really turn the page on our foreign policy toward a country which we have had an embargo against for 50 years.

And so we met with President Raul Castro last night. We had met with the minister of trade and investment. We met with many government officials to really talk about what it would take to (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: How did he look, Congresswoman?

LEE: He was... BLITZER: How does he...

LEE: Well, Fidel Castro...

BLITZER: How did he seem to you?

LEE: He seemed very energetic. He was engaging. We met at his house, which is a house of very modest means. His wife was there. His son was taking photographs of us. And it was a very moving meeting, in a sense, because he was taking notes. He was very inquisitive. He had asked us to send more information about Dr. King because he reveres Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And we said we would try to get more books and tapes to send down.

BLITZER: And did you have a message...

LEE: But he was very...

BLITZER: Did you have a message for Fidel Castro from the Obama administration?

LEE: We did not have a message for any Cuban official from the Obama administration. We visited Cuba as members of Congress on an official delegation to look at what possibilities exist to come back to recommend to President Obama and to our speaker, Pelosi, and to our leadership and to the secretary of State why we believe normal relations between the United States and Cuba should move forward. It's time to talk to Cuba. We want to see these discussions take place with no preconditions.

And we went to Cuba to listen to Cuban officials to make sure that we had the information and the facts that were necessary to bring back and at least let our administration know what we believe is possible.

BLITZER: Welcome back to Washington, Congresswoman.

Thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

LEE: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And what do you think?

Should the U.S. end its embargo with Cuba?

You can submit your video comments or questions to Watch us tomorrow to see if your video makes it on the air.

All right. Let's discuss what's going on. It's been a very dramatic day. Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger is here; our CNN political contributor, Steve Hayes, of "The Weekly Standard;" and our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

You know, the interview we had with the vice president, Joe Biden -- Gloria and I sat down with the vice president today. More of the interview is going to be coming up.

But he was firm, he said the former vice president, Dick Cheney, is dead wrong in suggesting America is less safe today.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I gave him an opportunity, Wolf, to say -- I asked him was he out of -- was Dick Cheney out of line. And he said no, no, he wasn't out of line, he can say what he wants to say, but he was dead wrong.

And when you asked him how he was different from Dick Cheney, he went on to say that, look, lots of people think Dick Cheney is -- was a very powerful vice president, but he felt that that was destructive inside the administration because you ended up with different camps in the administration. And he thought that it -- that it weakened the Bush administration.

BLITZER: He did. He was very forceful. He said you know what, I'm a team player. And he suggested very strongly -- and you know Dick Cheney very well. You've written a lot about him. He said that Dick Cheney was not a team player, he had his own agenda and it didn't make any difference what President Bush wanted, Cheney was moving full speed ahead.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": But that's nonsense. He's -- he was the vice president. He talked to the president regularly. He made his pitches. He made his arguments on issues like North Korea, on issues like Iran. They agreed sometimes. They...

BORGER: You don't think there were different camps in the White House?

HAYES: They agreed sometimes. They disagreed plenty of times.


HAYES: But ultimately, he made his argument to the president and didn't go out and blab about it. I mean I don't know what more you'd want to know -- you'd want from a vice president.

BLITZER: You know these -- all these personalities. You covered the Hill. You know them both very well.

What do you think?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think it's astonishing that former Vice President Cheney thinks that they kept the world safer than from -- current vice president, Joe Biden, thinks. So I don't think the argument itself is astonishing.

I also think that it's easy to be a team player in the first 100 days...


CROWLEY: Along about that fourth year, when everyone gets the fourth year, look, I mean, I think this is a genuine policy difference. I don't think it has to do with...


BLITZER: Yes. He also firmly said, Biden, that America is now safer...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: a result of the Obama administration than it was during the Bush administration.

BORGER: But it's also behavior, don't you think?

It's also -- I mean it's Biden saying, look, I'm on the same team. I work with the president's team. Dick Cheney had a separate power center and that's where the problems started.

BLITZER: What did you think...

CROWLEY: Well, let me (INAUDIBLE)...


BLITZER: I want to get Steve...

HAYES: I don't think that he was a separate power center.

BORGER: Dick Cheney was the power center.

HAYES: It's Dick Cheney. He's the vice president. The president consulted him.


BLITZER: Steve, what did you think of Biden's very firm statement to the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu -- don't even think about launching some sort of strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, that would be ill-advised?

HAYES: Absolutely stunning. I think the first order of business for the president when he gets back to the United States and makes a statement about this is to say I reject what Joe Biden has said here. He campaigned -- Barack Obama did -- on Israel's right to self- defense. He said repeatedly that he wanted to eliminate the threat from Iran. He called it a serious and grave threat. And, most importantly, I think, he backed Israel's preemptive strike on the nuclear facility that North Korea helped build in Syria, which is -- I think, would be a rough equivalent.

BLITZER: It was a very firm statement that Biden made. I -- I have said -- I've said to some people, I was pretty surprised to hear it.

CROWLEY: Me, too. And listen, I mean you're obviously the expert here, having covered the region for so long. But it does seem to me that every time I hear -- I think the president is going to walk it back. I think he has to walk it back.

But in general, even when the U.S. doesn't like what Israel has done, when Israel has complicated what the U.S. is trying to do in the Arab world, they generally say something like, well, we -- you know, we understand Israel's right to defend itself, but we really wish that all parties would get it together.

HAYES: Right.

BLITZER: Quickly, Gloria, the charge will be what Biden has now done is effectively given Iran the green light -- go ahead and don't worry about the Israelis.

BORGER: Right. Well, but, you know, I think Biden would say that's not what he said. What he said was this would be ill-advised. I don't -- and he said to you that I think he -- he's where he was a year ago on this, that nothing has essentially changed in Israel...


BORGER: ...with the changing of the...


HAYES: But he's not where the president was a year ago.


HAYES: He's not where the president was a year ago.

BORGER: Right. Well, his point was he doesn't think anything in Israel's changed.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it there. More of the interview, by the way, coming up, including iReport questions to the vice president of the United States.

Sarah Palin warning that her state -- that would be Alaska -- is under potential threat from North Korea right now. And she says the Obama administration may be increasing the danger.

Plus, a stunning mistake that may have cost three police officers in Pittsburgh their lives. Details of the 911 error -- they've just been revealed.


BLITZER: An investigation now showing that a 911 call center made a mistake -- a serious mistake in handling a call involving a domestic dispute and that apparently resulted in the deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers.

Brian Todd is back.

He's been looking into this shocking story.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And you didn't think that could get any more tragic, Wolf. It just did.

The chief of the emergency services in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania says the 911 operator who received that initial call from the home where the three police officers were shot and killed never relayed to the officers that there were weapons inside the home.

Chief Robert Full says it was: "pure human error." He says the operator was told by the mother of the suspect when she took the call on Saturday morning that there were weapons in the house, but the operator made a crucial mistake in not letting the dispatcher know so the dispatcher could relay it to the responding officers.

Here is Chief Robert Full speaking with CNN affiliate WTAE.


CHIEF BOB FULL, ALLEGHENY COUNTY EMS: We feel so terribly about the circumstances and feel for the families. And there will never be anything that we could do enough to -- to express our sorrow. With that said, though, in this particular case, our call taker did not follow through with the appropriate training that -- that she had received and made the appropriate notation that there was weapons in the house.


TODD: That 911 operator is being placed on paid administration leave. Chief Full is not releasing the operator's name, only says it's a young lady.

Those three officers were shot and killed during a gun battle that lasted some four hours. The suspect, Richard Poplawski, is in custody. Police say he'll be charged with three counts of homicide, aggravated assault, possibly other charges.

Wolf, there was a former -- there was an official with the Fraternal Order of Police in Pittsburgh who told the "Pittsburgh Post- Gazette" no question those officers would have approached that house with much more caution had they had that information.

BLITZER: What a tragic story that is.

All right, Brian. Thank you.

North Korea's rocket launch over the weekend may have been a test of a long-range missile, but one of these days there is deep concern, especially in Alaska, that that kind of missile could reach there. In fact, the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, finds all of this way too close to comfort.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Simon.

He's taking a closer look -- Dan, what are you finding out?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Wolf. Governor Palin is reacting to the administration's proposal to cut defense spending. Specifically, she's upset about cuts to missile defense.


SIMON (voice-over): During the campaign and vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin said this about nuclear weapons.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all end all of just too many people and too many parts of our planet. So those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.

SIMON: Much has changed since that October debate. These pictures show what the U.S. government believes is a North Korean long-range missile test. Palin says her state, given its proximity to Asia, could now be in danger from North Korea.

"North Korea's testing program," she writes, "has clear potential of impacting Alaska, a sovereign state of the United States, with a potentially nuclear-armed warhead."

The governor made those comments to highlight what she says is a big mistake by the Obama administration to cut $1.4 billion for expanded missile defense programs. She said that has ramifications for Alaska and other countries in the Asia Pacific region because the state has a missile interceptor system at the Fort Greeley Army base.

In announcing the defense cuts, Defense Secretary Robert Gates seemed to acknowledge their effect on Alaska, but didn't concede the state would be in greater danger.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We will not increase the number of current ground-based interceptors in Alaska, as had been planned. But we will continue to robustly fund continued research and development to improve the capability we already have.


SIMON: The proposed cuts are also meeting some strong resistance from Republicans on Capitol Hill, Wolf. I think it's fair to say that this issue has the makings of being pretty contentious in the weeks ahead.

BLITZER: I think you're right, Dan.

Thank you.

The vice president of the United States answering questions from our iReporters.


ROBIN SAVAGE, CNN IREPORTER: How do you feel about the increase in violence that's happening all across America? And do you believe that our law enforcement is really prepared to protect our country?


BLITZER: A mass shooting in Binghamton, New York; police officers killed in Pittsburgh and in Oakland -- the vice president, Joe Biden, responds, in our exclusive interview. That's coming up.


LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Coming up at the top of the hour on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," complete coverage of the president's surprise visit to Baghdad. The president telling our troops their mission isn't yet accomplished and the next year-and-a-half will be critical to the future of Iraq.

Also, a local district attorney going after an international espionage and smuggling ring.

A Communist Chinese firm accused of helping Iran try to develop weapons of mass destruction by deceiving banks in the United States.

And the pro-amnesty lobby and ethnocentric special interest groups intensifying what has become a national campaign, trying to remove an Arizona county sheriff from office because he's doing what the Obama administration has so far failed to do -- begin enforcing our immigration laws.

And two leaders of the anti-Joe Arpaio movement, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Bertha Lewis from the left-wing activist group ACORN, join me tonight.

Please be with us for all of that, all of the day's news and much more at the top of the hour.

THE SITUATION ROOM will return with Wolf Blitzer in one moment.


BLITZER: It was your chance to question the vice president of the United States. In our exclusive interview today with Joe Biden, Gloria Borger and I asked him some tough questions.

But some of our CNN iReporters also had questions of their own.


BLITZER: We are out of time, but we have two iReport questions who -- people who have just sent us some questions for you, the vice president of the United States.

Let me read one. Let me -- let me tell you who this first one is. It's Jimmy Deol of Toronto, who said this.

JIMMY DEOL, CNN IREPORTER: Vice President Biden, your selection on the number two spot, among other things, was much touted on your extensive foreign policy experience. To what extent would you say that President Obama is capitalizing on your foreign policy experience now to drive the foreign policy agenda?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any answer would have to be either self-serving or self-deprecating. The bottom line is I meet with the president every single day when we are both in the country to discuss foreign policy. He seeks my counsel and that's -- and, hopefully, it's been value-added.

BLITZER: The other one is from Robin Savage of California.

SAVAGE: How do you feel about the increase in violence that's happening all across America.

And do you believe that our law enforcement is really prepared to protect our country?

BIDEN: I think the last administration so far undercut our law enforcement. They eliminated the Biden Crime Bill. They eliminated the C.O.P.S. Bill. They eliminated -- we have reinstated that.

That's why we, both in our budget and in the money that we had for recovery, put money into hiring more cops, give them better equipment, give them better intelligence.

And so we are back building up local law enforcement, which is an essential component to deal with this violence.

BORGER: Can I just in?

We were trying to get in a few little...

BLITZER: We're done.


BORGER: ...quick questions here. We're done. But I just wanted to ask you very quickly, what has surprised you the most about this job?

BIDEN: The Secret Service.


BIDEN: What surprised me the most is the degree of security that surrounds the vice president. I never anticipated that. I've been around a long, long time and I always kid them. I say, well, nobody cares very much about a vice president. There's not much to worry about.

But that's -- that's the thing that surprised me the most about it. I was very familiar, after all these years in Washington, with the way that the White House functions. But I never realized that I wouldn't be able to drive an automobile.

BORGER: Living in the bubble. You're this working class kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania in...

BIDEN: Well, as you notice, I -- I get out of the bubble. I insist that I take the train home, but there's a lot of Secret Service that ride with me. I insist when I'm home I still go to the grocery store. I still do the things I used to do, but it's a lot more cumbersome. That's the part that surprised me.

BLITZER: The pitch was a little high.

BIDEN: But it was over the plate.

Have you tried to throw from that mound lately?

I tell you, my arm's sore. I worked on it for two days with my brother-in-law. I -- I used to be -- I used to think I was a pretty good athlete. I was very delighted that as I was walking out and one of the Orioles' employees said, hey, Mr. Vice president, great Orioles pitch, high and outside -- high and inside.


BLITZER: On that note we'll leave it, Mr. Vice President. I know you're busy.

Thanks so much for taking the time.

BIDEN: Thank you.

Appreciate it.

I was worried about that pitch more than I was the debate.



BLITZER: That's probably true.

If you missed any of the interview we had with the vice president, you can see the entire interview this Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern -- our Saturday edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

When he pitches the ball, it's not high, it's right over the plate.

CAFFERTY: Well, I -- I don't know about that.

The question this hour, has airline travel become a more pleasant experience lately?

Keith in Ohio writes: "I took several cross country trips by Greyhound bus before I ever flew anywhere. And after you spend 55 hours on the big silver dog, it's hard to get too upset about inconveniences in the air. If I can have a late lunch on one side of the country and dinner on the other side, I'll put up with a little hassle along the way."

Willie in Florida says: "Jack, yes, airlines are as pleasant as being fondled by porcupines. The absurd security, the ridiculous waits on line, the endless bureaucracy and the love affair between stupidity and lack of creativity makes it a portrait of comfort and desirability."

Theresa in Atlanta: "Are you nuts? No other industry in this country can legally take your money, give you a ticket and then turn you away at the door because they sold your seat to someone else."

Len in Columbia, Missouri: "No. People are just getting more resigned to the way it is."

Patricia in Boise, Idaho: "As seldom as I can afford to fly, I don't have a lot of data to go on. But I do know one thing -- compared to the cross country road trips with my small children in a station wagon with no air conditioning, flying rocks -- luggage fees and all."

Noel in New Hampshire writes: "As a 60,000 mile a year or more frequent flyer, I find it really hard to use pleasant and commercial air travel in a positively worded sentence. My approach is to assume I'm going to be delayed, lied to, mistreated, rerouted, stranded, have my bags sent to Mozambique and have most of the trip go wrong. This way I'm never disappointed, I find it hard to get stressed out and am occasionally pleasantly surprised."

And Mike in Florida writes

"I suppose it depends on whether you're flying to or from Buffalo."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Clever people. But we love Buffalo for good reason.

All right. Jack, see you tomorrow.

Thanks very much.

Honoring the first lady in a wax museum -- Jeanne Moos almost doesn't know what to make of the new Michelle Obama display.


BLITZER: CNN's Jeanne Moos with Michelle Obama's Moost Unusual debut.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First, the press waxes lyrical over the real Michelle Obama. And now we're waxing lyrical over wax.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, look at that woman. MOOS: And if looking isn't enough, at Madame Tussauds...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you can hug her and kiss her, everything.

MOOS: ...the wax Secret Service won't stop you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks exactly like her. It's scary.

MOOS: She's wearing one of her trademark cardigans, which covers up a sleeveless dress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Inspired by the purple dress that she wore the night that her husband clinched the nomination.

MOOS: He seemed to be clinching her more than the nomination. If we're so interested in a dress worn by a wax first lady, well, it's just an extension of the fascination with fashion during her just completed overseas trip.


MOOS: On the Huffington Post, her style was praised. It was panned. "Michelle Obama has lost her mind," "three reasons she's suddenly a fashion disaster," "a dud for wearing an outfit too casual for the queen."

We were accessories to the crime of analyzing accessories -- right down to Mrs. Obama's favorite belt.

ANYA STRZEMIEN, STYLE EDITOR, HUFFINGTON POST: It's the only thing that the president does not like in her wardrobe. He calls it her Star Trek belt.


MOOS: And we were star struck. The Huffington Post ran polls so readers could vote love it or leave it on the first lady's every outfit.

Which was her greatest hit?

Nasadinalaya (ph) dress she wore to the NATO concert.

The biggest bomb?

This Maskino (ph) shirt with bow: "Clown bow screams dowdy," "a bow wow bow."

STRZEMIEN: There were 1,500 comments. MOOS (on camera): On a bow?

STRZEMIEN: Yes, on a bow. And it was the number one story on our site on Sunday.

MOOS: On the whole site?

(voice-over): But at least her bow was bigger than French first lady, Carla Bruni's. It's tough being a fashion plate for the whole nation to dine on, when even your wax figure is mobbed by the media.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'm just freaked out.

MOOS: The way the first lady was laid low by her bow makes you want to check your collar.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



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