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Soldier Guns Down Fellow Troops; Cheney: Limbaugh Over Powell; Crist to Run for Senate in Florida; Major Boost for Health Care Reform

Aired May 11, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


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

Happening now, a U.S. soldier opens fire on fellow troops, killing five of them. It happened at a base in Iraq where troops seek help dealing with stress.

Afghan villagers ask, what have we done wrong?

Witnesses tell of a bloody battle in U.S. airstrikes -- scores of dead. CNN's Christiane Amanpour pieces together the shocking accounts and the images.

And days after photographs surfaced showing him embracing a woman, a well-known priest admits to an affair, reigniting the debate about Catholic clergy and celibacy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A heavy loss of life today inside a U.S. base in Iraq -- all the more shocking because it did not stem from an insurgent attack. The U.S. military says an American soldier turned his gun on fellow troops.

Let's go straight to CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

He's got the details -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this was an American shooting at other Americans in Iraq. It's really caused the military to take a much closer look at the idea of stress in the war zone because there at Camp Liberty, this soldier opened fire at a stress counseling clinic on his own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): When the shooting ended, five American troops were dead and the shooter arrested and taken into custody.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern. LAWRENCE: If the shooter is responsible, it's the worst case of soldier on soldier violence since the Iraq War started.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIR: It does speak to me, though, about the need for us to redouble our efforts, the concern in terms of dealing with the stress.

LAWRENCE: Soldiers who have deployed to Iraq told us about living in a near constant state of anxiety -- never knowing when or where the next attack would come.

SGT. RYAN GALLUCI (RET.), AMVETS: The Iranians have improvised explosive devices. You can be ambushed. And anything can happen at any time.

LAWRENCE: Retired Sergeant Ryan Galluci suffered from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and now works for a veterans group. Galluci says members of his unit noticed changes in his behavior toward the end of his tour.

GALLUCI: It was something I wasn't very -- very candid about or very public about. And there certainly is a stigma that surrounds it in the military.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Now, you don't want to a jump in logic to say that maybe a few more months at home could have prevented a kind of incident like this. But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs says it is something that the military is now taking an even closer look -- at trying to reduce the dwell -- or trying to increase the dwell time. In other words, giving soldiers more time at home in relation to the amount of time that they're spending deployed in combat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a sad story.

Chris Lawrence, thank you.

It was a bloody and hotly disputed incident in which scores of civilians died in a battle involving a U.S. airstrike. And now, days later, there are new accounts from eyewitness in Afghanistan.

Our chief international correspondent, Christian Amanpour, has been trying to put all of this together for us.

And we have a caution for you -- some of what you're about to see may be disturbing -- Christiane.

CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama, along with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, may have struck an optimistic chord in their summit last week dealing with targeting the Taliban, but right now anti-American sentiment in the region, especially in Afghanistan, is rising because of the increased number of civilian casualties after U.S. airstrikes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) AMANPOUR (voice-over): It's been one week since tragedy struck this village in Farah Province, Western Afghanistan, but the controversy refuses to die. Most of these graves are full of civilians -- victims of a U.S. airstrike, say these villagers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): "A hundred forty-two people are buried here -- old men, old ladies, children of many different ages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What have we done wrong?

We are poor people busy just doing our own thing.

AMANPOUR: The U.S. military is conducting an investigation into what could be one of the biggest incidents involving civilian deaths since the Taliban was deposed in 2001.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This place that was bombed here, there was no Taliban. The Taliban were more than two kilometers away.

AMANPOUR: And that is at the heart of this controversy.

COL. GREGORY JULIAN, U.S. ARMY: We put more effort than any military force has ever done in the history of military warfare to prevent casualties and risk to civilians.

AMANPOUR: Colonel Greg Julian is chief spokesman for the U.S. military command in Afghanistan.

(on camera): Why is so much air power used?

JULIAN: Well, air power is a very capable and very often very precise weapons system. And it has its time and place to be used.

AMANPOUR: Or misused. Colonel Julian told CNN today that his investigators believe the Taliban fired from buildings where they forced people to gather -- making them "human sacrifices," canon fodder in the Taliban's propaganda war.

But Sayed Zakaria (ph), mullah of this destroyed mosque, gave a different version.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Because the planes were flying overhead, the people gathered in one house. When they dropped the bomb, it killed them all. It's still not clear how many people are buried in the rubble.

AMANPOUR: And these villagers say they're still finding traces of those who were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This belongs to an old lady who was killed. They brought small parts of her body with this.

AMANPOUR: This man says 10 members of his family were killed, along with his hopes and his future. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If the foreign forces now give me back the whole world, it will not replace my son.

AMANPOUR: This weekend, about 1,000 university students in Kabul staged anti-U.S. demonstration -- protesting the high number of civilian casualties. These incidents are one of the main reasons people in Afghanistan are turning against the U.S. presence there.

JULIAN: The people really, truly are the center of gravity in a counter-insurgency. And we understand that very well. And that's why we're putting so much effort into doing everything we can to prevent risk to civilians, although the insurgents do not. They directly target the civilians.

AMANPOUR: For now, the truth lies buried in this dusty field.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: This issue of winning the hearts and minds, as well as battling the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is central to the U.S. effort. We explore it in our documentary on the next generation of Muslim youth, coming up this summer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, thanks very much.

Christiane's documentary, she says, will air this summer.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- excellent reporting by Christiane, as usual.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: As usual. I was going to say, yet again she -- she raises the bar every time she goes near a microphone and a camera.

For those Americans who have a few extra dollars -- you know who you are -- savings accounts and real estate seem to be the long-term investments of choice these days. A new Gallup Poll shows 34 percent of those surveyed see savings accounts as the best option, 33 percent say real estate.

Far fewer people say stocks or mutual funds, at 15 percent. And 12 percent choose bonds.

Since the height of the financial crisis last fall, savings accounts, which offer next to nothing in the way of interest returns, have ranked first in this poll. Before then, savings accounts ranked no better than third among the four options mentioned.

More people see housing as a good investment now than they did last September. A separate poll question found 71 percent think now is a good time to buy a house. That's the highest since 2005. The poll also shows wealthier people and men are more likely to see real estate as the best long-term investment, while poorer people and women choose savings accounts.

Meanwhile, despite a 150 point plus drop today, the stock market has been on a tear since early March. The Dow and S&P 500 both up eight of the last nine weeks. The Nasdaq has won for nine weeks running.

As one financial adviser puts it: "The glass is being seen as partly full instead of empty -- even when they have bad news. And as the run continues, people become fearful of missing the train."

So here's the question: Where is the best place to put your money these days, assuming you have some?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf, where do you put your money?

BLITZER: Savings accounts are good up to $500,000, because it's guaranteed by the federal government.

CAFFERTY: Right.

BLITZER: T-bills are also pretty good, because they're guaranteed by the U.S. Treasury, as well. You don't get any interest -- if you get a, you know, a half of 1 percent, you're doing well. But at least you're not losing 20 or 30 or 40 percent of your -- of your stocks, for example.

CAFFERTY: Well, if you -- and if you go out a little longer -- if you buy, for example, a 10-year Treasury note, you get about 3.25 percent. I mean it's -- it's not much, but it's a little bit better than the short-term stuff, which pays next to nothing.

BLITZER: Yes. Because so many people, if they look at their portfolio, they lost 30 or 40 or 50 percent over the past few years.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: So...

CAFFERTY: So are you in T-Bills, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Good for you.

BLITZER: I'm in T-bills.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

But you never know.

Thanks. Stand by.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is now taking sides in the war on words between Rush Limbaugh and Colin Powell. And the battle over the future of the Republican Party is getting a bit ugly right now.

Also, one country, three first ladies -- the new president is a polygamist. We go inside South Africa's unusual dilemma.

And a priest so popular he's nicknamed Father Oprah. Now, he's wrapped up in a love scandal and reigniting the debate over celibacy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Former Vice President Dick Cheney is now taking sides in the battle between Colin Powell and Rush Limbaugh.

Our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has got some details for us -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, right now, Wolf, the Republican Party is down to basics -- the definition of a Republican. And finding the answer will certainly take a while. And it will most definitely be messy business.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Who speaks for Republican Party?

Apparently everybody. And over the past week, that has made for a trifecta of trouble for a party in search of itself. Colin Powell said Rush Limbaugh hurts the Republican Party. Rush Limbaugh said Colin Powell ought to leave the Republican Party. And Sunday, Dick Cheney went back on TV.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FACE THE NATION," COURTESY CBS)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, if I had to choose, in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh, I think. I think -- my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: At the White House, that was must-see TV.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is essentially going forward by looking backwards. And if the vice president believes that's a way of -- of growing and expanding the Republican Party, then we're happy to leave him to those devices.

CROWLEY: Which is to say Democrats love it when two of the most unpopular Republican figures take on one of the most popular. But lost in that political equation is the fact that Cheney was and remains a favorite of conservative Republicans. His defense of the Bush-Cheney war on terror and his criticism that the Obama administration is making the U.S. less safe have resonance at the heart of the party -- which often tunes into, guess who?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM RUSHLIMBAUGH.COM)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Dick Cheney is one lone voice in the Republican Party.

What motivates Dick Cheney?

He is not hot for interns. He has the money he needs. He's not a torture freak. He doesn't want to run for political office. Dick Cheney is motivated by love for his country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Clearly, the former vice president is ill suited to the role of retiree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you surprised, sir, you're the one who has -- who defends the administration that much?

CHENEY: That's what vice presidents do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: He is on the political front lines now, on defense and on offense because somebody has to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FACE THE NATION," COURTESY CBS)

CHENEY: If I don't speak out, then where do we find ourselves, Bob?

Then the critics have free run. And there isn't anybody there on the other side to -- to tell the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: There is quiet cringing going on among some Republicans who see the Limbaugh/Powell/Cheney reparte as a damaging distraction, reinforcing the criticism that the GOP does not tolerate dissent.

But others see this dispute, Wolf, as a necessary part of putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

BLITZER: All right. Don't go away, Candy, because we've got more to talk about on this story coming up.

We want to go to Jessica Yellin, our national political correspondent, right now -- Jessica, there's another dramatic story involving a Republican from Florida that we're getting wind of right now, isn't there?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is, Wolf. Rpublican Governor Charlie Crist has been in the governor's mansion for just over two years, but he's ready to move on. He is jumping into the race for Republican Senator Mel Martinez's Florida seat and he is now the most prominent recruit, as they try to fend off Democrats in the next Congressional election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN (voice-over): He has high approval ratings, a national profile earned by stumping hard for John McCain and a reputation as a moderate. Now, Florida's popular governor is looking to trade his dark tan for a floor path to the U.S. Senate -- running, in part, on his image as a pragmatic centrist who believes Republican governors are the future of the party.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: Republican governors get it. We understand the importance of free enterprise, entrepreneurship and the American dream.

YELLIN: But the Senate race won't be a walk. Crist enraged conservatives by aggressively supporting President Obama's stimulus plan when few in his party would.

CRIST: We know it's important that we pass a stimulus package.

(APPLAUSE)

CRIST: It's important.

YELLIN: If he makes it to a general election, the governor could benefit from having earned the praise of this popular voice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM FEBRUARY 10)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Crist shares my conviction that creating jobs and turning this economy around is a mission that transcends parties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: That didn't sit well with conservatives, who are more likely to back former State House Speaker Marco Rubio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM RUBIO FOR SENATE AD, COURTESY YOUTUBE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a campaign for the kind of ideas that will change our country for the better, a campaign for ideas like tax reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Then, he'd have to contend with the Democratic Party -- a party clearly worried about Crist's potential crossover appeal. Already, the Democrats are up with this ad attacking him for running while the state is in a fiscal crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM DEMOCRATIC SENATORIAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE AD, COURTESY YOUTUBE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, the job's getting tough and Crist wants out, leaving Floridians with the mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP) YELLIN: Wolf, a recent Quinnipiac poll shows that Chris is way ahead of his Republican challenger, Rubio, by 54 percent to 8 percent. Now, that is a significant lead, but it's early days. Three Democrats have announced for the race, as well, including U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek.

And, you know, of course, Wolf, this creates another new headache for the Republicans. Now they have to find someone to hold onto the state House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. But he does have that crossover appeal. And let's not forget Florida, in the last presidential election, went for Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate. So there certainly are a lot of Democrats there who might be attracted to Charlie Crist.

All right, we're going to hope to speak to him in the next few days.

We'll talk about this and more.

Thanks, Jessica.

Jessica Yellin reporting.

A country faces an unusual struggle -- what to do with three -- repeat, three first ladies. The new president is a polygamist with three wives.

And researchers put salt under the microscope and say they're shocked -- shocked at what they found -- single meals containing days' worth of salt. Now, they're declaring war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the space shuttle Atlantis is racing toward the Hubble telescope for a $1 billion repair mission. Atlantis blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center this afternoon -- always a remarkable sight. And for the first time ever, another shuttle was on a nearby launch pad primed for a rescue mission in case of a debris strike. Atlantis is on track to arrive at the orbiting observatory on Wednesday. And NASA is hoping the repairs will keep the Hubble running for up to another decade.

Well, Pope Benedict is urging Israelis and Palestinians to explore every possible avenue to achieve peace. The pope arrived in Israel this morning -- his second leg of his tour of the Holy Land. He called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland and he pledged to honor the memory of the Holocaust victims. During his trip, the pope also plans to visit Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Well, it is now more expensive to mail a letter. The price of a first class stamp rose two cents today, to 44 cents. This is the third straight year rates have gone up in May. The increase comes as the U.S. Postal Service continues to struggle financially. So, if you stocked up on those so-called Forever stamps, well, you can still pay the lower rate.

I knew I was forgetting something -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I bought some of those for...

NGUYEN: Did you?

BLITZER: Yes, not many.

NGUYEN: Good for you.

BLITZER: But I bought a few of them. I like them.

NGUYEN: Oh, let me borrow a few.

BLITZER: Go buy some two cent stamps. That will help.

NGUYEN: OK.

BLITZER: Thanks, Betty.

Thanks very much.

Key players in the health care industry say they'll back President Obama's push for cost-cutting -- could that clear the way for major health care reform?

Gloria Borger is just back from an administration briefing. She's got the new information. Stand by.

A popular TV priest admits to an affair -- reigniting a debate about celibacy in the Catholic Church.

And can the major powers keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb without resorting to military force?

The British foreign secretary, David Miliband -- he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, the space shuttle Atlantis is heading toward the Hubble telescope after blasting off this afternoon. NASA hopes the repair mission will lift the Hubble to new scientific heights.

There is new information about February's deadly crash of a commuter plane near Buffalo, New York. It turns out the pilot did not have a full range of training for the emergency situation in which he found himself.

And a two month rally on Wall Street is over -- at least for now. The Dow fell almost 156 points today. This was the Dow's biggest one day sell-off in three weeks.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A major boost for President Obama's health care reform plan -- some key industry groups are now pledging to cut as much as $2 trillion in health care costs in support of the president's goal.

If they keep that promise, it would make the cost of health care reform much less expensive.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here. She just had a briefing with a senior administration official.

What did you learn -- Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they consider this very significant -- of course, not surprisingly, Wolf -- because of the huge numbers involved. Now, remember, these are just pledges of savings, so it's not written into law.

But if these pledges of these savings are fulfilled, that's $2 trillion over 10 years. That could essentially eliminate the budget deficit over the next decade. So you're talking big, big bucks here.

But what's really important is that these industries got together at all -- the pharmaceutical industries, doctors and hospitals. And they've all made a political decision, and that is they want to get on this health care train because otherwise they're afraid they're going to get run over by it.

BLITZER: Because especially the pharmaceutical industry, back in '93...

BORGER: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: ...'94, during Hillary Care, we remember all those Thelma and Louise ads...

BORGER: No way.

BLITZER: It was pretty tough for the Clinton White House to compete with all that.

BORGER: It was. And now, you know, this is a very, very different world from the world we saw 15 years ago. And I just want you to look at this chart.

Wolf, 15 years ago, you can see, employer health costs have more than doubled in the intervening years. So now you've got employers really, really wanting the government to come on in on this. You've got these industries wanting the government in on this. And, by the way, you've got an administration that believes that we can't get out of this financial mess that we're in -- much less reduce the budget deficit -- without solving this health care problem. BLITZER: All right. Don't go away, Gloria, because we're joined now by two strategists, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos; Democratic strategist Mark Penn.

Guys, thanks to both of you for coming in.

Mark, you remember those days of Hillary care. It was a complicated package the president sent up in '93, '94. It collapsed almost upon landing up on the Hill.

Has this administration learned the lessons of the failure of the Clinton White House?

MARK PENN, CEO, BURSON-MARSTELLER PUBLIC RELATIONS, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, I think there's two things. Number one, I think they've studied those lessons carefully.

And, number two, think it's a different time. I think the consensus today is that the health care system needs an overhaul and reform.

Before, Hillary Clinton was really pushing the envelope. She created the debate that's actually coming to fruition today.

BLITZER: Do you buy that?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think President Obama has been given a gift that no other president has had, and that is everybody is at the table. I work with a lot of folks in the health care industry and the pharmaceutical industry. Everybody knows something needs to be done.

Of course, the devil is in the details.

How do you reduce costs?

Ordinarily, it's rationing by the government. No one wants that. Ordinarily, it's killing innovation. Well, you don't want the next cancer treatment not to be there.

So how do you control costs?

BLITZER: Because I spoke with Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health & Human Services, here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And I pointed out that this administration -- this White House isn't doing what the Clinton White House did, writing the actual legislation...

BORGER: Oh.

BLITZER: They're letting Ted Kennedy and Henry Waxman and all the Democratic chair -- chairmen of the various related committees come up with their own version, given -- they've been given some guidelines from the White House.

BORGER: That's one of the lessons learned from the Clinton years.

BLITZER: That's a lesson that could potentially backfire, given the nature of who these members are in the House and the Senate.

BORGER: But now they have got the employers on board, they have got the doctors, the hospitals, the pharmaceutical companies on board. And one other important thing politically, if you listen carefully, they're not talking as much about universal coverage as they are about cost savings, because when you ask Americans what they care about, it's the cost of their health care.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And so far this administration has been top down, we're Washington, we're going to run the auto industry, the financial industry, and now the health care industry.

BLITZER: Is that why Democrats on the hill write the legislation?

PENN: I think what you're seeing though is a consensus approach. This is a very difficult issue to get consensus on. If you start with cost first, and then move increasingly up to the tough issues, I think that will work. I think the white house and the Congress working together is the key to success sere.

BLITZER: The former vice president Alex and I'm curious to hear what you think about this said if he had to pick a Republican to represent the Republicans to speak out between Colin Powell the former Secretary of state and retired chairman of the Chiefs of Staff or Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host, he goes with Rush Limbaugh.

CASTELLANOS: I go with the vice president; I would go with Rush Limbaugh too. Look both parties have bases. Barack Obama just won with his ...

Colin Powell also has a point. A lot of Republicans have left the party, not because they disagree with our principles, but we haven't had anything to say concrete about how you address society's problems. So they agree with us in theories, but Democrats have proms in fact.

BLITZER: Do you think Colin Powell is still a Republican?

CASTELLANOS: I think he made his choice; we didn't have a Republican Party that he felt at home in so no.

BLITZER: Because he endorsed Barack Obama.

CASTELLANOS: Because he endorsed Barack Obama, because he voted for the Democrats.

BLITZER: There were plenty of Republicans who voted for Barack Obama.

CASTELLANOS: And because he doesn't seem very comfortable with a Republican principle. You can't be less of what you are. All you have to do is explain how -- you don't moderate. The answer is you explain what you believe works and helps more people, which is a great story.

BLITZER: Give the Republicans some advice based on your political experience.

PENN: If you have a choice between following a talk show host and a decorated general, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I think that's a pretty clear choice.

CASTELLANOS: There's no choice that's necessary here. Again, the bottom rungs on a ladder, both parties have bases. You don't saw off the bottom rungs of the ladder, you just step on them to reach a better place.

BLITZER: I spoke to a lot of Democrats today and you saw that in Candy's piece as well. It was reflected that they're sitting back over at the white house and saying if they want Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney to be their representative, as opposed to Colin Powell, that's fine with them with those Democrats.

PENN: That's looking to the past and not looking to the future and listening to Rush Limbaugh is no way to expand the base of the Republican Party, which is what you need to do.

CASTELLANOS: Democrats have had generational change, they got it last election with Barack Obama, not in how they govern, that's still the whole big government way, but in personnel. Republicans haven't had that generational change, it's coming in ideas, and it's coming --

BLITZER: You know Mark the Democrats have been in this position before. There's always some light at the end of this tunnel for the Republicans.

PENN: We could be in the wilderness for a very long time.

Arlen Specter had a very good solution to the problem. He just left the party.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there. Thanks very much.

We would love to hear from you what, do you think about President Obama's health care pledge? Does he have the political capital he needs to follow-through on his health care problems? Submit your video comments to ireport.com/situationroom. Watch our show tomorrow to see if your video makes it on the air.

One country, get this, three first ladies. South Africa faces a one of a kind presidential problem as a polygamist takes office.

Plus, the debate over celibacy for priests roaring back to life after a famous father confesses to having an affair.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Iran today freed an American-Iranian journalist who was convicted of spying for the United States and had been sentenced to eight years in prison.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the British foreign Secretary, David Miliband.

Foreign Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

DAVID MILIBAND, U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY: Good afternoon, Wolf. It's good to be with you.

BLITZER: What do you make of this decision by the Iranian government to release this American journalist Roxana Saberi, what, if anything, does it say to you about what Iran is up to?

MILIBAND: Well, I hope it is significant. Obviously many of us have had concerns about the human rights situation in Iran for a long time. We thoroughly support the new approach of the Obama administration.

I think for too long Iran has been able to demonize the United States and never been faced with the hard consequences of the choices that it is making. The Obama administration's determination to reach out to Iran and say that there is a positive choice it can make is one that I think is the appropriate one.

It's not yet clear whether or not this decision will have an impact on the other issues that are major concerns for the international community with Iran, notably the nuclear (INAUDIBLE) and it's role in the Middle East.

But I think it speaks to the way in which the Obama administration has changed the agenda.

BLITZER: Well, do you believe it's realistic to assume that sanctions, diplomacy, political pressure, can change Iran's move apparently towards building a nuclear bomb? In other words, short of military action, can anything stop Iran from developing nuclear bomb?

MILIBAND: Well, yes, I think it can. We're 100 percent focused on a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear problem, for obvious reasons. And I think that the Iranian government need to confront a fundamental choice.

Do they impoverish their own people by inviting sanctions from the international community because of their nuclear program, in defiance of not just the United Nations, but the International Atomic Energy Authority, or do they actually engage with the international community, including the United States, and normalize their relations on a civilized basis.

And I think that that choice is one that has never been properly posed to the Iranian government or the Iranian people, and finally it is being.

BLITZER: Is Britain ready to step up to increase sanctions against Iran?

MILIBAND: Absolutely. We've been clear as leading members of the so-called E3 plus 3, the three European states plus Russia, China, and the U.S. But it's a mixture of incentives and pressure, three rounds of sanctions, the European sanctions are -- actually go beyond what is required by the United Nations.

And we're clear that the Obama administration makes its outreach bilaterally and multilaterally with Iran, absolutely clear that if Iran shuns the opportunity it's being presented, then it invites economic consequences.

BLITZER: Are Russia and China on board with you?

MILIBAND: Well, I think that there has been a significant change in that the Russians and the Chinese, they're part of our grouping. But now they see that what they've always asked for, which is outreach to Iran by the Americans is being done.

And so there will be no excuses for anyone if the American approach is snubbed by the Iranians.

BLITZER: Is the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari doing the right thing in launching this military offensive against the Taliban-al Qaeda elements in the Swat Valley, elsewhere along the border with Afghanistan, even though hundreds of thousands of refugees have now emerged?

MILIBAND: Well, I'll be meeting with President Zardari in about an hour's time for an update on his latest thinking. It's essential that the government of Pakistan ensure that their writ runs across the whole of their territory.

It's not acceptable for a terrorist organization to claim important towns and cities. The western part of Pakistan is vital to everything that the United States and its coalition allies are trying to do in Afghanistan. You can't have stability in Afghanistan without stability in Pakistan.

BLITZER: Are you...

(CROSSTALK)

MILIBAND: ... right that the Pakistani authorities reestablish control.

BLITZER: So you support this military offensive?

MILIBAND: Well, I'm -- what it has to be is not just a security presence, but also an economic and political presence, because the western part of Pakistan has never had proper economic and social investment, and never the presence of political parties either.

So there is a massive job of modernization to be done if the people of Pakistan are to be summoned behind the will of the Pakistani government.

BLITZER: Are you at all concerned about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

MILIBAND: We, obviously, along with the whole world, want to make sure that anyone with a nuclear arsenal keeps it under lock and key. But I've never been presented with any intelligence evidence that suggests that the Pakistani arsenal is not under lock and key.

BLITZER: Jordan's King Abdullah is apparently deeply concerned that unless there is some breakthrough, some real serious movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front over the next year, year-and-a-half, there could be yet another war in that part of the world.

Do you share that concern?

MILIBAND: Well, conflict is never far from the surface in the Middle East. And it will never -- it will always be close to the surface as long as the Palestinian issue is unresolved. We support an independent, viable Palestinian state able to live alongside a secure Israel.

King Abdullah of Jordan is making a major drive on behalf of 22 Arab states to say that they will normalize relations with Israel as long as a Palestinian state is created more or less along the borders that existed in 1967.

And I think that King Abdullah's warning is one that should be read by everyone, because conflict can only be of harm to the whole of the Middle Eastern region. And I think that the series of visits to Washington over the next three weeks by Prime Minister Netanyahu, by President Abbas, and by President Mubarak of Egypt, coming to see President Obama, and then the moves by the U.S. administration are absolutely critical, because every previous American administration has turned to the issue of the Middle East at the end of its term.

What the Obama administration is doing is focusing on this from day one. And we thoroughly support that.

BLITZER: Do you believe the new government in Israel, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is ready for a two- state solution, Israel and Palestine?

MILIBAND: We don't pre-judge anyone. I'll be meeting Foreign Minister Lieberman of Israel on Wednesday. Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken today of a political track, an economic track, and a security track that Israel needs.

He's right about that. And we now need to make sure that the details follows the ambition to have three tracks for progress. That's vital. We shouldn't prejudge any government, it's the product of a Democratic election, and it should be judged by word and deed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: David Miliband the foreign Secretary of Britain speaking with me. Why did a plane fall from the sky on to a house near Buffalo, New York? New questions today on whether the pilot had enough experience for the emergency situation.

And he's admitted to an affair and in doing so a well known priest stirs up new controversy about celibacy and the Catholic Church. He's now speaking out.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The very popular TV priest caught in a love scandal is now speaking out publicly. Elaine Quijano has got the story and the details for us.

Pretty powerful stuff he's saying.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's fascinating, Wolf. Father Alberto Cutie was photographed kissing and hugging a woman in Miami Beach. Now his story is reigniting the debate over priests and celibacy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Days after racy photos surfaced of him embracing a woman on a beach in Miami, Father Alberto Cutie publicly confessed in his first English language interview on CBS's "The Early Show."

FATHER ALBERTO CUTIE, PRIEST: It was an imprudence. It was stupid. I was responsible for it.

QUIJANO: With his telegenic (ph) looks and prolific media appearances, Father Cutie had been dubbed Father Oprah. But the Roman Catholic priest now admits he's the one who needed guidance.

CUTIE: This is the only person that I've had sexual contact with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's because you fall in love with her?

CUTIE: I believe I have fallen in love and I believed that I struggled with that between my love for god and my love for the church and my love for service.

QUIJANO: Father Cutie minus his priest collar explained he struggled privately with this for some time, as he put it, and sought spiritual counsel from other priests. Despite his lapse, Cutie doesn't want to be labeled as anti-celibacy.

CUTIE: I think celibacy is good but I also believe that what many say is it should be optional and that I do believe that.

QUIJANO: But celibacy is a requirement for Roman Catholic priests. Father David Toups with the U.S. conference of Catholic bishops says celibacy is meant to liberate men so they can fully dedicate their lives to the church.

REV. DAVID TOUPS, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: So that I can be a spiritual father to the whole family of faith. And in the middle of the night when my three year old is crying and I get a call from the hospital, there's no conflict. A celibate priest is really free to serve as needed in the church.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, Father Cutie is taking a leave of absence to reflect on his next step. He was asked about the possibility of marrying this woman and he says he needs to pray about that.

BLITZER: What's been the reaction among his parishioners?

QUIJANO: Well as you can imagine it has been mixed. Some people obviously are shocked and disappointed, others say that he's human and it's time for the Catholic Church to change. In the meantime the archbishop of Miami issued a statement over the weekend calling these events truly regrettable.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. We're going to stay on top of this story as well, a very compelling story indeed.

It's a first when it comes to first ladies. South Africa now has three, three first ladies all currently married to the new president putting the country and diplomacy in some unchartered territories. CNN's Nkepile Mabuse has details from Johannesburg -- Nkepile?

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, polygamy is legal in South Africa, so it's not an uncommon practice, but it certainly is something new in the office of president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MABUSE: South Africa's new president is a proud traditionalist and an unabashed playing meant. President Jacob Zuma has three wives all of whom were present at his inauguration on Saturday, playing the official first lady role was wife number one, publicity shy woman whom he married in 1973. And among the 5,000 dignitaries invited to the event, was wife number two who he wed last year and his latest wife, both in their 30s. Polygamy is not uncommon in South Africa. In fact, it is one of the cultural practices the country's liberal constitution protects. But he is the first head of state in South Africa with more than one spouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Zuma will decide to come to whatever function and will do everything to ensure that he receives full support for whatever decision he makes.

MABUSE: His first wife is likely to avoid the spotlight but it might be a different story for his two younger wives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MABUSE: What's also unclear is whether or not all of his wives will be living with him under one roof at the presidential residence. That, too, his office says, is up to the president to decide -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Nkepile Mabuse, thanks so much for that report. Fascinating stuff indeed.

A war on salt. Researchers discover some popular meals that contain days, literally days worth of sodium and now they're calling for a crackdown.

Plus, a military shocker. The top U.S. general in Afghanistan forced out. What's behind the sudden change in command?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Florida, two children sit in the water as they watch the launch of space shuttle "Atlantis."

In Jerusalem, Pope Benedict XVI hugs Israeli President Perez during a reception ceremony.

In Pennsylvania, soccer fans cheer as they learn a new expansion team called the Philadelphia Union is coming to their state.

And here in Washington, D.C., a white tree frog perches on the hand of a biologist at the National Zoo.

Some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

Even the food activists find it shocking. A watch dog group is now warning of dangerously high levels of salt in some restaurant meals. Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York. She's been investigating.

What are you finding out?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just trying to picture this. This is an average container of salt, a little more than one pound, probably in a lot of people's homes. And multiply this by eight. The Center for Science in the Public Interest estimates that Americans eat eight pounds of salt every year. It cites New York City as a leader in pressuring restaurants to cut salt use and wants that effort to be expanded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Some restaurants tout as special but the food police call it toxic for their salt content.

MICHAEL JACOBSON, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: What we found was shocking, even for people like me who have been immersed in this issue for 30 years.

SNOW: The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group, tracked meals in chain restaurants, claiming some contain more than three times the amount of salt recommended on a daily basis. The Red Lobster's feast of lobster, mashed potatoes, Caesar salad, a biscuit and lemonade totaled just over 7,000 milligrams of salt; Chili's buffalo chicken fajitas with tortillas, condiments and a Dr. Pepper almost 7,000; Olive Garden's tour of Italy lasagna with a breadstick, family size garden salad and dressing and a Coca-Cola over 6,000 milligrams. The report targets kids' menus. The Red Lobster chicken fingers with a biscuit, fries and raspberry lemonade has about 2,400 milligrams of salt, roughly two days' recommended intake of sodium for kids.

DR. NIECA GOLDBERG, AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION: Salt is pretty dangerous because it can lead to high blood pressure which leads to heart attack and stroke and can also worsen the condition of people who have heart failure.

SNOW: The American Heart Association recommends adults have less than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day, which amounts to a teaspoon. For African-Americans, middle aged and older adults and those with high blood pressure, the recommended limit is 1500 milligrams. Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Chili's did not dispute the findings but said they offer options to people watching calories and sodium intake. A restaurant trade group supports listing nutritional information and says restaurants have been cutting sodium levels.

ELIZABETH JOHNSON, NATIONAL RESTAURANTS ASSOCIATION: We need to recognize that people go to restaurants for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's for convenience, sometimes it's an indulgence and not something they would consume every day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Some of these restaurants list nutritional information on their websites and it's also available at restaurants if you request it but right now sodium content isn't listed on menus, Wolf.

BLITZER: What does the FDA think about all this?

SNOW: The FDA says it's working to find ways to cut sodium intake but on labels specifically, it limits the amount of sodium that can be in a product if it's labeled healthy.

BLITZER: Lots of salt out there. Thanks very much for that.

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

It's good, tastes good when you put salt on it. You know that, Jack.

CAFFERTY: It does taste good. I love salt. The other thing that I was thinking watching Mary's report is the city of New York, if they were to make a list of things that are really important and require their immediate attention, how much salt is on my lunch at some restaurants? Got to be way, way down the list. They got a lot of other stuff going on in this town that the mayor and his folks could address before worrying about salt content. The question this hour, where's the best place to put your money these days.

Howard in North Carolina: "We're looking at the best opportunity of a lifetime to buy real estate at bargain basement prices. Does it involve risk? Of course it does but with the yields on savings close to nothing, making smart investments in properties can bring handsome rewards over time."

Jeff in Ohio: "I'm putting as much of my paycheck in my 401k right now in order to ride the market up. I also put money left over in staggered certificates of deposit to get the most interest possible."

Bill writes: "My son, the investment analyst, claims there are only two positions to be in at the moment cash and fetal. The worst is not over and likely hasn't gotten here yet. The recent market optimism, that's what someone once called the bears loading the elevator for the ride down."

Oz in Gig Harbor, Washington, "I like the cookie jar! Before the economic crisis hit, I had $5,000 in my 401k, nearly $200,000 in my house and $500 in the cookie jar. Since the crisis I have less than $3,000 in my 401k and my house is only worth $189,000 but my cookie jar still has $500 in it that has the pleasant odor of chocolate chips."

Linda in Arizona: "I keep all my money in a teacup. There's still room for tea."

Lou says: "If I had a lot of extra cash sitting around, I would be buying up some of these foreclosed properties near the ocean in Florida and California. When times turn good again, and they will, I'd be making a tidy profit on resale."

Bob in Louisville, Kentucky: "Put any extra money you have on 'Rachel Alexandra' in the Preakness."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/Caffertyfile, look for yours there among hundreds of others. You may enjoy that with a little salt -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Not too much. Just a little. Jack, thank you.

Happening now, an abrupt change of command in Afghanistan. The top U.S. military commander is fired before thousands more U.S. troops roll in. Is his replacement up to the challenge?

President Obama's new allies in health care reform fought the Clintons over a decade ago. This hour, $2 trillion worth of promises.

And "Atlantis" takes off on a space mission so daring that another shuttle is standing by to fly to the rescue.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.