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THE SITUATION ROOM

Barack Obama vs. Osama bin Laden; Time Running Out in Plane Search; Newt Gingrich Regrets Calling Sotomayor 'Racist'

Aired June 3, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the secrets of Flight 447 buried deep within the Atlantic Ocean. Rough seas and wind hamper the search for the so-called black boxes.

Is time running out? We're going to Rio de Janeiro.

Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich change their tone on the president's Supreme Court nominee. Their second thoughts after labeling Sonia Sotomayor a racist.

And a long-awaited father/son reunion on the brink of happening suddenly blocked. The dad, an American shares his heartbreak with us, and he vows to keep fighting the Brazilian courts for custody.

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

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But up first, the important story we're following, President Obama right now in the heart of the Muslim world, trying to ease tensions and in some cases outright hatred of the United States. But even as he landed in Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden was fueling Muslim anger and threatening the United States of America.

Our Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He's traveling with the president.

This is a critically important day in the search for peace in the Middle East and a lot more beyond that -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And this administration did something a little different than the previous administration. Rather than ignore Osama bin Laden, they decided at least a little bit to engage with him, to charge that he is desperately trying to pull attention away from the president's big trip to the Mideast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): The president's royal welcome from King Abdullah -- a red carpet, a massive gold necklace that is Saudi Arabia's highest honor. Everything, it seemed, but women in the Saudi delegation, a reminder that Mr. Obama's call for change in the Muslim world will not come overnight. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek His Majesty's counsel, and to discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East.

HENRY: Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Osama bin Laden, who decided to mark the start of the president's trip with a threatening message.

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): Obama proved that he's walking the same road of his predecessors to build enmity against Muslims and increase the number of fighters against the U.S. while establish more lasting wars.

HENRY: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs charged bin Laden is merely trying to upstage President Obama's long-awaited speech to the Muslim world Thursday.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think it's surprising that al Qaeda would want to shift attention away from the president's historic efforts and continued efforts to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world.

HENRY: A message reinforced by officials throughout the Obama administration.

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think the timing is pretty self-evident, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the timing on this one.

P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: There will be a contrast between bin Laden's position of intolerance and perpetual conflict and the president's message tomorrow offering of a vision of a peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and interconnected world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now, in private, top White House officials are even blunter, claiming that bin Laden is scared right now, that he feels threatened because of the president's outreach to the Muslim world, coupled with his plans to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, are pulling the terrorist chief's recruitment tools off the table, and that's why he's lashing out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's look ahead to his important speech tomorrow to the Arab and Muslim world from Cairo. You'll be there, Ed. How is he planning on engaging the American public at least going into this speech?

HENRY: Well, he's going to be trying to use new tools, some of the things he used on the campaign, expand that all around the world, not just in the U.S. He's going to be sending out text messages in four different languages, the U.S. government will be, including Persian, as well as Arabic, and they're going to allow people to respond to those text messages, start a conversation. And also, they're going to have live chats on Facebook. They estimate, the White House does, there are about 20 million users on Facebook in the Arab world. They again want to keep the conversation going there.

And then when this speech is done, they're going to send a transcript out not just in English, as normal, they're going to send out a White House transcript in some 13 different languages. Again, try to keep this conversation going, open up a dialogue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, he's on the scene for us in Riyadh.

Thank you.

President Obama's remarks in Egypt tomorrow will be directed at a very diverse community of Muslims spanning the globe. This map highlights the countries with a significant or a majority Muslim population. There are about 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, roughly one-fifth of the world's population.

While many people associate Islam with the Middle East, fewer than 15 percent of Muslims are Arab. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population, with more than 200 million people, followed by Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Turkey.

Let's get to the search now for clues in the mysterious Air France disaster. Military planes and ships are hunting for wreckage in deep and very rough waters off Brazil. Officials fear the so- called black box recorders that could reveal the cause of the crash may never be found.

CNN's John Zarrella is covering the investigation for us. He's joining us now live from Rio de Janiero.

What's the latest, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a little while ago we spoke with air force officials here in Brazil and asked them that very thing, how is that hunt going for the black boxes? And the black box, that being the cockpit voice recorder and the data recorder. And they said they're doing everything they can to find them as quickly as they can, but at this point, no indication that they have gotten any signal from those boxes.

As far as the search goes, early this morning the air force did recover more debris. In a three-mile circular area, they found four spots of debris, some small pieces of debris, 10 items, they said, in those areas, as well as one larger piece of debris, a 21-foot in diameter piece that could be from the fuselage. But air force officials told us that there were no markings that they could see on that piece from the sky. So they're still pressing the search for that, as well as the fact that they also found an oil slick, or what was more likely jet fuel, on the surface that was about 12 miles long.

They are still trying to get to these pieces of debris with ships that are in the area now. No indication, though, from the air force that they have actually picked any of that debris up.

On the ground here in Rio de Janeiro, we are being told that tomorrow, at about noon Eastern Time, there will be a service here attended by many people and mourners on behalf of the families involved in this tragedy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it is a great tragedy, indeed.

All right, John. Thank you.

Let's take a closer look at the track record of search teams in two other major airplane disasters at sea.

TWA Flight 800 went down off New York in 1996, most likely because of a fuel tank explosion. Divers found remains of 214 out of 230 victims, and they were able to recover 95 percent of the jumbo jet.

EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed off Massachusetts in 1999. Investigators believe pilot error was to blame. Aviation officials identified the remains of 163 people out of 217 on board. And about 70 percent of the plane's wreckage was recovered.

Crews in the Air France disaster may not have as much success because the plane's wreckage is now in far -- in far, far deeper water and the wreckage is scattered far off the coast.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, while President Obama tries to boost the image of the United States in the Muslim word, it turns out most Arabs don't look too highly on Muslim countries. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows only 21 percent of those surveyed have a favorable opinion of Muslim countries. Forty-six percent have an unfavorable view.

Compare that to 2002, before the start of the Iraq War. Twenty- four percent had a favorable view, 41 percent a negative opinion. About a third of those polled had a neutral opinion both then and now.

The poll also shows most Americans, 78 percent, say people in the Muslim world have an unfavorable opinion of the United States. But people are split on whether such a negative view by Muslims even matters.

At a town hall meeting in Turkey this year, President Obama declared, "The United States is not and never will be at war with Islam." This poll found a majority of Americans agreed that the U.S. is not at war with the Muslim world, but six of 10 Americans think the Muslim world considers itself at war with us.

The poll numbers seem to suggest the feeling of distrust then is mutual, and it certainly looks like President Obama has his work cut out for him when it comes to smoothing over tensions with the Muslim world. Here's the question: Have your feelings about Muslim countries changed in the last several years?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thanks very much.

A dramatic reversal by two of the harshest critics of the president's Supreme Court nominee. Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich had called Sonia Sotomayor a racist. Why are they backtracking right now?

Plus, as searchers race to find the flight recorders from a doomed Air France jet, experts tell us there's a better way to build a black box.

And he came this close to reclaiming custody of his son. Now an American father is speaking out about his shocking new setback in the Brazilian courts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Is Judge Sonia Sotomayor is meeting those who will judge her fitness for the U.S. Supreme Court. But is her whirlwind schedule taking a toll? Today, when asked which senators she met with, she mixed up one senator's name with another. An embarrassed Sotomayor explained she met with "20 senators in the last two days."

Meanwhile, two people have been very harsh on the judge are now sounding a little bit differently.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash is standing by with more on what's going on.

Dana, another busy day on the Hill.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And you talk to Republican senators here, pretty much any of them, and they'll tell you how frustrated they are that two powerful Republican voices have seemed to undermine what they were hoping would be a discussion about Sotomayor's judicial approach and turning that into personal attacks.

Well, today, at least one Republican clearly got that message, and another made some surprising news in saying that he could possibly look past disagreements with Sotomayor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Day two of her Senate courtesy calls, Sonia Sotomayor again keeping mum, even as two of her loudest conservative critics changed their tune.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I can see a possibility of supporting this nomination if I could be convinced that she does have a sensibility toward life in a legal sense... BASH: Rush Limbaugh said that after setting off a political explosion with this...

LIMBAUGH: So here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might want to say a reverse racist.

BASH: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich called Sotomayor a racist too. Limbaugh is not retreating on that, but Gingrich is, saying on his Web site that his reaction was "too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so."

The sentiment he's referring to, Sotomayor's suggestion a wise Latina woman could use her experience to reach a better conclusion than a white male. Gingrich now says, "The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable."

Gingrich acknowledged he had been criticized, but CNN is told that privately, he was getting pummeled by fellow Republicans for going too far.

GOP senators told us they were surprised by his reversal and relieved.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm very glad he backed off. I think that's unusual that commentators do that, and I think it was very good that he did. I think that will help us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Gingrich this morning retracted his comment calling you a racist.

BASH: Sotomayor ignored at least three attempts by reporters to ask about Gingrich. One time, White House handlers intervened.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Rush Limbaugh said today he is being urged to dial it back a little bit on the racism charge, but he explicitly refused, Wolf. He said that it's racism, reverse racism, whatever, but it's still racism, and she would bring a form of racism and bigotry to the court.

What he did change his tune on though is the idea that perhaps if he finds out her position on abortion might be something that he could support, then he could actually support her nomination. A different issue.

BLITZER: Very different. All right. Thanks very much, Dana.

And joining us now, our senior political correspondent, Gloria Borger, and our chief national correspondent, John King, the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," which airs every Sunday morning.

What's going on here? Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, they're changing their tone. Take us behind the scenes. GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they're clearly walking this back, Wolf. And I know for a fact that Newt Gingrich has heard from a lot of Republicans, including Republicans who might have been inclined to support him if he were to decide to run for the presidency next time around, saying that he hurt himself, that he went too far out on a limb calling her a racist. And so he had no choice but to walk this back.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He has been pummeled. A friend of mine in the Republican circle used the word "pummeled" today, saying by outsiders, including friends saying you can't do this, you cannot put yourself out ahead of the people who have to make these decisions, like the Republicans in the Senate, that you do the party a disservice. Interesting.

More interesting, perhaps, was Rush citing the abortion issue in his going back, saying, well, she's a Catholic, maybe she would be with us on Roe v. Wade. Of course, there's nothing in her record about Roe v. Wade, but if you do listen to anti-abortion forces, Focus on the Family, a conservative organization that focuses on those issues and others, they say, you know what? She did support the rights of anti-abortion demonstrators in one big case, she supported the Bush administration in a Mexico City overseas funding case.

Nothing about Roe v. Wade, but they do say this in what they call the right to life movement -- that anyone else on the president's short list would be worse for them, they believe, that Sonia Sotomayor. So interesting retreat by both of them.

BLITZER: A coincidence in terms of the change in tone from the two of them, or is there some sort of coordination?

BORGER: Well, look, it's very hard for us to draw -- I have not been able to -- to draw a direct line between Point A and Point B and these two men. But you have to believe that it's no coincidence that this happened on the same day that we heard from Newt Gingrich first, and then we heard from Rush Limbaugh.

But what Gingrich was also hearing from Republicans in the Senate is, look, you're making it more difficult for us to make a legitimate case. And maybe the case on abortion, maybe the case on some of her judicial rulings, but if all you're going to do is throw invective around, that's all that the American public is going to hear.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

KING: And he is the keynote speaker at a big congressional fund- raiser in the week ahead, and the party knew and everybody knew he's giving the big speech at that the dinner, all to people who gave money, all to lawmakers who show up, anyone in the room. Do you agree with Newt Gingrich by coming to this event? Do you agree with Newt Gingrich? So by dialing it back now, he gives them the space.

BLITZER: John, let me switch gears quickly. Saudi Arabia, the visit, the president meeting with King Abdullah today. I don't know if this is true or not true, but some people have suggested to me what's happening today behind closed doors in Saudi Arabia could be, in the long run, a lot more important than the speech he's going to give in Cairo tomorrow.

KING: Well, certainly when it comes to the big policy questions. Can you get Arab Muslim support standing up to Iran? Can you get the Saudis to push other Arab countries to help the administration pressure Israel?

The Arab countries want Israel to go first, end settlements, prove you'll negotiate with the Palestinians. President Obama would like the Arabs to come forward and call Israel's bluff, essentially force them by saying if you move now, we will recognize you.

So, on the big policy questions, Saudi support, economic, oil, and the price of that. Saudi support in the short term and potentially in the long run is huge.

The speech is more aimed at the next generation, Muslims in the high school and college years who have been told and who have been just taught by their culture the last 10 years to hate the United States or mistrust the United States. But in terms of getting things down, the Saudi meeting could be pivotal.

BORGER: It's also a sign that the president really doesn't want to alienate America's old friends like the Saudis as he goes to other places and tries to talk to younger Muslims and say, look, you have to look at us differently, we are a different country now. And so I think he's walking the generational line here as well.

BLITZER: We'll have live coverage of the president's speech tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern from Cairo. The president of the United States speaking to the Arab and Muslim world.

Guys, thanks very much.

So what do you think President Obama should say to the Muslim world in his speech from Cairo tomorrow? Submit your video comments to ireport.com/situationroom. We'll try to get some of your thoughts on the air.

Might we never fully know why that Air France flight plunged into the ocean? We have the latest on the search for the so-called black boxes and the challenges that are causing some officials to suggest they may never be found.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid down a line on Cuba. But Cuba's supporters smacked back her conditions. You're going to find out how a longstanding punishment against Cuba has just been reversed.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. There's significant breaking news coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. An almost 50-year-old punishment for Cuba, that punishment has now been reversed. The Organization of American States now revoking the 1962 decision that suspended Cuba from the OAS. The president of Honduras praising the action, saying, and I'm quoting now, "The Cold War has ended this day."

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first wanted Cuba to make some Democratic reforms and prove its overall human rights record.

What is going on?

Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's watching this story for us.

Jill, is the U.S. government, the Obama administration and the OAS, the Organization of American States, on the same page?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf, I don't think you can say that, because after all, these members were going more quickly than the United States wanted to go. The U.S. is moving in that direction. You know, they have talked about having talks with Cuba, but at this point they weren't repaired. They wanted more support of human rights and democracy in Cuba.

So this was happening a lot faster than in United States really wanted.

BLITZER: But it's fair to say, Jill, I think you'll agree, that some of these initial steps that the Obama administration has made in trying to improve a dialogue with Cuba seems to have opened the door to the OAS potentially taking this decision?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, I think you could argue that. And also, times have changed.

I mean, this is Cold War. There is no more Cold War. And also, you know, there have been more leftist governments coming into -- in Latin America, and the mood really now is to do something to open up with Cuba. But the United States is going more slowly than the rest of Latin America and the Western Hemisphere would want.

BLITZER: What are the real world actual implications for Cuba once it becomes a member of the OAS?

DOUGHERTY: Well, certainly it's a member of -- it would be a member of a hemispheric organization, it gives them a role in some decision-making. And also, it would be, tacitly, perhaps, an acknowledgement of some type, if they got in. And, Wolf, that's another question, because they don't necessarily want to get in.

They consider the OAS a tool of the United States. But if they got in, it would be an acknowledgement that they do have a level of democracy that the other members have.

BLITZER: I suspect the Cuban government will rethink its attitude toward the OAS right now, but we'll wait and see, Jill. Thanks very much for that.

There's a desperate search to find those so-called black boxes to try to figure out why a plane plunged into the ocean.

Let's get some on our top story, at least one of out top stories, right now.

Searchers are combing through floating debris and oil slicks, but heavy winds and high seas are complicating the efforts. And finding the flight data recorders pose a huge, huge challenge.

We asked our Brian Todd to come in and take a closer look at what is going on -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the best clues to this tragic mystery may lie in these metal containers that Wolf just mentioned, containers not much bigger than a shoe box, which could well be sitting miles below the Atlantic surface.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): As rescue teams search for more debris from Flight 447, they're also looking for the so-called black boxes, which are really orange.

They carry the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, containing information on what was said in the cockpit, data on how the plane pitches from side to side and rolls, even the amount of force a pilot might put on the pedal, crucial information for investigators.

How could search teams find those recorders?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attached to each of these data reporters is what we call a pinger. It puts out an acoustic pulse once a second for 30 days as soon as it's submerged in the water.

TODD: But French officials say they may never hear that ping from Flight 447. Mounted in the plane's tail, the box sinks along with the aircraft after water crashes. This search covers hundreds of square miles of ocean, at depths which officials say could range from 6,500 feet to about 21,000.

Black boxes can send a ping signal from as far down as 20,000 feet. But one official says this area is not only deep, but mountainous under the surface.

There is an alternative to the sinking black box that's under development, called the deployable recorder. The manufacturer explains how it works.

PETER CONNOLLY, VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER FOR DATA AND IMAGING, DRS TECHNOLOGIES: This system will deploy off an aircraft. So, when there's a sudden de-acceleration or an impact with water, our system will deploy off of the aircraft. It will activate to a satellite system. It will provide the search-and-rescue crews the ability to find this data within hours, vs. days.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Essentially, that device will float on the water. Now, manufacturers say that the -- these deployable recorders could not only save critical time in looking for data boxes, but would also save a lot of money, the money used for planes, submersible vehicles, and divers, Wolf, that's money being spent as we speak in the Atlantic trying to find the -- the data recorders for Flight 447.

BLITZER: Sounds like a no-brainer.

Are any of these being used at all right now?

TODD: Not on commercial aircraft. But a congressional source tells us they are deployed on military aircraft in several -- used by several countries, including F-18 fighter jets.

And we're told the Department of Homeland Security has them in a testing program right now. They could be deployed relatively soon on commercial...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We're going to speaking to Peter Goelz, the former director of the NTSB...

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: ... later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will talk to him about this as well.

Brian, good work. Thank you.

There's another story we're following right now that would be agonizing for any parent. A father travels all the way from the United States to Brazil, hoping to finally reunite with his son, after a brutal years-long custody battle. But, literally, hours before the father was supposed to pick up his son, hopes -- his hopes -- are dashed.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is following this story for us.

Deb, what's going on today? Because it's -- it's been a roller coaster of emotion.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it really has, Wolf.

And imagine this, the father waiting in his hotel room, thinking his son was going to be turned over to the U.S. Embassy in Rio de Janeiro, and, of all things, a political party steps in challenging an abduction law.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FEYERICK (voice-over): For five years, David Goldman has prayed for the day he would to bring his son, Sean, home from Brazil. The day came and went. And, once again, David Goldman returns to America alone.

DAVID GOLDMAN, FATHER: I don't know how many times I have been here now, 10, 11, always under the guise that I'm going to bring my son home, and something happens. So, until the wheels are up, I -- I don't expect it. And it's -- it's -- it's -- it's tragic.

FEYERICK: Goldman's wife took their child on vacation to her native Brazil in 2004, never intending to return to New Jersey.

GOLDMAN: They didn't patch (INAUDIBLE) clothing.

FEYERICK (on camera): So, they took nothing. They really took nothing.

GOLDMAN: No. They packed everything of hers.

FEYERICK (voice-over): She divorced Goldman and remarried. When she died last year during childbirth, Goldman thought he would be reunited with his son. Instead, a Brazilian family court awarded custody to Sean's stepdad.

GOLDMAN: And they're sending this message that anyone can take any child from anywhere, come to Brazil, and if they can hide enough or stall enough or keep the child here long enough, then they're entitled to that child? That's unacceptable.

FEYERICK: After years of legal motions and appeals, Goldman won, or at least he thought he did. Hours before he was to be reunited with his son, the Brazilian Supreme Court agreed to hear a new claim, that Sean, now 9, would be hurt psychologically if abruptly taken from the place where has lived almost five years.

PHILIP CROWLEY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS BUREAU, STATE DEPARTMENT: We are disappointed by the decision, but U.S. Embarrass officials continue to work with the family.

FEYERICK: Goldman says his son, who attends private school and lives in a sprawling home, is likely being brainwashed by his wife's family.

GOLDMAN: He's in an unhealthy environment here. And it's very, very, very sad. And -- and the worst is, he's my son, I'm his dad, and I can't help him. The legal system here right now is preventing me from helping my child. His home is with his father, who is me, in New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Now, a lawyer for the family in Brazil says Sean is -- quote -- "happy where he is" and has said he wishes to stay in Brazil -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story this is. All right, Deb, thanks very much.

The father, by the way, David Goldman, returns from Brazil, as you know, without his son. He will be sitting down with our own Larry King for an emotional prime-time interview. You won't want to miss "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight, tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

New insight into the life and death of an abortion provider -- an exclusive interview with a man whose life was changed by the slain doctor during an agonizing time.

Plus, Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama, two very different first ladies, together -- in our "Strategy Session": Are they more alike than you might think?

And a bizarre robbery caught on tape -- the thief starts bawling like a baby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session" right now.

Joining us are Democratic strategist Steve Hildebrand, and Republican strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

The change in tone that we're hearing today from Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, even from Rush Limbaugh, changing his tone a little bit, not necessarily on the racism part involving Sonia Sotomayor, but what is going on here?

You know the Republican side of the story, Nancy.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I -- you know, I think they really swung wide, and they ended up very much hurting Republicans who have serious concerns about -- about this nominee's judicial record.

And those deserve to be taken seriously, like any nominee to the Supreme Court. But, by kind of overreaching and getting into what could at best I think be called name-calling, I think they really called into question anybody else's legitimate concerns.

And, so, they have tried to come back. I think you saw Republican leadership very annoyed with these comments that were made. And there's probably a little bit of an impact that you can see today playing out because of what they have done.

BLITZER: Because they -- all the Republican senators, including Mitch McConnell, a Republican leader in the Senate, and Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, all of them were very judicious in their comments, saying, you know what? This is a lifelong appointment. We want to go through all those cases. We want to go through those records. We don't agree with these -- these comments that she is a racist. STEVE HILDEBRAND, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I'm sure they were upset, as Nancy suggested, Wolf, but you can't be upset without condemning.

These -- these Republican senators should condemn their party leaders, Gingrich and -- and -- and...

BLITZER: Rush Limbaugh...

HILDEBRAND: ... Limbaugh, and ask them to -- to, not just clean up this rhetoric, but to not use it in the future.

BLITZER: Is that a -- a good criticism?

PFOTENHAUER: Well, you know, I don't know. I think they were -- I actually think their statements were rather strong.

I remember watching Senator Cornyn and thinking, wow, he's not just pushing back; he's furious that this has occurred. I mean, it was the body language as much as anything else. And -- you know, and let's face it. The statement that she had made, if a white male had made that, the -- the white male would have been crucified.

But she said -- you know, everyone said they wish that she had chosen better words. What is appropriate here is to examine is her record -- record. There are legitimate questions about where she is on Second Amendment, where she is on Roe v. Wade, where she is on eminent domain.

You know, there -- there are some legitimate questions. Let's look at those.

BLITZER: And it was interesting -- and it was interesting that Rush Limbaugh saying, you know what? We don't know where she stands on abortion rights for women. And maybe she, you know, opposes abortion rights for women, because there's no -- there's no record there. And she is Catholic, so, you know, you never know.

So, that was another thing he threw out today. And, if she -- and, if she opposes abortion, he might be for her.

HILDEBRAND: Rush Limbaugh is so sad. He doesn't take any of his comments back about racism, and he also believes that Gingrich should not have.

BLITZER: He did say that.

HILDEBRAND: He did say that just -- just this afternoon.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But this clear shift in tone, that's what we're talking about, right now, as this debate is about to get going.

HILDEBRAND: Well, you have seen it from Newt Gingrich. You have not seen it from Rush Limbaugh. PFOTENHAUER: But -- but pay attention to the -- the senators, you know, the Republican senators, who have to cast this vote. And I think they have been very measured, and they have been very serious, and they understand that elections have consequences.

And, so, what they have to do is legitimately look at the record, and then, at some point, do what I think Charles Krauthammer said in his article that was so measured. He says, look, about some point, this is about advise and consent. Unless she's unqualified for the position, you need to vote in favor of her.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about a beautiful picture we saw today up on Capitol Hill. Statuary Hall, they unveiled the new statue of President Ronald Reagan.

Let's put it up there and -- and show our viewers what was going on. And what was especially nice was to see the former first lady Nancy Reagan. She was there at this moment. I thought it was a great statue, by the way.

It's nice to see positive stories like this, Steve...

HILDEBRAND: No...

BLITZER: ... remembering -- you don't -- you don't...

HILDEBRAND: Well, I was going to say, no question.

BLITZER: Oh. Oh. I thought you said no.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

HILDEBRAND: This is -- this is a great day for our country, not just for the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan was the president for the country, not just a Republican leader.

He -- I don't agree with a lot of the things that he did or believed in. But it's an important day. We should honor it. And I think it's a great thing that President Obama has honored it with Nancy Reagan...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It's early, very early, but do you see differences between these two first ladies, Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama?

PFOTENHAUER: Yes.

I -- you know, and, if -- if I may -- I'm sure I will get pushback on this -- I think that Nancy Reagan was first lady -- I don't know whether it was personality or whether it was protocol at the time -- but Nancy Reagan was first lady at a time when it was a fairly scripted role. I think Michelle Obama is really redefining what the first lady's role is. This is very much a partnership. You see her on the air, for example, almost as much as you see the president. She's very energetic, very much making Washington, D.C., their home, not just -- I mean, it has been very inclusive from that standpoint.

I think that she risks a lot doing that, because, the more you're out there, the more people can, you know, take shots at you. But she's a much more activist first lady.

BLITZER: Every first lady is different.

PFOTENHAUER: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: They all bring a different style to the White House.

HILDEBRAND: Well, and it's a -- it's a different time.

PFOTENHAUER: Right.

HILDEBRAND: You know, this is almost 30 years later. And she is -- she's a different person. But they are both strong people. Michelle wants to make her mark, as -- as any first lady would.

You know, she made a comment to me two years ago, when they were still considering running for -- for the presidency, and she said, "I'm all for doing it if we can make a positive impact on people across this country and this world." And that's what she wants to do.

BLITZER: Guys, we have got to leave it there. Thanks very much.

PFOTENHAUER: Thank you.

HILDEBRAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: How did sensitive nuclear documents end up on a government Web site? We're following the trail.

And it's the 20th anniversary of an historic event in China, the crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. But can China -- China doesn't necessarily want to mark the occasion. And they're taking steps to prevent us from remembering.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The death of a Kansas doctor who performed abortions has renewed the passionate debate between anti-abortion activists and abortion-rights supporters.

CNN's Ted Rowlands sat down for an exclusive interview with a man who went to Dr. George Tiller during an agonizing moment in his life.

A warning: This story is about a subject many people find emotionally very disturbing. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Philip Wood says he held the bodies of his twin boys in Dr. George Tiller's operating room.

PHILIP WOOD, PATIENT OF SLAIN ABORTION PROVIDER: I remember feeling the hand kind of around my finger and kind of thinking how similar it looked to my own.

ROWLANDS: Wood and his wife, who doesn't want to be identified, went to Dr. Tiller's Wichita, Kansas, clinic in 1997 after they were told their twins suffered from a condition called twin-twin transfusion syndrome. They were sharing fluids, including blood. The boys were almost six months along when Wood and his wife were told they had almost no chance of survival, and that there was a potential risk to the mother's health as well.

WOOD: If anything, I wondered a little bit if they weren't suffering, you know, just by virtue of the fact that the heart rates were slow and they were not healthy at that point.

ROWLANDS: Wood and his wife made the difficult decision. He says, as they pulled into the clinic, they were greeted by heavy security and protesters.

WOOD: You did have to go past them, and they did yell. And they had -- one of them had a megaphone, I remember. And it was -- it was hard, it was difficult.

ROWLANDS: Wood says, once inside, they were counseled with two other couples.

WOOD: We also had to go through the Kansas-law-required forms, filling out, you know, that, yes, we know, by a certain time, the fetus does this and has that and has these structures and has a heartbeat.

ROWLANDS (on camera): Was that tough?

WOOD: Yes. Oh, sure, it was very hard.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): The procedure took place over a few days. The boys' lives were terminated first. Then they were delivered.

WOOD: He called me and said, would you like to see the boys now? And he had them all wrapped up in a little baby's blanket. He baptized them. I know that's not theologically, you know, the most appropriate thing. But I think God takes this into account. And then he -- he pulled the blankets back, and he let me touch them.

ROWLANDS: Wood, a professor at the University of Missouri, attended a vigil for Dr. George Tiller on campus this week. He also sent an open letter to Tiller's church, telling his story and expressing his admiration for Dr. Tiller.

WOOD: Just expressing how -- how great I thought he really was.

I think maybe the reason that I can sit here is because I really feel like I have been touched by greatness, by a real sense of commitment. And, so, it's -- it's that and gratitude.

There are many, many reasons for terminating a pregnancy that don't fall into neat categories. And, in the end, I do believe that abortion should be rare. I -- but I think that that is something that everyone who experiences an abortion would agree with.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Columbia, Missouri.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Now a different perspective on late-term abortion.

CNN's Anderson Cooper spoke with Diane Elder, who chose not to abort her daughter who was born in a severe defect and lived only 12 hours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ANDERSON COOPER 360")

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Diane, thanks so much for being with us.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You actually sent me an e-mail earlier today because of -- of an interview you read that we had on last night. We had a woman on who, in the 20 -- 20th or 21st week, chose to have a late-term abortion, because her baby had a severe -- severe genetic defect.

You had a similar situation. You made a different choice. Why?

DIANE ELDER, CHOSE NOT TO HAVE LATE-TERM ABORTION: Because I wanted my baby to have a natural death. I did not want my child to die at my hand. She...

COOPER: What did your baby have?

ELDER: My baby had a syndrome called Trisomy 18, which is a very severe chromosomal abnormality that is incompatible with life. That's what -- that's the phrase doctors used to me.

COOPER: And you found this out what -- at what stage of the pregnancy?

ELDER: I was somewhere in the fifth month of pregnancy.

COOPER: And, obviously, I mean, it's devastating news.

ELDER: It was devastating.

I found out on Mother's Day. And all I can remember is collapsing to the floor, because I had been trying for this baby for a very long time. So, it felt like a cruel -- almost a cruel joke to me that this happened.

And, so, I -- I went forward with the pregnancy another four months, probably the most difficult four months of my life. We were prepared for basically a -- a monster, because we were told she was going to not have a brain, and she was going to have possibly cleft palate, club feet.

And she was born with all those things. She was born missing part of her brain. She had one club foot, one rocker-bottom foot. She had just everything that goes along with that condition, which is -- is bad. But we were very taken aback when we found that, when she was placed in our arms, we were happy.

We were -- we were incredibly happy. My husband was with me. A lot of family and friends showed up right after the birth. She was passed around from arm to -- from arms to arms. I told the hospital I did not want any extraordinary measures taken, because I wanted what happened to her to be natural.

I didn't want to try to -- to force her to stay alive with needles and tubes, if that would cause her pain and just prolong a very difficult life. But I didn't want to kill her either. So, I just decided to completely turn myself over to nature and let it take its course.

And the resolution was really a very good resolution. She -- she never suffered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The baby did die after 12 hours.

You can watch "ANDERSON COOPER 360" every week night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

One -- one minute, he was a masked man with a baseball bat. The next, he was sobbing like a child. What drove a would-be thief to crime and then confession?

And Michelle Obama reveals she has some things in common with her husband's Supreme Court pick.

And, later, we will tag along with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, while he's at work at his other job, performing surgery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, on the eve of President Obama's historic speech in Cairo to an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, the question is, have your feelings about Muslim countries changed in the last several years? Jasmine in Germany writes: "No, my feelings haven't changed. I may not always agree with some countries' governments and policies, but I respect them. Many of the countries have brilliant histories of scientific and technological advancement. I wish many Christians would research the history of Christianity and take a good, hard look at some of the ugliness Christianity has put humans through in the name of God throughout history."

James writes: "Every time you turn on the news, you see Muslims burning American flags and going absolutely crazy when someone dares to say something they dislike. What do you think our view is going to be?"

Bob in Kansas: "I never thought much about the Muslim countries and their problems before 9/11. Now I think the U.S. sure gives them a lot of reasons to hate and mistrust us. If we spent half the money on their people's welfare as we spend on destroying their countries and their citizens, I would feel a lot safer -- at least until they attack us, in spite of our goodwill. By ignoring the least of these, we sure create a lot of enemies all across the world."

Kyle in Indianapolis: "Yes, my feelings about Muslim countries have changed in the last several years, because we are over there fighting for their freedom, and they don't want to help us. It's time for the Muslim countries to get their act together, figure out the U.S. isn't against them, but we are trying to help them."

And Rick in Ohio says: "I have visited the Middle East twice. I have found most of the people I encountered to be charming, friendly, and very inquisitive about our way of life. These are people with kids and grandkids and dreams for themselves and their families. I am convinced most of the one billion or so Muslims are just people. Our differences are more cultural than political. They have their extreme conservative right. And so do we. Theirs is just more dangerous than ours, isn't it?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

Could be the biggest audience ever for a single speech, I bet, tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're probably right, Jack. Thanks very much.

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

Happening now: an oil slick spreading for miles and pieces of debris. As searchers look for clues in the Atlantic Ocean, families of those lost on the Air France flight hold their first painful memorial.

The president is in the Middle East right now, reaching out to the Muslim world, as Osama bin Laden lashes out at America's leader. Where do the world's Muslims stand?