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Iranian Government Escalates Crackdown; Can President Obama Push Through Health Care Reform?

Aired June 23, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Security forces are massed in the capital city of Tehran. Residents are said to fear for their lives because of the bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.

These images just in to CNN were taken within the last couple of days. Faced with threats from the government, most demonstrators apparently are staying home after more than a week of unrest over Iran's disputed presidential election. Iranian officials say President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in to a second term some time between this coming Friday and August 19.

Here in the United States, President Obama now says he strongly condemns Iran's actions, tougher language than he's used before.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, covered the president's news conference today, and Dan is joining us now live with more on this story.

He stepped up the rhetoric today, Dan.


He turned up the heat. But the president, from his perspective, says that he really hasn't changed his tone on Iran, that he has always expressed profound concerns, and that he has called the violence unacceptable.

But, clearly, today, the president used words that we have not heard from him before.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Less than two minutes into his opening remarks, President Obama fired a verbal shot at the Iranian regime.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice.

LOTHIAN: The president says what he has witnessed through compelling reports from Iran has been appalling.

OBAMA: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions. LOTHIAN: The president seemed to get emotional when asked about watching images of the apparent shooting death of Neda, the Iranian woman who has become a symbol of the reformers.

OBAMA: It's heartbreaking. It's -- it's heartbreaking. And I think that anybody who sees it knows that there's something fundamentally unjust about that.

LOTHIAN: Despite pressure from Republicans on Capitol Hill to dial up his response to Iran's crackdown, the president suggested he is not influenced by what his critics want.

OBAMA: We want justice to prevail. But only I'm the president of the United States. And I have got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.

LOTHIAN: The White House has been pushing a dialogue with Iran over its nuclear program. But, with the current unrest and the disputed election, Mr. Obama wouldn't rule out a shift in policy.

OBAMA: Obviously, is not encouraging in terms of the path that this regime may choose to take. We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed.


LOTHIAN: While the president may not have been trying to please his Republican critics, he apparently did just that. Republican Leader John Boehner congratulated the president for stepping up his criticism of the Iranian regime and added -- quote -- "We need to keep the pressure on them" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian is at the White House. Thank you.

We want to get right to our Iran desk at CNN's global headquarters.

Abbi, you are getting new information on what's unfolding in Iran right now.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, of the four candidates in the Iran election, three had complained about the election results, all but Ahmadinejad.

We have just learned that one of those three candidates has now withdrawn that complaint about the election. Mohsen Rezaie has withdrawn his complaint on a message posted in his Web site which we are just going through now and translating. Rezaie had alleged irregularities in 170 cities. He had alleged excessive ballots in 50 cities, something that the government had acknowledged. He also called for a recount of some ballots.

But now he is withdrawing that complaint and he is citing the security and social conditions of the country, which he says have entered into a critical and pivotal conditions that are more important than the election results. So, of the three -- of the four candidates that had complained about the election results, now Rezaie withdrawing that complaint.

Of course, Mir Hossein Mousavi's complaint about the election went a lot further. He called the election a fraud, which was very different from Rezaie, who was specifically asking for a recount in just some areas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will get back to you, Abbi. Thanks very much.

Let's get a firsthand account right now of the situation in Iran from one of the few Western journalists who has been able to keep reporting from Tehran.

I spoke just a little while ago with "The New York Times"' columnist Roger Cohen just as he was getting ready to leave.


BLITZER: We haven't heard or seen -- at least I haven't -- the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Is he taking a low key right now?

ROGER COHEN, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": He is. That's a very good point, Wolf. He's really been out of view.

I think he -- frankly, I think he blew in the day after -- two days after the vote. The (INAUDIBLE) advice from the supreme leader, Khamenei, to him was, Mr. President, you are now the president of all Iranians. Whatever differences we have over these numbers, you are now going to bring everyone together.

He then went off and made the most divisive speech imaginable, describing anyone who hadn't voted for him basically as a hooligan and no more than -- than dust. And in the huge I think three million- strong demonstration on the Monday after that, what I kept hearing was -- from the people in the crowd was: Here we, the dust. Well, if we are dust, we are going to blind the president, because there's so much dust right here.

And that -- since then, he went off from Russia for a day or two, and then he disappeared from view. Now, I think that is one question we have to watch that very closely going forward. Might it be determined at some point that Ahmadinejad, for all kinds of reasons, in the changed world of President Barack Obama, is Ahmadinejad -- has he become too much of a liability and might he be somehow dispensed with?

I do think that Larijani, the speaker of the Majlis, or the parliament, it's very interesting the way he has been supportive of the opposition at home and highly critical of particularly Britain, Germany and France for suggesting that the election was a fraud.

So, he is kind of pleasing the supreme leader with his very critical stance and playing to some domestic constituencies. And he is a conceivable alternative. But how -- what the mechanism would be for that, I have no idea.

BLITZER: It is a good mystery that hopefully we can resolve.

What about President Obama? He was much more forceful today in his public remarks condemning what's going on in Iran. How, if at all, is that playing on the streets of Tehran?

COHEN: Well, you hear a lot of comments from the protesters about Obama. They like Obama. They want more from Obama. I think many of them see that, as the president has said a few times, given the poisonous history between the U.S. and Iran, it is dangerous to be seen to be meddling.

I thought for a while that the president had been a little too muted and reserved. And I think he has redressed that in the last two, three days, where he has been much more forceful. And I -- in condemning the violence, which I think it's essential to do.

It will be very interesting going forward to see how the president tries to manage engagement with a regime that I, at least, think has just perpetrated an electoral fraud and also has used the most brutal methods against its own population. It is a very -- it's a very delicate diplomatic challenge.

BLITZER: Roger Cohen, have a safe trip out of Iran. Thanks so much for your excellent reporting over these past several days. We will be reading you in "The New York Times." Good luck.

COHEN: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File."

Right after we spoke, he boarded a plane and got out of Dodge. He was reluctant to do so, given the story, but his visa expired, and the authorities there, what a surprise, they decided not to renew it.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Yes. That's a democracy, right, where they just had these free and open elections. And now they have kicked all the reporters out of the country.

I will miss Mr. Cohen's daily checking in with us here. He is very articulate and has obviously a pretty good grasp of what's going on. And that's a voice that will be missed, which is exactly why they threw him out of the country.

A majority of Americans disapprove of a new law that expands the government's power to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco. A Gallup poll shows 52 percent of those surveyed, including most smokers, are opposed to the measure, while 46 percent support it.

College graduates and Democrats more likely to support it. Republicans and those with a high school education are less, more likely to oppose it. President Obama signed the law yesterday giving the FDA power to ban candy-flavored and fruit-flavored cigarettes, which are specifically targeted at kids. It also prohibits the companies from using terms like low tar, light, or mild. None of those things exist.

It requires larger warning labels on cigarette packages, restricts their advertising, and requires tobacco companies to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes. It's estimated -- these are staggering statistics -- 400,000 people still die every year from tobacco-related illness.

Health care costs related to tobacco top $100 billion a year in this country.

Meanwhile, on a personal note, you saw earlier in this program the president admitted at today's news conference that sometimes he has fallen off the wagon in his effort to quit smoking. Mr. Obama claims to be 95 percent cured, but it is something he continually struggles with, like alcoholics do with booze, which is why he believes the anti-smoking legislation is so important.

So, here's the question. Should the government have additional powers to regulate tobacco? Go to and you can post a comment on my blog.

This is a -- this is a substance that arguably does a lot of damage.

BLITZER: And it is totally addictive as well.


BLITZER: It's hard to quit. And I wish everyone luck getting rid of cigarettes.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.

Iran does not want you to see or hear all that's happening. That's obvious. But is the government also spying on people's cell phones? You know the answer to that. They are using technology, though, from a Western company. Stand by. We will explain.

And we are just getting new information about that deadly Metro train accident here in Washington. It is the worst subway accident in Washington's transit history.

And can President Obama use his popularity to do what former President Clinton couldn't do, push through health care reform?


BLITZER: You saw the story breaking yesterday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Right now, we have new information regarding the worst subway accident in Washington's transit history.

Let's go straight to CNN's Jeanne Meserve. She's on the site.

They just had a news conference there. And you're getting new information on what is going on. Jeanne, what did you hear?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, ever since this accident yesterday afternoon, there have been questions about whether this train was being operated by the automatic computer guidance system or whether the operator had taken manual control.

Well, the National Transportation Safety Board just told us that they went in the cab of the striking train. They looked at three controls, and now they say they have an answer.


DEBBIE HERSMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD MEMBER: Metro operates in automatic mode during rush hours. We would have expected to see this train operating in automatic mode. That information, those three pieces of information that I provided to you, that toggle switch, that dial, and that master controller, confirm to us that that train was in automatic mode at the time of this accident.


MESERVE: The NTSB also said that there were indications that the operator had tried to apply the brakes. There is something called a mushroom in the cab. That was depressed.

Also, they have seen markings on the wheels and the brakes that would be consistent with potential braking. But that's a part of the investigation that is continuing. They also are continuing to look at the operator, who had only completed her training to drive a train last March.

They are going to be looking at her work history, any testing that might have been done with her. They are going to be looking at what she had been doing the previous 72 hours to determine whether or not she was fatigued. Toxicology tests are under way.

They are also going to be looking at texts and cell phone records to try to determine if she might have been distracted in the cab of that train.

One little fact here, Wolf, you saw the pictures of this train, one of top of another. That first car of the second train we are told was 75-feet long, but 50 feet of it, 50 feet of the survivable space was either destroyed or compromised. It gives you a sense of just how serious a crash this was, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and that rear-ended that -- that train, too, and nine confirmed dead and dozens, dozens injured.

Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that update.

There are images many people will never forget, especially not the people who actually lived through it, the so-called miracle on the Hudson involving that U.S. Airways plane. Some survivors want the airline to help them cope with what happened.

Let's bring in Mary Snow. She is in New York working the story for us.

All right, Mary, tell us what's going on.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one family here in New York says the relief of surviving landing in the Hudson hasn't erased their trauma. And they were stunned, they say, when the airliner's insurer balked at some of their claims.


SNOW (voice-over): It's been five months, but Tess Sosa relives the day that U.S. Airways Flight 1549 miraculously landed in the Hudson as if it just happened.

TESS SOSA, PASSENGER: We are now floating in the waters coming in, and the gracious seat mate I had braced my son for impact. And I hear my son crying.

SNOW: Tess says she climbed over seats while holding 9-month-old Damien, seen here on the cover of "People" magazine with the flight's captain, Sully Sullenberger.

The image that haunts her, she says, is turning towards the back of the plane, where her husband and four-year-old daughter sat.

SOSA: I saw my husband in shock, with my daughter being held up high, the water coming in, and hoping they would see me.

SNOW: Dealing with the trauma that followed, Tess says, hasn't come cheaply. She says medical claims sent to the insurer for U.S. Airways are being rejected. She was told only three therapy sessions were covered.

SOSA: They have gone to incredible measures to get all of our belongings back, dry them out. However, I think, in doing so, there was this huge oversight in, let's take care of these passengers.

SNOW: U.S. Airways hired a firm to restore and return thousands of personal items to passengers, from boarding tickets to suitcases.


SNOW: U.S. Airways also says it paid the 155 passengers $5,000 each, saying it went above and beyond what was required, since the airline isn't liable.

The airline's insurer, AIU Holdings, a unit of AIG, says it owes passengers nothing, adding its obligation is to pay valid claims on behalf of U.S. Airways as a result of its legal liability.

Bob Hartwig represents AIU.

BOB HARTWIG, INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE: Where we have a flock of birds flying into jet engines for a perfectly well- functioning aircraft and a crew that exhibited extraordinary professionalism in this particular incident, this is very important to recognize that the -- again, the liability simply does not exist.


SNOW: Now, all of this is little comfort to Tess Sosa, who says she and her daughter continue to see a therapist. As their private insurance has a $3,000 deductible, these payments are all out of pocket -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York, thank you.

President Obama today answered his Republican critics who said he hadn't had taken a tough enough line against Iran. Did he give them the words they were waiting for? The best political team on television is standing by.

Plus, two women that just landed in the United States from Tehran, they describe the state of terror they left behind.

And it turns out their marriage problems were worse than we knew -- the shocking details about reality stars Jon and Kate.


BLITZER: Our Iran desk is working around the clock to get you all the latest news, the latest pictures coming in from Tehran. Stand by. We are going to be checking in there momentarily.


BLITZER: We are just getting some firsthand accounts right now of what is happening inside Iran. Those accounts are hard to come by. But we have just tracked down two women who have landed in the United States from Tehran. They are telling us horror stories of the government crackdown on protesters.

And Iranians are using their cell phones to record history. The government, though, that they are protesting is certainly trying to keep track of their every photo and message.



Happening now: new video coming in from inside Iran, just coming in, in the past hour. In one act of defiance, a group of mullahs, Iranian clerics, took to the streets to join protests of the presidential election results.

President Obama still getting high marks for the job he is doing. An average of the most recent national polls shows him enjoying a 60 percent job approval rating. Will his popularity be enough to push through his health care reform proposals? All of this coming up, plus the best political team on television. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Amateur video from inside Iran has given us a window into the unrest that's been playing out for days now. With journalists under very tight restrictions, citizens with cell phones are recording history. And the whole world is watching.

And the Iranian government is watching all these very courageous people who use their cell phones to send out pictures and get information to the outside world.

Our Brian Todd taking a closer look at this story.

It's pretty amazing what's going on, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is amazing, Wolf. Never seen anything like it. A lot of cell phone calls and video transmissions are getting out of Iran these days. It is often our only window into what's going on there. But, with the help of Western firms, the Iranian government can monitor them.


TODD (voice-over): It might someday be called the cell phone revolution, Iranian protesters transmitting unforgettable images from the streets through their mobile networks.

We have counted on these pictures and on cell phone calls. But so have Iranian authorities. A European firm, Nokia Siemens, confirms that, late last year, it sold the Iranian government some of the technology to monitor and control local cell and landline calls. And experts believe, right now, Iranian intelligence and law enforcement agencies are putting it in overdrive.

IRA WINKLER, FORMER ANALYST, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: They would have their monitoring station, which goes ahead and would list the source and the destination of every cell phone call that happens to be going on. Also, that would probably include text messages as well.

TODD: Ira Winkler is a former NSA analyst who has written several books on cyber-security. He says, with the technology the Iranian government bought, officials can double-click on any phone numbers that come up on their monitors and, in real time, listen to calls and look at texts.

A Nokia Siemens spokesman tells CNN the company sold Iran the same technology that U.S. telecom companies are legally required to have for lawful intercepts by U.S. authorities. And the spokesman says the technology doesn't allow the Iranian government to filter or censor Internet content.

But Winkler says Iranian authorities can block these phone calls and monitor the dramatic cell phone video we've all seen.

(on camera): I'm a protester. You're taking some video of me and you want to send it to YouTube, how do they know that you're doing that?

IRA WINKLER, FORMER NSA ANALYST: You'll see a lot of transmission going in and out of my phone here. And, basically, the volume of transmission, how long it takes, the fact that I'm doing more sending than receiving, that's an indication -- it's what's called traffic analysis -- to say this phone is sending an awful lot of data in one direction.


TODD: Winkler says Iranian authorities cannot see the video in real time, but they can tell the video is going out. And since every cell phone is the equivalent of a GPS locator, they can also see where the video is being sent from.

In addition, they will be able to view the video later on when it's posted -- Wolf, they can track these videos, some of them.

BLITZER: But it's also because of companies like Nokia Siemens that we're even seeing these pictures reaching the outside world.

TODD: Absolutely, it is. And you have to mention that. The Nokia Siemens spokesman tells us they expanded their networks -- their service inside Iran last year, giving millions more people access to their networks and the images that can transmit them. This is a double-edged sword.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

I want to go to Ted Rowland out in Los Angeles right now.

He's got an amazing story -- two women who have just arrived. They barely escaped from Iran. They're now in Los Angeles and they're telling him of the horrors that they experienced -- Ted, tell our viewers what's going on.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's incredible. These are basic eyewitness accounts that we're getting from these women. And the stories that they're telling are incredible. They mirror the same stories that we're hearing over the Internet.

These women are very concerned, however, about their identity.


ROWLANDS (voice-over)

Two women, one in a wheelchair, neither one wants to be identified. They've just arrived in the U.S. from Tehran. Their story mirrors the horrifying images and reports that are trickling out of Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's beyond fear. The situation is more like terror. I mean it's a state of terror. It was a police state before, but now it's incredibly, incredibly horrifying to see and experience. I mean, they're cracking down on old, young, every class of people. It's -- it's -- people are dying. And if you hear otherwise, do not believe it. We've seen instances of people being beaten to death.

ROWLANDS: The woman in the wheelchair broke an ankle and her thumb during a demonstration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we were both just bystanders looking at the people who were chanting "Death to Dictator!" at one of the major streets in Tehran. And the motorcyclists who are from the regime started coming down hard on people. And the -- everyone started running down the street and we got trampled.

ROWLANDS: The women say fear kept them from going to the hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had a doctor come and visit her at the house. The point is when they take them to the hospitals, the stories are that they don't actually get there. Just like the reporters are being told not to really report what they see, hospitals -- all the administrative kind of levels are being told to stay out of the public because that's like -- what they're saying is that you're accusing the regime of being hostile so...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what to say besides the fact that it's really a state of terror. And they actually -- they really, really need help. I should be crying right now, but I'm kind of too frazzled to even cry. But we basically cry every night over there.


ROWLANDS: And it's pretty incredible, Wolf, listening to these women. Obviously, they are still in somewhat of a state of shock, even though that they're now here in the U.S.

BLITZER: Well, we salute them and their -- and their courage for doing this.

Thanks very much, Ted.

Ted's in Los Angeles.

Where crowds of protesters once stood in the Iranian capital, troops and police now are out in force.

Let's go back to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

She's standing by at the Iran Desk at CNN's Global Headquarters -- all right, Abbi, fill us in, because we're getting more images.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: We've got some video that we just got. It was uploaded on Facebook today. Wolf, the story today is not of mass demonstrations in the streets, it's this massive security presence in the streets. And let's play this video so I can show you what we're talking about.

It's smaller pockets -- pockets of protesters. This video shot from the safety of an overpass, actually, earlier on, before this scene. You can see people crouching down to record what's going on.

People running. You're not quite sure why. Then you see these motorcycles coming down the street. Whether they're riot police or the Basij, these gang-like forces, it's hard to tell. But as if you can hear in the background, people are chanting, "God is Greatest!" as they approach.

But it's not the scenes of streets filled with thousands and thousands of protesters. It's more like a few dozen who very quickly flee when they see these forces coming -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there was another protest in Tehran today against Western governments.

What was that about?

TATTON: A very different kind of protest. This was not the opposition protesters. These were people who were protesting what they said was Western meddling in Iranian affairs.

This is outside the British embassy earlier today in Tehran -- people, a small group from what we can see just from these photos, which are from the Fars News Agency, the semi-official news agency there in Iran.

We saw people burning flags, not just British flag, but the U.S. flag, as well, the Israeli flag, for this protest against meddling. This is really a ratcheting up of tensions between Britain and Iran that started on Friday, when the Ayatollah Khamenei said -- singled out Britain, really, as the most treacherous nation. After that, Iran took back two of its diplomats -- it expelled two British diplomats and then there was this tit for tat when Britain did the same. And now this protest outside the British embassy in Tehran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people in Britain, as you know, Abbi, say that's a badge of honor, to be called that, by the Iranians.

All right. Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

We'll get back to you.

We'll have much more coming up on what's going on in the streets of Tehran and other cities in Iran.

Meanwhile, President Obama is continuing a push for health care reform this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When it comes to health care, the status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable. So reform is not a luxury, it's a necessity.


BLITZER: Will his strong poll numbers help him get what he wants?

I'll ask the best political team on television.

Plus, new developments in the case of South Carolina's missing governor -- now he's coming back to work.

But where has he been over the past several days?


BLITZER: President Obama is now using the toughest language yet to condemn Iran's crackdown on political protesters after a week of what his critics called a tepid response.


OBAMA: It's not productive, given the history of U.S./Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling -- the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections. I'm very concerned, based on some of the tenor of -- and tone of the statements that have been made, that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching.

The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.


BLITZER: OK, let's talk about it with three of the best political team on television -- Gloria Borger, Jessica Yellin and Candy Crowley -- Candy, did he -- did he satisfy his critics today?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, probably not. I mean we're -- we're hearing that it is -- you know, they'd like him to go further. This certainly was an improvement as far as they're concerned.

But let me make one argument. And that is, I don't think it's so bad for the president -- and not the first time a president has taken a kind of moderate stance about something that's going on overseas. And big voices, like that of John McCain, who is known worldwide, taking a tougher stance, because that, too, is a voice of the United States and that, too, sends a signal.

BLITZER: And he explained that, because as president, he's got different responsibilities... GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: ...than a member of the Senate might have.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: But only I'm the president of the United States. And I've got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.


BLITZER: All right. Was he being too cautious over the past 10 days?

BORGER: Well, I think you saw in the clips that -- that he's clearly changed his tone dramatically over the past 10 days.

But what we saw was somebody who was reacting to events on the ground. And once those events on the ground became so appalling, as he put it, and we saw this young woman shot -- and today, of course, the president called that heartbreaking -- I think there was a point where he had to speak out.

BLITZER: He had no choice, because I'm told by sources that I have that that picture of Neda, that 26-year-old beautiful young woman in Iran, lying there with blood coming out -- the whole world has seen that picture by now. That clearly had an impact on the president, like everyone else.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As he said. And it was heartbreaking, as he said.

I think the challenge for the president in that instance and in this whole discussion is the way he expresses himself sometimes sounds so dispassionate, so almost bloodless, that it's unnerving for people who feel enormously moved by what's going on there.

So he had to step up the language to meet the intensity of passion that people feel. It's a challenge for him to walk the line.

BORGER: Well, and he -- you know, he refused -- and I think rightly so -- to say what the consequences would be at this point, if this continues.


BLITZER: There's no doubt in my mind, at least, that the regime there in Iran doesn't have a clue as to how powerful that picture of Neda really has become.

CROWLEY: I think they're probably getting a clue at this point.


CROWLEY: I mean simply because it is -- it is so everywhere. And it really has become the kind of cancelate (ph), a moment in history. And every time you get one of those, a movement becomes more powerful.

Will this be a movement that overthrows the government?

Most people that I've talked to -- Iranian experts today said maybe not, but it moves them forward.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about health care reform. This is a top -- the top domestic priority for the president right now.

And look at these poll numbers, Gloria.

In our CNN average of the major polls, our so-called poll of polls, we asked, how is President Obama handling his job as president?

He still gets 60 percent job approval, which is high.

At this point in Bill Clinton's presidency, his job approval number was 39 percent.

Here's the question -- given that strong approval that he has, can he do now what Bill Clinton, with his only 39 percent approval back in '93, could not do, which is push through health care reform?

BORGER: Well, he's certainly hoping he can. He's certainly got the Democrats on his side, although they're divided in the Congress. And the theory is at the White House that you -- while you've got this high public approval rating, while people in Congress want to be on your good side, you might as well push through as much as you can right now.

So he's not only talking health care, he's talking energy, he's talking immigration. I mean he did the stimulus package. He did the tobacco bill.

So, you know, this is a tremendous amount of legislation and I want to take advantage of this.

YELLIN: And we've seen him shift the way he's starting to talk about health care, targeting especially people who are right now happy with their health care. This is where Bill Clinton lost last time. The opposition was able to say, if you like your health care, it's going to be destroyed.

And now we heard President Obama today say, even if you like yours, you have to be for this because the current environment is going to ruin your health care as you know it.

And so he's trying to recalibrate -- I'm of the view that the president has to get health care done, so whatever -- he'll get something through the Senate and the House and he'll call it health care reform. CROWLEY: Something, but not the whole thing -- more than likely, not the whole thing.

I mean the question here is, will that popularity help him get a health care bill?

It won't hurt him, but it doesn't necessarily translate, because when you look inside their poll -- those polls -- people are not all that crazy about the money being spent and health care is expensive. They're not all that sure he's doing all that well on the economy.

So there is a difference between his popularity and the popularity of his programs.


BLITZER: Once Congress saw that Bill Clinton/Hillary Clinton care (INAUDIBLE) 1,000 page legislation...


BLITZER: Yes, well -- they got nervous when they saw that.


BORGER: But people are worried about the deficit. And that's his real problem, because when you saw the Congressional Budget Office estimate saying $1.6 trillion over 10 years, what he tried to do today is to say you can't reduce the deficit unless you get health care costs under control. And that's the song he's going to be singing.

BLITZER: All right, guys.

Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

What are you working on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

Complete coverage of the president's harsher words for the government of Iran, as he tries to justify his foreign and domestic policies to an increasingly skeptical American public. We'll examine the president's struggle to sell his agenda.

Also, the Department of Homeland Security abandoning a program to use spy satellites to help local law enforcement agencies. We'll tell you about that program and the controversy as to why it's being killed.

Also tonight, an explanation of sorts for the abrupt disappearance of South Carolina's governor, Mark Sanford. But that explanation is leaving many questions unanswered and many people wondering in South Carolina what is going on. We'll have the latest for you.

And the approval ratings of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dropping to a new low -- an all-time low. Tonight, three leading talk show hosts from around the country join me to discuss that and a lot of other issues.

Join us for that, all the day's news and more, coming up right at the top of the hour right here on CNN -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Lou, we'll see you in a few minutes.

Thank you.

And we'll have more on that missing governor.

What's going on?

Where has the South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, been hiding out over these past few days?

We have some new details of the mystery at the governor's mansion.

Also, your answers to this hour's question -- should the government have additional powers to regulate tobacco?

Jack Cafferty is standing by.

And how do you follow-up a walk on the moon?

For one former astronaut, the answer is rapping with Snoop Dogg.


SNOOP DOGG: Put a little bit more attitude in it.

BUZZ ALDRIN, FORMER ASTRONAUT: Going up in a rocket.

DOGG: Exactly. Like if you was flying in space.



BLITZER: Once again, I want to remind you, our Iran Desk is working around the clock monitoring videos, photos and messages being posted by Iranians on the Internet, despite the government crackdown. We'll update you on that.

South Carolina wants to know, where is the governor?

A spokesman for Mark Sanford says the governor will return to work tomorrow. But that's after a mystery over where he's been. Yesterday, an aide said Sanford was hiking along the Appalachian Trail. But today, the governor's own wife tells CNN she did not know where he was. And South Carolina's Lieutenant governor, who's not exactly cozy with the governor, tells CNN this.


LT. GOV. ANDRE BAUER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He represents 4.5 million people of our state. He is our CEO. And so a lot of people depend on him for the leadership in which this state goes every day. And so not being able to reach him, if there were a prison outbreak or if there were some type of imminent danger, to not be able to reach out and look to the governor for his leadership concerns all of us.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for The Cafferty File.

You're smiling. It's a strange story -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Spoken like a guy who wants to be governor, don't you think?

BLITZER: Yes, I think so.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Now, was it Alex Castellanos pointed out on this program a couple of hours ago that yesterday was nude hiking day along the Appalachian Trail?

BLITZER: Yes. Not that we know that the governor would have been involved in that. But Alex Castellanos did say that. Apparently, it's all over the blog that this was nude hiking day up on the Appalachian Trail.

We have no information -- no information that the governor was involved in that.


CAFFERTY: We need to get a governor of South Carolina desk up and running and find out what's going on with this guy. I -- I bet it's going to be tawdry when we get to the details.

The question this hour -- should the government have additional powers to regulate tobacco?

Randy in Salt Lake City says: "Yes, indeedy. I think the government should have total control over every aspect of my life. I have no willpower. I have no ethics, no morals. I need Jesus and the government to tell me how to run my life. I want to be a lemming."

Ken in North Carolina: "The new law gives the government power to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco. The governor outlawed booze. People still made it, got it, drank it. The government outlawed certain drugs. People are still getting them and using them. The government has been given the power to regulate tobacco. So it will still be available to buy, smoke and die from. If you don't smoke and don't have kids, it doesn't make any difference. If you do smoke and you want to continue, it doesn't make any difference, either."

Paulette writes: "The government should shut down the production of tobacco products. I lost my father to emphysema in 1997. He was a three pack a day smoker for nearly 50 years. I watched him struggle and lay beside him when he passed away. Let the greedy congressmen and lobbyists tour an emphysema center and see the end results of big tobacco." Tzivia -- I believe is how you pronounce it -- in New Mexico: "Are you kidding? We banned ephedra when it was suspected of a handful of bad side effects. We pulled artificial sweeteners when mega doses caused cancer in rats. Why is this lethal, addictive substance still legal? Twenty-three years ago next week, my father, also named Jack, died of lung cancer."

And Craig writes: "Like many college educated, left-leaning professionals, my hypocrisy is evident in my desire for more regulation of tobacco and less of marijuana. Go figure, Jack." If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

I wonder how Alex knew that about the Appalachian Trail.

BLITZER: He's from North Carolina so maybe...

CAFFERTY: Maybe he's on like some mailing list or something...

BLITZER: Stand by...

CAFFERTY: they can notify people.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack.

An unlikely rap duo -- Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.



BLITZER: It's a giant leap from moon walking to rapping.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three, two, one, blastoff.


ALDRIN: I tell a story about my time on the moon now. The sky was black even though the sun shined down.


MOOS: A 79-year-old former astronaut rapping about his moon walk?


ALDRIN: Moon walk is such a trip, it's so fine when you're walking in the lunar dust.


MOOS (on camera): What's the name of it?

ALDRIN: "The Rocket Experience."

MOOS: Whooo.

ALDRIN: All you need is the rocket experience.


ALDRIN: What you need is the rocket experience. All you need is the rocket experience.


MOOS (voice-over): It will be 40 years next month...


MOOS: ...since Buzz Aldrin went flying to the moon and followed Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface...


ALDRIN: All you need is to come with me, I'll be your guide.


ALDRIN: I'll be your guide.


MOOS: The rap video debuted on the Web site Funny Or Die. And what's funny about it is that this rapper's favorite singer is Karen Carpenter.


ALDRIN: I am the space man.


MOOS (on camera): Did you ever feel silly doing it?



MOOS (voice-over): And, yes, that's Snoop Dogg making a cameo.

The rap video coincides with the release of Aldrin's book, "Magnificent Desolation," which covers everything from his Apollo 11 mission to his alcoholism.

You know how those rappers often have a reputation for rough stuff?

Well, not Buzz Aldrin, though he did haul off and sock a guy once -- one of those conspiracy theorists who don't believe the moon walk really happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a coward and a liar and a thief.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Buzz Aldrin is to gangsta.


MOOS: After watching that a couple of times...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a coward and a liar and a thief.

MOOS: It's a wonder Buzz didn't beam Sacha Baron Cohen when the comedian duped him playing the hip-hop character Ali G.


SACHA BARON COHEN, COMEDIAN: Was you ever jealous of Louis Armstrong?

ALDRIN: It was Neil Armstrong.

COHEN: Do you think man will ever walk on the sun?

ALDRIN: No. The sun is too hot.

COHEN: What happens if they went in winter, when the sun is cold?

ALDRIN: The sun is not cold in the winter.



ALDRIN: Our destiny is to the stars.


MOOS: But not the sun. Jeanne Moos, CNN...


ALDRIN: All you need is the rocket experience.


MOOS: ...New York.