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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Pushes Health Care Reform; Explosions Rock Indonesian Hotels
Aired July 17, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The sheriff is here. He is finally revealing what was inside that safe stolen from the couple's home.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Police say two suicide bombers posed as hotel guests using their room as a command post for the deadly blasts they carried out today, explosions only minutes apart at Marriott and the neighboring Ritz- Carlton in the capital of Indonesia. At least six people are dead, more than 50 others wounded. And a four-year break from terror is over in the nation with the biggest Muslim population.
CNN's Dan Rivers reports from Jakarta -- Dan.
DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the area around both hotels remains sealed off tonight as police begin to investigate who carried out this double bomb attack on the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. Indications are at the moment that this does have a link with Islamic terrorism.
(voice-over): This footage may hold vital clues as to who carried out the double bombing in Jakarta. A man wheels a suitcase through the lobby. Seconds later, a massive blast tears through the hotel. It's not clear if the suicide bomber was the man caught on camera, but police are urgently checking.
Moments after the two explosions, a security guard films as smoke pours from the Marriott hotel. The building barely visible as a crowd of confused onlookers realize this is a terrorist attack. Then, sirens of the first emergency vehicles arriving at the scene. The Ritz-Carlton was also hit, windows gaping open, shredded curtains fluttering in the tropical heat.
GREG WOOLSTENCROFT, WITNESS: I heard a huge explosion, and I looked out my window towards the Marriott, and there was a big plume of black and brown smoke going up.
RIVERS: And then the shock as news of the dead filtered through to the crowds outside.
But then the police move our camera back as they find a third bomb, undetonated, but live in a room on the 18th floor. The bomb disposal van moves in and it's made safe. The police think the terrorists were checked in as guests, using room 1808 as a command and control center.
The police chief leading the investigation says the explosives recovered were similar to those found in west Java in a house with links to Indonesia's most wanted man, Noordin Top. Top is alleged to have links to the shadowy terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah, or J.I.
The Marriott has been attacked before by J.I. A bomb in 2003 left 12 dead and 150 injured. J.I. were also behind the bombings on the holiday island of Bali seven years ago which killed more than 200 people, many of them foreign tourists.
The reason these two hotels were targeted this time is unclear. The Manchester United football team were due to stay at the Ritz- Carlton on Sunday, but it's not thought that the attack was aimed at disrupting their tour. More likely, the hotels were hit simply because they were popular with Westerners.
RIVERS (on camera): There's been a lull in attacks in a few years here in Jakarta, but now everyone is wondering whether Jemaah Islamiyah is back -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Rivers in Jakarta for us. The hotels that were targeted stand side by side in an upscale business district in the Indonesian capital.
Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. He's here to map it all out for us.
These are two American-run hotels right in the heart of Jakarta.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. Let's place it here. The United States up here, South America down here. We move over this way. Here we have Australia, Indonesia right in here, India, China up there. Just giving everyone a sense of where we are talking about, just so we have a sense of reference.
The largest democracy, Muslim democracy in the world, Muslim democracy in the world, about 240 million people here.
BLITZER: The largest Muslim country in the world.
And then Jakarta is down here. Right in this area, this is a teeming city. If you go to the outskirts out here, about 23 million people. And the attack area is right down in here just south of downtown. The Ritz-Carlton over here. The Marriott over here.
Here is what we know from the investigation so far. Dan was talking about it just a minute ago here. If you look at the Marriott, right over here, they believe that the people who did this were up here on the 18th floor. They made the bombs up here, came in several days ago, and then they came down, put one down here, took it into the restaurant of the Marriott. This one went off first, and then security forces say anywhere from two to five minutes later, it's not quite entirely sure, the other one went -- over here at Ritz-Carlton and this one went off.
This area around here is full of places like this. You see the swimming pools in the backyards. It's sort of higher-end homes. Some embassies are set up here. And this area is very popular with Western interests.
One of the theories that has been forwarded about why this might be group he was talking about, Jemaah Islamiyah, is that this group has been under tremendous pressure by the president there, who was just reelected in the past week or so. He has put a lot of pressure throughout Indonesia to look at what's been going on with this group.
He has splintered them throughout the country. They are not well-liked in Indonesia. Even though it's about an 86, 87 percent Muslim country, many, many people here are very much against this group. So, it is believed to be splintered up. And this may be a splinter group if responsible for this.
What the group has been after is the idea of creating a Muslim nation, not only in all the red here that is Indonesia, but also including Malaysia, Brunei, parts of Thailand. That was the goal of this group. In any event, if that's the group that we are dealing with here, it is probably a splinter group. But you can see big sprawling area. The president has put a lot of pressure on. He's just been reelected. That's one of the reasons people think this might be connected to this attack.
BLITZER: We are going to be speaking with the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, in a little while. She has got the latest intelligence briefings on what was going on.
Thanks very much, Tom, for that.
Authorities are trying to figure out how attackers managed to get around what has been described as very robust security at both the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotels. They are very popular with Americans and a lot of other international tourists in Indonesia.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Alan Orlob. He's the head of security for Marriott Hotels. That includes the Ritz-Carlton hotels, which is owned by Marriott.
You were there at the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta, Alan. You heard an explosion. You ran down to the lobby. What went through your mind?
ALAN ORLOB, HEAD OF SECURITY, MARRIOTT HOTELS: Well, when the explosion first happened, Wolf, I was actually up in my room. It was 7:45 in the morning. I was just getting ready to join some people for breakfast when I -- my room was on the 23rd floor.
And the two hotels are directly across the street from each other. So, when the blast occurred, I looked outside my window and I could look down and see the Marriott Hotel. And I could see some people start to run around there.
I guess it was about two minutes later there was a second blast, and I saw a large smoke puff come out of the side of the Marriott Hotel. So, at that time, I went down to the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton into the restaurant, and I saw where one of the bombs had been detonated.
BLITZER: The suspicion, Alan, is that these terrorists, they brought components into the hotel somehow and actually assembled the bomb in their room or rooms to get around security, which is very tight at both of those hotels. You have heard that suspicion?
ORLOB: I have heard that.
At this point, I haven't been able to confirm that. But you are right that the security is very tight. Every vehicle who comes up to the hotel is inspected. All luggage is inspected with sophisticated explosive vapor detectors.
We have walk-through metal detectors at the hotel. Nobody can go into the hotel without being screened with a metal detector. It is about like going into an airport. It's that type of tight security at the hotels.
BLITZER: So, what else, Alan -- as head of security for Marriott Hotels, what else can you do?
ORLOB: Well, I think we will certainly take a look at this and assess what we were doing and see if we need to make any changes. But, you know, as the terrorist tactics evolve, we need to evolve with it. And we have certainly tried to do that over the years.
BLITZER: Is it time -- and this is a blunt question -- for American-owned hotels like Marriott or Ritz-Carlton or Hilton or Sheraton to pick up and leave some of these countries?
ORLOB: I don't think so. I think there's still opportunities.
And when you look at the number of terrorist attacks and the number of people who have died in -- in hotel terrorist attacks, it is actually very, very small. We looked at this statistically. And the chances of being caught up in a terrorist attack in a hotel were much smaller than being struck by lightning or any other type of abnormal death.
So, the chances are very small. But, certainly, as we operate in these countries in a hot risk environment, we have to look at security and we have to make sure that it is a priority in those hotels.
BLITZER: Alan, good luck. Thanks for joining us.
ORLOB: Thank you very much. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: There is a twist in that shocking double murder case in Florida. We are finally learning what was in that safe stolen from the murdered couple's home. The top officer in the case, the sheriff, is standing by to join us live.
Extremists like al Qaeda crave American blood. How far is the U.S. going to stop them from hurting Americans?
And she believes she can walk again after spending a lot of time in a chair. But is it from a medical breakthrough, or is a doctor preying on patient's hope, as critics claim?
BLITZER: A funeral was held today for the murdered Florida couple, Byrd and Melanie Billings, who were known for adopting kids with special needs.
Within the past hour, we brought you a news conference about the case. You saw it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But let's talk a little bit more about what's going on with the sheriff, who is joining us from Pensacola, Florida, right now, Sheriff David Morgan.
Sheriff, thanks again for coming in.
DAVID MORGAN, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: There has been some controversy, as you know, over the contents of that safe that was discovered that was taken by these suspects. The contents, originally you didn't want to tell us what was in it. And that fueled some speculation that maybe those who died perhaps were hiding something, concealing something, there was drugs, something like that.
But now we know it was just usual stuff that people keep in a safe. Why couldn't you tell us that earlier?
MORGAN: It was really critical to the investigation, Wolf, that we keep that information close hold.
As I stated during the press conference, we knew from the inception of our investigation, because we consulted with the family. And that safe, we knew exactly what it contained. We knew it was personal papers, heirloom jewelry, prescriptions that Melanie kept in that safe, so her children could not get access to it because of the medications that she had for her children.
So, having that information, we knew when we found the safe that had been buried behind the house owned by, again, by Pamela Long Wiggins we had found the safe that had been removed from the Billings home. And, again, that now ties these individuals specifically to this crime. So, that is the sort of information that you continue to withhold, if you will, from everyone during the conduct of this investigation, because now we are assured that the individuals that we have taken into custody and had charged by the state attorney's office are the individuals that we in fact were searching for.
BLITZER: But you could understand the frustration of some of the family members who thought that your refusal to say what was in the safe was raising questions about this murdered couple?
MORGAN: That's true. And, as I said during the press conference, we're striking a very delicate balance here between release of public information, having compassion and concern for this family because of the loss of their mother and father, and, again, with the state attorney's office, and naturally with the press, because I want to emphasize that we have been so pleased with this relationship with the media, because your assistance has been invaluable on many junctures in this case.
BLITZER: Seven men have been arrested, one of them a 16-year- old, one woman, the woman you mentioned, Wiggins, 47 years old. She has been charged with accessory after the fact of felony murder. But she has been freed on bail, $10,000 bond.
And that's sort of shocking to me when I heard that someone in a case like this, a notorious case like this, is out on bail. What's the explanation for that?
MORGAN: That was after consultation with the state attorney's office and our office. We have a fee schedule that is set for bond. And I don't set that bond. We have a schedule for that.
And the state attorney's office thought it was appropriate, after they had assessed actually what she had done, that we had information again that proved her actual part in this crime, that he thought that that would be an appropriate bond for her. And, again, we agreed on that.
And so, while some are questioning it, I think, when we go to trial and the entire evidence comes out, the general public will understand why we took that course of action with this particular suspect.
BLITZER: When we spoke yesterday, you said you are still looking for some other persons of interest or suspects, whatever you want to call them, some people who may have been involved in that security system which had not been deactivated for some mysterious reason. Are you still looking for others?
MORGAN: We are, sir. We have some individuals identified. And, again, they are persons of interest. They are not suspects at this point.
We think this investigation will continue for some time,. we hope not too long, because we are assured again we have all of those individuals that are violent criminals currently in custody. But it continues. Anyone, anyone that's been on the periphery of this case that we believe are culpable in the conduct of -- or -- excuse me -- in the execution of this crime, we intend to find, and we will seek prosecution for those individuals.
BLITZER: Good luck, Sheriff. We will check it back with you in the days to come.
MORGAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
MORGAN: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: President Obama is stepping up efforts to try to keep his health care reform agenda from unraveling -- why some in his own party are calling for the process to simply slow down.
And the CIA concealed information about a now-defunct secret program to assassinate al Qaeda leaders, tried to conceal that information from Congress. Did the agency actually, though, break any law. A House committee is about to investigate.
Plus, scary giant squid turning up off the coast of Southern California, and they are bothering scuba divers.
BLITZER: A year ago, she had an incurable, potentially fatal disease. And look at her now. She credits a controversial stem cell treatment not available in the United States. But experts say what she claims is impossible.
Also, President Obama poll numbers hitting potentially a critical benchmark, why are they falling. And what can he do about it?
And African-American police officers suing their own department over a Web site they say is racist.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: health care push, President Obama stepping up his efforts to fight for reform. But is his plan in serious peril?
Also, putting the president on notice -- the GOP is trying to send a message with this week's confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. We will discuss whether they succeeded.
And counterterrorism techniques -- how far does the CIA go in trying to stop al Qaeda from killing Americans? All of this, plus the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Each blip of criticism pushes the chances for health care reform further toward life support. Right now, the president is desperate to keep his plans alive. But could health care reform be facing serious peril? There are pointed criticisms from Republicans, even pleadings from some Democrats.
Let's go straight to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian.
Dan, the president made a surprise appearance today.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We saw the president make those comments on health care today.
In addition to that, though, what we have seen today is a president more engaged in actually trying to shape the health care legislation.
And I can tell you, there's a lot of pressure on this White House, and behind the scenes, one aide telling me that it is a bit chaotic.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): The White House may say the health care reform ship is not sinking, but all hands are on deck. Late in the day, this event was added to the president's schedule, so he could deliver another urgent appeal.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I realize that the last few miles of any race are the hardest to run. But I have to say, now is not the time to slow down. And now is certainly not the time to lose heart.
LOTHIAN: The White House also took the extraordinary step of getting involved in the nitty-gritty with a letter to a top Democratic lawmaker proposing power for an independent agency, not Congress, to limit the rising costs of Medicare.
In another sign of concern, freshmen members of Congress from both parties were bussed to the White House to discuss health care with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. But, as Democratic House members were touting progress on Capitol Hill...
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This level of progress has never been made before.
LOTHIAN: ... a bipartisan group of key senators pushed back on the president's August deadline.
In this letter signed by Senators Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe, and four others, they called on the Democratic leadership to slow down because -- quote -- "We believe taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical for legislation."
LOTHIAN: What these senators are essentially saying is, apply the brakes, but don't stop the car. They still want to get something done on health care this year. But they think that that August deadline is a little tight and that, with more time, they can get it right -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian.
The stakes really are enormous. And that underscores the decision the president made today. He will be taking questions on health care, the economy and a lot more when he holds a prime-time news conference. That's coming up Wednesday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Of course, you will catch it right here on CNN -- 9:00 p.m. Eastern Wednesday night, the president has a news conference.
A few weeks ago, CNN reported on Americans receiving controversial stem cell therapy abroad, patients battling life- threatening diseases. And they e-mailed us after our story about a U.S. doctor who brokered the treatments at a clinic in Lima, Peru.
But there's a lot more going on.
Here is Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigation Unit.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barbara McKean's workout, yoga, in front of a Wii may not seem like much...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to show you how the Wii Fit works.
GRIFFIN: ... until you consider where she was just one year ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very limited as to the activities I could do.
GRIFFIN: She has COPD, an incurable lung disease, that should be killing her. Instead of dying, she says she is getting better, using oxygen only at night now. Even her family physician is amazed.
She believes stem cells from her own body are helping her improve. Barbara McKean is a patient of an American doctor working through this hospital in the Dominican Republic. Dr. Zannos Grekos is a Florida cardiologist who also runs a company called Regenocyte Therapeutics.
What he is doing cannot be done in the U.S.
DR. ZANNOS GREKOS, REGENOCYTE THERAPEUTICS: These procedures work and it's substantiated by objective data that we're collecting.
GRIFFIN: The procedure -- draw a patient's own blood. Send it off to a lab in Israel, where it's transformed into what the company called Regenocyte. According to the company, the Regenocyte cells are then re-injected into the body to rebuild damaged areas.
GREKOS: We end up with between 40 to 80 million stem cells. And then they also activate them and educate them to want to become the end organ of whatever tissue that we're looking to regenerate.
GRIFFIN: If that sounds impossible, it's because of those at the forefront of stem cell research say it is.
DR. IRVING WEISSMAN, INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY OF STEM CELL RESEARCH: There is no such cell. There's no cell called a regenocyte.
GRIFFIN: Stanford's University, Dr. Irving Weissman is the president-elect of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.
WEISSMAN: I'm disappointed and shocked that somebody would prey on a family that has an untreatable disease with the promise of a therapy that has no scientific or medical basis.
GRIFFIN: Dr. Grekos says he's not conducting any FDA-approved clinical trials. Such trials are usually conducted before treating patients. Too expensive, he says. But he will seek FDA approval by the end of the year.
He also shrugs off the criticism of nonbelievers.
(on camera): Do you think that the head of the International Stem Society -- Research Society and the head of Stanford Medical Center's biology stem cell department is just behind the times?
GREKOS: I think that they just need to be more educated.
GRIFFIN: (voice-over): Grekos, who conducts information seminars in Florida retirement communities, says over the past 18 months, he has treated more than 100 people with various illnesses. He claims 80 percent responded to treatment.
In his seminars, he talks about hopes and possibilities -- careful not to promise results.
(on camera): You're treating them.
You're not scamming them?
GREKOS: No. No, we're treating them.
GRIFFIN: (voice-over): The FDA has not sanctioned the treatment in the United States because it has yet to be proven safe or even effective in humans. But that is all science.
What's harder to explain is the experience of Barbara McKean, who says the moment she felt her own stem cells injected into her body, she felt 450ehealing.
BARBARA MCKEAN, STEM CELL THERAPY PATIENT: I sit now in the humidity talking to you. I didn't even step out on this porch before I got my stem cells. I couldn't do it. GRIFFIN: Drew Griffin, CNN, Naples, Florida.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Hunting down terrorists -- what are the rules and how far is too far when it comes to stopping Al Qaeda?
And disturbing claims of racism in the Philadelphia Police Department. Some officers are accused of posting bigoted on a Web site. And a lawsuit alleges the department allows it to happen.
BLITZER: The House Intelligence Committee is set to launch an investigation into whether the CIA broke the law. At issue, the agency's failure to tell Congress about a secret program to assassinate Al Qaeda leaders that's since been canceled.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been looking into the hunt for Al Qaeda and other terrorists.
What are you finding out -- Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's a little construction noise behind me right now. But let me power through and tell you we decided to have a reality check on recent CIA and military hits. It is a world of capture or kill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM," COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES)
MATT DAMON, ACTOR: And someone started all of this.
STARR: (voice-over): In the movie, "The Bourne Ultimatum," Matt Damon plays an agent in the exotic world of a CIA assassin.
But does it really exist?
CIA Director Leon Panetta just shut down an agency program reportedly aimed at killing Al Qaeda terrorists. Congress may not have been informed...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "STATE OF THE UNION")
SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: That's a serious breach. Look, you can't gloss over it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: -- but experts say nobody should claim to be surprised that the U.S. is hunting down terrorists.
SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: We have seen a range of Al Qaeda leaders that have been assassinated since September 11th in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and a range of other places.
STARR: Indeed, CIA drones flying over Pakistan have killed dozens of suspected terrorists in recent years. But Jones says one of the diciest missions -- U.S. troops secretly on the ground in Pakistan in 2008 trading gunfire with Al Qaeda.
JONES: There was a special operations force -- a direct action engagement in Waziristan. It was for a very short period of time.
STARR: Other hits -- Somalia, 2007. Air Force AC-130 gunships launched strikes into Southern Somalia, but failed to kill their Al Qaeda targets. Iraq, 2006 -- the U.S. military hunts down and kills Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. 2003 -- Saddam Hussein's sons are killed. Yemen, 2002 -- a CIA drone kills an al Qaeda operative the U.S. says was involved in the bombing of the USS Cole.
But whether it's the CIA or U.S. Troops on the trigger, there are rules to be followed.
JONES: The United States cannot ipso facto kill individuals in foreign countries. I mean there -- there are -- they're generally -- with foreign fighters, there has to be a determination that this individual in general is plotting and does threaten the homeland of the United States.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STARR: Now, one of the biggest problems in conducting these types of hunt and kill missions is you have to have the permission of the country you're operating in, because if you go in and you're found out and they don't know about it, you can face diplomatic disaster around the world -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Excellent report, Barbara.
Thanks very much for that.
And I spoke about that controversial CIA program with the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the controversy about these plans, apparently never operational, the plans of the CIA to have these assassination hit squads go out into other countries and go after Al Qaeda targets.
Congress was never briefed on this, I take it. And the report is that the former vice president, Dick Cheney, told the CIA, don't share this information with Congress.
I know this is very sensitive. You're the chair.
What can you tell us?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, let me be careful in what I say. We were briefed in what's called a Memorandum of Notification, which took place directly after 9/11, that did indicate what the executive plans were to begin to look for some of these people that might be responsible, might have been connected, might have been funding the efforts.
However, we were not briefed on any specific program or specific activities. And so when Mr. Panetta came in and said, look, I just learned about this program, I'm canceling it as of today, he did exactly the right thing.
Now, this program, without going into detail, had at least three iterations that we have been briefed on. We are developing information. We're asking for an accounting of dollars spent on these programs. And so at least the Senate Intelligence Committee will have a very good knowledge, when we finish, of exactly what the moneys were used for and what the program did or did not do.
BLITZER: Well, did any of the CIA directors, whether George Tenet or Porter Goss or Michael Hayden, did they violate any laws by not sharing this information with the Congress?
FEINSTEIN: Well, it's not my interest to get into recrimination or blame at this stage. Let me say the program was not briefed. There is no evidence of it having been briefed. There is no evidence in the CIA of it having briefed and there is no evidence in the committee files of our having been briefed, nor do I remember having been briefed on it.
So I think that's the evidence that we have today.
Now, if the...
BLITZER: Do you think the Senate Intelligence Committee should call any of these individuals and the former vice president, Dick Cheney, to come before your panel and be questioned about it?
FEINSTEIN: Well, we well may down -- down the line call some people. I don't think this should be driven by press questions. I think it should be driven by a very evenhanded investigation of what did go on. And we are doing that in an informal way.
And I have written for information. Additionally, we've spent the last two days marking up the Intelligence Authorization Bill, which I'm very pleased to say we voted on and it was unanimous on both sides. It is a bipartisan bill and it does strengthen the notification provisions. And it does say that there should be no exceptions to these notification provisions.
So I believe that will be helpful, as well.
BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, good luck.
Thanks very much.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
Thank you, Wolf.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: And, by the way, we're going to have much more of the interview with Senator Feinstein tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, our Saturday edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
His plans for health care reform are in growing jeopardy -- now President Obama launches a public relations offensive.
Can he push through reform this year, as he's promising?
Plus, a racially-charged Web site at the center of a civil rights lawsuit filed by black police officers against their own department.
BLITZER: The president of the United States announced today he's going to hold another prime time news conference Wednesday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, from over at the White House.
Let's talk about what's going on.
Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; and our good friend, Clarence Page, of the "Chicago Tribune".
What is going on?
His fourth prime time news conference. He's a lot going on. But health care reform is priority number one.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, as most everyone acknowledges, the best spokesman for this administration is the president himself. He's clearly got a lot of problems with health care right now. He has said that he wants something done by the beginning of the August recess. That has slowed down. The Congressional Budget Office has said that it's going to add to the deficit, not set the deficit on a downward path.
So he's trying to kind of take charge of the situation and turn it around. He's got a tough job.
BLITZER: Is it a big deal that his job approval numbers are slightly going down?
They were in the 60s for most of the time since he was elected and now it's down to 57 percent in our so-called poll of polls.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It -- it's certainly not a big deal in the sense of does he still have some capital. Fifty-seven percent -- presidents kill for that sort of, you know, approval rating. But it is beginning to show doubts. I mean that's -- that's what the problem is.
And in addition to health care, he's looking at an economy that is not recovering at the pace -- or at any pace, at this point -- and people talking about now about a jobless recovery. You've got Michigan with a 15 percent unemployment rate. So there's that out there.
And an unwillingness by Congress and, in fact, and the polls show the American people, to spend more money.
So he's got double trouble.
BLITZER: You remember, Clarence, back in '93, when then Bill Clinton, then President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, the first lady, they came out with their detailed health care reform initiative -- thousands and thousands of pages.
CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Right.
BLITZER: It went down in flames once Congress got to it.
This time, so many of the Obama team who worked for Clinton then, they said you know what, we're going to let Congress take the ball and let them come up with it, which is what they did.
BLITZER: Here's a question to you -- was that a blunder -- instead of letting Obama come up with a plan and submitting it to Congress, letting Congress do its work, which has come up in all sorts of different directions?
PAGE: I don't think it was a blunder. That's what Obama wants to do. He's a Constitutional law professor, remember. And the Constitution really sets up a structure where the president proposes, Congress disposes.
Obama took that seriously and tried to build a consensus over in Congress.
As we all know, Congress is very good at -- at proposing programs without proposing a way to pay for them. That's a big problem for them. It's a big reason why the polls are going down, because people are now hearing, oh, I've got to pay for this. You know, so somebody gets taxed or somebody's benefits may or may not get taxed. Once you get into the west in that sense, it's not quite as attractive.
Plus, the administration had predictions that were too optimistic in terms of -- or weren't pessimistic enough in terms of unemployment right now.
BORGER: You know, having said that health care is in trouble, let me take the other point of view for a moment, which is that one way this could actually work for President Obama is if he says to Congress, you are spending too much money, we have to pay for this and here's the tax increases I will accept, here's what I won't accept and so go back to the drawing board and we're going to have to do a little less. CROWLEY: Well, in fact, he's -- in his -- he was close to that in this event at the White House today when he said it will not add to the deficit...
BORGER: Period. Right.
CROWLEY: -- sort of addressing what the problem is. And the kind of his -- the format of saying here, Congress, I want this...
CROWLEY: -- it worked in the stimulus plan because he was able to come in on the white horse and say, oh, we don't want this and we don't want that and we don't want the other. And he got it.
So I don't think it's really -- I think it's that we have a very complex problem with very controversial items in it. And, honestly, it's antithetical to Congress to move this quickly. The stimulus was different because it was emergency, emergency, emergency. And -- and they don't feel that urgency at the moment.
PAGE: Well, the honeymoon was in full bloom back then, too.
All right. Let's talk a little bit about Sonia Sotomayor.
You write this on your column at CNN.com, Gloria. You say: In that sense, it: "There were revelations during the hearings, only they were not about Sotomayor. Indeed, they were about a Republican Party in search of a new tone, key issues and a way to put the president on notice for his next nominee. And they succeeded, too. Republicans got Sotomayor to distance herself from Barack Obama's vision of a judge with empathy."
So the point about the GOP is?
BORGER: Well, the Senate Republicans, I think, distinguished themselves during these hearings in -- in many ways, not only getting her to say she had a different standard from the president about judging, but also letting the president know that the next time he gets a nominee -- and most of us assume that he will get another nominee -- that these are -- there are certain issues they're going to go after him on and that you can't nominate his next judge with a very liberal record. Because they're going to talk about abortion rights. They're going to talk about land rights. They're going to talk about affirmative action...
BORGER: And guns. So they set out the guidelines here.
BLITZER: Was this a good week for Republicans? CROWLEY: It was a pretty good week for Republicans. I would argue it still a better week for the president, because he got a Supreme Court nominee -- not a surprise. But honestly, presidents have four or eight years. Their nominees have -- this one may be 40. So this was your mark on history. So I think it was a good week for him.
I -- the Republicans mostly want to get away from I'm an angry white guy picking on a woman or a Latino. They did that very well. It was a high-minded discussion.
CROWLEY: Most of the time.
PAGE: I'm going to respectfully dissent this time, in saying that I thought, first of all, while the Democrats knew they were going to get this nomination confirmed, so they didn't do anything as far as framing the debate. They let the Republicans do all that. In that sense, it was a good week for the Republicans.
But I couldn't keep getting away from -- from the notion that this was a bunch of guys picking on this woman repeatedly over the same few words that she said in a few speeches. And that just kept coming back and back.
Sotomayor, in her wisdom, practiced a very practiced and studied boredom -- blandness there, making this the most boring television it could be. And all you got...
BORGER: We thought it was exciting.
PAGE: ...as far as conflict goes...
PAGE: All the conflict that came along was when they kept repeatedly questioning her, are you a racist or not?
CROWLEY: But that's what happens in these hearings. I mean we -- we saw it with Roberts. We saw it with Alito.
PAGE: Bork is now in the dictionary, did you know that?
CROWLEY: Exactly. So we've...
CROWLEY: -- we've seen this, you know, this go -- returning, returning, returning.
BLITZER: From their standpoint, from the White House's standpoint, boring was very, very good.
BLITZER: They didn't want -- boring was excellent.
PAGE: That's right.
BLITZER: And three Republicans, maybe more, are already saying they're going to vote to confirm.
BORGER: That's right.
BLITZER: Olympia Snowe of Maine, Mel Martinez of Florida, Richard Lugar of Indiana. So she's going to do fine.
BORGER: And if you look at the future of the Republican Party, look at Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the way he handled himself as an attorney during this -- during these hearings, I think it will serve them well.
BLITZER: Guy, have a great weekend.
PAGE: You, too.
CROWLEY: You, too.
BLITZER: Black police officers fighting to shut down what they say is a racist Web site. Now they've filed a civil rights lawsuit against their own department.
Plus, a little bit of Texas in the Tour de France -- just one of today's Hot Shots.
BLITZER: There are very disturbing claims being made against the fourth largest police department in the United States. It involves white and African-American police officers, a Web site and claims of racist rants.
Let's go straight to CNN's Mary Snow.
She's working the story for us -- Mary, what's going on?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this Web site is run by individuals, but a lawsuit filed in federal court this week is holding Philadelphia's police department responsible.
SNOW (voice-over): It is this Web site, called Domelights, billing itself as the voice of the good guys, that is at the center of a civil rights lawsuit citing postings like this one saying, "Guns don't kill people, dangerous minorities do."
Philadelphia Officer Rochelle Bilal is president of an African- American police organization leading the legal fight trying to shut down the Web site. She says some of her fellow officers are behind the messages. And she says her breaking point came after seeing a posting about black children denied access to a private public pool club, referring to them as "ghetto monkey faces."
ROCHELLE BILAL, PRESIDENT, THE GUARDIAN CIVIC LEAGUE: These bigots get on this Domelights site and just say very nasty, hurtful, racist type of things, even against their own colleagues. So enough is enough with this.
SNOW: The suit was filed against the Philadelphia Police Department, alleging it allowed its officers to encourage racism and claims officers are on the site while at work.
The department declined comment, but the city solicitor said in a statement: In that sense, it: "This is a private Web site," adding, "The allegations against the city and police department are misplaced."
A screen username, "McQ," is also named in the suit, which alleges he's an unidentified police sergeant who founded the site. McQ posted a message citing the lawsuit saying, it may cause the Web site to be suspended, but added, it was not an admission of wrongdoing, writing: "I categorically deny any wrongdoing on my part. I did not make racist posts. I did not maintain the Web site on city time or equipment."
Some posts question First Amendment rights, but the attorney who filed the suit says it's not that simple.
BRIAN MILDENBERG, ATTORNEY: You don't have, as a police officer, your -- the same type of First Amendment right that you may have as a police officer when you're sitting in your living room.
SNOW: But can a city's police department be held responsible for individual employees?
That, says one Constitutional law professor, poses the biggest challenge.
WILLIAM CARTER, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: The question under the law, then, is what did the city know, at what point did it know it and were the actions, if any, that it took in response adequate?
SNOW: Now, the groups who filed the lawsuit want the Web site shut down for good. And the suit also is seeking unspecified damages -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you.
Let's take a look at some of the Hot Shots.
In Afghanistan, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah works a campaign crowd.
In Germany, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, receives flowers on her 55th birthday. Happy birthday.
In France, a cycling fan runs with a Texas flag.
And in India, a monkey joins a young man during a Hindu pilgrimage to a river.
Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.
Monday marks 40 years since man first landed on the moon. On Monday, a special hour of THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll take a closer look at that historic event and talk to experts about how it changed the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."
Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.