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Congress Behind Closed Doors; Captured Soldier Admits Being Scared; Special Operations War of Words; Search & Destroy in Heroin Heartland; Losing Patience with the President

Aired July 20, 2009 - 17:00   ET



A remarkable moment, indeed.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the president runs into a wall on health care, firing back at Republican attacks on reform efforts. But Democrats -- at least some of them -- are voicing doubts, as well.

Are his programs hurting the president's popularity?

Why the White House may have to have -- may have some cause right now to worry about a crucial group of voters.

And shocking video of a captured American -- a scared soldier speaks of his fears for the future amid Taliban threats to kill him. The latest on what the U.S. military might do to try to free him.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The gloves are off in the battle over health care reform -- President Obama slamming back at Republicans after a series of sharp attacks.

But now some Democrats sound like they may no longer in be in the president's corner when it comes to a massive overhaul of the system.

CNN's Dana Bash is standing by on Capitol Hill.

But let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, first. He's got the latest on the president's strategy -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one top White House aide described the strategy this way, saying the president is telling his aides, I want the ball. He wants a more active role in this health care fight and is starting to throw some sharp elbows, as well.



Please have a seat. HENRY: (voice-over): As the odds for success on health care reform grow longer, the president's rhetoric is getting tougher.

OBAMA: And we've talked this problem to death year after year. But unless we act and act now, none of this will change.

HENRY: A new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll found only 49 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of health care; 44 percent disapprove. A sharp drop from April, when 57 percent approved; just 29 percent disapproved.

One reason -- Republicans are on the attack, with Senator Jim DeMint declaring: "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his waterloo. It will break him."

OBAMA: Think about that. This isn't about me. This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses and breaking America's economy. And we can't afford the politics of delay and defeat.

HENRY: But the problem for the president is he's running into a wall, not just from Republicans, but conservative Democrats, as well after a new budget analysis revealed the leading Democratic health plans will increase the debt and not provide the savings Mr. Obama promised.

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: I think it's a devastating blow.

TODD: Now, even the Mayo Clinic has slammed the House Democratic plan, just weeks after the president held the clinic up as a model of high quality care at a low cost.

OBAMA: We should learn from their successes and promote the best practices, not the most expensive ones.

HENRY: But the clinic says the House bill misses the opportunity to help create higher quality, more affordable health care for patients; in fact, it will do the opposite.


HENRY: Now, part of his new lead role in the push back here, the president today starting a new series of interviews, trying to talk up health care reform. But, also, Wednesday, another prime time news conference here at the White House. And on Thursday, he's heading to Ohio, the Cleveland Clinic once again to try and drive this debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House. Stand by.

The plans for a massive overhaul of America's health care system have led to urgent huddles on Capitol Hill. A key concern -- how to pay for it.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is live outside the office of the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Max Baucus -- lots going on behind closed doors, Dana, right now.

What are you hearing?


Look, there have been talks and committee meetings and votes all over Capitol Hill. But even though that is all going on, everybody knows -- especially those at the White House -- what happens, whether or not the president gets that top priority, is going to be determined by what happens behind these doors.

There are a group of -- right now, probably about seven senators -- bipartisan senators that are meeting as we speak right behind those doors. And they've been meeting really, Wolf, for months. But it really has accelerated over the past several weeks.

And they are trying to figure out how to get not just a bipartisan bill that will get through Congress, but also, at this point, because of basically conservative Democrats' concerns, a bill that even can get through with Democratic support. So that's what they're working on right now.

And at this point, they are hoping -- they have about a trillion dollars. That's how much it costs. And they have about $200 billion in the hole. That's what they're really trying to figure out, Wolf, how to find that $200 billion to pay for it and also to lower those medical costs, which is another big Obama goal and priority.

BLITZER: Now, that's on the Senate side.

What about on the House side, because there's all this talk of some moderate conservative Democrats actually forming a rebellion against the president's strategy?

What are you hearing on the House side?

BASH: That's right. I mean, it's really important, because as important what's going on the Senate side is in order for the president to get a bill to his desk, they still have to pass it through the House.

And there is a lot of conservative Democratic concerns, specifically about the idea of a surtax to pay for health care reform. And that is part of that rebellion.

In fact, listen to the conservative Democrat -- freshman Democrat from Virginia. I spoke with him earlier today.

Listen to his concern about that.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: I think it's premature to be talking about a tax increase when we haven't identified, in my opinion, every saving to be had. And then, secondly, the way the surcharge was described, it would have an impact not only on people over certain income levels, it would also have an impact on a lot of small businesses.


BASH: And the House speaker did something in the past 24 hours to try to quell that rebellion among her Democrats in her caucus, those conservatives. And that is, she said, well, OK, maybe we should -- instead of taxing families that make $350,000, let's raise that to a million dollars. So she's trying to raise that to say even wealthier people will get taxed, not just families who make $350,000. That, at this point, we're hearing, is doing a little bit to ease some of the concerns among conservative Democrats.

But I think, at the end of the day, everything that really matters -- everything that is going to happen, even on the House side, they're saying, is going to be determined by what happens behind these doors with those bipartisan Senators -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll watch it closely together with you.

Dana is up on the Hill.

Thank you.

Can the U.S. military do anything to free a soldier captured in Afghanistan?

He's now appeared in a shocking video saying he's scared for his future.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's working the story for us.

What's the latest on this story -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we have learned is that Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, like all soldiers going to the war zone, would have received some basic training on what to do if he was captured by the enemy. It would have been about keeping an eye out for any opportunity to escape and don't unnecessarily make your captors mad.

But Bowe Bergdahl now in captivity for three weeks. This is a young 23-year-old soldier who is very scared.


BOWE R. BERGDAHL: I have a girlfriend who I was hoping to marry. I have my -- my grandmas and grandpas. I have a very, very good family that I love back home in America. And I miss them. Every day that I'm gone I miss them. And I'm afraid that I might never see them again and that I will never be able to tell them that I love them again. I'll never be able to hug them.


STARR: Very emotional, Wolf.

And earlier today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke about his feelings about this situation.


ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Our commanders are sparing no effort to find this young soldier. And I also would say my personal reaction was one of disgust at the exploitation of this young man.


STARR: What's so amazing, Wolf, is his family, his friends, his hometown in Idaho has kept the secret for weeks that he was the soldier who was captured by the Taliban. Because it wasn't until the video came out, of course, that the U.S. military confirmed his identity.

They've been trying to keep it fairly quiet -- not name him -- so that they could do everything possible to go get him. His hometown knew it. Nobody spilled the beans. Now, some people in the town talking; memorials springing up. People hoping he comes home very quickly.

BLITZER: We certainly hope he does.

All right. Thanks very much, Barbara, for that.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack, we missed you. Welcome back.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf.

As the debate over paying for health care reform takes center stage, it seems like the rich could wind up with the heaviest burden. Democrats want to hit the rich with even higher income taxes to pay for this proposed overhaul, along with limiting deductions that wealthy families take for mortgage interest and charity contributions.

Taxing the rich to pay for health insurance would make a significant departure from how this country has paid for social safety net programs in the past. For example, both Social Security and Medicare are funded by payroll taxes that affect all Americans.

It's estimated a single taxpayer making $450,000 a year would pay about $7,100 a year more in taxes. A family making that same amount would pay about $1,000 more. A single taxpayer making $5 million a year would pay $452,000 more in taxes and a family of that same $5 million income level would pay $443,000 more in taxes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she wants to soften the proposal by making it apply only to families that make a million bucks a year and individuals that make more than $500,000. Republicans are pushing back big time on this. They say some taxpayers would wind up facing tax rates above 50 percent when you combine federal and state tax rates.

The White House has a problem with this issue. A new poll shows approval of the president's handling of health care reform has fallen below 50 percent for the first time.

So here's the question -- is it fair to soak the rich in order to pay for health care reform?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thank you.

Special ops Marines shrouded in secrecy on a mission to learn one of the world's toughest languages.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What are some of the more difficult sounds to make?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ah, they're the koff (ph), khaa. It comes down from the Adam's apple almost. And it's a -- it's -- it's like you're coughing.


BLITZER: Are they preparing for a war of words in Afghanistan?

And are Independent voters losing patience with the president -- why new polls on health care may offer the White House some cause for concern.

Plus, a woman and two children pulled from a burning car -- a dramatic rescue all caught on video -- how bystanders turned into heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a baby in there.


BLITZER: Four more U.S. troops were killed today in Afghanistan, according to a senior U.S. official. That brings July's total of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan to 30, the highest monthly toll since the war began back in October 2001.

A NATO statement says the latest casualties came in a roadside bombing in Eastern Afghanistan.

As fighting rages, some elite U.S. Marines now are on a special mission back here at home.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has the details -- Chris. CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, imagine learning one of the most difficult languages in the world from scratch and only having a year to do it.



LAWRENCE: (voice-over): What kind of class could make a Marine sergeant sweat?


LAWRENCE: The one where he has one year to learn Pashtu.

(on camera): What are some of the more difficult sounds to make in Pashtu?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're the koff -- khaa (ph). It comes down from the Adam's apple almost. And it's a -- it's -- it's like you're coughing. So there's that one. And then the kheee versus the khuu. And so it's -- it's not just learning to repronounce an A, but like actually reconstructing your throat and everything else to try and -- to model the sounds that -- that these people speak and their language.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): The sergeant is only six weeks into Camp LeJeune's crash course. It's brand new -- the fastest language course in the military for troops heading to the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.

We're protecting their identities because they're part of an elite group with the Marine Special Operations Command.


LAWRENCE: It's total immersion -- seven hours a day in class, then five hours of studying and eventually being dropped in a foreign country. In the next room, they're learning another Afghan language, Dari.


LAWRENCE: the woman in charge of the program says the Marines will be able to explain operations and support opinions in the native tongue.

TANYA WOODCOOK, LANGUAGE PROGRAM MANAGER: Because one shot, one kill -- it's not the answer anymore.

LAWRENCE: The military is pushing into areas where locals don't speak Arabic or Farsi. That means American troops have to trust local translators, which isn't the same as a U.S. Marine.

WOODCOOK: They know that their mission and their goal. And certain things cannot be really disclosed to an interpreter.

LAWRENCE: So while fellow Marines practice their aim outside, the real battle for Afghanistan may be won with words.



LAWRENCE: if this works, every Marine Special Ops unit will have a fluent fellow Marine on their team -- something that could become a model for a lot more of the military -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Good luck with that.

Thanks very much, Chris.

Let's get to a CNN exclusive right now. As they hunt for the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan, U.S. Marines are also searching out and destroying the tools of the trade in the heroin heartland.

CNN's Ivan Watson is embedded with U.S. Marines.

Here's his report.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're on a night operation with the U.S. Marines in Southern Afghanistan, in Helmand Province. And right now, the Marines back here are rigging these chemicals with explosives -- C-4 plastic explosives. You can see them getting ready for what will be a controlled explosion in a couple of hours.

Now, the reason for this -- the reason that these C-4 plastic explosives are being placed here is because these chemicals are believed to be used to process heroin. More than 90 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan and the bulk of that comes from this very province in Southern Afghanistan, which has not really been under the control of the Afghan central government in years.

Part of the reason why this operation, over the course of this month, is such a big deal is because the Marines have moved into areas where the Taliban have been able to operate freely, where drug cartels have been able to operate freely. In the -- in the fields around this town where we're located right now, you can see miles of poppy fields growing there, where the heroin is then later produced using some of these chemicals.

In addition to this, the Marines have found chemicals used for improvised explosive devices -- these deadly weapons that have helped to make this the bloodiest month yet for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In a couple of hours, we expect, before the sun comes up, that these shop market stalls here in this busy bazaar -- normally a busy bazaar -- will go up in smoke.

Ivan Watson, CNN, in Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO TAPE) BLITZER: And the stunning aftermath to Ivan's report -- look at this fireball. This is what happened when the Marines blew up those captured chemicals.


BLITZER: The plot thickens in the case of a murdered Florida couple -- evidence comes to light that they knew one of the seven people arrested in connection with their death.

And Michael Vick released from federal custody -- will the NFL allow him to come back to football?


BLITZER: My interview with Quincy Jones -- that's coming up in a little while.

"Fly Me To the Moon" -- Frank Sinatra on this day, 40 years later -- special significance for Quincy Jones. You're interested in this. I know you are. Stand by.

Betty Nguyen, meanwhile, is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, I know you're interested in Quincy Jones.

NGUYEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: He's going to tell me why some people call him Q.

NGUYEN: Oh, Q. Well, I -- I get that one. I think I have the answer to it.

BLITZER: I think you do.

NGUYEN: But in the meantime, though...

BLITZER: But you're going to be interested who the first person who called him Q will be.

NGUYEN: Oh. You have all kinds of good stuff on this show.


NGUYEN: Oh, and plus this. Listen to this, Wolf. Wanted -- 22,000 good men and women. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced today that he will increase the size of the Army by 22,000. At the Pentagon this afternoon, Gates said the personnel boost is needed to keep from putting deployment needs at risk in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas. The Army's current troop strength is 547,000.

House arrest over for Michael Vick. Now the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback can start trying to get back on the playing field. Vick's federal sentence for dog fighting ended today. He still has three years of probation. Vick had been under house arrest in Virginia for the last two months of his 23 month term. The NFL commissioner has said that he would review Vick's status after he completed his sentence.

And yet another twist to tell you about in the murder of a Florida couple earlier this month. Newly released court documents say the man police think was the mastermind of the killing knew Byrd and Melanie Billings. The couple was known for adopting special needs children. And documents also say the Billings gave money to Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. for a martial arts studio. Listen to this -- Gonzalez is one of seven people charged with killing the Billings during a home invasion July 9th.

Such a sad story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: My heart goes out to that family.


BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Betty.

We'll get right back to you.

Are Independent voters losing patience with the president?

Why the White House may have some cause to worry right now about new poll numbers on health care reform.

And bystanders become heroes, pulling a woman and two children from a burning car. You're going to see the stunning video.

And remembering Walter Cronkite -- we'll look back at the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, when the legendary actor and one time war correspondent joined me at Normandy.



Happening now, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton all smiles on her diplomatic tour of India. But back home, the White House tries her patience. Secretary Clinton wants to know, when it comes to getting her people in place over at the State Department, what's taking so long.

The spread of the swine flu around the world kicks into high gear -- and so do scientists' efforts to stop it. Only on CNN, our Mary Snow covers research that could change the way we fight the flu forever.

And the rally on Wall Street holds over from last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day up 104 points, to close at 8848.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Is the president's push for massive health care reform hurting his popularity?

There are new signs that a key group of voters may -- repeat may -- be losing patience with the president.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

We're talking about a very significant group of voters out there -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We really are. These are the swing voters. And as we all know, swing voters really do determine elections.

We have seen now a number of polls that show the president's overall approval is dropping. It remains, however, in a healthy upper 50 percent range.

But inside those numbers is an interesting story. The president is more popular than his programs. And when it comes to his programs, a good part of the slippage is among Independents.

Look at this latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll on the specific question of the president's health care reform. Overall, 44 percent disapprove of his handling of reform; 49 percent approve.

Now flip those numbers and you will have what Independents say. Forty-nine percent disapprove. And that disapproval has gone up 19 points since April. Forty-four percent approve of the president's reform.

The question, of course, is why. And a CBS poll suggests, in part, it may be the price tag.

Do you think health care should be fixed now or do you think the country can't afford it?

That's the question.

The answer from Independents is right down the middle -- 48 percent say fix health care now; 46 percent say the country can't afford it.

Two things, though, Wolf. While Independents generally decide elections, they are a famously mercurial bunch and can swing from week to week.

And if you put the president's numbers up against the Republicans, not even a contest. Republicans are stuck in their worst numbers in more than three decades -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

Candy will be back in the next hour.

Let's talk a little bit about this with Democratic strategist, Steve Hildebrand, former Obama deputy campaign manager; and Republican strategist, Karen Hanretty.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Steve, how worried should the White House be...


BLITZER: ...about these Independents?

HILDEBRAND: Wolf, I think the president will stay very focused on what he's promised the American people and that's to deliver health care. I -- I don't think that the polling numbers are going to slow him down. They shouldn't. That isn't what he got elected for. He got elected to get something serious done. There's nearly 50 million people in this country without health care. That's one big hurdle that we need to focus on.

I hope that the people up on Capitol Hill keep in mind those people every single day as they're trying to write this proposal.

BLITZER: But even if the president and the White House aren't worried about the numbers, it does have an impact on some nervous Democrats in the House and the Senate.

KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's right. Steve's right. The poll numbers aren't going to slow down the president. The moderate Democrats in the House and Senate are going to slow him down, and, in fact, they are. That's why he doesn't have this bill yet.

These people have to go to their districts next year, campaign. They don't want to campaign on a platform of increasing the deficit, lowering your health care benefits or your access or the quality of care.

These are -- there's a lot of people who are frightened out there about the fine print in this health care bill, and a lot of those frightened people are actually members of the U.S. government.

BLITZER: Some of these moderate or conservative Democrats, lawmakers are up for re-election next year for states like North Carolina or Arkansas or Missouri. They're nervous about their political future if they go too far.

HILDEBRAND: You know, this shouldn't be about the political future of elected officials.

BLITZER: But you know politicians.

HILDEBRAND: I'm sorry, but they have guaranteed government health care and there's people in this country who are hurting, people in this country who need this legislation passed and this bill signed into law. It's about the people. It's not about the politicians.

BLITZER: But this is a political town. You know that politics are very important.

HILDEBRAND: And, you know, I love a lot of these people, and I do think the bulk of them are there for the right reasons. But they need to keep in mind that they're there to be responsible and proper and help people. They're not there for their own re-election. BLITZER: Is it still doable that moderate Republicans like Chuck Grassley, for example, in the Senate, will work out a deal with some moderates Democrats, then the president will then jump on board and say, you know, mission accomplished?

HANRETTY: Well, look, the political reality is, you know, a majority of people in this country actually do want health care reform, so Republicans, I think, can't just sit back and watch the administration implode over these taxes -- debates over tax increases. So I think there is a potential for that.

But if it comes with a tax increase, if it increases the size of the deficit as the current plans do, that's just a nonstarter.

BLITZER: He's got a prime time news conference 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Wednesday night, over at the White House. He's got to make his push.

HILDEBRAND: And this guy knows how to do it better than anybody else. And you know, I do think he has the support of the American people to get something serious done, and I don't think he's going to let Congress or some poll numbers slow him down.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about a very sensitive issue in health care reform. That would be abortion and payment for abortions for women.

Listen to this exchange that the president's budget director, Peter Orszag, had yesterday with Chris Wallace on FOX. Listen to this.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Are you prepared to say that a government, public funded, taxpayer-funded, public health insurance plan that no taxpayer money would go to pay for abortions?

PETER ORSZAG, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: I think that that would wind up being part of the debate. I'm not prepared to say exclusively that right now. It's obviously a controversial issue and it's one of the questions that is playing out in this debate.

WALLACE: So you're not prepared to rule it out.

ORSZAG: I'm not prepared to rule it out.


BLITZER: All right. A sensitive issue for a lot of Republicans, some Democrats out there. Should taxpayer money be available to this new government-run insurance agency that's going to compete with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to pay for abortions?

HANRETTY: Well, here's what's interesting. The president's own Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, actually addressed this. She said, look, most private insurance plans around the country do not offer abortion. Even the federal benefits only offers it abortion through your insurance in the case of rape and incest.

So it's difficult to understand why a public option, government-paid health care plan would provide something that even the private insurance agencies don't provide. And if they do go that route, then the next question is, are you going to fund partial birth abortions, and that is a hot topic.

BLITZER: Rape, incest and the life of the mother. But go ahead.

HILDEBRAND: Wolf, you know, if health care decisions are going to be left up to Washington, to the politicians and bureaucrats here, we're in a world of hurt. Women, their doctors, their families, whoever they choose should be making those decisions, and not some bureaucrat in Washington.

Whether it's abortion or something else, this is a private and careful decision that should be made by a health care professional.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation. Steve, Thanks. Karen, thanks to you as well.

A pioneering surgeon goes after a dangerous form of breast cancer in African-American women. Now more than ever beating it has special meaning. She, too, could be its victim. Her story, that's coming up.

And what do Apollo 11 and Quincy Jones have in common? I'll talk to the musical great when we come back.


COLLINS: Later this week CNN brings you the long-awaited documentary, BLACK IN AMERICA 2. Being a black woman means being at higher risk for a dangerous form of breast cancer.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien spoke with a pioneering doctor about the deadly disease as both physician and patient.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR (VOICE-OVER): Lisa Newman is a top surgeon at the University of Michigan Hospital, specializing in breast cancer, a job she's had for seven years, every day through the same doors, ready for work.

But this is no ordinary day. Today, the doctor is the patient. She's having a biopsy. Does she have breast cancer, the very disease she has committed her life to fighting?

To be black, a woman, and a surgeon makes Lisa Newman a rarity in this country. As a young surgeon in Brooklyn, New York, Lisa Newman noticed something alarming in her patients.

LISA NEWMAN, SURGEON SPECIALIZING IN BREAST CANCER: It was just heartbreaking every day in the clinic to continuously be seeing African-American women that seemed to be disproportionately afflicted with breast cancers at younger ages and more advanced stages of disease.

O'BRIEN: And even worse, this cancer was a different, more aggressive type. It's called triple-negative breast cancer, or TNBC. The statistics are appalling. Black women are twice as likely as white women to get TNBC. Why so deadly?

When breast cancer is diagnosed, doctors look for three markers that show where the cancer is most vulnerable and helps determine how best to fight it.

But the markers aren't there for triple-negative breast cancer, making this type of cancer very difficult to treat and more likely to return.

(On camera): So you really have no really targeted way to fight triple-negative breast cancer.

NEWMAN: That's correct. At this point in time, that's correct. In terms of standard of care, chemotherapy is all that's available.


BLITZER: We're counting down to CNN's continuing investigation into this and other challenging issues facing African Americans and their solutions. Our documentary BLACK IN AMERICA 2 with our special correspondent Soledad O'Brien premieres Wednesday and Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

The legendary journalist Walter Cronkite died last Friday. The longtime CBS News anchor was once known as the most trusted man in America. In June of 1994, Walter and I worked together on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy.

When he spoke about what it was like to cover the Second World War as a young reporter, it was inspiring for me to see how moved he was and how poignant that experience was for his entire generation.

We were on together that day for several hours, and Walter spoke about everything from what was then the recent end of the cold war to the way live television has changed journalism and changed our world.

Here's some of that interview with Walter Cronkite.


BLITZER: Some of the veterans that I've been talking to here in France, England, and Italy, they wonder whether all of these past 50 years were worth it because they see a resurgence of fascism in certain parts of Europe, they see bloody conflicts in Bosnia, civil wars, ethnic strife. Yet the cold war is over.

WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: It takes us a long time to learn, doesn't it? Human beings have been reasonably civilized, allegedly civilized, for a very long time, and we still seem to view that killing the other man is the best way to settle the argument. I can't believe that one. BLITZER: You recently wrote an article in "USA Today" raising the question, what would have happened if there would have been live television coverage in 1944 on D-Day. What's your thesis?

CRONKITE: Well, you know, we had a very tough censorship. We had a lot of sights with the censors, all of us at one time or another. But it was basically a very fair censorship. It was one that primarily was interested in retaining military secrets.

It occasionally got a little political, occasionally got a little propagandandistic, but it left us out, let us report -- but basically it was fair. And I think that we should return to that.

The Gulf war, which you were so much involved, as you know, the American people were denied the story of what our troops were doing in the Gulf war and we will never know because the military did not permit our cameras to record the scene.

If we had television today with another battle of this kind, I would hope that the military would respect the rights of the American people to know for history's purpose at any rate and permit the cameras to be here, to record the event, but they could not let them go live from the beaches.

That would be impossible. You can't transmit live through a satellite and not expect the enemy commander three miles behind the beach to intercept that and get a picture of what's happening behind the lines of his enemy. You can't do that.

So that has to be forgotten as an the objective, free journalism. But we should fight very hard to be sure that the cameras are there so that eventually, when those films can be or tape can be released, they will be and the American people will have an honest and straightforward picture of what happened. Not one recorded only by the army's pictorial service.


BLITZER: Walter Cronkite making excellent points on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. A great, great journalist and our deepest condolences to his family.

Bystanders turn into heroes. You'll see the dramatic video as they pull a woman and two children from a burning car.

And as the wheels come off America's health care system, Drew Griffin of our Special Investigations Unit shows how one piece of costly equipment may symbolize what's wrong with Medicare.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour -- is it fair to soak the rich to pay for healthcare reform?

Bertha in South Carolina. "I wish you hadn't praise the question as is it fair to soak the rich for health care reform. In 2007, Warren Buffett slammed the system that allows the very rich to pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle class. Buffett revealed he pays 17.7 percent in taxes while his receptionist was taxed at 30 percent, as am I. Let's find out what percentage do rich people are paying in taxes."

Mark in Arkansas. "In a word, no. The Democrats' plan is to attack the rich, make them pay the tab for everything. That won't work. If you know that the more you make, the higher percentage you'll pay in taxes. What would be the incentive to earn more? California is learning the hard way what spend and then tax government is all about.

Craig in Arizona write, "Conversation needs to be what, are we willing to do to rein in costs? Are we willing to have tort reform and turn away care to our ever expanding illegal population? The government will manage this just like they have managed Social Security and Medicare. Fraud and waste."

B in Mississippi, "All those poor millionaires. If we tax them so much how will they ever pay for psychoanalyst for their little inbred children? How will they be able to afford their thousand-dollar tote bags and $10,000 Rolex watches? I have a 19-year-old student who will never be able to use her right hand again because she cut it at work and didn't have insurance to get surgery to repair the nerve damage. How is that fair?

Dee in North Carolina. "You're wrong, Jack. People that make much pay very little. Deductions, loopholes, write offs, et. cetera protect most of the money. You, obviously, don't make that much."

Tom writes, "Supposed the rich move out of the country? Then who you liberals going to get to pay for everything?"

And -- Michael in Texas says, "Welcome back, Jack. How is Argentina?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here -- I didn't go to Argentina. You can go to my blog at and look for yours there. Or even go to Argentina.

BLITZER: I was telling folks, Jack, you were on the Appalachian Trail.

CAFFERTY: Yes, naked.



Stand by. Thank you.

Some days, we see stories we just have to share. This one is about a rescue in the streets of Milwaukee. Let's go back to Betty Nguyen. She's got the story for us. It's a dramatic scene, and it was all caught on video, Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, these pictures you are about to see are going to have you on the edge of your seat and some viewers may actually find them disturbing, but a couple of off-duty Milwaukee firefighters are being credited with a dramatic rescue yesterday.

All right, here is the scene. You're looking at it right there. A woman lost control of her SUV. You hear the screaming, the yelling. Well, it happened to strike a tree and then burst into flames, which you see there.

Well, the firefighters, they were actually in the crowd. Good timing there. The scene was one of chaos, as you can see. People surrounding the burning car with the woman and her two young children still inside of that car.

Now, one man, you'll see at one point here, he tries to kick in the windshield as others try to get water hoses. Well, they manage to pull out the woman and her 2-year-old daughter, but a 4-year-old boy is still trapped inside that burning vehicle.

Now watch what happens next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get away from the car. Get away from the car! Get away!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, the kid's still in!


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's the baby?




NGUYEN: They managed to get the child out. They're dousing him with water right there and today, those firefighters told the story from their perspective. And one called the scene just horrific. You can see why, with all that smoke there and flames just shooting out of the vehicle.

He said all he could see was the face of the child still inside. He said his life hinged on the actions of everyone.


JOEL RECHLITZ, FIREFIGHTER: This was a complete team effort. If it wasn't for, you know, the citizens that were bashing that window open that gave us access to the child, things would have been different. If that person didn't come forth with that pocket knife, things would have been different.

If that lady didn't come through with that garden hose, you know, the burns sustained to that child would have been much more severe. Officer Obleski (ph) with bringing the fire extinguishers, gave us five, 10 seconds and five, 10 seconds made the difference between this boy living and this boy dying.


NGUYEN: All the difference. Now the little boy is in critical condition with burns over 30 percent of his body. Those two firefighters who happened to be brothers, both were treated for burns on their hands and their arms, but they indeed saved several lives yesterday. Wolf?

BLITZER: They are real heroes. And thank God for them. Thank God everybody came out OK, basically.

All right. Thanks very much, Betty, for that.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she's getting along just fine with the White House, though there is something that irks her enough to complain publicly about it. In fact, she's calling it a night.


BLITZER: The Frank Sinatra song "Fly Me to the Moon" was played by the Apollo astronauts during their mission 40 years ago today.

And joining us now, Quincy Jones. He's the man who put the song together.

Quincy, it's amazing to think 40 years. Tell our viewers in the United States and around the world how you got connected to the first two men landing on the moon.

QUINCY JONES, MUSICIAN AND PRODUCER (via phone): Well, you know, it's ironic as you say that, I'm sitting in the port in my bath, I was there with Sinatra 40 years ago. I mean such a coincidence. But I was working as a musical director at a record company in Paris and one day, they called me and told me Grace Kelly's office called from Monaco and Mr. Sinatra requested I bring my 55-piece house band down to Monaco to accompany him for a fund-raiser.

This was 1958. And I went -- took all of them up, put them on the van, (INAUDIBLE) and everybody, and then went down and we played with him, and I don't think -- no words have passed and I didn't know whether I was on his radar screen but it was a dream to work with him, because he's like magic.

Four years later, I hear from him and he called from Hawaii, he was directing "None but the Brave" in Hawaii, and he says Q -- and nobody ever called me that before. I heard the arrangements, which I did an album with Count Basie, and the song was originally "In Other Words." It was a waltz.

And he said I like the way you did it. He said I would like to do a vocal version like that with Basie. Would you consider doing an album with us? I said man, is the Pope a Catholic, are you kidding? That's a dream of an arranger to work with Sinatra and Basie, and Basie has adopted me since I was 13 so I was in Hawaii the a week later, you know, and he was...

BLITZER: And then you heard that song was played on the moon when these two first astronauts actually landed there.

JONES: Exactly. Buzz Aldrin. And it was ironic because when they played it on the moon, Frank called me and said Q, you won't believe this, they played our music on the moon and we're putting it back in the show because I worked with him until the end, you know? From '64 until the end.

And the same year they played it on the moon, I was making another record called "Walking in Space" which they played in Atlantis last year. The wake-up music with Lanolin Gibbons. I couldn't believe it, you know?

And so at the space anniversary, the 50th anniversary, I felt like an honorary astronaut that day because we both got interviewed for both records on the moon and here's a guy that cannot even drive a car.


BLITZER: You know, "Fly me to the Moon," the most appropriate song to play to those astronauts when they actually made history 40 years ago today.

Quincy, thanks very much for doing this.

JONES: That's right and -- I just want to say this. Frank changed the title. The title was "In Other Words," and they said Frank, you can't change the title. So what's the first words you hear? Fly me to the moon. He said that's the title. That's it.


BLITZER: Good call by Frank Sinatra, as usual.

JONES: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And Quincy Jones, thanks.

JONES: God bless you. I'm honored to be part of it. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM investigation. How one woman's wheelchair is helping to bankrupt Medicare. Taxpayers charged $1200 so far, when we were able to buy a comparable chair for about a quarter of the price.

CNN's Drew Griffin confronts members of Congress with the high cost of broken government.

Also this hour, only on CNN, it could revolutionize the battle against the swine flu pandemic. Our Mary Snow takes us inside a life-saving experiment to make vaccines faster and better.

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