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President Obama's Health Care Battle; Battle Over Gun Amendment; Taxing Medical Marijuana Sales

Aired July 21, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama under pressure. His health care plans under fire, but he won't let his plans go under. He's employing an old tactic to blast critics.

South Carolina's governor dogged by questions over his cheating and his lying. We'll have the latest, including this -- "Where's your wedding ring?" he was asked. Wait until you hear what Mark Sanford does.

And is a Harvard University professor who's one of the most prominent scholars in America the victim of racial profiling? Henry Louis Gates has a mug shot after being identified as one of two black males forcing their way into Gates' own House.

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

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now President Obama is defiant, dismissive and determined. His plans to reform health care have come under a barrage of criticism, and a growing number of Americans are skeptical. But the president insists now is the time to reform a broken health care system, so he's pushing back very hard against his critics and he's urging -- let me quote him now -- "Let's fight our way through the politics of the moment."

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's got the latest for us in this battle -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, senior administration officials saying that there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, reaching out to both Republican beens and Democrats up on Capitol Hill. In fact, some of those Blue Dog Democrats were here at the White House this afternoon meeting with the president. They say they met with had him for about an hour, talking about cost containment, how to also pay for this health care reform, even as the president continues to use strong language as he prods Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): As the clock ticks on health care reform, President Obama again hit the rewind button and played back his talking points -- a shot at his critics...

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These opponents of reform would rather score political points than offer relief to Americans who have seen premiums double.

LOTHIAN: ... a case for reform...

OBAMA: ... that will bring down long-term costs, expand coverage and provide more choice.

LOTHIAN: ... and powerful endorsements.

OBAMA: The American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, who represent millions of nurses and doctors, who know our health care system best, have announced their support for reform.

LOTHIAN: Little has changed in the president's message since returning from his overseas trip.

OBAMA: The status quo on health care...

... the status quo.

LOTHIAN: Just about every day since July 13th, Mr. Obama has made public remarks on health care reform. But are his comments helping to move the ball any closer to the goal line?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Very little indication that all of the rhetoric is moving things positively in his direction.

LOTHIAN: If Mr. Obama is paying any attention to the polls, the latest one from "USA Today" shows he's losing public support. The president's approval on health care reform has dropped below 50 percent.

GERGEN: But I think what's driving him is partly that people are seeing all sorts of plans being presented. They all seem to have high price tags, even sticker shock.

LOTHIAN: But no surrender from the White House. Spokesman Robert Gibbs says the August deadline was meant to prod Congress, and the president expects results.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Tomorrow, the president will be holding a primetime news conference. We don't expect to hear any new language from him.

Now, David Gergen points out that the White House is in a difficult situation here, because if they continue to push that August deadline, then they could risk showing the American people that they are trying to rush this through. On the other hand, if they wait, they do stand -- there does stand that possibility that the entire health care reform process will unravel -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a real dilemma for the White House right now.

Dan, thank you.

And this important programming note for our viewers. President Obama will hold that primetime news conference tomorrow night. It's expected to focus largely on health care reform, tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Right after that, by the way, CNN debuts "Black in America 2." That starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Stay tuned to CNN for all that. That's coming up tomorrow.

President Obama, the Pentagon, even Republicans like John McCain, see a key victory. The Senate votes 58-40 to stop production of the military's F-22 fighter jet. The vote strips $1.75 billion for an additional seven jets from the fiscal year 2010 budget, capping the number of jets at 187.

President Obama praises the vote, saying the extra money would have been an "inexcusable waste." Those are his words. There are many supporters, especially among lawmakers from states where the fighter jets are made. Many of them say continuing production will help U.S. security interests around the world.

Also regarding matters of defense, there is an idea from one senator offered as an amendment to a key defense spending bill. The senator says it could help dramatically reduce violent crime, but one opponent says it could, and I'm quoting now, "... endanger the safety of millions of Americans."

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's got all the details for us -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a must-pass defense bill, and Republicans know when it comes to guns, they can divide Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): In Vermont, a 16-year-old can carry a loaded, concealed weapon without a permit, but when a Vermonter crosses into neighboring New York, home to some of the strictest gun laws in the country, that right evaporates.

Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, wants to change that. He's pushing an amendment that would allow people with concealed weapon permits from their home states to carry their guns into other states that allow concealed weapons.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Reliable, empirical research shows that states with concealed carry laws enjoy significantly lower violent crime rates than those states that do not.

KEILAR: But New York's Chuck Schumer and other Democratic senators representing states with large urban areas say changing the law will put Americans in danger.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: If the Thune amendment is adopted, this hypothetical Vermonter would be free to stroll through Central Park or Times Square with a backpack full of loaded guns. KEILAR: Despite a 60-vote majority in the Senate, many Democrats support gun rights, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has said he will vote for the Thune amendment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And like many Democrats who will vote yes on this, Harry Reid is from a western state. He is from Nevada, where there is a strong tradition of gun ownership and some pretty serious political consequences for bucking the will of gun right supporters and the National Rifle Association. And Wolf, some top Republican and Democratic aides tell me they do expect this will pass the Senate.

BLITZER: When do they expect the vote to actually happen?

KEILAR: We're expecting this to be tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tomorrow. All right. We'll watch closely with you, Brianna. Thank you.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Thanks, Wolf.

Standing by with yet another example of government transparency. Not.

Using a cell phone while driving is dangerous. Duh. But for some reason, the government didn't want the American people to know about this.

"The New York Times" reported this morning that in 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration withheld hundreds of pages of research on the hazards of cell phone use while driving. The former head of the agency says he was urged not to release this information so as not to upset members of Congress who wanted the agency to just stick to gathering safety data. He says he was told the agency might lose billions of dollars if Congress thought they were lobbying the states to crack down on cell phone use while driving.

Critics say not sharing this information with the public has cost lives, lots of them, and allowed people to get used to multitasking while driving their cars. Some experts consider this practice just as dangerous as drunk driving.

Researchers wanted to recommend that drivers not use cell phones, including text messaging, while driving, except in an emergency. They also warned that hands-free laws might not be the answer either, since it's the cell phone conversation itself, not just holding the phone, that can distract drivers. It's estimated that in 2002, cell phone use by drivers caused 955 deaths and 240,000 accidents.

So, here's the question: Why would the government suppress research about the danger of cell phone use while driving?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf. BLITZER: Pretty shocking when you think about it given the numbers involved, Jack.

CAFFERTY: And that was just for one year, 2002. It's 2009. In the seven years, you've got to assume that the use of cell phones while driving has probably grown.

I know it seems to me I see more people on the phone when I'm on the road. And so if 950-some people were killed in 2002, how many have died since then because of this?

BLITZER: Yes. Shocking. All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

He is one of the most prominent African-American scholars in America. His face is now in a mug shot. Wait until you hear what happened to long-time Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, and you decide if it was an honest mix-up or a case of racial profiling.

And Dick Cheney wants protection, but was on the verge of losing it from the U.S. Secret Service. President Obama, though, intervenes.

And dogged by questions about cheating and lying, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford seems stymied by this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Where's your ring?

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA? What's that?

QUESTION: Where's your wedding ring?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More awkward moments today for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford as reporters grilled him about his extramarital affair and even asked why he wasn't wearing a wedding ring. In his first public appearance in weeks, the governor tried to move past discussions of the affair, but reporters repeatedly returned to the issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you think your affair will always be a distraction?

SANFORD: Life and the choices that we make begin each day anew. And so it's as much of a distraction as you want to make it. I'm going to move on with my life. The question is, will you?

QUESTION: If it becomes apparent that is a distraction, would you consider resigning?

SANFORD: I'll turn it to you this way -- have you made a mistake, large or small, in your life?

QUESTION: I'm asking you.

SANFORD: Well, I'm asking you. I think we all do. In other words, we've all acknowledged that this has been painful, it's been what it is. But it is time to move on, and that's what I intend to do, and that's what I hear from a lot of people across South Carolina.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) to earn back the trust the people of South Carolina?

SANFORD: A day at a time process.

QUESTION: Governor, where's your ring? Why aren't you wearing it? You're still married to your wife. Correct? Or are you still going down to Argentina to see your soul mate?

SANFORD: Keep going.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Governor, how much time is going to be taken away from your job to try and fix things (INAUDIBLE)?

SANFORD: If I didn't think it was more than possible to do great at both, I wouldn't be standing here. And so, I'm -- you know, I've taken a couple of days with my wife, as you already know. I'm going to take a couple of more days with my family at large beginning later this week, beginning next week. But I'm going to take a block of time because I think that that's important.

And I'm going to be full bore on a daily basis. And all of our walks in life are on a daily basis in terms of trying to do the best job I can by the people that elected me to this role, and do the best job I can by my wife and by my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's clearly trying to move beyond the affair. Reporters, however, and others obviously not going to let him, at least not yet.

Let's move on right now to Oakland, California, where today, voters are being asked to decide whether the city's medical marijuana dispensaries should pay more in taxes to help solve that city's cash crunch. It would be the first city in the United States to tax marijuana directly.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Simon. He's on the scene for us with the details -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when was the last time you heard a business operator say they want to pay more in taxes? Well, just walk into any medical cannabis dispensary in Oakland and that's exactly what you'll hear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SIMON (voice-over): From this vantage point, it resembles a bank, except the green isn't cash. But it could be a cash crop for the city of Oakland.

(on camera): How much more in taxes would you have to pay?

STEVE DEANGELO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HARBORSIDE HEALTH CENTER: I will pay between $350,000 and $400,000 in additional taxes every year as a result of the excise tax.

SIMON (voice-over): Most business operators wouldn't be too thrilled about that, but Steve DeAngelo says he and his lawyer came up with the idea to help Oakland with its money shortage. The city's more than $80 million in the hole.

DEANGELO: So we think it's appropriate to take some of our excess funds and circulate them back to the community in its time of need.

SIMON: So, out of that came Measure F, approved unanimously by Oakland City Council to let voters decide in balloting by mail whether medical cannabis should have its own special tax.

To city leaders, it's an absolute no-brainer.

REBECCA KAPLAN, OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Given that this -- the medical cannabis dispensaries are something that was legalized in California, why not have the revenue from it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be $111.95.

SIMON: To be clear, the revenue wouldn't be hugely significant, up to $1 million annually for the city. But the dispensaries also have another agenda.

(on camera): How much of this is are also about you and other dispensaries wanting to be seen as good neighbors and legitimate businesses?

DEANGELO: A lot of it is about that. We very much want to be accepted as a part of the community. We believe that we are a positive force within the community, and we are always looking for opportunities to demonstrate that to our fellow citizens.

SIMON (voice-over): And they hope that could lead to greater acceptance of medical marijuana everywhere. No formal opposition has emerged, but some drug fighters say it sends the wrong message.

PAUL CHABOT, COALITION FOR A DRUG FREE CALIFORNIA: The taxation of a federally unlawful drug is just not something that the community should accept.

SIMON: But California has made marijuana legal, at least for medical purposes. And as communities around the state suffer revenue shortages, it's clear the debate will continue.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Dan, are other communities considering this idea as well?

SIMON: Well, just look at the city of Los Angeles. There are more than 600 medical cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles. There are more medical marijuana places than there are Starbucks in the city of Los Angeles. So, obviously, the city council there, they are facing a budget shortfall as well in Los Angeles, so the city council is looking at maybe taxing marijuana as well.

And also, a lot of discussion in Sacramento about this, too, because obviously, the state facing enormous problems. We have been talking about it all day, and they're thinking maybe they could get in on the action as well. We'll just have to wait and see.

BLITZER: I guess the short answer is yes, they are considering it. All right, Dan. Thanks very much.

A newspaper columnist says that Democrats like President Obama but don't fear him. They like him but they don't fear him. If true, could that keep the president from persuading members of his own party to get behind his plans?

And U.S. Marines use explosives to blow up plants to make bombs and heroin. You're going to see how the U.S. military is battling a prime scourge in Afghanistan -- drugs. Our reporter Ivan Watson is with the U.S. Marines right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's no secret many states are hurting in this recession. Just look what's happening in California, as we just saw Dan Simon's report. Many of those states are in the red, and many need money, and they need it quickly, which is why government auctions have become so popular lately. Federal, state and local governments need the cash. Consumers want a bargain. And almost everything's for sale.

Here's CNN's Alina Cho.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Looking for a deal on a car? Would you buy a used one from this man...

GOV. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: The average price is about $1,200.

CHO: ... the governor of New Jersey?

CORZINE: Fifteen hundred dollars, $2,000. A lot of these cars are really more valuable than that. And so people are taking that opportunity to save money in a tough environment.

CHO: New Jersey is just one of many states holding government garage sales to make money at a time when they desperately need it. Federal and local governments are in on the game, too. And almost everything is on the block.

(on camera): You can buy a salt spreader truck? Who would want that?

(voice-over): You would be surprised. Watches, Learjets, some of it seized, some surplus, all for sale.

IAN ARONOVICH, PRESIDENT & CEO, GOVERNMENTAUCTIONS.ORG: You can buy literally anything. You will buy a container of soccer balls. You will buy a disassembled MiG jet. You will buy a boat. You will buy a car.

CHO: Government auctions aren't new, but in a recession they are more popular.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we get good cars here. They are dirty. They just need to be cleaned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The body of it is good, the paint is not chipped. The transmission and oil looks good.

CHO: One drawback, you buy as is. No test drives.

Tanisha (ph) and Diamond Ruffin (ph) are shopping for his first car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's one in the back. It's a Dodge, I believe. I like the color.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you kidding me? For a first-time car owner, he'll take anything on the lot.

CHO: If you can get it. Bidding...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifteen hundred dollar bid...

CHO: ... can be fierce.

JACOB OLEARCHIK, STORE KEEPER, N.J. DISTRIBUTION LOT: Like, there's been a couple incidents where there was an actual fistfight, where two customers were arguing over a car. I personally had to break that up.

CHO: This New Jersey car auction raked in more than $163,000, bringing the state so far this year more than $2 million in auction sales.

Sometimes...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had bought a car that had stuff in the trunk. I had bought a car with bullets insides, with a fax machine inside.

CHO: ... you get a little more than you bargained for.

(on camera): If you are interested in buying something from a government auction, a couple of things you should know. First, do your research. Comparison shop. With a car, for example, you can get a "Blue Book."

Also, in your mind set a maximum bid and stick to it. There is something called auction fever, and it is real. Alina Cho, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: One of the most prominent scholars in the United States arrested, but when you hear what happened to Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, you may ask yourself, was it all just a big misunderstanding, or was he targeted because he's black?

And one of the Washington's most famous landmarks goes up on the auction block. Any takers?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, survival story. Two off-duty firefighters in Milwaukee rescue two children and their mother from a burning SUV. Now the father is speaking out about how his family made it out alive.

Also, U.S. Marines are on a search and destroy mission in Afghanistan, targeting the Taliban's drug trade. We're going to give you an exclusive look inside that mission.

And tracking trillions of dollars in taxpayer money used to bail out big banks. We'll look at what it could mean for you.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Many people know him from pictures like this, not for images like this one. Long-time Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, he's one of the most prominent scholars in the country, but his recent arrest has inflamed a controversy.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's got the explanation, what's going on -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, prosecutors and police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are now dropping charges against this famous Harvard scholar. This is a case that has many around that area crying foul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The police are taking it back.

KELLY DOWNES, CAMBRIDGE POLICE: The city of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department have recommended to the Middlesex district attorney that the criminal charge pending against Professor Gates not proceed.

TODD: A call about a possible break-in brought police to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Henry Louis Gates Jr. last week. Gates, who directs Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Studies founded an online magazine and has written several books on the African-American experience, was returning home from China, where he had been filming a documentary. Gates and his driver were trying to force open the door to his house which was stuck. A caller told police "... she observed what appeared to be two black males with one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry."

A police report says Gates initially refused to identify himself, and when told authorities were investigating a report of a break-in, Gates exclaimed, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"

Gates was ultimately arrested for disorderly conduct. The police report describes him as yelling loudly at the officer and being uncooperative.

Gates' lawyer told CNN that the professor was frustrated but not belligerent.

CHARLES OGLETREE, ATTORNEY FOR PROFESSOR GATES: The police officer just said, "Step outside." He said, "What?" "Just step outside." He said, "I live here. This is my house."

TODD: Police say the arrest had nothing to do with race.

DOWNES: Our position is very firmly that race did not play any factor at all in the arrest of Professor Gates.

TODD: But last Thursday's incident left some colleagues disturbed and some neighbors puzzled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a Harvard professor is arrested breaking into his own home, it has a certain comical aspect.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very familiar. You've heard it before. And, you know, you can almost also wonder, would we be hearing as much about it if it wasn't as prominent a person?

TODD: Fellow scholar Ronald Walters says it's precisely Gates' fame that makes this arrest so surprising.

RONALD WALTERS, AFRICAN AMERICAN LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Well, it was surprising, because professor Gates is one of our most distinguished, most prominent and, therefore, one of the most visible academics, not just a black academic, but in the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And, Wolf, a source close to Gates tells us this afternoon that professor Gates is outraged, but feeling better since the arrest last Thursday.

Gates told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "This is how poor black men across the country are treated every day in the criminal justice system. It is one thing to write about it," he says, "but altogether another thing to experience it" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you. And let's talk a little bit more about this controversy, as well as the bigger picture.

Joining us now is Michael Eric Dyson, a professor at Georgetown University here in Washington. And he's also the author of this brand-new book entitled "Can You Hear Me Now?: The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson."

Professor, thanks for coming in.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: What do you think about this story? When you first heard that this professor, professor Gates, was arrested in his own house, what went through your mind?

DYSON: Well, it's a stunning repudiation of everything for which professor Gates stands.

This man got a Ph.D. from Cambridge University in English. He was one of the first four people awarded a MacArthur Genius Award. He was a stringer for "TIME" magazine. He was named one of the 100 most influential people by "TIME" magazine a few years ago, and he's been all over PBS and all over America. So, he is one of the most prominent members of our collegiality, as it were. He's a professor of extraordinary prominence.

And I thought, this was ridiculous. It must be a joke. And, then, when I found out it was real, it just reminded me that African- American men every day are subjected to the arbitrary reprisals of a criminal justice system, to which Mr. Gates, professor Gates, now has been subjected.

And I think representative and symbolic of what brothers on the street every day have to deal with. Only when it happens to a prominent person like professor Gates does it shine a very powerful spotlight on a necessary evil that must be exposed.

BLITZER: You are a distinguished professor at Georgetown University yourself. Have you ever personally experienced anything along the lines of what professor Gates over the weekend just went through?

DYSON: Oh, absolutely.

When I was graduate student at Princeton University, I was driving home one late night and pulled over by a New Jersey cop, who told me to walk the line.

I said: "Sir, I'm a teetotaler. I'm a Baptist preacher." And I said, "I'm getting a Ph.D. at Princeton." And he said, "Yes, I'm the blanking president of the United States," and made me get out at 3:00 a.m. and walk a line.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But were you speeding or anything?

DYSON: Not at all.

BLITZER: He just saw you in the car?

DYSON: He saw me and pulled me over.

So, that is one of many experiences I have had with the police.

BLITZER: So, what does this say about the bigger picture of racial profiling in the country right now?

DYSON: Well, it -- it means that the persistent stereotypes that prevail have to be extricated, washed out of the mind, the collective imagination of these police people.

And it does make a difference. People say, well, it's just one isolated case. No, it is not. It happens constantly and repeatedly and routinely. And, unless it happens to a very prominent figure like professor Gates, we don't understand the consequences of it.

He is shaken up himself, writing about it, theorizing about it from the ivory tower, as we all do. But to get down there in the mud and the slough and feel what everyday brothers and sisters feel, that is a different story. And it means that we must deal with this. We are not in a post-racial society, as many people try to sell us.

BLITZER: If he were a white professor at Harvard University just coming back to his home after an overseas trip, he's got a cab driver with him, the door doesn't open, so, he goes in the back to try to find out if he can get into his own house, and a neighbor sees that going on, what do you think would have happened? Anything different?

DYSON: You know, look, obviously, people would be suspicious, but the fact that a black man, that his neighbors don't even know him, that is suspicious and interesting to begin with.

And then the fact that, in this neighborhood, his own neighbors call the police, and, when the police come, they can't distinguish between a very prominent professor and a common everyday so-called thief.

Part of the problem that black people have with police is not the fact that they are disinclined to be subject to the law. It's that when the police that they have called come to their domiciles and can't distinguish between them and a common thief.

I mean, what is this? This is housing while black. It's a new category that we have to contend with.

BLITZER: We have a special, "Black in America 2," coming out tomorrow night and Thursday night. Soledad is doing it, as I'm sure you know.

DYSON: Right.

BLITZER: But look at this CNN/"Essence" magazine/Opinion Research Corporation poll that we commissioned. The question is racial discrimination. And the answers among Americans who are black and Americans who are white, very different.

Among black Americans, racial discrimination, very serious problem -- 55 percent say it is a very serious problem. Seventeen percent of whites say it is a very serious problem. Sixteen percent of blacks say racial discrimination is not a serious problem. Forty-three percent of whites stay it is not a serious problem.

There is a real gap still there in attitudes between whites and blacks.

DYSON: Well, it is not only attitudes. There is a different universe around which black people and white people rotate. The axis is extremely different.

If you were to subject to the experiences that professor Gates or that I have been experienced -- that I have experienced or many other millions of black people, you would have a different approach to the police and to the belief that discrimination has somehow eroded.

This is why we -- I think we need the president of the United States, the first African-American, to use his bully pulpit, not simply to defend the principles of American democracy, but to help educate America about the persistent and lingering effects of discrimination, as he brilliantly did at the NAACP last week.

But he must continue, I think, to expose some of these undergirding and underlying...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because so many people believe, now we have the -- the first family is African-American, it is over, it is time to move on, and get beyond all of these issues.

DYSON: Of course. And the disinclination of the president himself, perhaps, to highlight that -- understandably -- has caused a kind of collision between amnesia and ignorance.

And I think what he needs to do is to educate -- help educate America about these persistent effects, and then the rest of America needs to understand, you can be a black person reaching for your wallet, some policeman thinks it is a gun, you get filled with 41 bullets.

Thank God professor Gates was not subject to this, but imagine the horror and the viciousness had something more serious happened to him. This has shaken him up. It's shaken him the rest of us up. And it ought to be a warning signal to America to get its act together when it comes to...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And I think it is important to note, he is not only one of the most prominent African-American professor in the United States. He is one of the most prominent professors in the United States.

DYSON: Absolutely. BLITZER: We are not just talking about a professor. We are talking about one of the most prominent professors, black or white.

DYSON: Absolutely, widely regarded as one of the greatest intellectuals of his generation. And I think that we need to pay attention to the fact that, if it can happen to him, it can happen to any of us. And I think that is the message we need to hear.

BLITZER: The book is entitled, "Can You Hear Me Now?"

Michael Eric Dyson, the professor from Georgetown University, is the author.

Thanks for coming n.

DYSON: Thank you, sir.

This important programming note: CNN debuts because "Black in America 2" tomorrow night. It starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right after the president's news conference at the White House.

A piece of American history available to the highest bidder, the Watergate Hotel right here in Washington. And it is up for auction. We are going to update you on the bidding.

And some people called them President Obama's -- quote -- "mom jeans." Now the president is responding to his fashion critics.

And a government report finds that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous, but, for some reason, the government didn't want the American people to know about it. Why? Jack Cafferty has your e- mail. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Betty, what is going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

One of the nation's largest lenders to small- and mid-sized businesses says it might have to file for bankruptcy protection, if it can't raise enough funds through a bond exchange. CIT Group offered the grimmest estimate in a regulatory filing just a short time ago.

Now, it comes just a day after major bondholders agreed to provide it with a $3 billion loan. We will stay on top of that.

And if you have ever wondered what it's like to sneeze in a space suit or what would happen if the space shuttle flew into a black hole, well, you may want to log into a discussion taking place on the Internet this afternoon.

Astronauts on board the International Space Station and docked space shuttle are answering questions from Earth using, of course, Twitter and YouTube. Earlier, they conducted experiment,s unloaded equipment from the shuttle using robotic arms, and made preparations for a space walk, which is scheduled tomorrow. So, they have been quite busy.

And scientists, students and space enthusiasts are flocking to parts of Central and Eastern Asia. Why? Well, that is where the longest total solar eclipse of the century will be visible in just a few hours. The eclipse will reach its peak in India around dawn and will last close to seven minutes. That is how long it is going to last at its maximum point.

It will also be visible along a broad swathe that goes through Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, even China, seven minutes, but it's the longest one in the century, Wolf. And you know what? We're going to miss it.

BLITZER: Certainly will, Betty.

Thanks very much.

NGUYEN: Yes.

BLITZER: Don't go too far away, though.

President Obama, does he have a problem with liberals? One columnist says they loved him, but they need to fear him. We are going to talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session."

Also, how did two children and their mother get out of this terrifying accident alive? The father is now speaking out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Is President Obama tough enough with the liberals up on Capitol Hill?

Let's talk about this and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville, and the national talk show host, the radio talk show host and CNN political contributor, Bill Bennett.

Here is what David Brooks, writing in "The New York Times" today, said, "Liberal Suicide March" the headline. And I will go to you, James, first.

"Months ago, it seemed as if Obama would lead a center-left coalition. Instead, he has deferred to the old bulls on Capitol Hill on issue after issue. Machiavelli said a leader should be feared, as well as loved. Obama is loved by the Democratic chairmen, but he is not feared."

Brooks is referring to the liberals, especially in the House. What do you think?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, look, he's -- what he is doing is -- and we will see if it works. It will be brilliant. If it doesn't, we will all say how stupid it is.

But they're letting the House put their bill up. And now there's some kind of deal. But the Senate (INAUDIBLE) on the Finance Committee considerably more moderate.

And, you know, this is one of these games, this is very early in the bidding, if you will. And I think it's a -- it is a little too early to draw sort of conclusions. The truth of the matter is, is that, if you win, everything you do is smart. If you lose, everything you do is stupid.

And we will see how this thing works its way through the process.

BLITZER: How is it working with for him so far, Bill?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think it's working very well. James is right. It is early -- or at least it should be early in the process, Wolf, but he set the time frame. He said, we have got to get it now. We have got to get it before the August recess.

Now, I'm not going to say there is a ton of intellectual integrity on the Hill, but questions have to be answered. You have to decide how you're going to pay for this thing. You have got to reconcile a lot this. You might even want to read it. So, given all those things, and the fact that he has now got open disagreement among some Democrats, his biggest problem not Republicans now, but Democrats, it is a difficulty. It is a real difficulty for him.

BLITZER: But, you know, they are worried, James, that...

CARVILLE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... that if they don't have the bill -- the separate Senate and the House bills passed, let's say, by the August recess, then they can...

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: ... then it's not going to get passed later. After a month- long vacation, people start focusing in on other issues.

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: He wants it signed into law by the end of the year, but he at least would like the legislative part of it to be signed -- to be passed by the August recess.

CARVILLE: Yes. And, I mean, it -- and that's what they are going to try for, but, if they get something in October, and not August, I don't think it's going to matter a great deal.

The important thing is, is that they have got to get something. And he is having a prime-time press conference. My sense is -- is that he and Rahm have waited and are going to weigh in it what they think is the right moment But I don't disagree with anything that the secretary said. They are going to try to force deadlines. The Congress will resist deadlines. And, in the end, it's going to boil down to -- the perception now is that he won't get anything and that the economy is not getting better.

If he gets something and the economy is getting better, then he will do better. But there is -- this is -- this is not the time to kind of spin, if you will. The stakes in this thing are pretty dramatic and they are pretty high here for both parties. :So, it is going to be a very, very interesting time.

BLITZER: Because, Bill, you know the legislative process in Washington. The House will pass one version.

BENNETT: Yes.

BLITZER: The Senate will pass a very, very different version, but the real action will then come in what they call...

BENNETT: Right.

BLITZER: ... a conference committee, where leaders of the House and the Senate, they get together, mostly Democrats, maybe a few Republicans, if there's bipartisan support...

BENNETT: Yes.

BLITZER: ... let's say, in the Senate version. Probably won't be in the House version. It sounds to me like that's going to take place some time in the fall.

BENNETT: I think it is, too, Wolf.

It's a huge piece of legislation. It's hugely expensive. And, still, the money goes up, rather than goes down. For purposes of analysis, let agree with James again. Better for the fall. But he doesn't want it in the fall.

It is a little bit like Oz. You know, don't look at the man behind the curtain. Listen, listen, listen. You know, do what the man in front of you says. Don't look behind the curtain. But, the longer people look at, the more worried they get.

What, was it Justice Brandeis who said sunlight is the best disinfectant? The more sunlight that is here, the more the public is disagreeing with.

BLITZER: Bill, let me stay with you for a moment, because there was an extraordinary letter that was written by a bunch of leaders in Europe who are deeply worried that the Obama administration...

BENNETT: Yes.

BLITZER: ... is getting too close to the Russians right now, including Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, Lech Walesa, the former Polish president. These were heroes in the collapse of the Soviet Union, as you remember.

Is their fear legitimate that President Obama is getting too close to the Russian president and the Russian prime minister?

BENNETT: Yes, I think they were very bothered by the speech in Russia, in which the president said it was really just a worldwide thing; it wasn't the pressure of democracies; it wasn't Reagan; it wasn't Thatcher; it wasn't the pope.

These guys represent the best of conscience and intellect in the Western world. And, of course, the bottom-line worry is about missile defense. Is he going to withdraw missile defense from that part of the world?

So, I -- it was a stunning letter, as "The New York Times" pointed out, very unusual for them. And they kind of took the president to task for his speeches. A lot of his speeches on the foreign stage have been very much lacking.

I was thinking today -- maybe James -- James will know better than I. I cannot recall Bill Clinton ever doing the kind of thing Barack Obama does, which is running down the United States when he is abroad.

I remember he apologized in Africa about Rwanda, but he said that was his greatest mistake, not the United States'. This pattern of saying -- of kind of going toward moral equivalence is starting to disturb a lot of people.

BLITZER: James?

CARVILLE: Well, I'm sorry to point that it wasn't President Obama that said he looked into President Putin's eyes and saw the soul of a good man. I can assure you that there are many things that Vladimir Putin might be. A good man is probably a judgment I wouldn't arrive at..

BENNETT: He's not the president anymore.

CARVILLE: ... but that that was a Republican president that did that.

Secondly, I don't know that this president runs down the United States. I think that what he does is, is that -- and, by the way, I think he has done enormous benefit for the image of the United States around the world. But, look, there are some people...

BENNETT: No.

CARVILLE: Russia is a big power. It is dangerous. It shouldn't be assumed that its leader has the soul of a good man. I think you have to treat a country like this with great, great skepticism. And I think that that is what this administration will do. I know that's what the secretary of state is going to do.

BLITZER: You notice...

CARVILLE: And I suspect that is what the president is going to do. BLITZER: You notice, James, that the vice president, Joe Biden, is right now, even as we speak, in Ukraine, apparently...

CARVILLE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... reassuring Ukraine, you know, don't worry so much that the United States is going to get too close to -- to the Russians.

CARVILLE: Right.

I have got to -- again, I have got to disclose here, I worked in the Ukraine. I actually worked for the pro-Western Orange Party there.

It -- Ukrainian politics is very split down the middle in terms of how they view Russia. And the election coming up right now is going to be pretty interesting. But I -- I have to -- out of -- you know, for CNN, I have -- I have to disclose that.

BLITZER: You are an honest guy, and you should disclose it.

Give me a final thought, Bill.

BENNETT: I'm -- I'm glad he is working for the pro-Western guys in the Ukraine.

But, look, these guys do represent a large part of the conscience of Europe. They have come a long way. They have seen history be made. They do not want to go -- see things go backwards. And they don't want this president to be toward Russia in a way that suggests it's realistic, but, really, it -- it accommodates Russian interests and Russian power.

Got to stand tough. Got to stand with the Poles. It is almost always true. Stand with the Polish people.

BLITZER: All right, guys, we will leave it on that note.

Bill Bennett, James Carville...

CARVILLE: OK. I did work...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: President Obama vs. the fashion police. The alleged offense, wearing so-called mom jeans. Wait until you hear the president defend his fashion sense.

And Dick Cheney was on the verge of losing his U.S. Secret Service protection, which means he would have had to pay for his security on his own or go without it, that is, until President Obama stepped in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": A piece of American political history went on the auction block today, Washington's Watergate Hotel available to the highest bidder. The only problem, there weren't any bidders willing to offer the minimum price of $25 million. Because there were no buyers, the lender that holds a $40 million note on the property has now taken back the property.

Dick Cheney's Secret Service protection was supposed to end today, but President Obama reportedly has OKed a six-month extension, that according to "The New York Daily News." Ex-vice presidents normally just get six months of taxpayer-paid protection, but they can ask for extensions. Otherwise, they either have to hire their own security or do without security.

The fashion police called them President Obama's mom jeans. Now the president responds. There was some lighthearted criticism of the jeans he wore at last week's baseball All-Star Game. The fashion police issued a violation, saying the jeans are typically worn by moms, but had this to say -- he had this to say when "The Today Show" questioned him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's my attitude. Michelle, she looks fabulous. I'm a little frumpy.

You know, basically, up until a few years ago, I only had four suits. She used to tease me, because they would get really shiny.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I hate to shop. Those jeans are comfortable. And for those of you who, you know, want your president to, you know, look great in his tight jeans, I'm sorry; I'm not the guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jeanne Moos later is going to have more on the mom jeans.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I didn't even know there was such a thing as mom jeans. Did you?

BLITZER: Yes, because of "Saturday Night Live."

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They had a little fun with that a few years ago.

CAFFERTY: Oh.

BLITZER: And Jeanne Moos, last week, when you were off, did a fabulous piece on mom jeans.

CAFFERTY: What kind of jeans do you wear?

BLITZER: The not-mom jeans.

CAFFERTY: The not-mom jeans?

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Cool jeans.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, why would the government suppress research about the dangers of cell phone use while driving?

Susan in Colorado: "For the same reason most information is withheld from us: special interests groups with highly paid lobbyists, who have their own agendas, promising campaign contributions to politicians who have their own agendas."

Theresa in Montana: "Simple. This research was conducted during the dark ages of the Bush administration, where science was spit upon, especially if it might endanger the profits of large corporations."

Michael in Virginia: "Jack, it's almost a stupid question. I can think of two reasons. They like driving while talking on their phones, and because telecom lobbyists give so much money to Congress, they are afraid they will get slammed if they say anything."

Phil writes: "I think the cell phone companies and their lobbyists probably didn't want this information released. Who could buy a cell phone -- or who would buy a cell phone if they couldn't use it in the car? After all, they used to be called mobile phones."

Rich in New York: "How ironic. The Bush-Cheney administration eavesdropped on our cell phone conversations supposedly to save American lives and probably cost American lives by suppressing important data about cell phone use while driving."

Ann in Louisiana: "Maybe it's because some members of Congress are more interested in being able to say they are dealing with a problem for their constituents after it becomes apparent, than in preventing it from becoming a problem in the first place."

And Ed says: "Very hard to understand the dangers of texting drivers while you are riding in the back of the lobbyist's limo."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile. Check it out. You might find yours there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

To our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.