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Senate Rejects President Obama's Health Reform Timetable; North Korea Slam: Hillary Clinton a 'Schoolgirl'; Debate Over Why African- American Scholar was Arrested

Aired July 23, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a major new setback for health care reform. Even as the president keeps pushing and prodding, the U.S. Senate now set to ignore his goal of getting something passed by the August recess.

Also this hour, a debate over why an African-American scholar was arrested. Was it racial bias or something else? And was President Obama right to accuse police of acting stupidly?

Plus, mayors busted, and rabbis as well. A massive corruption investigation explodes in New Jersey and the arrest blotter reads like a who's who.

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


This hour, a brand new reason that President Obama's goal of health care reform is in danger of flat-lining. The top Senate Democrat declaring today that he won't hold a vote until after the August recess. That's a blow to the president's ambitious timetable.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think that it's better to have a product that is one that's based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than trying to jam something through.


BLITZER: All right. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's traveling with the president in Ohio right now, in Cleveland. Just wrapped up a town hall meeting. A lot of our viewers saw it live here on CNN.

What are they saying, Ed, about this decision by the Senate Democratic leader that, you know what? We're going to hold off, at least for now?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president is trying to put the best face on this, saying, like Harry Reid, look, we want to get this right, not just get it fast. But there's no doubt, as he puts the best face on it, this is still a blow. The president came here to Ohio to try to pick up ground for health reform. Instead, he had to give some ground, admit that he's not going to meet this August deadline he's been demanding to combat what he calls inertia back in Washington. So, he's giving it a little bit, but still standing firm in saying he wants action done by the end of this fall at the very least. He still wants to get it done.

He exhorted this crowd here in Cleveland at a town hall to keep the heat on lawmakers, saying that reform may be going too fast for special interests, but not fast enough for the American people.


BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, you know, we just heard today that, well, we may not be able to get the bill out of the Senate by the end of August or the beginning of August. That's OK. I just want people to keep on working. Just keep working.


I want the bill to get out of the committees. And then I want that bill to go to the floor. And then I want that bill to be reconciled between the House and Senate. And then I want to sign a bill.


And I want it done by the end of this year. I want it done by the fall.


HENRY: Now, the other big development, as we saw a subtle shift today in the president's sales pitch, he's not -- you know, no longer just mostly focusing on covering those 46 million who are uninsured. He's now talking a lot about insurance reform, not just health care reform, to say to the people who do have insurance coverage, look, there is something in it for you.

They're worried -- a lot of people with insurance saying, are we just going to pay higher taxes to cover people who are not covered right now? The president is saying, look, we're going to stabilize your insurance coverage and make sure, for example, that there's a cap on what you can pay to the insurance companies for out-of-pocket expenses, trying to show everybody has a stake here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much for that, Ed.

And as you know, less than 24 hours ago, the president was standing before reporters over at the White House making yet another big pitch for overhauling health care. And yet today reform seems to be in somewhat serious trouble.

Let's discuss with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger -- she's here -- the fact that Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate, now says there's not going to be a vote in the Senate before the August recess. It's going to happen afterwards in the fall.

How big of a deal is that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it doesn't make health care impossible. In fact, if I had to bet, I think that the White House in the end is not going to come up on empty on this. But where they're going to end up remains to be seen.

It's very clear Democrats are afraid of where the political conversation is going right now. You've got senior aides up on the Hill now talking to those Democrats who are not quite sure where this bill is going. So, I think that anytime you put something on delay and you give folks an opportunity to lobby against it is not good news.

BLITZER: Because that's what they're afraid, during the August recess, a lot of these lawmakers are going to go back to their states and get an earful, presumably.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Although the president is trying to do his magic. He's got a lot of political support out there as well.

BORGER: And the president, you can expect, will continue to keep up pressure, as well, Wolf. But I think their problem from the White House point of view is that their strategy was not to have something that they put out there that would put a big target on their back.

They didn't want to be Hillary Clinton. So, they didn't propose a bill. Now the president is trying to sell an abstraction to the American public -- health care reform. And that's a little bit more difficult for him.

BLITZER: It certainly is. We'll see what the end result though is, and that's going to take a while.


BLITZER: Gloria, thank you.

There's a lot of second-guessing today about the president's remark that police acted stupidly arresting a prominent African- American scholar. Mr. Obama was asked last night about the incident involving the Harvard University professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates says he was the victim of racial bias when police arrested him at his own home responding to a report of a possible burglary.

Here's what the president said last night.


OBAMA: I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge Police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that's just a fact.


BLITZER: The Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer who arrested Gates says he didn't do anything wrong, and he's refusing to apologize.

Here's his response to the president.


SGT. JAMES CROWLEY, CAMBRIDGE POLICE: He's the president of the United States, and I support the president to a point, I guess. I think it's disappointing that he waded into what should be a local issue and that something that really plays out here.

As he himself said at the beginning of that press conference, he didn't know all the facts. He certainly doesn't based on those comments. I just think it was very disappointing.


BLITZER: And we're now hearing that Sergeant James Crowley actually is considered an expert on racial profiling. He reportedly teaches officers not to single out people based on their ethnic backgrounds.

We're going to have a debate on this very provocative topic. That's coming up later this hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lots to digest.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks, Wolf.

Before we get started, a warning here. The story and the video that we're going to show you may be upsetting to some viewers. It was upsetting to me.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video that it says shows abuse of circus elephants by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Now, listen to this and watch the guy in the lower right-hand corner of your screen.

The video goes on for probably close to 30 seconds, and various shots showing animal handlers using a sharp metal object known as a bull hook to strike the elephants in the head, legs and body. And one part, a trainer curses at an elephant, then hits him and tells it to back up.

PETA says the video was shot by an undercover member of their organization who posed as a stagehand and actually worked for the circus for six months. He said the circus elephants and the tigers are regularly put through this kind of cruelty. The animal rights group says it's filed a complaint with the Agriculture Department under the Animal Welfare Act.

The circus denies the abuse claim, says it's looking into the validity of the video. They say they were in compliance with federal, state and local laws, and were inspected 10 times during the period that PETA claims the video was taken.

The company says it loves its elephants and is proud of its efforts to care for and increase the endangered Asian elephant population. But this isn't the first time that the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has come under fire for allegedly mistreating animals. A case going all the way back to 2000 is set to be decided in federal court later this month.

Here's the question: Should the use of wild animals in circuses be outlawed?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

One of Osama bin Laden's sons may be dead, and a missile strike by an unmanned U.S. aircraft may have killed him. But the Pentagon now said to be up in the air about the weapon's future.

Also coming up, Hillary Clinton belittled as a "funny lady" and worse. Find out who's slamming the secretary of state and why.

And the first mother-in-law dishes on life in the White House.


BLITZER: Korea thumbs its nose at the world, and now peppering Hillary Clinton with harsh verbal insults. At a security conference in Asia, the secretary of state and Asian nations urged the North Koreans to return to the talks over terminating their nuclear weapons program. Secretary Clinton says it could spark an arms race in the region, but Pyongyang defiantly says no. And an official claiming the United States has an anti-North Korean stance.

Over at the conference, sparks flew.

CNN's Zain Verjee explains.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: An unscripted moment of drama. It was an odd spat between the U.S. and North Korea. It happened at a regional meeting in Thailand just before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started speaking. North Korean officials suddenly tried to take the podium and speak. They were hustled away by the guards there.

Secretary Clinton says North Korea's defiant behavior over its nuclear program is troubling, and she says North Korea is on the wrong course, has no friends, and could face more sanctions. Yonhap News Agency is reporting North Korea is slamming Secretary Clinton, calling her a "funny lady" who's "not intelligent," has "no elementary etiquette" in diplomacy. It is an unusually personal attack that goes on to say "She looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."

Zain Verjee, CNN, London.


BLITZER: It's one way the United States military takes out fierce war enemies -- put them in a target and attack them with hellfire missiles launched from a drone, a pilotless aircraft. We're learning that type of attack may have taken out a top target, but what's the future of this entire drone program for the U.S. military?

CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is working the story for us.

Chris, fascinating stuff going on.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Look at this. I mean, there have been nearly 20 drone strikes in Pakistan alone already this year. And the Air Force says this unmanned aircraft program is only where manned aircraft were in the 1920s.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): A U.S. counterterrorism official says Osama bin Laden's son is probably dead. There's not enough evidence to be sure, but officials believe Saad bin Laden was killed in a missile strike by an unmanned Predator drone.

On Monday, the Air Force outlined where it wants to go with unmanned aircraft systems -- drones able to switch from refueling missions to long-range assault, or remote operator controlling several planes at once?

LT. GEN. DAVID DEPTULA, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR INTELLIGENCE: ... which allows us to project power without projecting as much vulnerability.

LAWRENCE: But that distance can also be a weakness. Bombings by drones have been blamed for civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in those cultures, some see it as cowardly to fight remotely, possibly leading to a loss of respect and support for U.S. forces.

In 2004, unmanned drones were running five combat air patrols, compared to 35 a day now. But in that time, one thing has remained relatively constant.

DEPTULA: We have become accustomed to operating in battle space that we control.

LAWRENCE: Meaning there's no enemy jets trying to shoot them down. The Air Force admits it's got a ways to go before drones can survive on that battlefield.

DEPTULA: Because some of the systems that we have today you put in a high threat environment, and they'll start falling from the sky like rain.


LAWRENCE: But they are making progress. Right now, each combat air patrol takes about 10 pilots to operate. In a few years, they expect to reduce that to five. And eventually, ,about half the patrols would be fully automated and need no pilots -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thank you.

A twist in a racially-charged controversy. It involves the police officer who arrested the Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates. Critics say he was racially profiled, but we're learning the officer actually trained other police officers how to avoid racial profiling.

What's going on?

And want a full weekend of shopping in France? That will soon be easier. But will it put workers' rights at risk, as some claim?



BLITZER: The last question for president Obama may have gotten him into the most trouble. Did he go too far in his reaction to the arrest of an African-American scholar?

Just ahead, we're going to have a debate on the incident and whether police, as the president alleges, acted stupidly. And we'll discuss the surprising new information about the officer at the center of this entire controversy.



Happening now, mayors, state officials and rabbis busted in a sweeping probe. Officials are talking about money laundering, a ring of money laundering, buying and selling things like human organs and fake designer handbags. One official says, and I'm quoting now, "New Jersey's corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation." And one of the most famous women in the world in a zone of hell. Angelina Jolie visiting Iraq right now, and she tells CNN's Arwa Damon about nightmares she says you need to know about. It's a CNN exclusive.

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

It's not often the president of the United States takes sides in a local issue, but a scandal involving around a Harvard university professor has almost the entire nation talking. The president says Cambridge Police officers acted, in his word, "stupidly" in arresting Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, but that's inflaming the controversy even more.

Let's go straight to our White House Correspondent Dan Lothian. He's got the latest on it.

Dan, it's causing quite a stir out there.


You know, as you mentioned, some might really say that this is just a local issue, but in this case, Mr. Gates and the president are close friends, so Mr. Obama did not hold back in making comments last night when he was asked on a situation that has gotten a lot of national attention.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): The president admitted he didn't have all the facts, but that didn't stop him from weighing in on the controversial arrest of African-American scholar and Harvard professor Louis Gates Jr.

OBAMA: The Cambridge Police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

LOTHIAN: Strong language now coming under fire from the arresting officer himself...

CROWLEY: I think it's disappointing that he waded into what should be a local issue and something that is really -- that plays out here.

LOTHIAN: ... and from this online police forum. One person posted, "That drivel is OK for pundits and message board posters, but in my opinion it was highly irresponsible for the POTUS" -- president of the United States.

Another read, "POTUS should have stayed out of this."

HUBERT WILLIAMS, PRESIDENT, POLICE FOUNDATION: I probably would not have used that choice of words, but the issue is not so much the verbiage, the issue is the fundamentals.

LOTHIAN: Hubert Williams is president of the nonprofit Police Foundation. After years of working to combat racial profiling, improve policing, and knock down negative perceptions, the police incident is problematic.

WILLIAMS: We've got to find better ways to address the perceptions of our officers and how they would function under some of these circumstances where they're dealing with people from different races, different religions, different genders.

LOTHIAN: President Obama's comments, he says, at least puts the spotlight on this important issue.

WILLIAMS: We've got a duty and a responsibility to address these issues before they blow up in our face.


LOTHIAN: Now, it is unusual for President Obama to tackle a race-related question so sharply, but in this case, he felt compelled to speak out on a situation where spokesman Robert Gibbs says, "Cooler heads should have prevailed." Now, Gibbs did appear to be walking back or dialing back this situation just a bit by saying that the president was not calling the police officers stupid, but instead was pointing out a situation that really had gotten out of hand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan. Thanks very much.

Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent.

Let's continue the conversation now with Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson and Mansfield Frazier. He's a contributor for

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

Mansfield, I read your piece on "The Daily Beast" this morning, the headline being "Skip." That's the nickname of Professor Gates. You mouthed off.

Before we get to all of that, do you think the president was right in saying the police officer acted stupidly?

MANSFIELD FRAZIER, CONTRIBUTOR, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: Well, if you want to talk about stupidity, in a situation like that, there's usually enough stupidity to go around. I think it was a poor choice of words. I think there were other words that could have been better.

I think he might have acted unfairly, but I don't think it was stupid on his part at all. I think it might have been calculated on his part when he did arrest Professor Gates. But stupid, no, it wasn't.

BLITZER: But should the president have used that word? That's the question that I'm asking, Mansfield.

FRAZIER: No, I don't think he should have used it. It's a pejorative term. It was an incendiary situation. I think he probably regrets using it. But no -- and I don't think it was a stupid act on the policeman's part.

BLITZER: Yes, because he made the point, Michael Eric Dyson, that he didn't have all the facts. He also said he was biased because he's friends with Professor Gates. But then he could have ended it saying, is there a problem of racial profiling in the country? Sure there is. He didn't necessarily have to prejudge the behavior of the police officer. That's the criticism that the president is facing right now.

What do you think, Michael?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, I don't think he was prejudging the situation.

Mr. Frazier is one of the great writers in American society right now, especially on politics and culture. And I -- and I hate to, in one sense, oppose his viewpoint, but I think here that the president didn't say that the policeman was stupid. He said he was acting stupidly.

Number two, he didn't prejudge the man. He said, in light of the fact that the ostensible reason for the search of Mr. Gates' home, professor Gates' home, was that there was a breaking and entering charge, when it became clear that the person who was occupying the house was indeed the owner or at least occupant of that house, renting it, then it -- that should have been it. He should have gone his merry way.

He should have said, look, we had this report. We had to check it out. Everything's fine.

What happened is that, professor Gates, according to his side of the story, asked for the officer's I.D. and badge. He didn't get it. He followed him out on the porch, at which time the officer arrested him or had him arrested.

So, I'm saying that I think that the president is saying that's a stupid act, when you have gone to the house to determine if there's breaking and entering, and what you end up doing is arresting a man on what appears to be rather suspicious charges of being loud and intemperate.

BLITZER: But, Mansfield, you wrote this provocative piece on "The Daily Beast" today, the headline: "Skip, You Mouthed Off," in which you made the point that young black kids are taught at an early age by their parents, you know what, if the police come over, don't do anything provocative. Don't say anything negative. Just do what they're saying, and that professor Gates didn't adhere to those ground rules.

FRAZIER: Well, you know, the -- what you want young people to do when they encounter a police officer -- police officer is to live to tell the tale, survive the encounter.

And professor Gates survived the encounter. He's a grown man. And you have got to realize he was in his own domicile. He was in his home. A man's home is his castle. I can understand him being very upset, because you have an -- you have an invader. He had a badge and gun, but you have an armed invader in your home.

So, I can understand you being upset about that. And I think he got agitated. I think professor Gates, rightly or wrongly, felt that he was being targeted because he was black. I think he felt that, had he been white, he would not have gotten the same treatment. And that very well may be the case. We have a long history of police looking at blacks differently than whites.

And I think that's what he felt was going on. Now, if you feel that, call for a senior officer. Tell him to get me a lieutenant or a captain here, because I think you're treating me badly.

But one thing you don't do -- and when he followed him out onto the porch, there were other officers out there. You don't really front off a police officer in front of other officers. That officer was probably put in a position, if he didn't arrest professor Gates, the other officers would have: "Man, you let that guy go all up over you. And you didn't do anything about it."

BLITZER: Well, here's...


FRAZIER: You have to respect the badge, if not necessarily the person.

BLITZER: Michael, here's what professor Gates told Soledad O'Brien last night. I will play the little clip for you.


HENRY LOUIS GATES, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: It was the fault of a policeman who couldn't stand a black man standing for his rights right in his face. And that's what I did. And I would do the same thing exactly again.


BLITZER: All right, go ahead and weigh in.

DYSON: Well, here's the thing. What he's alluding to is the uppity Negro syndrome, the intolerance of the police to countenance the -- the -- the daring of a black man to speak his mind.

Mr. Frazier's absolutely right. We teach our kids to act in a certain way because they're not professor Gates.


DYSON: They don't have the pedigree of Harvard. They don't have the substance and symbol of that august institution standing over them.

But the reality is here is, is that why should black people have to tell their kids that? I have been in the presence of many white people when stopped by the police. They have cussed them out. I would never even begin to imagine what that might feel like.

Imagine if the Harvard professor was Henry -- was Henry Kissinger, not Henry Louis Gates. Imagine George Bush was the person saying, this is my friend. Imagine a black sergeant on the police force then arresting Henry Kissinger.

I tell you, that would be a different set of circumstances. There would be a different set of perceptions. Until white people are routinely harassed, harmed, and sometimes murdered by police people who act in, I think, unconscionable ways, we won't understand the -- the reflex action of African-American people to the fact that here, even Skip Gates, a mild-mannered man by any construal of the facts, a man who has toed the line, a man who has not been a rabble-rouser, he himself was subject to the most vicious forms, in his mind -- and I think the minds of many others -- of recrimination by a policeman who couldn't stand the fact that he was articulate and perhaps being uppity.

That's what Skip was referring to. And I think we have to counter -- we have to figure that in as well, Wolf, in terms of how we look at the relationships...

BLITZER: All right.

DYSON: ... between police people and African-American people.

BLITZER: Mansfield, what's the most important lesson you have learned from this incident?

FRAZIER: Well, it's a lesson I have already -- I have already known.

I have to totally agree with professor Dyson. Black folks should be treated -- and, until we do solve that problem, the one lesson I have learned, a whole lot has changed; a whole lot hasn't. I firmly believe that professor Gates thought that -- and on good evidence, that he was being treated differently than a white person would. That still goes on in America. It's still unfair.

And I think we have to start looking at police officers more closely, after they have been on the job for a while, are they treating people fairly? But I still say what we need to teach our young people, survive the encounter. Don't do what professor Gates did. You could wind up being hurt. If you're not in Cambridge, if you're not professor Gates, and you mouth off to a police officer, you could wind up beaten, locked up, or even dead.

It's happened to us.

BLITZER: Well...

DYSON: And his -- and that's the bottom line here. I think, look, if I can add very quickly, the point -- the point is, we want to get to a point in society where all human beings of whatever stripe, hue, or color are treated the way professor Gates should have been treated, and they have the recourse of both public sentiment and the law to defend them.

We're not demonizing cops. We're sure that -- that Sergeant Crowley is a good, upstanding man. But, at that particular point, he was engaged in the sort of behavior that was, I think, potentially offensive, should it turn out to be the case that what professor Gates said is right.

And, in that light, we have got to interrogate the practices of police, how they're trained. Police people don't grow up on Mars. They grow up with the same sentiments, passions, prejudices, and biases that the rest of society has. We must understand that.

BLITZER: Michael Eric Dyson and Mansfield Frazier, guys, thanks very much for coming in.

DYSON: Thank you.


FRAZIER: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Part two of CNN's "Black in America" airs later tonight. It looks at some of the most challenging issues facing African-Americans. You won't want to miss the second installment. It airs tonight, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Rarely a day goes by when the American people don't get a glimpse of President Obama. Is he overexposed?

Plus, a U.S. soldier in captivity and threatened with death, how is he coping? We're looking for clues in the Army training manual.

And, believe it or not, I have a connection to the Beastie Boys. Yes, they're singing about me.


BLITZER: In Idaho, a vigil for captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl. People walked and rode their bikes in a show of solidarity with the Army private held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

We got a glimpse of his captivity in this video released Sunday. How might the 23-year-old be coping right now?

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been looking into this part of story.

What are you finding out, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the questions is, how much training would a young soldier like Bowe Bergdahl have really gotten in order to be able to know how to withstand captivity? The answer, not very much.


STARR (voice-over): No one knows how much duress Private 1st Class Bowe Bergdahl was under when he spoke.

PRIVATE BOWE BERGDAHL, U.S. ARMY: My fellow soldiers, my friends that I fight with, they all agree when I say this is a waste; we should not be here.

STARR: When a U.S. soldier is captured, the Army code of conduct is blunt. It states: "I am required to give only my name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country."

Bergdahl, like all soldiers, is taught the code. But how prepared would he have really been for captivity?

Robert Bevelacqua conducts military security training. Bergdahl, he believes, is doing the best he can.

MAJOR ROBERT BEVELACQUA, FORMER U.S. ARMY GREEN BERET: The evidence that I see that he's resisting is the fact he will not directly engage the camera with his eyes, that he tends to look down and look away.

STARR: Ever since POWs were tortured in Vietnam, the military has improved survival training. The most intensive is reserved for troops at the highest risk, air crews and special operations units. They learn to survive interrogation and even torture.

Junior troops, like Bergdahl, who are at minimal risk of capture because they operate in large groups get lectures on the code of conduct, but little other training.

BEVELACQUA: He truly does not know how to survive outside of his own wits, and he's very familiar with what he shouldn't do as far as the code of conduct goes. Outside of that, he's pretty much -- he's on his own.


STARR: And, Wolf, statements made under the duress of captivity usually are forgiven by commanders. But, here, the biggest unanswered question still remains, how is it that Bowe Bergdahl came to be on his own and was captured in the first place?

Now, I have to tell you, the military has begun a separate investigation looking into that very question, separate from trying to find him. And that urgent hunt goes on. What went wrong here? Because they have to figure it out as fast as they can to make sure it doesn't happen again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. I hope they figure it out quickly.

Thank you, Barbara. New revelations about the final days of the Bush/Cheney administration -- is President Obama likely to push for an investigation? Stand by for our "Strategy Session."

And an exclusive CNN interview with Angelina Jolie -- there she is. What's she trying to accomplish in Iraq right now? She's speaking to our Arwa Damon.

We will have the interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A delay -- the president's goal of trying to get health care reform legislation passed by the August recess, guess what? It's not going to happen.

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

Joining us, our CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

A big deal for the president, or a small deal for the president?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think this is a big deal. This is a big deal, because he's got a product problem here, as they say in the marketing world. The more people learn about his health care plan, the less they seem to like it.

Independents were supporting this thing initially. Now the independents are acting almost like Republicans and losing support. Why? Because they're learning more about what's in the plan. Time is not the president's friend here.

BLITZER: Is time the president's friend?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think negotiations are continuing, Wolf. And, as you know, a week is a long time in politics, especially when I think the -- the House and Senate are so close to having a real good deal. The key is...


BLITZER: Well, there's very different legislation in the Senate, very different legislation in the House.

BRAZILE: Well, that's -- but that's the legislative process. And -- and the president envisioned all along that the House might come up with its version, the Senate. And, at some point, they would reconcile the two during the summer.

But, look, Chairman Baucus really holds the key in the Senate. If his Finance Committee can come out with a deal that has bipartisan support, this bill will be on track for the president to sign it sometime this fall.

CASTELLANOS: But Republicans should not count Barack Obama out on this, by any means. It is way too early.

What's going to happen next, I think, Wolf, is, these Democrats, centrist Democrats, are going to go home for August. They are going to get an earful: Whoa. What's this trillion dollars of spending? Am I going to lose my coverage?

They are going to come back scared. But Barack Obama has got 60 senators. And that's the key. He is going to get them in a room and say, I have 51 of you guys. What's -- what is the least amount I have to give up to get 51 votes? We're going to be -- see some horse- trading when they come in August.

BRAZILE: But, you know, the Republicans also have to go home and face the music. And many of their constituents have lost their jobs. And, so, I think they're going to have to answer to their constituents: What should I do with my premiums? I'm losing my job, and I don't have the money to afford these higher premiums.

So, I think the Republicans think that they can get off scot-free by just opposing the president. They, too, will have to face the music of their constituents.

CASTELLANOS: I think -- I think President Obama is doing a great job selling the urgency, that something needs to be done, but he has hit a stone wall. Americans just don't think what he's proposing, what the Democrats are proposing, are what we need.

BLITZER: But -- but Alex makes a good point. You can't count the president out. He's right now -- you see him almost every day doing something. He's almost in full campaign mode right now, trying not only to convince members of Congress, including some skeptical Democrats, to go along with his vision of health care reform.

He's trying to reassure the American public that he knows what he's doing.

BRAZILE: Remember, these Blue Dog Democrat campaigned on...


BLITZER: Those are the moderate or conservative Democrats.

BRAZILE: Many of them are my friends.

They campaigned on the promise, just like many Republicans and a lot of liberals, that they wanted to change things in Washington, D.C., and health care was on the plate.

CASTELLANOS: And the president has got a little problem here, too. We saw a conflicted strategy.

On the one hand, he wants just big principles, with few details as possible. They think in the White House that's what killed the Clinton plan. They got the details out on the table too early. But now it's going to take longer bit of time. And now he's out there elevating interest in the details and in the plan. So, he's really cross-pressuring himself. This is going to be a very tough situation for the president.

BLITZER: There's a new "TIME" magazine cover story that is just coming out, our sister publication, involving the final days of the Bush administration, when the then-vice president, Dick Cheney, really lobbied President Bush hard to get a pardon for Scooter Libby, his chief of staff.

"Cheney, says an ally, believe that the true legacy of the Bush years is the uncompromising way he and the president waged the war on terrorism. But Cheney also believes that Bush cannot claim that as a legacy, cannot claim that as a legacy if he fails to protect the aides and officials who carried out the dirty work."

He was trying to convince the president: Pardon Scooter Libby. He was one of your front-line supporters in the war on terror. Don't let this stay be permanently over his head.

The president rejected him.

CASTELLANOS: You see two men of principles here clinging to their views, but different principles -- President Bush saying: The truth is important, and a jury found that Scooter Libby did not tell the truth. I can't violate that trust.

Dick Cheney saying: These are the people that fight for their country. If we -- whether you are in the Secret Service or whether you are in the CIA, or whether you're in the White House, you don't leave a wounded soldier on the field. Loyalty is important to Dick Cheney.

You can't fault him for that.

BRAZILE: Well, I thought the president acted responsibly.

BLITZER: President Bush?

BRAZILE: Absolutely. He did a thorough review of the case. He commuted his sentence, which many of us at the time -- I will never forget -- I was on the show that day -- we -- we decried about the fact that he commuted his sentence.

But the president thought he was fair, he was respecting the jury's verdict, and he had some standards by which to judge these pardons. And one was, you know, is the person showing any remorse, repentance? And I guess Scooter Libby didn't fit that description.

CASTELLANOS: Yes, but we shouldn't forget that what Scooter Libby was originally charged with, leaking Valerie Plame's name, he did not do. Richard Armitage admitted he did that.

So, the premise of that entire legal action against him was just unfounded.


BRAZILE: You should never try to lie to get to the truth, because there's always a mess.

BLITZER: It's...

CASTELLANOS: Well, but he contends, of course, that he didn't...


BLITZER: Well, he was convicted.


BLITZER: He -- he was convicted by a jury right here in the nation's capital.


BLITZER: All right, guys. It's a riveting article, by the way. It's a very good cover story in "TIME" magazine on the final days of the Bush presidency.

BRAZILE: I agree.

BLITZER: Angelina Jolie is on a new mission right now in Iraq -- the actress sending an urgent message in an exclusive interview with CNN.

And Michelle Obama's mom spills the beans about life in the White House.

And new evidence of rampant corruption in the state of New Jersey -- mayors, lawmakers, even some rabbis under arrest right now.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": a new glimpse inside the Obama White House from the first mother-in-law.

Michelle Obama's mom, Marian Robinson, says she's living the good life over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She opened up after reading to school students outside Washington yesterday. The 71-year-old says it's nice to have so many people take care of you at the White House. And she says the grandchildren she helps care for, Sasha and Malia, are growing up fast. She's starting to feel, she says, a little left out.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out

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

By all accounts -- I have never met her -- she's supposed to be a lovely, lovely woman.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How can -- she's feeling left out? She's living in the White House...


CAFFERTY: ... with her grandchildren and her daughter and her son-in-law. I mean, I'm...

BLITZER: Well, those little girls, as you know, Jack, and as I know, they grow up quickly.

CAFFERTY: They do, indeed. I have got four of them, and none of them are little girls anymore.

The question this hour: Should the use of wild animals in circuses be outlawed?

Yes, they should. That's my opinion.

Eric in Ohio writes: "I am not an animal activist, but I am a father who strives to raise my children the right way. I never take my kids to the circus, and, when they beg me to go, I take the time to explain to them that there's never a good reason to be cruel to an animal. When I see an elephant, one of the Earth's most majestic creatures, standing with all four feet on a small stool, I am deeply troubled. Any logical person knows they're looking at an animal that has been tortured repeatedly in order to perform such a trick."

Jennifer writes: "I have only been to one circus, where the wild animals rode bikes and jumped through hoops of fire. The animals looked thin. Their coats were unhealthy. It was pathetic, sad, and not entertaining. My children only had empathy for the animals. After that experience, I have refused to see or support any of the circuses."

Jim writes: "I don't think they ought to be outlawed, but they should be monitored to ensure the animals are not being abused."

Susan in Alabama says: "Any suspicion of animal abuse should require immediate suspension of the use of those animals until the accusation is thoroughly investigated. Animals cannot speak up on their own behalf. There's no corner of hell that is hot enough for anybody who would abuse, neglect, or injure them. They have no voice but ours. We must demand that they are properly cared for."

And Carol says: "In these times, when saving the planet and all the endangered species is of such importance, why would it be necessary for the continued cruel and degrading treatment of the animal kingdom's most threatened citizens? Ringling Bros. needs to respect them, not use them for profit. Hire more clowns."

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Always on the animals' side with this stuff.

BLITZER: I know you are. You love animals. And so do I.

Jack, thank you.

Earlier, we told you about the funeral for the legendary anchorman Walter Cronkite, but there was a lingering question out there.

Let's go back to Fredricka Whitfield.

Remind our viewers what Sandy Socolow, his longtime producer, said at the memorial service for Walter Cronkite today and the question that was left hanging.


Well, at the very time, very inventive to ad lib. So, you heard the producer at the funeral talk about Cronkite's idea of ad-libbing the news. Well, now details on exactly how that went.


SANDY SOCOLOW, FORMER WALTER CRONKITE PRODUCER: We tried it. And Walter insisted that, when it came time to -- to roll a piece of film, he would brush his nose, and that would be the cue to the...


SOCOLOW: I kid you not. This really happened. And that would be the cue to the director to roll the projector.

And, now, we're talking about film, not videotape. And, in those days, it took seven seconds for the projector to get up to broadcast speed. So, you had to be really, really tense and tender about this. And we never made it, OK? It was utter chaos.

Either -- either Walter ran over the film, or the film just didn't come up, and -- and nobody knew what was going on, especially any sort of other -- we -- it lasted for two days. Take we went back to conventional script -- script.


WHITFIELD: So, it's nice to be able to laugh at that. So, all was not necessarily perfect as it pertained to a Walter Cronkite newscast.

In the meantime, just a reminder: Cronkite will be buried in his home state of Missouri, even though you saw those special ceremonies taking place in New York -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Fred. Thanks for clarifying.

WHITFIELD: It's always good to know the back-story, isn't it?

BLITZER: And we got that back-story from a good producer.


BLITZER: Thank you.


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