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THE SITUATION ROOM
Health Care Debate Continues During Congressional Recess; Judge Sotomayor Confirmed To Supreme Court; Battle Ensues Over The Source of Production For Protective Uniforms for U.S. Troops; Clinton Speaks About His Trip To North Korea
Aired August 6, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is it protectionism? Could it leave U.S. troops unprotected. CNN's Chris Lawrence investigates our broken government.
I am Wolf Blitzer in CNN's Command Center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world. You are in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
The Obama administration insists it won't be pushed around by critics. But a powerful Republican is accusing the White House of a Richard Nixon-like dirty trick. It comes amid word the president could do an end run around the Republicans in Congress to get what he wants.
And as many of you grade President Obama's 200 days in office, one grade remains up for grabs, his performance on health care reform. Let's get a lot more on all of this from our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's working the story for us.
Ed, this is a critical moment for the president, this month of August.
ED HENRY, CNN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And the president is facing a whole series of challenges on his signature domestic initiative, ranging from whether he will have to raise taxes to pay for it to whether or not he can win over any Republicans and call this bipartisan.
In fact some Democrats close to this White House are saying that it is so hard to get Republicans on board that the White House is now giving very serious consideration to just ramming this whole bill through without any Republicans at all.
HENRY (voice-over): The biggest obstacle to the president getting a win on health reform is finding a way to pay for it, that tension on full display when economic adviser, Christina Romer, was asked if there was any wiggle room on Mr. Obama's promise not to raise taxes on the middle class.
CHRISTINA ROMER, CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Can I go now? HENRY: But it's no laughing matter after two top officials recently left the door open on tax hikes. So Romer tried to slam it shut.
ROMER: Obviously, no one is talking about raising taxes.
HENRY: The second big obstacle, trying to win over at least a few Republicans for bipartisanship. That's why Mr. Obama hosted the so called gang of six senators from each party for a closed door meeting in the Oval Office.
But top White House aides are signaling if Republicans do not get on board, the president will ram it through the Senate without them by using an obscure maneuver known as reconciliation.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: With those that want to see health care reform.
HENRY: The third big obstacle, countering Republican obligations the White House is using its official Web site to crush dissent by asking supporters to report fishy information they come across about the health care debate.
HENRY: Now, Republican Senator John Cornyn is charging that this is almost like putting together an enemy's list that White House by trying to collect this information by critics of the White House.
But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs today insisted says this is not any sort of enemies list. The White House is not going to violate anyone's privacy or keep any e-mail addresses or any names. They just want to find out what negative information is out there, and they want to counteract it fast to make sure, in their words, they get the truth out there.
BLITZER: And I will be speaking later tonight with Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, as part of our national report card. Our coverage coming up at 8:00 p.m. eastern
Ed, thanks very much.
HENRY: At this 200-day milestone for the Obama administration, the majority of you think highly of the president. But a growing number of you do not.
Our brand new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows a 56 percent presidential approval rating. That's still high but steadily inching downward in our poll since April. The president had a 66 percent approval rating then.
Blame part of the slide on the economic anxiety of the country -- 44 percent of the country says the president's policies helped the economy, 51 percent say they do not.
Despite this, guess who most people in this survey blame for the bad economy? Twice as many, by the way, blaming Republicans.
There is much blame and acclaim going around as the nation marks 200 days of the Obama White House. And we are recording it all on a national report card.
Less than two hours from now, CNN analysts, reporters, and you will weigh in. More than 2 million people have already given their grades to the president, a lot more getting ready to do so.
There's another major milestone being recorded today. America's history is getting a new page. The U.S. Senate confirming Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the United States Supreme Court. Never before has there been a Hispanic on the high court of the United States.
Sotomayor will be sworn in on Saturday. The Senate voted to confirm her by a vote of 68-31. That includes nine Republicans who joined a unanimous Democratic block. There was debate and drama up to the very end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe it is clear that Judge Sotomayor satisfies the essential requirements of open-mindedness and judicial temperament, and her decisions as a judge fall well within the mainstream of our jurisprudence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am very, very concerned about this nomination. I feel very badly that I have to vote negatively.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would hope that senators would be wise enough themselves to look at Judge Sotomayor's long record on the bench and not on one line in one speech.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have determined that Judge Sotomayor meets the criteria to become a justice of the Supreme Court.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I also found her evasive and contradictory in her answers. On several issues, ranging from judicial temperament to her infamous wise Latino speeches, Judge Sotomayor experienced what we call "confirmation conversions."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My hope is that Judge Sotomayor will help bring balance to a Supreme Court that today is way out of balance and has moved very far to the right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, Judge Sotomayor's speeches and writings over the years reveal a judicial philosophy that highlights the importance of personal preferences and beliefs in her judicial method.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a Supreme Court justice, Judge Sotomayor would bring to bear her rich and varied real world experience.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I invite my conservative colleagues on the other side of the aisle to take a leap of faith, as I did a few years ago with John Roberts, much as I did four years ago, and join me in casting their vote in favor of Judge Sotomayor's nomination to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Here is another important fact. In addition to being the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, she will be only the third woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
What does she have in common with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito when they were in the same shoes? We are looking at the vote count for the last two Supreme Court confirmations on the cross-party votes.
Take a look at this. Alito was nominated by President Obama George W. Bush in January, 2006. The Senate confirmation vote was 58- 42 in favor. Four Democrats joined the virtually solid wall of Republican support.
Let's turn to John Roberts, another Bush nominee. In September, 2005, the Senate confirmed him 78-22, again solid Republican report, but 22 Democrats also voted yes. That means among Roberts and Alito and Sotomayor, Roberts got the most cross-party votes.
From high justice to high diplomacy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is talking about the better choice between two very disturbing options. Listen to her answer carefully a question posed by CNN's Fareed Zakaria in Nairobi, Kenya. This is a CNN exclusive interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: If you had to choose which is worse, an Iranian nuclear weapons program or an American attack on Iran?
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, we have no intention to pursue the latter. This is something that is a very delicate and difficult issue to even contemplate.
And yet, at the same time, we are very concerned about Iran being a nuclear weapons state. And it is not going to surprise anyone that Israel views that as an existential threat, that many in the United States see that also as a direct threat to American interests.
But, you know, force should never even be contemplated except as a very last resort. We are still focused on our engagement, we are still focused on bringing international pressure, we are still focused on trying to effect the calculations of the Iranian government. And we'll see where that leads us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk a little more about what the secretary has to say. Coming up later this hour we will have more of her interview with Fareed Zakaria. She talks to CNN exclusively about what North Korea, what her husband did in North Korea to get the two American journalists out. You will hear it later this hour. That's coming up.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Back to the things she ticked off about Iran and what they intend to do and how they intend to pursue their objectives. None of those things have worked so far.
CAFFERTY: None of them.
New government insurance plan that is before the Congress would cover abortion. And that could make the debate over health care reform even more complicated and heated than it already is. Count on it.
Currently, federal money can be used only for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's life. Abortion opponents say the same should hold true in any new health care legislation, and they call the issue of abortion a "sticking point" in passing health care reform. You bet it is.
Supporters of abortion rights say that could mean millions of women would be denied coverage for abortion if they leave their employer's insurance plans and choose the public option.
Needless to say, both sides gearing up for a fight here. This could wind up being the deal breaker one way or the other. The original health care legislation introduced by Democrats didn't mention abortion. And since it is a legal, medical procedure, experts say not mentioning it would let health care plans provide unrestricted coverage.
A compromise approved by a House committee would allow the government plan to cover abortion without using federal money to pay for it.
The author of the compromise says she was trying to find a way to accommodate both sides and that, quote, "With all due respect, not everyone adheres to what Catholic bishops believe," unquote.
But over in the Senate, aides say this compromise is unacceptable to Republicans. Critics call it a "sham," and say that government would still be subsidizing abortions.
So here's the question: Government insurance would cover abortion. Should it? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog. We haven't heard a lot about that as an issue in health care reform, but we will.
BLITZER: You are absolutely right, Jack. Thanks very much. We'll see what happens.
U.S. protectionism versus protecting U.S. troops. There is a war over fire-resistant uniforms for American forces and new demands to buy American. Could troops be at risk? CNN investigates broken government.
Bill Clinton now breaking his silence. Wait until you hear what he is saying about his mission to North Korea and what he won't say.
And regarding that Pennsylvania gym nightmare, CNN goes to great lengths to obtain a piece of video. It shows the gunman who talked of hating women in a dating seminar teaching himself how to find a woman.
BLITZER: If an attack like this doesn't kill or maim U.S. service men or women, it could leave you with devastating burns. So it makes lot of sense for the U.S. troops to wear fire-resistant uniforms.
There is agreement on that in Washington. But there is red hot dispute right now over whether the fabric for those uniforms should come from an Austrian company or one made in the United States. Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is following this broken government investigation for us. What's going on, Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while the American troops are fighting in Afghanistan, there is a completely separate battle going on right here over who gets to make the uniforms that could save their lives.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): An IED explodes, and the only thing protecting American troops from the blazing heat is a special fiber in their uniforms.
SEN. JOHN ISAKSON, (R) GEORGIA: They have a three to five-second delay before it is penetrated, which gives you time to put the fire out and reduce the burn to the soldiers.
LAWRENCE: But this fireproof rayon is not made in America. It may have to be removed from American uniforms in a few years.
There is a fight over who gets to make these uniforms, a job worth hundreds of millions of dollars to congressional districts and corporate board rooms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some companies, like DuPont, for example, have already lost hundreds of jobs.
LAWRENCE: We traveled to North Carolina State University where the army commission tests on fabrics from two dozen companies.
ISAKSON: Whether or not it ignites, if it ignites, how long it continues to burn, the after-flame.
LAWRENCE: The heat and flame simulate fires on battlefield.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In ordinary clothing, a person would be burned in a fraction of a second.
LAWRENCE: And censors record how much of the heat hits the manikin's skin. LAWRENCE (on camera): The fire is so intense you can feel it through the protective glass outside the chamber.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): The army says the best fabric was the one from Tinkada, quote, "They have consistently exceeded our expectations. This has proven to be a valuable fabric and well- received by our soldiers.
Tinkada makes the uniforms in Georgia but imports the fiber from Austria. For all kinds of environmental reasons, that special rayon is not made in America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It breaths, it is fire resistant, and it is not matched by any American product.
LAWRENCE: So Congress passed a special waiver allowing the Pentagon to import outside materials for special uniforms. That waiver expires in a few years, and Congress is debating an amendment to extend it indefinitely. It was just defeated in the Senate with one opponent calling the amendment --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An exception that favors foreign suppliers of rayon over our own American companies.
LAWRENCE: Some lawmakers believe American companies will develop a similar fabric by the time the waiver runs out in 2015.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Efforts are being made in Virginia and South Carolina to produce this product here domestically.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will allow American industry to come in with a whole spectrum of ideas and alternate materials.
LAWRENCE: An American uniform with all-American materials.
ISAKSON: And I understand that from a business standpoint. But for the safety of our troops, if you don't have a superior product -- our troops should have the very best.
LAWRENCE: Defeated in the House. Now, the amendment has to be worked out -- or, defeated in the Senate, I should say. Now, the amendment has to be worked out in the House.
If the waiver goes away, other companies have three years to come up with a uniform that's just as good. It's only a problem if they can't, because at that point, you would not be able to import an anymore of that rayon fiber -- Wolf?
BLITZER: I think everybody agrees the troops deserve the best protection for these incidents no matter what. Thanks very much. Let's hope they work this out. Chris Lawrence, good report.
Bill Clinton is now speaking out. What the former president of the United States, what he will and won't say about his extraordinary rescue mission to North Korea.
And chilling video of the man who shot three women dead in a Pennsylvania health club. What was his obsession?
Plus, what was the ex-mistress of ex-presidential candidate John Edwards doing in a federal courthouse today?
BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some other important stories coming into "THE SITUATION ROOM" right now. Deb, what's going on?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we first go to Hawaii, where residents are bracing for a major storm, hurricane Felicia, which right now is packing sustained winds of 140 miles an hour, is on a course that could bring it over the islands early next week.
Forecasters say it likely won't be anything more than a tropical depression at the time, with winds of about 35 miles an hour.
And in a courthouse mystery in North Carolina, the former mistress of John Edwards was seen entering federal court this morning, but Reille Hunter wouldn't say why.
Edwards has acknowledged he is under federal investigation over payments to Hunter's production company. He denies wrongdoing.
Hunter was carrying her 18-month-old daughter. Edwards has denied he is the father.
And here is one for the stranger than fiction file. Four Chinese Muslims once confined to prison cells as suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay then sent to live in Bermuda are now working as groundskeepers at an ocean side golf course that will host the PGA grand slam of golf in October.
The four were reportedly hired on a temporary basis. They were held for seven years at Guantanamo before being released this year.
So they got a job.
BLITZER: Good for them.
Thanks a lot. Don't go far away.
A YouTube video of a killer trying and failing to get a girlfriend. Two days after a Pennsylvania man killed three women in a shooting rampage at a gym, CNN has now found online video showing a man on a desperate failed mission to meet women.
Let's go straight to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. Abbi, what do these videos show us? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: This is a video that we found. In the white shirt, that is George Sodini. He's at a seminar called "How to date women."
He is listening at this point to a self-programmed dating expert Don Steele giving a room full of men pointers on what they should do. And in this clip, it is short, but in this clip we'll show you, you can hear Sodini introducing himself to the women that are working at the seminar.
These YouTube videos, they paint a desperate picture of a lover who is desperately trying to meet someone. And this one, which seems to be have been made as homework for that seminar, he is taking people on a tour of his apartment.
Look at his coffee table reading there, "Date younger women for men over 35." In his basement he tapes a monologue on how he planned to do that. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE SODINI, ATTENDED YOUTUBE SEMINAR: My objective is to be real and to learn to be emotional and to, you know, be able to emotionally connect with people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TATTON: That was uploaded to YouTube last June. By November, we know from his online diaries, that he was still alone. And by that point, he was already planning the attack that happened earlier this week - Wolf?
BLITZER: What a sad, sad story that is. Thanks, Abbi, very much.
Congress approves spending $200 million on private jets for itself. Will the move trigger a voter backlash? We're going to talk about it in our political timeout.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's exclusive interview with CNN. You will hear what she says about her husband's mission to North Korea.
And the former president, Bill Clinton, makes his own first public comment about that North Korea mission.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am totally committed to letting the White House say whatever they want to say about this. There can only be one president at one time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Bill Clinton is now breaking his silence. After facing a reclusive leader inside a secretive communist nation to free two American journalists, the former president of the United States is now airing some details into what happened, but not all by any means.
"THE SITUATION ROOM" is going in depth right now. Let's begin with CNN's Mary Snow. What did he say today?
SNOW: He deflected a lot of the questions. He says he just can't talk at this point.
But this is the first time the former president has spoken publicly about a job he says he was honored to be given both as an American and as a father. But beyond that, he was very cautious about saying much more.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Former President Bill Clinton was eager to talk about the Clinton Foundation's latest initiative at a press conference in Harlem. But on questions about his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the release of two American journalists, the former president said it would be wrong for him to talk about it.
B. CLINTON: I am not a policymaker. I shouldn't be. I have an obligation to report to my government and otherwise to say nothing that would in any way tip the balance of any kind of decisions that might or might not be made.
SNOW: The only time the former president came close to details of the meeting is when he talked about how the release came about.
B. CLINTON: The young women had acknowledged that they did go into North Korea briefly, a few steps, and that they shouldn't have done it. And the secretary of state had previously said that the United States regretted that.
And that was enough. I was not asked for anymore, nor did I offer anymore.
I am totally committed to letting the White House say whatever they want to say about this. There can only be one president at one time.
SNOW: It's a message that's in sync with the current occupant of the White House, who said this before he was sworn into office.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, there is only one president at a time.
SNOW: And while much attention is being paid to the former president's return to the spotlight, he fielded a question about last year's contentious primary battle and what may now lie ahead for him.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As soon as the election was over, I -- except for the 40 appearances I did for President Obama in the general election, I went back to work here. And I'd just as soon let my work speak for itself.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW: That was resumed with an agreement between the Clinton Foundation, based here in New York, and two drug companies. The deal will lower the price of medicine for people in developing countries who have drug-resistant HIV.
Mr. Clinton says the agreement would help drugs reach hundreds of thousands more people.
BLITZER: Very important work, I must say, indeed.
All right, thanks very much for that.
The former president may be mostly mum about his dramatic mission to North Korea, but his wife had some things to say about it. The secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, speaking exclusively to CNN's Fareed Zakaria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS")
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Tell us a little bit more about it. So President Clinton comes back. He spends three hours talking to the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il.
What was his impression of him?
HILLEARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're going to get a full debriefing, which we really haven't had the chance to do yet...
ZAKARIA: But you must have spoken to him on the phone on...
CLINTON: Well, I do. I had -- I have spoken to him on the phone, but I have this policy. I never talk to what I talk to my husband about, Fareed.
But I think he's going to be able to meet with a lot of our administration officials over the next, you know, days and -- and weeks to share his impressions, along with other members of his delegation.
Obviously, what we are hoping is that maybe, without it being part of the mission in any way, the fact that this was done will perhaps lead the North Koreans to recognize that they can have a positive relationship with us.
ZAKARIA: But the Bill Clinton mission -- it was unorthodox. I mean here you have a former president going on what appeared to be a state visit from the way in which he was greeted, being received by North -- North Korea's top nuclear negotiator. It's a -- it's a mission that was funded by private corporations and individuals.
Is this something we -- you expect to see more of as a way of reconciling his role in -- in...
CLINTON: No. No.
ZAKARIA: ...in America?
CLINTON: I mean this -- this, as you know, came from the families. I mean this was a message that Laura and Euna were given by the North Koreans, which they passed on to their families and former Vice President Gore...
ZAKARIA: Naming him specifically?
CLINTON: Naming him specifically.
CLINTON: Naming him specifically. And then they passed it on, obviously, as they should, to the rest of us. And, you know, it was not anything -- you know, Bill was interested in, seeking or even contemplating. But, of course, when, you know, Vice President Gore called and when our administration evaluated it and began to brief him, you know, he said, look, if -- if -- if you think it's the right thing to do and if you think I should -- should do it, of course I will do it. But it is a private humanitarian mission. It was not in any way an official government mission.
ZAKARIA: But John Bolton, the former U.N. Ambassador, says...
ZAKARIA: Should I even go on?
CLINTON: I'm sorry. No, shouldn't. You really shouldn't.
ZAKARIA: But he says this is re -- this is rewarding hostage taking.
CLINTON: Oh, well...
CLINTON: -- you know . . .
ZAKARIA: Why is he wrong, because you -- they effectively took hostages . . .
CLINTON: We've done this so many times before. I mean, we've had former presidents do it. We've had sitting members of Congress do it. It is something that -- you know, it is absolutely not rewarding them. It is not in any way responding to specific demands. It is a recognition that certain countries that I think are kind of beyond the pale of the rule of law hold people and subject them to long prison terms that are absolutely unfair and unwarranted.
And maybe it's, you know, the fact I have a daughter, but I believed that if we could bring these young women home, we should bring them home. And it had nothing to do with our policy and, of course, you know, you mentioned somebody who, you know, heavens, you know, if -- if President Obama, you know, walked on water, he'd say he couldn't swim.
So I mean it's just not -- you know, it's not something that I think is relevant to what we're trying to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And you can see the entire exclusive interview with the secretary of State on CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." They also talk extensively about Iran, the war in Afghanistan, even the health care debate raging on Capitol Hill. All on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." It airs this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
They blasted auto executives for their use of private jets. Now, members of Congress want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on private jets for themselves. The best political team on television on a high flying controversy.
BLITZER: We're marking President Obama's 200 days in office with a new CNN National Report Card. And the best political team on television, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here; our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; and our senior political analyst, David Gergen.
Stand by, guys.
I want to go to Tom Foreman first, because the grades are coming in -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boy, are they, Wolf. We've had more than two million votes cast, essentially, as people graded what's happening here.
This is what they're saying about the economy -- all Cs across the country right now.
This is what they're saying about health care reform -- all Cs in here and the darker purple color in here, that's D and lower, in some cases.
Look at this. This is on foreign affairs -- relatively good because it's all Cs except for a little bit of blue over here.
Here's a bit of a surprise based on what we said before. This is the best report card going so far, based on the online grading, because there are a bunch of Bs in here, including in Hawaii.
And you know what that's for?
That is for Hilary Clinton. Barack Obama overall, he's getting Cs across the board here, except in the District of Columbia. Congress looks awful here, well below the D level.
The media, well below the D level.
That's where we stand. You still have a chance to vote out there. All you have to do is go to CNN.com and let us know what grade you want to put in there.
But the big question right now is where will we wind up with this overall grade for Barack Obama?
And, frankly, Wolf, should he be worried about that?
Should he do anything about it -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Well, those are good questions -- Gloria, what do you think?
How worried should the president be?
These are not necessarily very good grades on day 200.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think on day 100, he was getting graded a little bit better. And I think if you look at the national polls, Wolf, you see that the president's popularity is declining.
He's got some problems out there. He hasn't resolved the health care issue. There are lots of balls in the air in terms of foreign policy. There's lots of questions about the stimulus package.
He still remains, however, very personally popular, which helps him a tremendous amount.
BLITZER: If your two boys brought home to you C minus and Ds, you wouldn't be very happy, would you?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'd be surprised they were still in school.
CROWLEY: I think, you know, I think we are, again, seeing the split that we've seen, really, since about April, which is that the -- the president's approval rating is high. And then you get into his policies and they're lower.
But at this point, his approval rating is carrying through some of these things. There's still a lot of trust. I think people feel vested in him and are willing to give him a little more time, because, as we see in our polls, the fact of the matter is that most people say, look, we blame the Republicans, particularly on the economy.
So he's got time.
BLITZER: It's interesting. It may not be a scientific poll, but two-and-a-half million people have already pushed some buttons on their computers. Later tonight, they're going to be able to make phone calls and vote in. They'll be able to text message and -- and weigh in when we start our National Report Card coverage at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
And similarly, these numbers, though, are not very far apart from the scientific polls that we've been doing.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, I'm not so sure. They're very close to what we saw at the end of 100 days. Remember the -- the -- this is the same kind of survey, Tom, very little numbers for President Obama.
But it's still puzzling, if not bizarre, I think, to see numbers this low when the president's popularity is well over 50 percent. You would think that's at least in the B range.
So I -- I keep thinking these -- these tea bag guys, the anti-tax guys, they're really well organized.
CROWLEY: Well, I mean they...
GERGEN: A lot of them may be voting.
GERGEN: Don't you think there's something going on?
CROWLEY: I mean the question is, it's not even popularity. It's approval.
GERGEN: I agree.
CROWLEY: And there's a difference. So his approval rating is 56 to -- 56 to 58 percent range. But then you look at health care and it's below the 50 percent mark. So it's...
CROWLEY: It is definitely the economy (INAUDIBLE)...
BORGER: And this could also...
CROWLEY: -- to look at this.
BORGER: You know, this could also be a reflection of unemployment numbers, people feeling insecure, people feeling unhappy, people feeling like they're not seeing the effects of the -- of the stimulus package...
GERGEN: But do you think a C grade in these polls for President Obama is the same thing as a 53, 54, 55 percent approval rating for his presidency?
BORGER: No. Well, no.
GERGEN: Do you think those two things apply?
BORGER: No, I don't.
GERGEN: Then we've been misreading...
BORGER: I don't.
GERGEN: ...approval ratings for a long time if they do.
BLITZER: Hold your fire. Hold that thought, because it's a good thought. I want to continue this conversation. Also, lawmakers ordering private jets for their own use after they blasted auto executives for using private jets to come to Washington. Now, even some on Capitol Hill are saying maybe they're sending the wrong message out there.
Plus, a TV courtroom takes up the case of the five-legged dog. CNN's Jeanne Moos the will be taking a Moost Unusual look.
BLITZER: We're back with the best political team on television. Also, CNN's Deborah Feyerick is joining us -- and, Deb, tell us what you're reporting on.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, Gulfstream jets -- who doesn't remember this -- lawmakers berating executives from the big three automakers for traveling to Washington, D.C. On private jets to ask Congress for billions of bailout money.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm going to ask the three executives here to raise their hands if they flew here commercial.
Let the record show no hands went up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: Well, the nerve, the gall. Except it now seems some lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee don't think private jets are such a bad idea. After all, the Committee just approved $200 million to buy Gulfstream jets for use by top government officials, military brass and members of Congress.
Initially, the Air Force asked for funding for a single jet to update its aging fleet. But, for whatever reason, the House saw fit to add two extra jets for that fleet.
Now to be fair, the jets are not as fancy as the luxurious G550 version and would be used only for official travel.
Well, not so much?
Some senators say this sends the wrong message. Democrat Claire McCaskill saying today: "While American families are tightening their belts, there's no way we should be buying extra executive jets. No wonder so many people think we just don't get it."
So why aren't these earmarks -- or why aren't these purchases considered earmarks?
The House Appropriations Committee used the extra Gulfstreams as necessary program increases to replace aging planes sooner rather than later -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks, Deb -- David Gergen, it's a relatively small amount of money in the scheme of the billions and trillions the government spends, but it's an -- it's an amount that resonates with a lot of folks (INAUDIBLE)...
GERGEN: Yes. They're sitting there in Congress saying oh my god, what do we do?
I mean, you know, it would be a lot cheaper to have the auto companies sell them their planes and just use those.
GERGEN: I mean it has the same symbolism that is attached to it.
I -- it had to have slipped past them. It suggests a lot of them don't really read the bills, that the staff didn't see these things, because this is one of the terrible things -- one of the gaffes.
You think, oh my God, why do we do that?
Because it's clearly...
GERGEN: ...it's clearly, you know, I would -- it's getting -- it's clearly going to make the public really angry.
BORGER: I don't think -- excuse the pun -- it's ever going to get off the ground, because you have it passed in the House, but now that the Senate...
GERGEN: Yes. I don't...
BORGER: ...is seeing this kind of a story, I mean...
GERGEN: But it's been tried. That's because it's been flagged. CROWLEY: Exactly.
BORGER: Because it's been flagged.
BORGER: And they're just not going to -- they're not going to do it now.
CROWLEY: The -- but I have to say that you're perfectly right, the $200 million -- and this is a, you know, a several hundred billion dollar bill, as I recall. But this is one of those times when the facts of the matter are outweighed by the feel of it. And you just -- you know, you just look and say...
GERGEN: This smells.
BLITZER: You know...
CROWLEY: And that's even...
BLITZER: Tell me if this is -- would be extraordinary. There are a lot of private jets out there that rich folks who aren't necessarily all that rich right now want to get rid of at bargain.
Does the federal government ever go out and buy some excellent jets at reduced costs and bring them in to...
BLITZER: ...take them, put a United States of America sign on them?
CROWLEY: -- planes in your district.
BORGER: Why not?
GERGEN: No, it's a new -- it's a new Clunkers program.
GERGEN: It's a new Clunkers program for used planes.
CROWLEY: But that would...
BLITZER: It would be a bargain for the federal government, you know what.
BORGER: But, you know, these are the jets that -- that can be used to ferry members of Congress on their Congressional delegations abroad, which is what makes it even (INAUDIBLE).
GERGEN: Well, no, I think, actually, that part is justified.
GERGEN: I think the question becomes whether you really want to have jets like this for domestic purposes. And apparently these jets are -- are -- they designate they could be used for domestic flights.
BORGER: But the members of Congress think the planes that they travel on now are quite uncomfortable, which they are.
GERGEN: Well, I -- yes, but I think we're...
CROWLEY: Well, they could (INAUDIBLE)...
GERGEN: ...the members of Congress are (INAUDIBLE)...
BORGER: Well, maybe.
GERGEN: Yes, I think it's a good thing to have members of Congress to go internationally.
BORGER: Or Mr. Bing's jet, that took Bill Clinton to North Korea.
CROWLEY: And they can take their shoes off. (INAUDIBLE). This is how real laws are made, is when you actually see what it's like.
BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note, Candy.
CROWLEY: Travel light, huh?
BLITZER: And I (INAUDIBLE) you guys are not going anywhere, because we're going to be back with the National Report Card, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.
Complete coverage of the president's plunging poll numbers. After 200 days in office, critics say he has lost control of his agenda.
Also, the showdown over the president's health care proposals turning nasty. The Democratic National Committee claiming Republicans have called out what it terms "the mob." A leading Republican senator accusing the White House of compiling an enemies list. Three top political analysts join us. And rising anger after a federal judge has ordered the State of California to free tens of thousands of inmates -- almost a third of the state's prison population. We'll have that special report.
And we continue to answer the questions about health care no one else on television is addressing, as the debate over the president's proposals and approach is escalating.
Join us for all of that, all the day's news and much more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see you then, Lou.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: You were going to talk about those jets again, weren't you?
BLITZER: You like that story.
CAFFERTY: I do.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, government insurance would cover abortion.
"Absolutely," says Ron. "So long as abortion is a Constitutional right, the Congress should not let the religious zealots hijack the health care plan in order to get their plan of controlling the bodies of women into the back door when they couldn't get in through the front."
Dave in Alabama says: "The straight up answer would be that government insurance should cover what private insurance covers and vice versa. By law, federal funds cannot be used in Medicaid programs for abortion and there are some state laws that prohibit state funds to be used, also. In all cases, both federal and state, there's an exception when abortion is required to save the life of a mother, and that's been upheld by the Supreme Court. And, as a minimum, I think the government insurance program ought to cover that situation."
Jan in Illinois says: "No. I am the government. I am the taxpayer. I don't want anything to do with abortion. This makes me a part of it and I refuse to be a part of it."
Elizabeth says: "As a pro-choice woman, I still don't believe that government insurance should pay for an abortion. While I feel those against abortion should not attempt to prevent others from getting one, I also don't believe that their tax dollars to be taken to fund something that they are so adamantly against." Heather says: "The Republicans shouldn't complain. Abortions are cheaper than births. If you don't want an abortion, don't get one."
Myriam says: "No, absolutely not. Abortion is not a procedure necessary to save a life, but to terminate a life. Those who elect to have this procedure done should do it with their own money."
And Carol writes: "No. It should make the poor women give birth to babies they really don't want or can't afford. Only wealthy women should have abortions. We need more children on welfare, isn't that the Republican way?"
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there, among hundreds of others.
I don't why, but I have a sneaking suspicion this is going to blow up into a huge debate and this...
BLITZER: I can tell you...
CAFFERTY: ...health care thing is going to...
BLITZER: ...you got some heated -- heated words on this sensitive subject.
You're here through the end of the week?
BLITZER: I'm working all this week.
CAFFERTY: That's good.
BLITZER: The rest of this week.
CAFFERTY: All right. Good.
BLITZER: Including tomorrow.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.
The owner of a Coney Island freak show is up in arms after losing out on a chance to get a five-legged dog. No surprise that Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual.
BLITZER: And this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. A U.S. missile strike may have taken out the top Taliban leader in Pakistan. Authorities are investigating reports that Baitullah Mahsud was killed yesterday in the South Waziristan tribal region. A U.S. official says -- I'm quoting now -- "There's reason to believe Mahsud may be dead." But there's no official confirmation yesterday.
The Taliban chief is blamed for dozens of suicide attacks and beheadings. He's also suspected in the involvement in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He's seen as Pakistan's top internal threat and a major danger to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.
We'll stay on top of this story.
Let's take a look right now at some Hot Shots coming in.
In Russia, this man jumps on walls to show a martial arts discipline -- disciple -- discipline -- a fast body move, I should say.
In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva plays a drum given to him by Uruguay's presidential candidate.
In Baghdad, a boy buys cigarettes as the government considers a law on banning smoking in public places.
And in Germany, after being abandoned, check it out -- a seal pup prepares for a return to the wild.
Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.
Let's get to CNN's Jeanne Moos now with a Moost Unusual story about a Moost Unusual dog.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It's a story that still has legs. First, the pup had five of them. Now, she's got four of them. But the freak show owner who lost his bid for the dog...
JOHN STRONG, CONEY ISLAND FREAKSHOW OWNER: I feel kind of snatched her away from me.
MOOS: ...is now headed for court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO," COURTESY TELEPICTURES PRODUCTIONS)
JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO, HOST: Look at me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: TV court with Judge Jeanine Pirro on September 21st. It's going to be a freak show.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't give (INAUDIBLE).
MOOS: Coney Island Freak Show owner John Strong thought he'd bought the five-legged pup from her owner in North Carolina. Strong even sent a $1,000 deposit.
But Allison Siegel hated the idea of the dog with the extra white leg going to a freak show.
ALLISON SIEGEL: I became sick about it.
MOOS: So she offered $4,000 and bought the dog. Worried that John Strong would sue to get the pup, she immediately had the extra leg amputated.
SIEGEL: She is just a ball of fire.
MOOS: The doggy do-gooder calls the pup Lily. The freak show owner calls her Precious.
STRONG: The dog. My ultimate goal is to get Precious back.
MOOS (on camera): But what -- well, Precious. Great.
STRONG: Choca (ph) likes you.
MOOS (voice-over): Choca the monkey once bit off both heads of a two-headed turtle.
(on camera): Look, there's safety in numbers -- eight-legged pig, six-legged bulldog.
STRONG: This is a three-legged chicken.
MOOS (voice-over): But all of those are dead -- preserved in jars. Not so Nosey Rosy, who has a third eye and a second nose.
(on camera): She's got sort of post-naval drip in the extra nose.
STRONG: Well, it's functioning just as a normal nose would.
MOOS (voice-over): Nosey Rosy and 19 inch Tiny Timmy here would have been the five-legged pup's neighbors.
(on camera): Isn't the dog better off, like, in a nice home with four legs?
STRONG: I think that I have the best home. I take the best care of my animals. I think the main thing is that you love whatever you've got.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All rise.
MOOS: The now four-legged pup won't have to rise in Jeanine Pirro's courtroom. It will be the freak show owner versus the guy who sold the dog. As for the fifth leg the pup used to drag around...
STRONG: I told her to keep the leg because when I get done with her legally in court, she's not going to have another leg to stand on.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Two-and-a-half million of you have already voted for the CNN National Report Card. I'll be back in one hour with coverage.
Let's go to the Lou in the meantime -- Lou.