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Fear over Plane Equipment Failures; Lawmakers Want Pricey New Planes; Eunice Kennedy Shriver in Critical Condition

Aired August 7, 2009 - 18:00   ET



Minus area equipment failure might have happened on one of your last flights and you didn't even know about it. There is a disturbing new report that the "Associated Press" is now releasing about recent flights involving U.S. jet liners experiencing serious technical problems after an Air France plane crashed into the Atlantic. Let's go straight to CNN's Jeanne Meserve, she's looking into this report. What are you finding out Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as early as next week, the Federal Aviation Administration may issue an order requiring airlines to change the speed sensors on Airbus A330s. The Air France flight that went down in the middle of the Atlantic on May 31 was an A330. Investigators still have not determined what caused that accident but automatic messages sent before the crash indicated there were inconsistent speed measurements and that has focused attention on external speed censors called pitot tubes.

In June investigators turned up two other speed censor incidents with A330s and now the "Associated Press" is reporting that a review of data from recent flights has turned up at least a dozen other occasions where speed censors malfunctioned. All of them, Northwest A330 flights. Delta, which merged with Northwest, would not confirm the incidents, but says it is already in the process of replacing all the pitot tubes on its fleet. Exactly what kind of remediation the FAA will recommend is being worked out in concert with the European Aviation authorities, with the goal of making all 625 Airbus A330s in service around the globe, safe. Wolf?

BLITZER: Could they call for the grounding of all these planes?

MESERVE: Wolf that would be extremely unusual because the speed censors have not at this point been proven to be a factor in even one plane crash. But the time frame set out in the air worthiness directive next week will give us a clue as to just how serious the FAA thinks the problem is. If they call for the tubes to be changed sooner than the plane's next scheduled maintenance that would indicate the FAA views this as a major safety issue -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Jeanne, thank you.

In another story involving plane travel. You might say members of Congress want an upgrade. Amid the sagging economy, lawmakers could soon be getting expensive new planes. In a twist, the planes are similar to airliners that fly around top CEOS and it's stirred up a lot of controversy. But lawmakers say there is a good reason to buy these planes. Let's go straight to our Brian Todd, he has an update on what is going on -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you remember members of Congress were accused of major hypocrisy on all of this. You'll remember last year, they really grilled the CEOs of the top three automakers for taking private jets to Washington while their company's were failing. Then, Congress turned around and appropriated all this money for themselves for private airplanes. We just spoke to a committee spokesman in Congress who is pretty fed up with that criticism and wanted to put it into some context for us.


TODD (voice-over): Brush back from Congress against recent allegations of overspending. A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee tells CNN the House isn't being wasteful or selfish in the money it's doling out for new gulf stream jets. The defense department had asked for only one new jet.

GEOFF MORRELL, DEFENSE DEPT. PRESS SECRETARY: We ask for what we need and only what we need.

TODD: But the House added two more jets. The price tag for all three, nearly $200 million. But the House committee spokesman says there are a total of seven aircraft that the Air Force plans to replace with these new gulf stream jets over the next few years anyway. By paying for these two extra planes now, Congress is speeding up the process and actually saving money because the newer jets are more reliable and cost less to maintain. But Steve Ellis, from the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, points out that the two extra planes will be parked at an air base close to Washington, D.C. and available to members of Congress.

STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: They are going to Andrews Air Force base and we are about to spend $133 million so that Congress will have some nice gulf stream jets, the same things that the CEOs fly around in to travel in comfort.


TODD: That House appropriations spokesman counters that argument too, saying the new jets are going to Andrews because that's where the fleet of planes that will be replaced is located. Wolf?

BLITZER: There is some perspective Brian on how much all of these private jets are actually used by Congress compared to other people in the government.

TODD: Yes, this appropriations committee spokesman put out some information this week saying that over the past five years, less than 15 percent of the use of these planes has been by members of Congress. They are actually mostly used by members of the military and delegations from the White House. BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that. Fears are flying high over how bad swine flu might be this fall. Government officials warning of a possible strong resurgence of the virus. Today, they laid out some ways to battle it. Health and education officials advise students and teachers that they practice good hygiene, washing their hands, covering their faces when coughing or sneezing and staying home when sick. They are also discouraging school closings if there is a swine flu outbreak, saying there are other protective measures. Revised guidelines now advise a child can return to school 24 hours after the end of a swine flu fever instead of the previously recommended seven days. Officials say a vaccine should be ready by the fall. Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now, he has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?


BLITZER: You are laughing.

CAFFERTY: Yes, I am. Well it's amusing. Working in the big studio here, it's like being a member of the Dance Theater of Harlem, it's choreographed, the swans go offstage, the spear carriers come in from the right, where do you want me, here? A record 34 million Americans are getting food stamps. That translates to one in nine people and is yet another sign that we're going through the worst recession since the great depression. A government report shows that May was the sixth month in a row that food stamp enrollment increased. It was up in every state with Florida showing the largest increase. The economic stimulus package temporarily increased food stamp benefits. The average is about now about $134 per month per person.

Although Americans everywhere are clearly hurting, the city of Detroit, Michigan, has been hit especially hard. has a sad story today about a lack of food in the motor city where unemployment has now topped 16 percent. Food stamp applications and pantry visits in Detroit are way up. In some neighborhoods, there are people guarding food supplies and those looking to help have even resorted to urban farming. What's especially troubling about all this recession in a place like Detroit is the kind of people who are looking for assistance. It is no longer just about the homeless or the poor. Now, it is also the middle class, those who maybe lost jobs in the automobile industry or homeowners who saw the value of their home simply evaporate.

Although we are seeing some positive news on the job front nationally today, it's clear that millions of Americans will continue to feel the pain of this recession for a very long time to come.

Here is the question: What does it mean when one in nine Americans is getting food stamps? Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf?

BLITZER: That's a really shocking statistic though, really shocking. All right Jack, thank you.

Could it happen where you live? The sheriff warns residents of possible killings and home invasions. Law enforcement money is being slashed. Why is economic security up against public security. It's a sign of broken government.

Hanging on for life. Window washers dangle after a freak accident. You are going to see how it ended. A disturbing twist regarding Billy Mays' death. Officials say something helped cause the TV pitchman's passing. That would be cocaine.


BLITZER: It's a frightening thought, criminals lurking in your neighborhood causing chaos or worse. But when you call 911, law enforcement can't help much. Could that happen in Alabama's largest county? The sheriff suggests maybe. Says the county's financial mess is hurting crime prevention. It's a sign public security is being pitted up against economic security and it's also a sign of broken government. CNN's Sean Callebs has more.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, is simply in financial crisis. The county could have to slash its operating budget by as much as 50 percent, basically decimating public services and stagnating any potential growth. County leaders here say, there is no quick fix.


CALLEBS (voice-over): I went for a ride along with Jefferson County sheriff's deputy, Michael Jackson, in a section of the county hit hard by crime.

DEPUTY MICHAEL JACKSON, JEFFERSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT.: I feel for the people that are living out here because like I said, the one's that approach me are all scared right now.

CALLEBS: The county which includes the city of Birmingham is in crisis. Dramatic budget cuts mean more than 300 of the nearly 800 sheriff department's employees will be out of work, off the streets and officers are fearful that crime will skyrocket.

(On camera): The people that you have talked to, are they really scared?

JACKSON: They are terrified. You have a lot of elderly people out here living alone and they rely on us to have their back. If we are taken away who are they going to have?

CALLEBS (voice-over): To avoid what officers call open season for criminals, Sheriff Mike Hale is urging the governor to consider sending the National Guard to Alabama's most populous county. Hale has been told he may have to cut his budget by as much as 50 percent next year, from $60 million to $31 million.

SHERIFF MIKE HALE, JEFFERSON COUNTY, ALABAMA: What I will have left after furlough is enough to work the jail and a small group to work five or six beats within the county.

CALLEBS: What led to Jefferson County's broken government? Part of the pinch can be blamed on the recession. (On camera): The big problem, the county instantly lost about $70 million or 25 percent of its annual budget from an occupational tax on income it had collected since the 1980s, even though lawmakers repealed it about a decade ago, courts only recently mandated the county stop collecting that money.

BETTYE FINE COLLINS, PRES., JEFFERSON COUNTY COMMISSION: We are enduring the darkest hours this county has ever lived through.

CALLEBS (voice-over): Bettye Fine Collins is the county commission president and says there is no quick fix. The commission has already ordered furloughs for 33 percent of the county's employees.

COLLINS: You cannot have more expenditures than you have revenue. So what's the largest area of expense, personnel, which is why we have 1,004 people on administrative leave without pay.

CALLEBS: Among those on furlough, Michael Morrison who has worked three years in the county zoning and planning office.. He predicts major problems.

MICHAEL MORRISON, FURLOUGHED COUNTY EMPLOYEE: It's going to slow down county road construction, it's going to slow down things like road maintenance, bridge maintenance, debris pickup after storms.

CALLEBS: Indeed, look at this massive line. People are waiting eight and nine hours to renew auto tags. Cuts mean there are only three people working inside and a lot of frustrated people outside in line.

ANGIE LAWSON, JEFFERSON COUNTY RESIDENT: It's insane. You have these people over here that want this thing and these people over here that want this thing and nobody will even communicate to fix it. It's just stupid. We could be at a kindergarten class watching this.

CALLEBS: Sheriff Hale has so far pushed back and refused to furlough his employees. But if the commission can't come up with the money and the sheriff's budget is cut in half, Deputy Jackson says there will be a lot of people who suffer.

JACKSON: With this cut, if we lose 50 percent of our personnel, it is just letting the bad guys know, hey, we can pretty much go in Centerpoint and do whatever we want to do or any other part of Jefferson County that the sheriff's department patrols.


CALLEBS: State lawmakers could be called into a special session in an effort to bail Jefferson County out. People here are frustrated, they're angry but more than anything they wonder how the financial situation got so bad so quickly? Wolf?

BLITZER: Sean Callebs, thanks for that report. The legislature still trying to come to an agreement. The decision could come as early as Monday on whether to hold a special session to deal with this fiscal crisis. The latest word from the Alabama legislators is that they are still working to come to an agreement, by the way. We will see what happens.

An autopsy report out of Florida shows how an illegal drug played a part in the sudden death of television pitchman, Billy Mays.

Plus, a woman who met the Pennsylvania health club killer at a dating workshop speaks out on the man she was trying to help.

The sister of Senator Ted Kennedy and the late President Kennedy, Eunice Shriver, she's now in critical condition surrounded by her family and very closest friends.


BLITZER: Right now, Don, what's going on?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are keeping tabs on a lot of stories including this one. Eunice Kennedy Shriver is in critical condition at a Massachusetts hospital. A statement released by the family says that the 88-year-old Shriver is surrounded by her husband, five children and grandchildren, as well as her son-in-law, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In addition to being the sister of President Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy Shriver is the founder and honorary chairman of the Special Olympics.

The Senate ethics committee has cleared Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Kent Conrad of North Dakota of breaking rules by accepting cut-rate mortgages. After a year long investigation the committee found that VIP mortgages they received from the lender, Countrywide, did not violate Senate gift rules and weren't necessarily the best deal available. But the committee scolded the two for not being more careful to avoid the appearance of wrongdoing.

President Barack Obama signed off on a bill this morning to extend funding for the popular known as cash for clunkers. The measure offers refund vouchers worth up to $4,500 to car buyers who trade in gas-guzzling vehicles. Now the new bill pumps in an additional $2 billion into the program, which had burned through its initial funding in just one week.

Even after his death, Michael Jackson's ability to generate controversy lives on. The mayor of Carson, California, was blasted for ordering the American flag outside city hall flown at half staff on the day of Jackson's funeral. Now the mayor is hoping to quiet the critics by introducing legislation that would bar him or any future mayor from issuing such an order again.

Check out this very dramatic video from a high-rise in Long Beach, California. Rescuers pulled two window washers to safety after the metal scaffolding they were working on partially gave way. The workers were wearing safety harnesses luckily and dangled from the tilted platform until help arrived. Can you imagine that Wolf?

BLITZER: That will shake you up a bit, no doubt about it. I love those safety harnesses. You would never do that, would you?

LEMON: No, afraid of heights, don't like it.

BLITZER: I don't like it either. All right Don, thank you.

We are learning more details about the man who killed three people in a Pennsylvania gym Tuesday night. A woman who encountered that man at a dating workshop in Los Angeles speaking out on the man she was trying to help. Let's go to our internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She has tracked her down. Abbi, tell us what she is saying.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, she said that this man, George Sodini, that she met last year, didn't seem like a killer but he seemed to be wanting to improve himself. We tracked down 20- year-old Erin Miklo who was hired to work this dating workshop in Los Angeles last year. Three days of eight-hour-a-day seminars in Los Angeles that Sodini had traveled from Pittsburgh to attend. Miklo says that she remembers him clearly. That he was the most studious man in a room of about 20 men attending, really quiet, took a lot of notes. What were they learning? Well the instructor there Adan Steele was telling them that they were too nervous, that they were too nice to be able to meet women. Look at this. At even one point at the beginning of the seminar, Steele writes, nice guys must die on the white board for these men to see. Miklo says she was there to try and help them get less nervous and over a few days, many of the men managed that but not Sodini. She said he never loosened up -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What's the time line here, when was this seminar Abbi?

TATTON: These workshops were at the beginning of 2008 in Los Angeles. We have seen from Youtube videos that Sodini made over the summer that he was still working on the skills. He was trying to learn by summer but by November 2008 we've seen from his online diaries that he was already plotting this attack on the gym -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What a story Abbi, thank you.

A surprising twist in the death of TV pitchman, Billy Mays. An autopsy report just released reveals cocaine played a role.

And secretary of state Hillary Clinton reflecting on the failed health care reform effort she spearheaded years ago and the prospect for a very different outcome this time.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I gave my blood, sweat, and tears and I think we, despite all of the difficulties of that effort, we got people thinking and we helped to further the debate.



BLITZER: An autopsy report released late this afternoon revealed that drugs played a part in the death of the TV pitchman Billy Mays. Mary Snow has been working this story for us. Mary it's a pretty shocking development. What are you learning?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the autopsy results are showing that cocaine played a factor in the death of TV personality Billy Mays. Officials had previously determined the 50-year-old TV pitchman died of heart problems. But with toxicology reports now complete, the Hillsborough County medical examiner's department now reports that Mays used cocaine a few days prior to his death and that quote, "Cocaine use caused or contributed to the development of his heart disease and, thereby, contributed to his death." There had been a lot of questions surrounding the death of Mays who became famous for grabbing attention with his energetic commercials for things like OxyClean.


BILLY MAYS, FAMOUS PITCHMAN: Just place the OxyClean detergent ball in the blue toss and go dispenser and just toss and go. It stays in your washer while it cleans over 25 loads. Laundry just got easier.


BLITZER: Mary, there were lots of questions that came up immediately after his death, weren't there?

SNOW: There really were. He died on June 27th. His wife found his body in their home. He had been on a plane that had a rough landing just the day before his death. He said he had hit his head. There were questions about whether that played a factor. It was then learned that he had heart problems. In addition to officials reporting cocaine in his body, they also say that these tests showed therapeutic amounts of some pain killers in his system. He had reportedly had hip problems and was supposed to have hip replacement surgery the day after he was found dead. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary Snow working that story for us. Thank you.

The number is out and on the surface it's grim, 247,000 Americans lost their jobs in July but experts were bracing for much worse. That's the smallest number of job losses this country has seen in a year. In fact, unemployment actually ticked down a tenth of a percent last month to 9.4 percent. It's a heartening piece of news for the White House increasingly feeling the heat of the ongoing recession. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, he's joining us now. What more is the president saying, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president was trying to temper his excitement, a little bit, at least. He wasn't popping any champagne corks but he was patting his administration on the back, even though not everybody is celebrating these new numbers.


HENRY (voice-over): The upbeat jobs report is little comfort to Greg Thompson who just feels fortunate the unemployment benefits he collects at the One Stop Career Center in Washington, D.C. were recently extended.

GREG THOMPSON, UNEMPLOYED: For me, I am just glad they did. But there are no jobs. I mean, I go out every week and I get the same story.

HENRY: But a couple of miles away at the White House, the president had a much rosier view of the impact of his stimulus plan.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning, we received additional signs that the worst may be behind us.

HENRY: While 247,000 more people lost jobs in July, the president noted that's far better than what he inherited.

OBAMA: We are losing jobs at less than half the rate we were when I took office. We pulled the financial system back from the brink while we rescued our economy from catastrophe. We have also begun to build a new foundation for growth.

HENRY: Republicans insist the stimulus may be working on the margins but has not provided the jolt the president originally promised.

VOICE OF DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: You have to define working. They have set the bar that says we were going to have the second great depression and we didn't. So it has to be working.

HENRY: While the president acknowledged there is a long way to go, he struck a very optimistic tone.

OBAMA: I am convinced that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. But now we're going to have to move forward with confidence and conviction to reach the promise of a new day.

HENRY: But Greg Thompson, a heavy machinery operator suggests while some jobs may be coming back, wages are plummeting.

THOMPSON: I get some people to say, well look, I'll pay you so much. I say well that's half what I've been getting. And they say well if you don't work, we'll get somebody else to do it.


HENRY: Some of the president's aides are not being quite as optimistic as he was today. For example, spokesman Robert Gibbs telling reporters that he thinks unemployment could reach 10 percent in the months ahead.

So, on one hand, you have the president saying, look, maybe the worst is over. And then you have his staff going out and saying well, it actually could get a little more worse.

They're being -- walking a very fine line here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're really sensitive, aren't they, to the whole "mission accomplished" banner issue that came up after the initial phase of the war in Iraq?

And President Bush paid a major political price for that banner.

HENRY: Absolutely. You're right. They don't want to look in the same way that then President Bush did. It looked like he was celebrating a victory in Iraq when there was a lot of hard work left to be done. He lived to regret that, obviously, at least politically. And they don't want to make the same mistake here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Ed Henry is over at the White House.

Rush Limbaugh compared Democrats to Nazis when it comes to health care reform. Now the White House is firing back.

Stand by.

Sometimes diplomacy is like a dance. Sometimes it is a dance. Check out the secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. She gets her groove on. We'll show you how she's dancing in Africa.

A lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Well, the rhetoric in the debate over health care reform is now really getting ugly.

Let's talk about that and more with David Frum, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush; also, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Paul Begala; and Ceci Connolly is joining us, of "The Washington Post".

We'll get to you guys in a moment.

First, I want to go to CNN's Deborah Feyerick with some background -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says Rush Limbaugh is on thin ice for comparing Democrats to Nazis. Gibbs was responding to these comments and others by Rush Limbaugh yesterday.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST: The Democrat Party and where it's taking this country -- the radical left leadership in this party bears much more resemblance to Nazi policies than anything we on the right believe in at all. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: Now, the back and forth started after Nancy Pelosi said that health care protests are "carrying swastikas and symbols like that."

Rush Limbaugh went even further, saying this.


LIMBAUGH: You will find that the Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo.


FEYERICK: Now, he's comparing this symbol of the Third Reich to this Obama health care symbol.

And here's the question -- does this sort of talk hurt those fighting for health care reform?

BLITZER: Let's throw that question to David Frum first.

David, what do you think?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: I think there's an almost perfect convergence of in -- of interest between President Obama and Rush Limbaugh. What's good for one is good for the other. They have a symbiotic relationship. We're talking about Rush and we're not talking about the deficiencies of the health care plan.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party and a responsible conservatism is the victim. There are so many things that are wrong with at least the plan coming through the House. There are some interesting possibilities in the plan emerging from the Senate Finance Committee. We're not talking about that. Instead, Rush Limbaugh has made everyone who opposes the president's plan look like a crackpot.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean it's -- those are strong words, you've got to admit, Paul, even by any definition of the heated rhetoric over this debate.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I'm going to site Godwin Law, my old buddy, Michael Godwin, who I went to college with at the University of Texas, Wolf, I might add.

Mike Godwin was one of the pioneers of Internet law and privacy. And Godwin's law is this -- in any debate, some -- when somebody mentions a Hitler or Nazi analogy, that person loses the debate.

And I hate to say, it's happened on the left. There was, I remember, an infamous -- some anonymous person submitted an ad for a contest that compared President Bush to Adolph Hitler. It was irresponsible. To their credit, Move On pulled it down and denounced the ad. Well, very few people on the right have denounced Rush Limbaugh. I will say, David Frum has been a lonely voice, joined today, I saw, by Cliff May, a former spokesman for the Republican National Party, a very strong Republican. Cliff strongly today on "National Review spoke out against what Limbaugh did.

But thundering silence from the supposed leaders of the Republican Party...

BLITZER: Well, he's a powerful...

BEGALA: ...Mitch McConnell, John Boehner.

BLITZER: He's a powerful figure.

Ceci, does he help or hurt the Republican Party?

CECI CONNOLLY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I tend to agree with -- with David on this point, which is that there are all sorts of good, serious substantive debates that we can have around the health care policies and proposals now -- now up before Congress.

But it's hard to see how Rush Limbaugh helps even Republicans in this process, unless -- unless you're such a sort of crass political analyst that -- that you think distracting from the topic somehow helps them in some way. I just -- it's hard to see how this really assists anybody but Rush Limbaugh in this process.

BLITZER: What about his argument that he often makes, David, that he's a radio talk show host, that he's trying to be provocative and stir things up?

FRUM: That's -- of course that's what he's trying to do. He's in a declining radio revenue market. We -- there are some very interesting studies on this. We published some on -- on my Web site about the decline in revenues forces radio hosts to be ever more provocative to get the most interested radio listeners to pay attention.

So he's got an interest. He's -- he's a businessman. He's selling advertising time. It's -- it's like pornography, you get people interested with ever more extreme forms.

But President Obama is working with him. The key point, as we say, who benefits from this?

The president benefits from this because...

BLITZER: So should the Democrats, Paul, simply...

FRUM: ...because the opposition is crowded out.

BLITZER: Should the Democrats simply ignore a comment like this from Rush Limbaugh?

BEGALA: No... BLITZER: Because...


BLITZER: Because what David says, it actually winds up helping Rush Limbaugh.

BEGALA: Of course it does. Look, David's right. Carville and I, months ago, sent out a memo saying Rush Limbaugh was the leader of the Republican Party. We helped to whip up this frenzy. Frankly, when we did it, we knew there was one big risk. And that risk would be if a -- a leading national Republican stood up and denounced Limbaugh, he or she would become the real leader of the Republican Party.

And I was, frankly, worried that maybe Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney -- one of these emerging leaders -- would do that. And they didn't do it.

Now, Ronald Reagan, he pushed the John Birch crazies out of the Republican right. Bill Clinton picked big fights with Jesse Jackson, with labor unions. Barack Obama picked a big fight with the Clintons. Strong leaders have to first take on what they believe to be the tired leadership of their party. Someone has to take on Limbaugh on the right.

BLITZER: All right, Ceci, hold your thought for a second, because I want to take a quick commercial break. But we're going to come back to the three of you in a moment.

Town hall free-for-alls -- what's really behind all the screaming and yelling at these meetings on health care reform?

Plus, Hilary Clinton ran the last major effort at health care reform. So now, what's it like to watch from the sidelines?


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: You're passionate about it.

Does it -- do you ever wish that you were back in the White House running this?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: No. I -- I feel like I, you know, I gave.


CLINTON: I gave my -- my blood, sweat and tears. And I simply...



BLITZER: Are they phony protests or serious protests at those health care town hall meetings?

Let's get back to our panel.

But first, some background from CNN's Deborah Feyerick once again -- Deb.

FEYERICK: Well, Wolf, why is Senator Harry Reid carrying around a piece of artificial turf on Capitol Hill?

Well, it's to illustrate his point that these disruptions at health care events are not part of a grassroots movement. He says the protests are as phony as fake grass.


Now, that's likely to anger Americans as they get more involved in the health care debate.

Take this meeting yesterday in Maryland, where tough questions were tossed to Representative Donna Edwards.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're sincere about cost control, it seems to me tort reform has to be part of your bill.


FEYERICK: Now, no angry mobs shoving or yelling. But that meeting isn't getting as much attention as ones like this in Tampa.



FEYERICK: And one man said this scuffle makes him think that this is more about the economy than anything else.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes you're -- with health care, a lot, they're attacking Obama, they're attacking the administration and it's -- it's not about health care, I think.


FEYERICK: So is he right?

Have these protests become more about opposing the president than about debating health care reform -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question.

Let's ask Ceci Connolly.

What's the answer, Ceci? CONNOLLY: Oh my goodness, Wolf, it's probably a little bit of all the above. I -- I certainly think that there are some genuine protestors showing up at these meetings who have some legitimate concerns about health care reform. But lots of it is in the phony AstroTurf category that -- that Harry Reid talks about.

And certainly, people are showing up with all sorts of frustrations. The economy is still pretty rough out there, especially when you get beyond the Beltway and we're seeing some of that.

BLITZER: How does this substantive debate take place, David, amidst all the noise?

And we spoke about it earlier, the Nazi comparisons, stuff like that.

FRUM: Well, what I worry about, above all, is that if Republicans and conservatives somehow stop this bill or if it falls apart of its own weight, that may turn out to be a victa -- a victory not for free market principles, but just for inertia, for the sheer inability to get anything done in Washington.

Republicans need to remember that we have people whom we're supposed to represent -- entrepreneurs, small business, the self- employed -- who are facing rising costs. We have to remember them. And in the understandable human desire to inflict a defeat on the president, you can't forget there are people who you represent who have real problems that they send you to Washington to solve.

BLITZER: You know, because, you know, Rush Limbaugh makes the point -- and I'll -- I'll throw it to Paul Begala -- that, you know, he started making these comparisons to Nazis after the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said some of these protesters, some of these "crazies who are out there," in her words -- and Deb Feyerick reported it -- were carrying swastikas and symbols like that.

BEGALA: Well, the Speaker was reporting the truth. I've seen the photographs of coverage. I mean some of those protesters -- I think they were trying to accuse the Obama administration of fascism. I believe that's what they were trying to do. I don't think they were proclaiming their own love of fascism.

But I think the Speaker is -- I know the Speaker is right. I've seen the photographs and the coverage. And that is self-defeating. David's right.

I'm really glad that Deb's piece included that responsible, reasoned conservative criticism in Oxen Hill, Maryland. That citizen is fighting the health care bill that I support very effectively, I think. You ask tough questions, you put your Congresswoman, in this case, Donna Edwards, you put her up against the wall. That's great. That's democracy. And that's the way it ought to work.

These shout fests -- Ceci is right, some of it is real. Every president engenders some tiny minority that just hates him. Believe me, I saw it with Bill Clinton. I know David saw it in the Bush White House.

But those people very rarely drive policy. Those people are -- are like Ross Perot. He used to talk about a crazy aunt you lock up in the basement.

The conservatives need to focus their attention on the sort of reasoned, responsible criticisms and questions and they're getting drowned out.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, guys.

Ceci, I know you've got another point. We'll save it for another time.

Guys, thanks very much.

FRUM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton feels strongly about health care reform. She was once the point person pushing it back in the Clinton administration.

Listen to what she's now told CNN's Fareed Zakaria about the need for reform right now.


ZAKARIA: Speaking of hard negotiations, what message would you have to the Senate Democrats...


ZAKARIA: ...who seem to be holding up the passage of a comprehensive health care bill or are they amending it in ways that are -- that are useful and productive?

CLINTON: Well, actually, I think that it's a very healthy process that's going on. They are having to hammer out all of their differences. And there are serious differences and viewpoints, for example.

But what the president has said and what I believe is the right approach is that this can't be put off any longer.

You know, back in '93 and '94, when I was on the front lines and taking all the incoming fire on this issue, people didn't really accept in their gut that we had to do this. They kept thinking there's another way out of this and it's not that bad and we'll try you know, managed care. And we'll try more HMOs. We'll try all of that.

And now, all these years later, we realize that we have some fundamental problems with our existing system that have to be -- that have to be addressed.

So I actually believe that, at the end of the day, with all of this negotiation and back and forth, you know, we're going to come up with something. My hope is that it's going to be meaningful enough to make a difference -- make a difference on the cost side, which is the paramount issue for people like us, who have insurance -- OK, how do we keep affording it and making sure that it is of high quality?

Assurances that what we're going to do on the public side -- the Medicaid and Medicare programs -- are not going to undermine those programs in ways that they can't deliver cost-effective quality care; getting people insured and moving as rapidly as possible toward universal care; changing the delivery system and the incentives so that we actually figure out ways to reward prevention, pay for prevention.

You know, in '93, for example, Fareed, I had a man who became a friend of mine, but I didn't know him at the time, Dean Ornish. He came to see me. And he said, look, I have proof...

ZAKARIA: This is the doctor...

CLINTON: -- who did a lot of work on cardiovascular health.

And he said, I have proof that changes in diet, stress reduction, exercise are as effective, if not more effective, than medical interventions in lowering people's overall threat of heart disease. He said, but I can't get Medicare to pay for somebody going to an exercise class or to pay for a nutritionist to come to their house and talk to them.

Well, we worked and worked on that all through the time my husband was president. And then finally, during -- sometime during the Bush administration, the centers for Medicare and Medicaid, CMS, said, OK, fine, we'll begin to pay for this.

Well, it shouldn't be that hard. You know, we -- we're more than happy to pay for a pill or pay for a procedure.

How do we change behaviors?

How do we convince, you know, the medical establishment to do that?

There's just a lot that needs to be at least included, even if we can't get to the finish line right away.

ZAKARIA: You're passionate about this.

Does it ever -- do you ever wish that you were back in the White House running this?

CLINTON: Well, I feel like I, you know, I gave.


CLINTON: I gave my -- my blood, sweat and tears. And I think we, despite all of the difficulties of that effort, we got people thinking. And we helped to further the debate. It was, you know, disappointing that we -- we didn't get it all done. But we got, you know, we got the Children's Health Insurance Program done, we got portable insurance. We got some things accomplished in the '90s and, actually, under the Bush administration some changes were made so that the government said to hospitals, we're not going to pay for what are, you know, never events. You know, nobody should get bed sores. People should be given an aspirin if they come in and given their pneumonia shot -- things that are -- really should be required.

So we made, you know, progress. But the problem is that we just never got to a critical mass of progress. And that's what I'm hoping to see now.

ZAKARIA: Madam Secretary, thank you very much.

CLINTON: Thank you.

Good to talk to you.

ZAKARIA: A pleasure.


BLITZER: By the way, you can see the entire, exclusive interview with Secretary Clinton on CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." They talk about a lot of subjects, including Iran, North Korea, the war in Afghanistan -- all this Sunday afternoon at 100 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much.

Complete coverage tonight of what appears to be a nationwide rebellion against the president's health care plan. But the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and left-wing groups are striking back -- and hard.

What happened to the politics of hope?

Also, another clear indication that the economy is rebounding -- the unemployment rate falling for the first time in 15 months. But the White House appears reluctant to acknowledge the positive developments.

And the federal government is giving the Cash for Clunkers program another $2 billion. But there are rising questions about whether the program makes any sense at all for taxpayers, consumers, the car industry. We'll have that special report.

Join us for all of that, all the day's news and a lot more, at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We'll see you then, Lou.

Thank you. Hilary Clinton -- she's also, among other things, showing her stuff. The secretary of State turns into a dancing queen during her visit to Kenya. Check it out.

And three Elvis impersonators pose for a picture in Thailand, just one of our Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Switzerland, a catamaran is lifted by helicopter as it makes its way to the Mediterranean.

In the Philippines, stranded residents are rescued as flood waters rise.

In Afghanistan, a man passes out sample ballots as citizens prepare to vote for president.

And in Thailand, check it out, three Elvis impersonators pose for a picture one week before the 32nd anniversary of his death.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

You can call it dancing diplomacy or you can just call it the secretary of State having a good time -- Hilary Clinton shows off her moves on the dance floor during her visit to Kenya.

All right. There she is. Unfortunately, Jack Cafferty, we don't -- we don't have any music or sound. But she's looking pretty good over there (INAUDIBLE).

CAFFERTY: Well and she's -- she's moving and grooving with the rest of the folks...


CAFFERTY: So she, you know, whatever the tune was, she was right on the beat.

BLITZER: I think she's better than...

CAFFERTY: She's very good.

BLITZER: ...than George Bush when he was dancing in Africa.

What do you think?

CAFFERTY: Yes, well, that's no comparison. She looks like a good sport. It looks like she was having a good time.

BLITZER: She could go on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and dance with Ellen DeGeneres. CAFFERTY: And -- and yes. You did that.

BLITZER: I did. Yes.

CAFFERTY: How many times did we look at that videotape?

BLITZER: Too many times.

CAFFERTY: Too many times?


CAFFERTY: The question this hour: What does it mean -- this is serious stuff and -- and kind of a sad commentary on where we are, I think.

What does it mean when one in nine Americans is now receiving food stamps?

Amy writes from Maryland: "My sister has a Ph.D. in English. She's been a college professor for 25 years. She was told recently by the University of Pennsylvania they would not renew her full-time contract and offered her instead one class to teach for practically no money. She went on food stamps this summer to be able to feed her and her daughter. This is so wrong on so many levels."

Sherri in Illinois: "Another example of Main Street USA getting its butt kicked to no end and Wall Street laughing and joking because the Dow's over 9300, so all is well with the world."

Paul in Maryland writes: "It means the Republicans controlled the White House and Congress for six years and now we're paying the bill. Next up for the just say no crowd, a watered down health care bill that will help the insurance companies that give them all the money they need to remain good Republicans."

Samantha in Oregon: "In a country where obesity is still a huge problem and one in nine people using food stamps, we clearly have a disconnect between our needs and our greed. I recently obtained my master's of architecture and two months later, I'm still out of a job and about to join the one in nine Americans using food stamps. It's sad when one invests so much in an education only to have to appeal to the government for something as basic as food."

Marguerite in Colorado: "It means the fat cats of AIG and Goldman Sachs ought to be taxed to support those who are on food stamps -- people who have been screwed by the financial industry. They eat caviar and the middle class now goes to food banks."

And Jerry in St. Louis: "It means that we have serious domestic issues and rising costs of basic necessities. I have to go now, Jack. My Congressman's private jet just landed and we're throwing him a welcome home party."

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

We've got some stuff seriously out of whack.


Have a great weekend.

CAFFERTY: You, too.

BLITZER: All right.

Don't forget, 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night, the Saturday edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Among our guests, the cousin of Emmett Till. You're going to hear his emotional story.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.