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Health Care Uproar; Toxic Air on Planes?

Aired August 17, 2009 - 18:00   ET



This is just a taste of the latest ruckus over health care reform. Listen to this. Dueling groups of protesters turned out in Phoenix today for the president's visit. He wasn't even there to talk about health care, but he is being dogged by some liberal Democrats in particular right now.

They fear he's given up on a key proposal they don't want to live without.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's working this story for us.

It's the backlash, Dan, over the so-called government health insurance option that's angering a lot of liberals right now. They feel the president may be abandoning them.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, but the president has never really drawn the line in the sand on this public option, but he's made it very clear that that is what he wants. Now with this apparent softer tone from the administration, the public option debate among his supporters is heating up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you talking to your friends? Are you talking to your family?


LOTHIAN: Supporters of the president's health care overhaul plan fired up in Phoenix.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every American deserves health care that they can afford.

LOTHIAN: But as counterdemonstrators shouted them down, there was vigorous debate among supporters over the public option, which has been a central part of the president's push.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the public option goes away, Obama -- President Obama's already a lame duck president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hopeful that we can compromise. It's just the right thing to do. It's a moral decision. LOTHIAN: This comes after the administration appeared to be downplaying the significance of the public option, which has faced strong opposition from Capitol Hill to congressional town hall meetings.

In response to a question from John King on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," the secretary of health and human services seemed to leave the door open to something other than a public option.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If the votes aren't there, it's time to come up with a plan B?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: What's important is choice and competition. And I'm convinced at the end of the day the plan will have both of those, but that is not the essential element.

LOTHIAN: But back outside the president's VFW event in Phoenix, some said you can't have reform without the public option.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans will smell blood if we don't get the public option.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It means that he's lost the fight.

LOTHIAN: The administration is fighting to get health care reform done this year, promoting choice, competition and controlling costs as the key points. These demonstrators may not get everything they want, but hope they will get what they need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to make sure it passes because, you know, all of our lives depend on it one way or another.


LOTHIAN: Linda Douglass, who is the spokesperson here at the White House on health reform, says -- quote -- that "Nothing has changed." This is an attempt of the White House to sort of damp down this public option debate that we have heard today.

The White House really saying that the president does believe that the public option is the best way for him to achieve all the goals that he has in reforming health care -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian's working the story at the White House.

The House speaker is rushing to the defense of a government-run health care option, Nancy Pelosi issuing a statement today explaining several reasons why she thinks that option would bring real reform, in her words.

Some Democrats now have big doubts about the future of health care reform in the House. Just a short while ago, I asked Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York if he would vote for legislation that did not include a public option.


REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: I don't even think I will have to, because they won't even bring that to the floor. In the House of Representatives, without a strong public plan, even stronger than the one we reported out of committee, I think it would have a very difficult time getting 218 votes.


BLITZER: Let's go beyond the political bickering right now. What are these two words, public option, really mean and what would happen if that idea were taken off the table?

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's here at the magic wall for us.

Make sense of this for us. Explain the public option and all of that.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have heard so much talk about it, Wolf, it's hard to keep track, but look at it this way. The argument from those who have wanted reform all along has been that what we really have now are a bunch of private insurance companies. That's where people are. There's limited competition between them, limited reason for them to bring prices down, so prices go up.

And there are people like this who aren't really in any plan who are drifting around out here. What they wanted was for one of these to go away, in effect, to be replaced by a government insurance program. This program would give a place for all of these people to go who are currently outside of plans, so they could be included. And just as importantly, because it would have as its main goal controlling costs, keeping it under control, it would put pressure on these others to drive costs down, Wolf.

BLITZER: What was the fundamental complaint, Tom, of the so- called public option?

FOREMAN: The fundamental complaint was not that it would make for a sale on prices over here, which is what people initially were looking for, that things would get lower. The fundamental complaint was that it would actually cause these other ones out over here to go out of business. That was the complaint.

Now, the CBO came up with a study that said they did not believe that was going to be the case. Nonetheless, that was the big worry, which has led to yet another concern, which is the idea of saying if that's not the case and if this is taken off the table, can you go to an insurance cooperative?

An insurance cooperative, simply put, Wolf, is this idea. You take all of these people all over the country, especially those who don't have insurance, and you say let's try to connect all of them to each other. If we can do that by making little connections here and let them support each other economically by basically buying into a nonprofit organization where they all share in this, they can create pressure on the insurance industry to keep prices down and give a place for all of these people to go.

But how this program will shape up is really up in the air, Wolf, just as the other one was before, this one even more so. So the debate goes on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

To keep track of the town halls and health care debate and to learn what reform efforts might mean for you, go to our new health care in America Web site. You can check the facts, the statistics. You can read the blogs, see the videos. It's all on More on this story coming up.

But here's a picture taken during the president's visit to Arizona today that we couldn't ignore, a man toting an assault rifle. Check it out.

CNN's Brian Todd is here looking at this story for us.

Brian, what was this all about?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was about, Wolf, the latest example of gun rights activists showing their weapons during a presidential visit to send a message about their rights, this man one of about a dozen people with guns mingling among protesters in Phoenix today. Local police say this was perfectly legal, he did not need a special permit. And no one was arrested. The man did not want to be identified. He explained to a reporter why he was there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I come from another state where open carry is legal, but no one does it, so the police don't really know about it and they harass people, arrest people falsely. And I think that people need to get out and do it more, so that they get kind of conditioned to it.


TODD: Now, something like this has happened before. A man stood outside of the president's town meeting in New Hampshire last week with a gun strapped to his leg, Wolf, so there is a bit of a pattern here. Again, nothing illegal about this occurrence here in Phoenix today.

BLITZER: But it's the pictures right behind you over there, some pretty amazing picture. A lot of us are not used to seeing that.


TODD: And when you see it out there, your eyes just kind of...


BLITZER: The Secret Service, when they see it, they get pretty nervous. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that.

TODD: Sure.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What if some nut takes that gun away from that guy?

BLITZER: That's the nightmare that the Secret Service worries about. There's no doubt about that.

CAFFERTY: It might not be illegal, but it's just plain stupid -- one man's opinion.

The percentage of Americans who say economic concerns are the nation's top problem is actually decreasing, while the number who are worried about health care is on the rise.

And economic issues like unemployment, the deficit, a new Gallup poll shows 60 percent of those surveyed cite an economic issue such as those, the economy in general, as the nation's most serious concern. That is down, actually, from 69 percent last month. The current mood is the same as it was last September, before the bankruptcies and the bailouts all began.

As the debate over health care rages on, 25 percent of Americans now say that is the country's most important problem. And that number is up from 16 percent just one month ago. Gallup points out that this spike in interest in health care is similar to what it recorded when President Clinton had tried health care reform in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, although polls suggest more Americans think the economy is improving, a lot of experts are saying not so fast. Economists warn the recovery will be weak compared to periods that followed previous recessions. And in fact, investors' fears over consumer spending and a decline in consumer confidence sent the markets down by the largest amount in six weeks today.

And as our lawmakers in Washington try to figure out how to pay for a health care overhaul with a potential price tag of $1 trillion over 10 years, it's worth pointing out that the two issues of health care and the economy are obviously very much intertwined.

Nevertheless, we will separate them out for the purpose of this here question: Which concerns you more, health care or the economy? Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you notice, Jack, that some of those health care companies' stocks actually went up today under the assumption that the public option was toast?

CAFFERTY: Yes. It doesn't take long for Wall Street to figure these things out, does it?

BLITZER: No. They move very, very quickly.


BLITZER: Jack, good work. Thank you.

A flight attendant develops debilitating symptoms.



ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: You can't see my hand right now?


CHERNOFF: What do you see?

WILLIAMS: A black spot.


BLITZER: She blames her health problems on the air inside the plane, air that can contain toxic chemicals. What are we all breathing when we fly?

And for years, they have been top secret. Now thousands of pages of documents on UFO sightings are released. New details of alleged close encounters.

Plus, a big city mayor trying to come to a woman's assistance, he winds up brutally attacked.


JOHN BARRETT, BROTHER OF MILWAUKEE MAYOR: It cost him physically and emotionally, and he lost some teeth as a result of it, but he did the right thing.



BLITZER: He was a very good Samaritan trying to come to the aid of a grandmother screaming for help. She was being attacked in what turned out to be a domestic dispute. Then the attacker turned on him, brutally striking him over and over and over with a metal pipe. But that wasn't just any good Samaritan. It was the mayor of one of the country's largest cities, Milwaukee.

Let's go to CNN's Jessica Gomez. She's in Milwaukee working this story for us.

Jessica, how's the mayor, Tom Barrett, doing? JESSICA GOMEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the mayor was released from the hospital here just a short time ago. As you mentioned, he was badly beaten while trying to be a good Samaritan.


GOMEZ: I talked to the grandmother today. She is just scared for her life. She wanted to come say thank you. She told us to relay the message that she is so thankful and so grateful to the mayor.

J. BARRETT: Well, we're grateful that she's OK and that the baby's OK. That was one of those things that we were very, very glad.


OPERATOR: Emergency 911.

CALLER: Yes, I need some police right away.

OPERATOR: What's the problem?

CALLER: My granddaughter's birth father just tried to pull her out of the car, broke my cell phone, threatened to shoot us and to shoot himself.


GOMEZ: A grandmother and her baby granddaughter are OK today because of this man, who happens to be the mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett. I caught up with the mayor's brother John outside the hospital where the mayor is being treated.

J. BARRETT: I know that his wife is in. So, let's just...

GOMEZ (on camera): How is she doing?

J. BARRETT: It's scary stuff. She was actually out of town (INAUDIBLE) It was just -- it's just very, very scary.

GOMEZ (voice-over): The mayor and his family had been walking to his car after the state fair when they heard this.

J. BARRETT: Just before they get to their parking spot, they encounter the situation where this woman is pleading for help. She's like, help me, help me.

GOMEZ: That was the grandmother shouting for help. Police say she was being threatened by the baby's father.

(on camera): You got pretty emotional yesterday.

J. BARRETT: Tom stepped up and did the right thing. He called 911 and tried to calm the situation, protect the grandmother and her grandchild. As a result of his actions, Tom was attacked and struck repeatedly with a metal object.

GOMEZ (voice-over): The attacker, police say, was the father of the baby. Again, Mayor Tom Barrett's brother:

J. BARRETT: He says, I have a gun and I'm going to -- I'm not afraid to shoot everybody here. And then Tom's kids start to cry. So, Tom says to my sister, you know, get the kids out of here. Get the kids out of here.

GOMEZ: Shortly before he became a victim himself, Mayor Tom Barrett was promoting community watch programs.

TOM BARRETT, MAYOR OF MILWAUKEE: They're more watchful then of seeing things that are out of the ordinary in their neighborhood. And if there's problems, they can alert each other.

J. BARRETT: You always think, yes, I'm going to do the right thing, but when the rubber hits the road, that's not always what you do. And in this situation, Tom did the exact right thing.

GOMEZ (on camera): What are you going to tell him when you see him?

BARRETT: I just tell him that I love him.


GOMEZ: And the 20-year-old suspect in this case is expected to be charged later this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a mayor. What a courageous guy.

Jessica Gomez reporting, thanks for that.

You might worry about catching a cold on a plane, but there's something potentially a whole lot worse in the air. CNN is investigating toxic fumes that could be making passengers and flight attendants and pilots sick.

Plus, Governor Mark Sanford's wife has some surprising new comments about his affair with that woman from Argentina. Jenny Sanford apparently thinks he could use a 12-step program.

And why you could have a form of drug money in your own pocket right now.



BLITZER: Even as the remnants of a tropical storm drench the South, a major hurricane may be brewing out in the Atlantic right now. Let's go to our CNN severe weather expert, our meteorologist Chad Myers. He's at the CNN hurricane headquarters.

Tell us the latest forecast, what we're learning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Bill, 90 miles per hour right now, that's the speed at the center of circulation, Wolf. Now, really, here's the U.S. Virgin Islands. This is still South America. We're still talking about a very long way out into the ocean, but it is going to continue to move toward the U.S. and eventually turn. It's that turn that we're so worried about, when does it occur, if at all, and as it turns to the north, does it hit the East Coast, does it hit Bermuda, or miss everything all together?

That three in the middle right there, that means Category 3, 120 mile-per-hour storm. That will get your attention. What has changed all day would be the computer models and how they have moved. That right there, that's Bermuda. For most of the day, the models have been very close to Bermuda.

Late today, now the models have been shifting to the west. Why does that matter? Well, the closer we get to really landfall, the more accurate the models get. And if the models are saying farther and farther and farther to the west, that would make landfall across the East Coast more likely, although the East Coast still not in that cone that we talk about right now, still forecast to move away from the U.S. We will see.

BLITZER: And if it really went west, it could hit anywhere along the East Coast, all the way from North Carolina up to Maine some place.

MYERS: Absolutely. There's a huge high-pressure system right here. It's like a hand keeping a balloon under water, so that balloon keeps going this way. When the high moves away, that balloon can go up. We have to wait for that high to get out of the way so that it does turn and get out of our life.

BLITZER: We're watching it closely with you. Chad, thanks very much.

MYERS: You bet.

BLITZER: It may be a kind of Russian roulette when you get on the airplane. Will you breathe dangerous fumes? Will they make you sick?


CHERNOFF: So, one person could be sitting in a seat and the person next to them could be the one who has these horrific symptoms?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And has a huge response to it, tremors and loss of memory and so forth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the other person could have no effect?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could have no noticeable effect at all.


BROWN: Stand by for a special CNN investigation that could affect all of us who fly. Plus, is President Obama saying one thing to the gay community and doing another?

And UFO sightings revealed. This isn't science fiction. This is from the British government. They have just released thousands of documents.


BLITZER: It's the airplane safety threat you probably haven't heard a whole lot about, until now. The air inside some passenger jets may be poisonous, poisonous. Some people say their health and their lives have been destroyed by breathing toxic fumes while on board planes.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is joining us.

He's got a CNN investigation.

Allan, tell us what you have learned.

CHERNOFF: Wolf, it might seem the biggest health danger from the air we breathe on board a plane might be a passenger sneezing near you, but the fact is, in some cases, the air circulating through the cabin can actually be toxic.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Former flight attendant Terry Williams says she can barely care for her sons because she suffers from a series of mysterious ailments. She complains of debilitating migraine headaches and tremors.

TERRY WILLIAMS, FORMER FLIGHT ATTENDANT: It just feels uncontrollable. I can't stop it from twitching or trembling.

CHERNOFF: And blind spots in her field of vision.

(on camera): Can't you see my hand right now?


CHERNOFF: You can't see my hand right now?


CHERNOFF: What do you see?

WILLIAMS: A black spot.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): The symptoms, Williams says, began near the end of a flight more than two years ago when she says she saw smoke blowing through a vent.

In a lawsuit against Boeing, owner of McDonnell Douglas, which made the MD-82 aircraft on which she was working, Williams claims her disability resulted from inhaling poisonous fumes. Boeing told CNN, "It is our belief that air quality on airplanes is healthy and safe."

(on camera): Half of what we breathe on board a jetliner is filtered, recirculated air. The other half comes through the jet engines. It's pressurized, cooled, and then mixed with the recirculated air.

(voice-over): In some cases, that air, called bleed air, which bleeds off jet engines, can be toxic. If an engine oil seal leaks, aviation engineers and scientists say the fumes can enter the cabin.

Boeing says in its response to Williams' suit, "The potential for bleed air contamination has been known through the aviation industry for many years," though the company denies any responsibility for Terry Williams' illness.

A National Academies of Sciences study in 2002 found contaminant exposures do occur, resulting from the intake of chemical contaminants, like engine lubricating oils, into the environmental control system and then into the cabin.

A neuropsychologist recently study more than two dozen British pilots who claimed they had inhaled contaminated air.

DR. SARAH MACKENZIE ROSS, NEUROPSYCHOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON: They did appear to underperform on tasks that required attention, processing space, reaction time.

CHERNOFF: Angie Estes, who suffers tremor attacks, believes she inhaled such toxins as an airline passenger.

PROF. CLEMENT FURLONG, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: There's a danger of inhaling compounds coming out of the engine if the engine seals fail. And there's very potent toxins that come -- can come on board when the engine seals fail.

CHERNOFF: (on camera): Does that happen?

FURLONG: It does happen.

CHERNOFF: (voice-over): How often?

A British study for the House of Lords found fume events in one of every 2,000 flights. In the U.S. Airlines are required to report fume events to the Federal Aviation Administration. There were 108 such reports last year.

So why wouldn't more flight attendants, pilots and passengers suffer symptoms?

Furlong explains relatively few people will react to the most toxic chemicals. High levels of enzymes in their bodies, which, for some people, can be triggered by prescription drugs, will act on the inhaled chemicals to magnify their toxicity.

FURLONG: If you happen to be taking a medication that turns on the protein that converts the pre-toxin into a very potent toxin, you -- you've got an issue.

CHERNOFF: (on camera): So one person could be sitting in a seat and the person next to them could be the one who has these horrific symptoms?

FURLONG: And has a huge response to it -- tremors and loss of memory and so forth.

CHERNOFF: And the other person could have no effect?

FURLONG: They could have no noticeable effect at all.

CHERNOFF: (voice-over): Terry Williams says she wasn't taking prescription drugs during the fume event. But Professor Furlong says enzyme levels can vary greatly between people, even resulting from the foods they eat.


CHERNOFF: Boeing's new plane, the Dreamliner 787, has been designed without bleed air off the engines. The company says that's only for fuel-efficiency purposes, not because of any concern about the quality of bleed air. Indeed, Boeing and the FAA say the air quality in airplanes is as good or better than that in the average office building or home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How might you know, Allan, if you've been exposed on a plane to this toxic bleed air, as it's called?

CHERNOFF: Wolf, scientists say that you would actually smell a dirty sock smell. That's one of the chemicals contained in the fumes coming off of engine oil that would be consumed by the actual engine. So that -- that's the real sign there.

BLITZER: What if somebody takes off their shoes and has dirty socks?

Then you're going to smell dirty socks. You could get confused. That's a problem.

CHERNOFF: This is a -- this is a more serious smell throughout the entire aircraft. Remember, it's being circulated through the entire cabin. So everybody would smell something there.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

CHERNOFF: And in that case, you want to try to filter it out with some sort of cloth.

BLITZER: Good point.

All right, Allan, good report.

Thank you.

CHERNOFF: Thank you. BLITZER: Files detail -- detailing hundreds of UFO sightings reported to Britain's defense ministry are now being released online.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has been going through them -- Abbi, that are you finding?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, here's one that was released today from 1993 from a terrified Londoner, who reported seeing something "silvery, luminous, like a full moon that hovered motionless over the rooftops." He even included a sketch for the ministry of defense, to show them what he'd seen -- "flashing lights, a flying saucer," he insisted it was.

Now, this was an air ship advertising a car over the skies of London. But this is just one of hundreds of reports that have now been released in the U.K. documenting what Brits thought they have seen over the skies of the U.K. in the '80s and the '90s.

I'll go through some of these and you'd never visit again if you were going to believe all of them.

Let me show you this guy that we found. "It was an alien shaped like a banana, apparently blue, flying through the skies in 1989."

Wolf, I'm no expert, but I think, in some cases, people were just having a laugh.

BLITZER: They were having a laugh. But other sightings apparently were taken more seriously.

TATTON: And one in particular, an incident called the Rendelsham Forest Incident, also known as Britain's Roswell. This was in 1980, shortly after Christmas, when a few American airmen who were stationed in the U.K. reported seeing a UFO that landed right there in front of them. And this is the report that they put out at the time -- that it was metallic, triangular in shape, it illuminated the forest with a white light.

There are pages and pages of documents on this particular incident. But the ministry of defense not able to offer any explanation.

BLITZER: Do the sightings reveal any pattern in what was reported?

TATTON: There's one in particular. Apparently 1996 a big year for aliens in the U.K.


You have to see what was on TV and in the cinema at the time. "The X Files" was wildly popular; "Independence Day," lots of people were going to see that. And apparently, at the same time, everyone was seeing UFOs.

BLITZER: Right. Well, that makes sense. Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

Town hall outrage...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we let Pelosi and people like that direct us, we are doomed. We are doomed.


BLITZER: But it's not just about health care.

What's really behind a lot of that anger?

We're taking a political time out.

And Tom DeLay -- he's "Dancing With The Stars" -- at least training to dance with the stars. CNN's Jeanne Moos is getting ready to take a "Moost Unusual" look.


BLITZER: What's with all the town hall rage?

Joining us now, the former Bush speechwriter, David Frum; Politico's Nia-Malika Henderson; and CNN's Joe Johns.

We'll get to you guys in a moment.

First, some background from our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, at these town hall meetings, members of Congress are being pelted with some angry questions. But sometimes the questions aren't just about health care reform. Some seem to speak to a deeper sense of frustration.

Listen to this question Congressman Alan Boyd of Florida faced today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Why are we inviting 50 million illegal invaders who broke our law into our health care system?

REP. ALAN BOYD (D), FLORIDA: We're not going to do that. That's -- put that (INAUDIBLE). We're not going to do that (INAUDIBLE) out of a bill that I don't support.


BOYD: Jack, we're not going to do that. So I want you to...


If there's one thing, Joseph, that you take away from this meeting, I want you to go home and sleep well tonight. We're not going to do that.


How about troops on the border?

What ammo...

BOYD: Troops on the border?



BOYD: Yes. I think that we're already doing some of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I mean, is this a country for the people, by the people or is it a -- a (INAUDIBLE) for the corporations by the corporations?

BOYD: You know the answer to that.

Thank you.

Joseph, I appreciate it.


YELLIN: One minute Joe is upset about illegal immigrants taking taxpayer resources; the next, he was upset about big business, presumably because they're getting government bailouts regular Americans can't get.

Well, this isn't unusual at these town halls. So, clearly, folks are feeling squeezed from above and from below.

So the question is, what's the rage over health care reform really about -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question.

David, what do you think?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, I think it is really about health care. But it's occurring at -- against the background of a very prolonged economic recession. We've had news this week that the German economy is now beginning to recover rapidly from the German downturn -- a very severe downturn. France seems to be coming out of recession; Canada; Japan. The United States is the laggard.

If you look at people who are unemployed and also underemployed, you get frustrated -- a joblessness rate of 16 percent. The United States may be having the worst recession in the world and the measures the Obama administration has put in place, supposedly to help, are not delivering results.

BLITZER: So the rage over health care, is it really the rage over the economy?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: I think it's probably the rage over the economy. And I think, in some ways, if you were to go back a year ago, these are some of the folks who would have been at the Palin/McCain rallies expressing similar things about overreaching government and problems with immigration and Iraq.

And I -- and I think that -- that, going forward, I think the question is how much are they really going to frame the debate about health care?

It looks like we've seen movement on -- on some of the issues. But going forward (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: If the economy starts to really show some signs of improvement the next month or two or three, does that help the chances of health care reform being enacted?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I've -- I've heard it both ways. There are some people who say, number one, it will actually show that the government can attack a serious problem and do something about it.

On the other hand, if the president looks at it and says we need to push it through just the same, a lot of people can say well, the recession is over, there's not as much urgency. So it sort of cuts both ways and there are a lot of Democratic strategists who are talking about this.

BLITZER: How should the Democrats be dealing with this?

FRUM: Well, this recession goes very much to the pres -- the issue of the president's credibility. He spent $800 billion, added that to the debt on the promise of relief.

Now, top...

BLITZER: That's the economic stimulus package.

FRUM: Right, the economic stimulus. Now, it's hard to know -- to prove that it's not working. But people, if they compare them -- their situation to where they'd like to be and if they compare America to other countries -- including, by the way, Canada next door -- they see things here are a lot worse than in a lot of places. And they look like they're going to stay bad longer.

What was that $800 billion spent for?

Now, you want another how many trillions for health care?

BLITZER: It's the old question, are you better off now than you were six months ago or a year ago?

And a lot of folks are going to be asking that question.

Guys, hold your fire for a moment. We've got a lot more to talk about.

The president calls the law discrimination, but his Justice Department is defending the Defense of Marriage Act -- just one of the issues angering his gay and lesbian supporters and a lot of other folks, as well.

Plus, they called him "The Hammer" on Capitol Hill, but will Tom DeLay disday -- display a lighter touch when he appears on "Dancing With The Stars?" CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look.


BLITZER: We're back with David Frum, Nia Malika Henderson and Joe Johns.

Let's go back to Jessica Yellin to give us some background.

There's a very sensitive subject the president is focusing in on right now.

YELLIN: That's right, Wolf.

And sometimes in Washington, you know, folks say one thing, but do another.

Is that what's happening with the Obama administration and gay rights?

Remember when he promised this?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have stated repeatedly that don't ask/don't tell makes no sense. We are going to overturn it.


YELLIN: There he was talking about don't ask/don't tell. And six months into his term, he hasn't touched it. And now, today, there's gay marriage. The administration's latest moves have the gay community outraged and confused.

Today, the Obama administration filed court papers defending the federal ban on gay marriage. Now this is the second time the Obama administration took that same position in this case. Last time, President Obama's attorneys compared the ban on gay marriage to laws prohibiting incest and child molestation.

This time, the president and his attorneys backed away from that position, saying the ban on gay marriage is discrimination and should be overturned, but they plan to do that in Congress, not in the courts.

So now, some of the president's supporters are asking, when will he make good on his campaign promises?

The question today is does President Obama have the political will to deliver on his promises to the gay community?

BLITZER: Nia, you cover the White House.

What's the answer?

HENDERSON: Well, I think the question is, is he going to use his political capital that way?

And so far, it seems like he's going to wait on -- on the Congress. And what's happening here is in both houses, the House and the Senate, there are people who are kind stepping up to take this on.

In September, the Senate is finally going to meet to discuss this. And the feeling there is that they're really going to be able to frame the debate for the Omama -- Obama administration and they'll go forward from there.

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of disappointment in the gay and lesbian community right now that -- at least, like don't ask/don't tell, he hasn't even started the ball moving in terms of eliminating that.

JOHNS: There certainly is. Among the problems for the president is he's already got this huge policy war on one front over health care.

Does he want to launch into a cultural war, on the other hand, over gay rights?

We know what happened in the Clinton administration when he took on don't ask/don't tell. It was a real distraction for the administration in its first term.

So these are things they have to think about. Then you have to think about the Pentagon and the hawks in the Congress who say there are issues that you have to work on here because of the sort of intimate setting that military people are involved in on -- you know, when they're in the Air Force, the Marines, the Navy, what have you.

All kinds of issues that are very difficult for the president to wade in right now, given the other things he's dealing with.

BLITZER: How should the president deal with this, because he certainly has a lot on his plate right now?

FRUM: He should stand back. And this is a moment to remember. The president is not the ruler of the country. He presides over one part of the government. And the society can come to moral consensus on important issues and the president can step back from them and say this is not something I -- I don't need to watch every sparrow talk. BLITZER: Despite all of his campaign promises?

FRUM: He shouldn't have made so many campaign promises. Now, he's got a problem because he's in camp -- he's in a mode where the promises are politically impossible to keep and it also created an expectation of his intimate involvement with issues that are social issues that are going -- that society will find it own balance on.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation in the weeks and months ahead.

Guys, thanks very much.

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

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

Much more tonight on the apparent disarray in the White House over the president's health care initiatives. The administration insisting President Obama still supports a public option, even though top officials suggest the idea could be abandoned.

What's going on?

Also, Americans quickly losing patience with the president as the showdown over health care is looming. Those Americans expressing anger and frustration in town hall meetings all across the country. The White House and its supporters, however, striking back -- and hard. We'll have the story.

New controversy over your Second Amendment right to bear arms -- gun control advocates simply furious that a man with a rifle turned up outside the president's event in Phoenix, Arizona today. That will be the subject of one of our Face-Off debates tonight.

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: Thanks, Lou.

We'll see you in a few moments.

Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What concerns you more these days, is it health care or is it the economy?

Jeff writes from Georgia: "It's hard to separate the two. Health care reform will help to energize the economy. If people had more money to spend because they're not worrying about thousands of dollars in payments to health insurance providers, well, that will be a great stimulus plan. While it might not completely fix the economy, it will be a good step forward."

Ryan says: "The economy can thrive without public health care. But without money, how can there be health care? Hospitals, drugs, doctors -- all expensive and cannot be sustained without funds. Although I am in full support of public health care, I think it's undeniable that without a good economy, public medical services would be nearly impossible."

Dan says: "With the deficit at record levels, it ought to be the main concern for everyone," adding, "health care will just increase the deficit. I know, the Democrats are claiming they'll come up with a deficit-neutral plan, but nobody ought to believe that. Let's try to fix the current upside down spending policies that have only gotten worse under President Obama and then we can have a serious debate about adding to that spending."

A.C. in Los Angeles: "Health care is more important to me because the working poor -- millions of them -- are being locked out of the system and it's become a disgrace. We've got to get health care costs under control in order to help our economic recovery."

Rosalynd in Florida writes: "Both. Health care reform is as much an issue of economy recovery as jobs and other economic elements. Out of pocket costs for co-pays and insurance premiums have increased, so that affects one's bottom line, just like food, gasoline and utilities. If you lose a job today, the benefits go with it and very few Americans can afford the high cost of a COBRA health plan."

Lori writes: "The economy is making me sick. Wait, I can't get sick. I don't have any health insurance."

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.

I will look for you tomorrow (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Jack, you have, usually, a pretty good sense of what's going on.

If you look ahead two months, three months, four months down the road, Obama health care -- it's passed or is it like Clinton health care?

CAFFERTY: I -- it doesn't. I don't know. My -- my instincts suggest that this thing may be in -- in its death throes. If -- if we get anything, it's not going to be what they started out to try to do. It will be some sort of watered down version, would be my guess. I mean, I don't know. But I -- the sounds coming out of the administration over the weekend indicated to me that -- that the opponents of this thing have got them on the run.


All right, Jack, thanks very much.

We'll see what happens.

It's a huge, huge story. He used to be known as "The Hammer" -- we're talking about Tom DeLay. He soon may be known for his tango. The former House Republican leader is about to go on "Dancing With The Stars."

And protests and election preparations coming up in our Hot Shots.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press.

In Russia, emergency workers sift through the wreckage after a police station was destroyed by a suicide bomber.

In the Philippines, protestors and security guards go head-to- head as demonstrators rally against high fuel prices.

In Afghanistan, two boys and their donkeys transport ballot boxes to a remote village for the upcoming presidential election.

And in Indonesia, tourists celebrate Independence Day by taking part in sack races.

"Hot Shots" -- pictures worth a thousand words.

When Tom DeLay was the House Republican leader, he was known more for strong-arm tactics than for fancy footwork.

So who would have guessed he'd become the newest cast member of "Dancing With The Stars?"

We're not making this up.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a closer look at DeLay's "Moost Unusual" career move.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not since conservative commentator Tucker Carlson good-naturedly made a spectacle of himself...


MOOS: ...has the political establishment licked its lips in so much anticipation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen new stars will take center stage. Tom DeLay...


MOOS: The former Republican House majority leader, also known as "The Hammer" -- no relation to this hammer.


MOOS: The other hammer Tweeted the news that he'd be "Dancing With The Stars" and set up a Web site, "Dancing with DeLay." His daughter told "The Washington Post" he's already lost 12 pounds working out. In anticipation...

KARL ROVE: Get out his gun because he's shooting quail.

MOOS: ...we bring you dancing with the politicos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't believe he hasn't hurt himself yet.

ROVE: Look at him jumping up and down and ready to hop.

MOOS: From Karl Rove's rap...


MOOS: the first couple's slow dance...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's a six.

MOOS: ...we let the people judge.


MOOS: For instance, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright giving Macarena lessons in the U.N. Security Council.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A brilliant show of international dance diplomacy.

MOOS: Or Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live."



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She bites her lip while she's rocking, OK? She's a dirty girl.

MOOS: One of the lowest scores went to an almost legendary clip of President Bush.


MOOS: The question is, can Tom DeLay disprove the Republicans can't dance notion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happens at the Republican Convention is bad, bad, Leroy Brown. The Democrats, bad, bad Leroy Brown.

MOOS: Barack Obama's moves were blown away by Michelle.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, oh, very nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The moves -- oh, those were some serious moves.

MOOS: For perfect tens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd love to answer the first lady.

MOOS: The hand over mouth reaction...


MOOS: ...was reserved for CNN's very own Wolf Blitzer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He kind of reminded me of a bobble-head doll and I like the way they move.

MOOS: But CNN commentator Roland Martin got the highest marks.



MOOS: And a 10,108 for Roland Martin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's sitting down and he's dancing better than the last 12 people we saw.

MOOS: And when all else fails, let your partner sit on you.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Good luck to Tom DeLay.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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