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President Obama Set to Address Schoolchildren; President Obama Fires Back at Health Care Reform Critics

Aired September 7, 2009 - 18:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, your children, President Obama's intention. We have the school speech that some parents fear, even Laura Bush is talking about the controversy in a CNN exclusive.

Naked parties with American contractors at the American embassy in Afghanistan. This man helped expose it and now he is paying a huge price. You'll hear how exclusively on CNN.

And Dial M for Murder. Perhaps more shocking, one way to stop it may put other lives at risk.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, here it is, about 1,200 words, 18 minutes long. We have pored over President Obama's speech he will deliver tomorrow to students going back to school. And some of you don't want your children to hear it, suspecting the president wants to brainwash them with his agenda.

Well, that's just silly, says the education secretary. And now that we have the speech, is it what critics fear, or is this just made-up criticism of the president?

Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

Ed, what are we learning about this speech?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, what's interesting is the White House was pretty muted in their pushback in recent days as conservatives teed off on the president and charged that he was going to be playing politics, indoctrinating kids and the like.

But, today, we saw the White House swing back and I'm hearing that tomorrow they're going to push back even harder.



HENRY (voice-over): Fired up at a Labor Day rally in Ohio, the president also teed up Tuesday's speech to schoolchildren.

OBAMA: And, yes, I'm going to have something to say tomorrow to our children, telling them to stay in school and work hard, because that's the right message to send.

HENRY: But aboard Air Force One, his press secretary lashed out at critics.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a sad state of affairs that many in this country politically would rather start an "Animal House" food fight, rather than inspire kids to stay in school, to work hard.

HENRY: The pushback came after days of conservatives whipping up controversy, including radio host Mark Shannon in Oklahoma, charging the president wanted to indoctrinate kids.

MARK SHANNON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This president is a community organizer. He is organizing Hitler Youth. He's turning their minds.

HENRY: A lesson in the modern presidency. The commander in chief no longer gets the deference of office. Liberals like author Tim Wise believe the president's critics simply shoot first and ask questions later.

TIM WISE, AUTHOR, "BETWEEN BARACK AND A HARD PLACE": The problem is, it's not just modern media. It's this particular president. He's been vilified from day one as un-American, subversive, dangerous, destroying the country. And when you say that, that means anything he does, if he wants to talk to kids and tell them to stay in school, it must be brainwashing.

HENRY: The administration initially helped fuel this controversy by distributing lesson plans that appeared to be political, asking students to write about how they can help the president.

The White House backtracked on those plans and has now released an advance copy of the president's speech to show it's not so controversial. Mr. Obama will stress personal responsibility, telling kids, "If you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself; you're quitting on your country."


HENRY: Now, one top Obama aide told me the president wants a civil debate, but the first word in that is civil. And basically advisers to the president do not believe that conservatives have been civil in this debate. And as this aide told me, they believe conservatives actually pushed political extremism. And they're going to push back after the president's speech tomorrow. They're not going to have the president do it in the classroom, but his staff is going to push back pretty hard -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Ed.

Well, turning to an embarrassing episode for the White House that could spark even more problems. Now that the man, the green jobs czar, rather, Van Jones has resigned amid controversy, the fact that there are so many czars in the Obama administration is fueling a raging debate. Our Mary Snow joins us live here.

And what are we learning about the number of czars in this administration and the kind of power they hold?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big question is how much power they hold. There's a big question about how many czars there are exactly.

But Republican critics say Jones' resignation puts into focus the issue of czars. And it comes just as the president today named Ron Bloom as senior counselor for manufacturing policy, which equals a so- called auto czar.


SNOW: The backlash continues over Van Jones' resignation on Saturday as special adviser for green jobs. He came under scrutiny by conservatives for controversial remarks.

But the last straw proved to be questions asked about why his name appeared on a 2004 petition asking for a probe into whether high- ranking government officials deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur. Jones denied ever holding those views.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander says it's not Jones, but rather czars in the administration that's the real issue, as most don't face the vetting process that appointees do through Senate confirmation.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: So, when you take all these people and make policy close to the president and the White House to people who don't go to the Congress and aren't approved by the Congress, you're just adding fuel to the fire by those who think Washington is taking over everything.

SNOW: Republican Congressman Mike Pence is calling for a congressional hearing before any more czars are appointed.

Historians say czars reporting to the White House date back to FDR and they extend to both parties. Richard Nixon, for example, had an energy czar. George H. W. Bush appointed the first drug czar.

Some counts put the number of czars in this White House at 30, but that's under a very broad definition. A more conservative count would easily half that number.

But David Gergen, who has advise the both Republican and Democratic presidents, says the number is still high.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: We've never seen anything like that before. We have seen powerful White House aides in past administrations. We have not seen this many powerful White House aides.

SNOW: But he says there's merit to having czars.

GERGEN: The president does need someone to bang heads together to coordinate a very complicated executive branch.

SNOW: Some political observers say expect Republicans to push the czar issue.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's a great argument for a party that is trying to portray a president as pushing too, far too fast on too many advanced topics.


SNOW: And the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato you just saw there adds, while this administration may have more czars than in the past, it is also dealing with challenges that the country hasn't faced in decades -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And you make an important distinction between czars and those who require Senate confirmation in your piece.

SNOW: Exactly.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Mary.

Another potential problem for President Obama, getting health care reform without a prominent like Kennedy in the Senate to help. One member of that political clan is taking his name out of consideration for the now Massachusetts Senate seat. That is Joe Kennedy. He is deciding not to run. Of course, the former Democratic congressman is the nephew of the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

The deadline on President Obama's offer to Iran approaches, but Iran is thumbing its nose. President Obama, along with European allies, have given Tehran until the end of this month to warm to talks over its nuclear program. But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country will not stop enriching uranium and will not negotiate over its nuclear rights. Iran could face stiff new international sanctions.

And as President Obama deals with Iran's defiance, another foreign policy challenge. Israel stands in the West Bank. For the first time under new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel approved the building of hundreds of new homes in the West Bank. That is according to Israel's defense ministry. The U.S. is adamantly against Israeli settlement expansion on lands claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

Well, just as President Obama is taking it on the chin from the right, her husband took it from the left.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that it's fair that Obama is criticized as a socialist?

LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: I have no idea whether it's fair. Do you think I thought it was fair when President Bush was criticized? Not really. (LAUGHTER)

BUSH: So, I guess not.


MALVEAUX: An exclusive one-on-one interview with Laura Bush, the former first lady speaking candidly to CNN's Zain Verjee about the new residents of the White House and how she thinks Michelle Obama is doing.

Also, the president is losing support among white voters. Why? And what can he do about it?

Plus, prison inmates using cell phones to arrange drug deals, escapes, even murder -- now a controversial new plan to crack down.


MALVEAUX: He talked about naked orgies, hazing parties, and other humiliating activities. The man who blew the whistle on lewd conduct at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is back home.

He sat down for an exclusive interview with CNN's Paula Newton.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, I spoke to Terry Pearson, the whistle-blower, just hours after he landed in Liverpool, England, his home, after being in Afghanistan for several months. He said the behavior that he witnessed, that his staff witnessed was absolutely disgusting.

NEWTON (voice-over): Fresh off a plane from Afghanistan, Terry Pearson says he's back home in Britain much sooner than he wanted to be, after blowing the whistle on behavior he says was shocking and undignified.

TERRY PEARSON, WHISTLE-BLOWER: It was just downright stupid, some of the things they were doing, and insensitive.

NEWTON: Pearson was a contractor working as an operations supervisor at Camp Sullivan in Afghanistan, housing quarters for U.S. Embassy guards on contract.

The camp is now under a U.S. State Department investigation for inappropriate conduct stemming from charges and explicit photographs involving U.S. Embassy guards, images of nudity, alcohol abuse and what appears to be sexual hazing. Pearson says he saw it for himself a couple of months ago, was disgusted, and said no one should have tolerated it.

PEARSON: You would not try to enforce a sexual deviant way of thinking on someone. You may have a laugh and a joke and do something, drop your trousers just for a laugh, but when you start encouraging people to drink alcohol running off someone's body parts (INAUDIBLE) a bit over the top.

NEWTON: Pearson says he wrote e-mails to his employer, R.A. International, and complained to supervisors of ArmorGroup, the contractor that shared the camp and employed the guards featured in the pictures.

PEARSON: And his answer to it was, they're just letting off steam. And I think that's what they -- the way they looked at some of the incidents that happened.

NEWTON: But the incidents were investigated by the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight and reported to the State Department. Several guards have now been fired or resigned. Management is being replaced.

But, as a whistle-blower, Pearson says he wasn't after mass firings, just a change in behavior. He says back at Camp Sullivan, he was made to feel he had done something wrong. And so he resigned a few days ago, only to ask for his job back hours later. It was too late. He was on a plane home within hours. His employer, R.A. International, says Pearson resigned of his own free will, and -- quote -- "Although we are now aware of the alleged events at Camp Sullivan, the employee's resignation was not associated with this matter."

NEWTON (on camera): How much does it bother you right now? You're the whistle-blower. You're the person who said, this is not right. And now you're out of a job.

PEARSON: If -- if I could turn back the clock and have the chance to do something different, I don't think I would. I think I would still end up doing exactly the same thing, because I think people's dignity, dignity at work and respect at work, is more important than having a job yourself.

NEWTON: Pearson says he will continue to help with the State Department investigation. But he's still stunned that doing the right thing could have such dire consequences for his own life.

(on camera): Terry Pearson still sticks to his allegation that he feels management was trying to cover up what happened, not necessarily the State Department, he says, but contractors eager to continue to get work from the U.S. Embassy trying to somehow cover this up -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: Thank you.

The other company at the heart of the incident, ArmorGroup, has not commented on the allegations, but its parent company, Wackenhut, says it is fully cooperating in this investigation.

Well, convicted killers and drug dealers should not be able to order more killings and drug deals from inside prison, but some of them are with the help of something virtually all of us have: cell phones.

CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has more -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, contraband cell phones have made it possible for prisoners to continue criminal activities from behind bars. And corrections officials are searching for ways to stop it.


MESERVE (voice-over): Using dogs and searches, Maryland corrections officials ferreted out for than 900 contraband cell phones last year. Across the country, inmates have used cell phones in extortions, escapes, drug deals, even murders. In 2007, a Maryland prisoner used a cell phone to order a hit on a witness who was about to testify against him in a homicide case.

GARY MAYNARD, MARYLAND SECRETARY OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES: We want to use all the technology available to detect, to jam, to discover.

MESERVE: Jamming is illegal, but some other technologies recently got a tryout at a closed prison in Jessup, Maryland. One product claims to detect a cell phone every time the phone is used or even turned on.

KATHY HOFFMAN, COMPUCAT USA: And then they will know exactly where that cell phone is and they can go and retrieve it.

MESERVE: Another company says its product can selectively block unauthorized calls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tried twice on basically an AT&T network, and it didn't go through.

MESERVE: If legally authorized, it can also collect information about calls and even record them.

JAY SALKINI, TECORE NETWORKS: If Mike is calling John and Mike sends tell them, kill Sam, we know exactly who said what.

MESERVE: Some say a more effective solution would be to jam all cell phone calls in and out of prisons. But critics say that could block legitimate users nearby, even emergency calls.

JOHN WALLS, CTIA-THE WIRELESS ASSOCIATION: Maybe that 911 call for somebody who needs urgent help right away right now, and that would be tragic if that call was blocked by jamming technology.


MESERVE: Congress is considering changing the law banning jamming to make exceptions for prisons. Many corrections officials favor that idea, but say they would like an array of tools to fight what has become a pervasive and dangerous problem -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jeanne.

A dangerous surprise could delay the reopening of a landmark used by hundreds of thousands of commuters each day.

Also, a major outbreak of swine flu on a university campus, school officials scrambling to cope with more than 2,000 suspected cases.

Plus, plucked from the water 30 hours after the ship she was on sank, one woman reveals how she survived.



MALVEAUX: A crack in San Francisco's Bay Bridge throws a carefully planned construction project off schedule, leaving anxious commuters checking for updates online.

Let's go to our Abbi Tatton.

And, Abbi, when is this bridge going to reopen? What do you know?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Suzanne, the official countdown clock still says 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, 10 hours from now, 5:00 a.m. local time in San Francisco. But don't believe everything you see online.

This is a huge construction project, a closure of the Bay Bridge which has been long planned and meticulously documented online for commuters. They built a Google Earth 3-D image to show people exactly what they're going to be doing over the holiday weekend. They have got a Twitter feed constantly updating people showing them what's going on.

But authorities didn't count on this, the discovery of a crack in the bridge which is going to require a monumental effort to repair it before tomorrow morning. And now commuters that have been relying on this Web site are finding that it has got all the information they could possibly ask for, except for the answer to the question, when is the bridge going to reopen?


BART NEY, CALTRANS SPOKESMAN: This is going to take what it takes. As soon as it's done, we're going to open the bridge. And that's about all we can say right now. I can tell you all of the engineers, all of the contractors, everybody putting anything into this, right down to the janitorial staff, is doing everything they can do to get the bridge open as soon as possible.


TATTON: It's now a race against the clock before work resumes tomorrow morning for people in the Bay Area. There's another update expected 90 minutes from now -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Abbi, how many people is this going to affect?

TATTON: It's -- there's a huge volume of traffic that crosses this bridge each day, 280,000 vehicles each workday. That's roughly the same volume as the George Washington Bridge in New York City. And commuters in the Bay Area are being told that, for tomorrow morning, they better have a plan B -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Abbi.

President Obama strikes back, targeting health care critics. He says this to a crowd earlier today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have heard all the -- all the lies. I have got a question for all those folks. What are you going to do?


MALVEAUX: Can sharp pushback like this stop the president's falling job approval rating?

Sarah Palin is among the loudest critics of President Obama. So, why is she publicly saying, good job, Mr. President? Palin, even Karl Rove are praising the president. Could that hurt him?

And Laura Bush reveals exactly what's on her mind, a CNN exclusive. She reacts to claims that President Obama is a socialist.


MALVEAUX: President Obama essentially sends this message to his critics: Put up or shut up. The president says he is fired up, ready to see health care reform. And today he let out some of the sharpest pushback that we have heard in the entire health care debate.


OBAMA: I have got a question for all these folks who say, we're going to pull the plug on grandma and this is all about illegal immigrants. And you have heard all the lies. I have got a question for all those folks. What are you going to do? What's your answer? What's your solution?



MALVEAUX: President Obama may feel he needs to come out swinging in this health care debate. The bruising criticism of his intentions are causing him a serious problem. Some white supporters are not happy with the way that he's doing his job.

Our political panel is standing by, but let's begin with our own Brian Todd. Tell us what's behind this.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, this is a constituency he worked hard to attract last year. And polls show the president is rapidly losing support among whites. But analysts say this is not a reflection of any personal or racial issue.


TODD (voice-over): At a critical moment in his ambitious early-term agenda, the president gears up for a vital health care speech on Wednesday.

OBAMA: Come together as a nation, pass health insurance reform now this year.


TODD: As this debate heads towards its crescendo, the president finds his support weakening among those he courted heavily last year.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that, since his 100-day mark in April, Mr. Obama's approval rating among whites has dropped 16 percentage points. In a survey just out from the Pew Research Center, he's dropped 11 points among white Democrats since April.

(on camera): Do you see a particular dynamic among white Democrats kind of separate from the overall dynamic among whites who dropped in the polling?

ANDREW KOHUT, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: Among white Democrats, it's the conservative and moderate Democrats where we've seen somewhat of a decline in Obama's ratings. And that may have to do with their concern about how health care reform will affect them.

TODD: (voice-over): It's that concern, analysts say, that makes this polling much less a racial referendum on President Obama. They say white voters simply make up large sections of two groups that are very worried about the economy and health care, two groups were the president's approval ratings have slid dramatically since April and are now below 50 percent -- Independents, who were critical for him in November, and older voters.

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Their support has dropped, largely because of problems with health care reform, talk about Medicare cuts. You know, this is a key group in midterm elections because they actually turn out to vote.

TODD: It's a group that analyst Stu Rothenberg says the Democrats can't afford to lose next year. And for Democrats to keep them, those voters will have to believe the economy has turned a corner and health care reform has worked for them.


TODD: Does that present this as a make or break time for the president?

The analysts we spoke with say it's more likely just one of a handful of those times in these early years and they point out Ronald Reagan's numbers were about what Obama's numbers are at the same moment in his presidency and Mr. Obama is ahead of where Bill Clinton was overall at the same time -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brian.

And there was another group among white voters where he's slipped considerably since April, is that true?

TODD: Yes. Among white women, he's fallen about 12 percentage points in one poll since April. They were a key voting bloc for him last year. And analysts say the president and the Democrats have got to hold onto them, as well, in next year's midterms.

Let's bring in the best political team on television -- former Bush speechwriter, David Frum; CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; and Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones," David Corn.

I want to start off first by asking the question here, is it a misnomer here to say that he's losing support among white voters when it looks like the group that he's losing support among is focused on the Independents and older voters -- and Brian Todd brings that up?

Are we injecting some sort of racial element into this, when we actually ask the question about how he's doing with white voters -- Candy?


Well, I think, also -- I think by and large, what we're looking at is, first of all, those who would not support President Obama -- who would not support his policies because he's African-American didn't vote for him in the first place. So I suspect these are not -- that those sorts of people are not falling off, they never were there. And you also have to look at the fact that, by and large, minorities are heavily Democratic. And those would be the very last to move.

So what you are looking at is women very concerned about health care and you're looking at conservative and moderate Democrats. So it's basically what we've seen, frankly, on Capitol Hill, particularly with the conservatives and the moderates.

So I don't think this looks like -- just looking at the numbers -- a matter of race.

MALVEAUX: David Corn?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES": Well, I think what's interesting here, too, is that I think it's -- a lot of these things are performance- based. I'm not sure that people are reacting to -- to specific policy prescriptions. But I think in the last month or two, it has looked as if Barack Obama is in command of the health care reform process. If he were and he was showing -- coming across as a stronger leader on this front, I think a lot of people would be riding along with him.

I think he's, you know, gone back and forth on certain issues and people have not gotten a strong sense of leadership from him on this crucial matter. Instead, they're looking at Congress. And Congress is making it seem to be a mess. And that is tainting Barack Obama, who people expected to be in charge of Washington once he got here.


DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: After the November 1994 debacle election for him, President Bill Clinton called Ben Wattenberg, a famous centrist Democrat, and said, how did it happen that I got myself pushed all the way over here?

I always intended to be a centrist and yet ended up, in my first two years, being represented as somebody much more left-wing than I really am.

Barack Obama's problem was he's sort of the opposite. He ran in the general election campaign as a much more centrist person than he really was. And now the country is getting to know him better. He did win, he's got a mandate. But I think a lot of people are having buyer's remorse, especially since the economic conditions remain so grindingly bad.

MALVEAUX: Candy, how serious is the problem, at this point, to see that kind of slip?

CROWLEY: Well, it certainly weakens, a bit, anybody's hand when their poll numbers go down. And, obviously, the hand he's playing right now is health care.

But those numbers go down. Those numbers can come back up if he makes good decisions on health care, if he makes good decisions on Afghanistan, he's going to look great come December. But it -- so much depends on what happens between now and then. I mean polls go up and polls go down and they're down right now.


CORN: And of course the -- the economy is going to be crucial to any job performance rating. And, you know, he's gotten in place an economic program, the stimulus bill. People argue to what degree it's had an -- an impact, but certainly, a year from now -- or early next year, there will be a lot more evidence on which to judge his economic policies and people will see in what direction the economy is heading.

So I think right now, there's reasons for people to say it's not moving in the right -- in the correct direction quickly enough. By January or February, there will be really good evidence whether it is or isn't.

FRUM: These polls really matter. You have seen -- we've seen, in the past few days, the speaker of the House of the Representatives absolutely defying the president, insisting there will be a public option as far as she's concerned. I can't remember...


FRUM: ...when a speaker has defied a president of her own part, as...

(CROSSTALK) MALVEAUX: David, we're going to have to...


CORN: Barack Obama.

MALVEAUX: I want to thank you for a moment.

We've got to pause here very quickly for some breaking news that Deborah Feyerick has -- Deb, what do you have for us?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

FEYERICK: Well, Suzanne, here's what we can tell you. It involves a plane that was en route from Orlando to Tampa. It was forced to make an emergency landing at about 5:38, just a short while ago. Emergency slides had to be deployed -- you can see that there -- on the runway. One hundred twenty-nine passengers and crew were on board. You can see them exiting there. There were no reported injuries, we're being told.

But apparently the pilot reported a smoke alert in the lavatory -- in the bathroom. And so they wanted to check that out. The plane was put on an -- on a faraway runway. Firefighters there responding.

Again, it does not appear that anybody was hurt. But that plane did have to make an emergency landing. It is Southwest Airlines Flight 1245 from Orlando to Tampa. All of the people on the plane were able to debark safely -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: I understand that's -- that's video from our affiliate, WTSP, that we are seeing there. Obviously, an emergency landing -- a Southwest plane that was -- was traveling from Orlando to Denver, I believe. And it looks like it was an emergency landing. One hundred twenty-nine passengers. No reported injuries at this time.

Well, thank -- thank you, Deb.

Sarah Palin and Karl Rove -- they are among a group of conservatives offering support for one of President Obama's policies.

But could that hurt the president on another front?

The best political team on television is standing by.

And is it fair for critics to criticize President Obama as a socialist?

We put that question to former first lady, Laura Bush, in a CNN exclusive interview.


MALVEAUX: We're back with the best political team on television -- David Frum, Candy Crowley and David Corn.

But let's begin with our CNN's Debra Feyerick -- hey, Deb, kick it off.

FEYERICK: Hey there, Suzanne.

Well, you know, President Obama might have been on vacation the last two weeks, but Republicans didn't take a break from criticizing him. It started with outrage over his health care plan and ended with complaints over his choice of Van Jones as the green jobs czar. That, of course, resulted in Jones resigning. And conservatives are teaming up again today.

What's the issue now?

Well, actually nothing. They're getting together in support of President Obama.


Well, Karl Rove, Sarah Palin and others, including our own David Frum.

What are they saying?

They're expressing support for President Obama's decision earlier this year to send additional troops to Afghanistan and urged him to continue to provide necessary resources to the military effort there.

But does President Obama really want the backing of people like Sarah Palin?

That might not sit well with his liberal allies.

So here's the question -- could it hurt President Obama's politically to have conservatives speak out in favor of his policy -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Deb.

Well, let's kick it back to our best political team.

I want to start off with David Frum, since I cut you off the last go around here.

What do you think?

FRUM: Well, I -- I did sign the letter.


FRUM: So I'm in kind of awkward spot in talking about it.

I don't -- I hope it doesn't hurt the president. The letter is meant to support him. And it's meant to make sure that Afghanistan, at least we follow the kind of bipartisan approach that we didn't always have with Iraq, that was -- that would have been very helpful in Iraq, and to show the president, look, a lot of people who are going to criticize you at home are going to be with you when you make some tough decisions abroad, including making sure that this commitment is backed with real resources. It's not enough just to say you're going to fight this war, once you're committed you have to give it everything it needs.

MALVEAUX: Candy, does it hurt the president politically to have conservatives on his side on this particular issue?

CROWLEY: Conservatives are the ones who are on his side. At this point, you are looking at poll numbers that show that almost three quarters of Democrats oppose this war.

So where's his support coming?

It's coming from Republicans. It's coming from conservatives. We see about 30 percent -- only about 30 percent of Republicans oppose the war. So this is politics on its head. This is politics where he's with -- the Republicans with him, and, by and large, the Democrats are not.

So -- and I also see this letter -- and David can correct me if I'm wrong -- this is also a bit of a warning. I mean, yes, it's support, but it's also, well, Mr. President, you said this and you said that and it's really critical that you keep doing this, because we are reaching a point where the president is going to have to decide, after he gets his reports from the Pentagon, how much more he's going to expend in both U.S. troops and in money and, in fact, what's the mission?

So we're coming to a real critical point in Afghanistan. So the timing of the letter and the way it's worded says to me, OK, here are your supporters, we're behind you, don't forget what you said.

MALVEAUX: David Corn, does he risk alienating the liberal base in his own party?

CORN: Well -- well, he does. But I -- you know, this letter is very similar to letters we saw before the Iraq War, written by neo- conservative foreign policy types, you know, basically asking for war in Iraq. And the only difference now is that you also have Sarah Palin on the letter.

So I think what happens is it makes it look -- it makes it harder for conservatives if you have Sarah Palin and Karl Rove, who was there during the last administration, when Afghanistan was under resourced, as this own letter says, it doesn't really help the cause of people like David Frum here, and others, who are trying to, you know, keep the president on the side that they want to see him on.

And it looks like, you know, the neo-conservative crowd, which is a brainy group, is being diluted when you add Sarah Palin to it.


FRUM: Well, I -- I didn't sign the 1998 letter. But this is about a war we're fighting now. It's not about a hypothetical war. It's about a war that -- that's underway that the president has just reinforced. So what we're talking about is well, how do we go from -- from where we begin?

And where this president begins is with a commitment...


FRUM: ...that he inherited, but that he also affirmed -- that he wants to fight this war...


FRUM: Let's win it.



MALVEAUX: We've got to leave it...


MALVEAUX: Got to leave it there.

David Frum, Candy Crowley, David Corn, thank you very much.

CORN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Dick Cheney gets a vote of support.


LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that Vice President Cheney has every right to speak out. And I appreciate that he's defending the Bush administration and his administration.


MALVEAUX: Former First Lady Laura Bush sits down with CNN's Zain Verjee for an exclusive interview -- a rare and exclusive interview.


MALVEAUX: A rare and exclusive interview with Laura Bush -- the former first lady talked one-on-one with CNN's Zain Verjee about life after the White House, criticism of President Obama and about the woman who succeeded her as first lady.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How do you think Michelle Obama is doing?

BUSH: I think she's doing great. I think she's doing very well.

VERJEE: What strikes you when... BUSH: Well, I saw her...

VERJEE: You've been there...

BUSH: I saw her at the funeral -- Teddy Kennedy's funeral last week -- and I asked her about the girls and how they're doing. And I know what she's doing. You know, it's what every woman who moves there does and that's try to make it a home, both for her husband, who's the president, and for her children.

VERJEE: President Obama is giving a back to school speech and there's so much controversy over that.

Do you think it's a good idea?

BUSH: I think that there is a place for the president of the United States to talk to schoolchildren and encourage schoolchildren. And I think there are a lot of people that should do the same and that is, encourage their own children to stay in school and to study hard and to try to achieve the dreams that they have.

I also am happy that it seems like they have not -- the Obama administration has not backed off the accountability part of the No Child Left Behind act that President Bush worked with Ted Kennedy on to pass. And I think that's really important.

We want every American child to have the very best education possible. And I think that's what those -- that legislation really demands.

VERJEE: The -- the issue that's been raised is, by many conservatives, they've been critical of this. They say that this is a dangerous socialist plot, it's indoctrinating school children. Some parents say, no, our kids are staying home. They're not going to listen to the president talk about education in schools...

BUSH: Well, that's their right.

VERJEE: And what do you...

BUSH: You know, that's -- that certainly is the right of parents, to choose what they want their children to hear in school. But I think, really, what people were unhappy about were the guidelines that went out with the -- with the -- before the speech went out. And I think those have been changed. And I think it's also really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States.

VERJEE: Do you think that it's fair that Obama is criticized as a socialist?

BUSH: I have no idea whether it's fair.

Do you think I thought it was fair when President Bush was criticized?

VERJEE: Not really.

BUSH: So I guess not. VERJEE: Well, what President Bush was criticized -- he was called by many on the left a fascist.

What kind of advice would you give the president...

BUSH: Well, I think...

VERJEE: ...President Obama in how to handle the situation?

BUSH: Well, I wouldn't give him, you know, any advice. I don't think I need to give him any advice. But I think it's just going to happen and people know it. And our country is, you know, because of our very really safe Congressional districts everywhere in our country, we're -- we're polarized, in the sense that people are -- a lot of people are on the right, a lot of people are on the left. And we've seen that for the last eight years certainly. And we're still seeing it. And that's just a fact.

And I think it's important for everybody who's elected -- Republicans and Democrats and Independents -- to do what they can to really be bipartisan and to come together. And it's difficult. You know, I know that was one of the real disappointments for my husband when he moved to Washington, because in Texas, when he had worked with the Democrat speaker of the House and the Democrat lieutenant governor, they had been able to really come together for what was best for our state.

And he was disappointed that that was not the way it worked out in Washington. And we're still seeing that, I think. And, you know, that's -- that's just a fact of life in American politics. And I think people -- I'm sure President Obama didn't expect it to be that way, but you know, it is that way. And I think all of us need to do what we can to try to come together on issues.

VERJEE: Do you think he's doing a good job, President Obama?

BUSH: I think he is. I think he's got -- you know, he's got a lot on his plate. And, you know, he's tackled a lot to start with. And that's probably made it more difficult.

VERJEE: Has it been difficult that Vice President Cheney has been so outspoken about so many issues where President Bush deliberately decided to -- to not speak out?

BUSH: I think that Vice President Cheney has every right to speak out. And I appreciate that he's defending the Bush administration and his administration. I think that's important. And I think there's place for that.

But George, as a former president, chose not to speak out. He doesn't think that -- he thinks he -- that the president deserves the respect and the no second-guessing on the part of the former president. He didn't like it when he was criticized by former presidents and he -- he's just -- that's what he's chosen to do.

But it's certainly Vice President Cheney's right to say whatever he wants to say. That's one of the really great things about the United States, you know, is...

VERJEE: It doesn't bother the president...

BUSH: ...people can have a role (INAUDIBLE)...

VERJEE: ...that he's out there being critical?

BUSH: No, not at all. No of course not.

VERJEE: And is he still in touch with vice -- former Vice President Dick Cheney?

BUSH: Sure.

VERJEE: And they talk often?

BUSH: Occasionally.


MALVEAUX: The former first lady also told Zain Verjee that she and her husband are both spending time working on his presidential library, writing their memoirs and furnishing their new Dallas home.

Well, how do you get up close to a bear?

In one state, you need to get creative. We're going to explain.


MALVEAUX: Here's a look at Hot Shots.

In India, children practice yoga.

In Vietnam, a woman shreds strands of noodles in Hanoi.

In Afghanistan, boys take a bath under a pipe in the streets.

And in Texas, a dog named Captain wears a Houston Astros jersey for dog day at the ballpark.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Well, a pile of sticky sweets and a boatload of patience -- researchers are finding that that's what it takes in their effort to track the comings and goings of bears.

CNN's John Zarrella has those details.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): For researchers John Cox and Wade Ulrey, trapping bears is about appealing to their sweet tooths.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, they didn't get the pastries. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't get the pastries, no.

ZARRELLA: More often than not, they do. The bear gets the goodies, while at the same time managing not to get caught in one of Cox and Ulrey's elaborate traps or snares.

JOHN COX, UNIVERSITY RESEARCHER: Since this project has been going on for five years now, we have a -- we have several bears with advance degrees in tracking.


ZARRELLA: For three days...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That one hasn't even touched the pastries, either.

ZARRELLA: -- twice a day, we watched as Cox and Ulrey checked traps baited with donuts and other sweets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The little guys have got to stay one step ahead of the bigger (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to try to be smarter than the average bear, so to speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew you were going to say that.

ZARRELLA: This bear hunt ends empty-handed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This looks like a young one.

ZARRELLA: Weeks later, another try. This time, a young bear is caught in a snare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, usually the thing that you'll see is a little bit of an abrasion where they've rubbed some of the fur off or maybe a cut.

ZARRELLA: He climbs a pine tree trying to escape. The researchers wait for the bear to come down. A tranquilizer is attached to the end of a long pole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We've got him. Let's back off.

ZARRELLA: The University of Kentucky scientists are studying the movement of Florida's black bears, how they get from place to place, the corridors they travel that need to be set aside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's wonderful, because the bears are telling us what habitat we need to protect.

ZARRELLA: The bears are fitted with a collar that, every 15 minutes, sends text messages back to the university, telling the researchers exactly where the bears are. This one, a female, is too young. She won't get a collar. And when they pass the reader over the back of her neck, a microchip is detected. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a bear that we've captured before.

ZARRELLA: As wilderness dwindles, bears -- simply trying to get from one place to another -- inevitably run into humans. A 300 pound male is captured in a community west of Fort Lauderdale; another dumpster diving in Fort Myers.

Our young black bear is awake now. She takes off into the forest -- her home.

John Zarrella, CNN, Highlands County, Florida.



Lisa Sylvester is in for Lou -- Lisa.