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President Obama Set to Deliver Health Care Reform Address; Plane Hijacked in Mexico

Aired September 9, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Two hours from now, President Obama will try to push the reset button on health care reform. He's raising the stakes by addressing a joint session of Congress, along with the American people.

CNN will bring you every word live. Stand by for that.

The breaking news this hour, we have just received some excerpts from the speech. Here is some of what we know. The president is expected to push for a government-run health care option as the preferred way to achieve reform. But he won't draw any lines in the sand on what must be in the reform bill or threaten to veto any specific proposals.

We're told Mr. Obama will address support for medical malpractice reform, something Republicans and doctors have been urging, and he will push lawmakers to pass legislation by the end of the year.

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

Ed, tell us a little bit more about what we're going to hear, the White House having just released some excerpts from this 40-minute-or- so address.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We just got those excerpts.

One thing that is significant, for the first time, the president will use the phrase the plan. He's putting a plan on the table for the first time in this debate. But also, as we have been hearing earlier today, he's going to be reaching out to Republicans, while at the same time getting aggressive with them, sort of challenging them, saying it's time to step up, it's time to meet him halfway.

He says in the excerpt -- quote -- "If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open. But know this. I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution, not this time, not now."

Now, elsewhere in the excerpts, the president will also in this speech sort of refer to the August town halls, talk about what he says was a blizzard of charges, countercharges and confusion. He's a little bit of scolding here, saying -- quote -- "The time for games has passed. Now is the time for action."

We're hearing from aides that is going to be the major theme tonight in this speech. We have heard the debate. It's now over in his eyes. It's time to act -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, stand by.

White House officials are confirming that the president will try to keep the momentum going after his speech tonight by attending a health care rally in Minneapolis on Saturday.

And no matter what President Obama says to Republicans tonight, there's new evidence that Democrats may try to pass health care reform alone, that word from a key Senate Democrat who's been scrambling to try and craft a bipartisan compromise.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, Senator Max Baucus, he explained what his next strategy, what his next moves are.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and those moves are pretty dramatic.

He formally announced today that he is going to have legislation on the table next week and he will have votes starting the week after with or without Republicans. Now, this is a direct result of what we have been reporting for a couple of weeks now, and that is that the White House and Democratic leaders are basically done, and they're ready to move on, and they have been putting intense pressure on Senator Baucus to do the same thing, because they simply don't think that, after -- even though they have had months and months of discussion among three Republicans and three Democrats, they don't think that Republicans will really sign on.

So, that's why Max Baucus decided to go ahead and do this, because of that pressure from the White House.

BLITZER: One key Republican, Dana, is Olympia Snowe of Maine, a moderate Republican. She's been involved in these negotiations. You had a chance to speak with her today.

BASH: That's right. She actually and a couple of other Republicans said that they -- even though Max Baucus made this move, she actually doesn't think it's the end to bipartisanship; she still does think that the critical Senate Finance Committee can come up with a bipartisan plan. But she is the White House's best hope for a Republican to sign on to any health care proposal.

And that's why what she says is very important. And she told me, Wolf, that she really wanted the White House and actually urged the White House for the president to make very clear that a public option is not going to happen because that would reflect the reality in Congress. Here's what she told me. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: I would hope they would take it off the table. That's one of the things that I have urged, frankly, with the White House, and so that we can move the debate forward.

I think it would lessen the concerns among the American people about a government takeover, a government-run medical in-house system, which is what we're hearing, so prominently today.

Understanding it's very important on his side, but it is another way of achieving that consensus sooner.

It might accelerate the process and build momentum and refine the debate, and moving it in a different direction than reinventing the wheel on the public option, where there's no support among Republicans, and even, you know, there's not support for it among Democrats in the House and in the Senate.


BASH: Now, Senator Snowe also acknowledged for the first time what CNN reported last week, and that's that the White House has reached out to her for her idea to hold off on a public option, only have it as a so-called trigger, if market reforms on the insurance companies to increase competition and lower health care costs don't work in the next couple of years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

This could be just what the president ordered for President Obama only two hours before his speech, a show of support from the American Medical Association. Today, the nation's biggest group of physicians sent an open letter to the president and to the Congress urging them to reach a deal on overhauling the health care system.

A doctor turned congressman is urging the president to get more Republican input on fixing the medical system. Representative Charles Boustany of Louisiana gives the GOP response to Mr. Obama later tonight.


REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY JR. (R), LOUISIANA: Frankly, there really have not been any discussions between the White House and House Republicans. And that's of some concern to me. I'm quite frustrated to be frank with you because we do have a number of very substantive ideas that we could put forth.


BLITZER: Boustany says there are lots of things both sides can certainly agree on in the debate over health care reform, but he says a government-run option isn't one of those ideas.

A nod to the late Senator Ted Kennedy on Capitol Hill tonight. His widow, Vicki Kennedy, will be a guest of the first lady, Michelle Obama. And Kennedy's three children and two of his grandchildren will watch the president from the House speaker's box. Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy Jr., Kara Kennedy and her two children will all among the speaker Nancy Pelosi's guests.

Stay with CNN tonight for complete coverage of the president's speech, the Republican response by Representative Charles Boustany, and other reaction. I will be back here, along with the best political team on television, at 7:45 Eastern, before the president's speech. That is set to begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Jack Cafferty is here right now for "The Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Times are a little tough economically speaking, but if you have got a few extra dollars in your pocket, here's an idea. How about plunking it down to have dinner with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin?

Ebay is auctioning off a chance for dinner for five with Palin and her husband, Todd. It will cost you, though. Bids start at $25,000. Proceeds go to a veterans charity called Ride 2 Recovery. It gives bicycles to wounded vets and organizes rides for them as a way to help them in their recovery.

There are some restrictions, though -- actually quite a few. The winner has to pass a background check. Palin gets to choose the time of the dinner, the place of the dinner. It will last no longer than four hours, could be less, though, at the sole discretion of Sarah Palin. And she gets to bring along up to three guests, and you have to pick up the tab. Some things never change, do they?

The dinner is described by the charity as the chance of a lifetime, adding that Palin is -- quote -- "quite simply one of the most talked about people in the U.S." The value of the dinner is described as priceless. So far, they have got about a dozen bid, the highest one $37,000.

Now, if dinner with Palin is out of your price range, there's also the a you could have lunch with Karl Rove. Bids for that start at $7,500.

The lunch for three with the man President George W. Bush affectionately called turd blossom will take place at a steak house in Washington.

Here's the question: What would you give to have dinner with Sarah Palin or Karl Rove? Go to and enjoy yourself.

BLITZER: People are going to have fun with this question.

CAFFERTY: Oh, they already have.

BLITZER: I can't wait to get the response.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack Cafferty, with "The Cafferty File."

It's a terror nightmare not seen in decades. Men hijack a plane, and if their demands are not met, they threaten to blow up the plane. We will have the latest on how it all ended.

And did you hear the ones about government death panels and bureaucrats coming between you and your doctor? Amid claims about health reform, how do you know what's real and what's a political fear tactic?

And nature unleashes watery hell. Rain leads to floods and that leads to dozens of deaths. You're going to find out where and just how bad things are.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're learning new details of that hijacking drama that played out at the airport in Mexico City just a couple of hours ago, with American passengers among those briefly held.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now with more on what's going on, including some breaking news.

Brian, what are we learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Mexico's secretary for public security has just briefed reporters on this situation, just updated reporters, and what he has said is that a 44-year-old Bolivian drug addict and alcoholic was responsible for this hijacking, this official telling reporters just a few moments ago that the suspect told authorities that he did this because this date, September 9 of 2009, had some kind of significance for him.

That is all the details we have got. We hope to get more on this a little bit later. Here's a look at how this situation played out earlier as many of us watched it unfold in real time.


TODD (voice-over): A hostage drama unfolding on live television around the world, this chilling image confirming the worst. Hijackers have seized control of AeroMexico Flight 576, a 737 bound from Cancun to Mexico City.

Somewhere en route, they display a cardboard box, claiming there's a bomb inside and threatening to blow up the plane unless Mexican President Felipe Calderon speaks to them. It's not clear if the hijackers knew it, but Calderon was at the airport preparing to depart when the incident began. He immediately canceled his trip.

The plane parked on a remote section of tarmac is surrounded by police and soldiers as helicopters buzz overhead. Then a hopeful sign. Passengers begin leaving the plane, walking slowly down the stairway, some clutching their carry-on luggage as they cross the tarmac to waiting buses.

Mexican authorities decide now is the time to act. Troops storm the jet and moments later, eight suspects are marched out at gunpoint, the ordeal over in just about one hour.

Some passengers, especially those farther from the cockpit, say they didn't even know what was going on and described the entire incident as peaceful. Others say they were frightened.


TODD: No one was hurt in the entire incident. We now have some video to show you of the cardboard box being detonated by Mexican authorities. You can take a look at that now.

CNN affiliate TV Azteca reporting this package did not contain explosives. They're just detonating that as a precaution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you know, Brian, about the hijackers?

TODD: Well, we did have that detail just a moment ago, and I will repeat it, that the Mexican secretary for public security saying that at least one of these hijackers was a 44-year-old Bolivian drug addict and alcoholic who told authorities that he did this because this date had some kind of significance to him.

Mexican media had reported earlier that there were Bolivians and Colombians among the different hijackers. Bolivia's ambassador had previously denied that. But now we have got these new details from the Mexican secretary of public security. A U.S. law enforcement official familiar with the situation told us earlier that a total of eight people were arrested, but again waiting for more details on all of that.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

Happening now around the world, over at the United Nations, Security Council members are now looking forward to a milestone in their relationship with the United States. President Obama will serve as the chairman of the council on September 24. He's the first U.S. president ever to do that. He will lead a summit-level session on nuclear proliferation.

The U.S. has the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month. It happens to coincide with the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, when world leaders come to New York City.

In Europe, new evidence that President Obama is repairing America's image across the Atlantic. A new poll shows -- get this -- 77 percent of Europeans support Mr. Obama's handling of foreign policy.

Back in 2008, only 19 percent of Europeans approved of President Bush's handling of international affairs. The director of the Transatlantic Trends survey says the Obama bounce in Europe, he says, is huge. More than 13,000 people from a dozen European countries were polled.

Iran has given the United Nations a new package of proposals on its nuclear program, this as the United States warns it has serious concerns that Iran already can't produce a bomb or is close to it. U.N. nuclear watchdogs are studying Iran's proposals right now. They're meeting in Vienna to discuss Iran's controversial nuclear program. Iran says the program is to produce power, not a weapon.

In northwestern Turkey, flash floods triggered by two days of torrential rains. At least 31 people are dead. Homes and businesses are under water. Cars have been swept into the see. The region has gotten more rain in two days that normally falls over a six-month period.

And as the 9/11 anniversary approaches, CNN deploys its resources to the Afghanistan war zone. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, goes on an emergency mission with U.S. combat flight medics.

And Bernard Madoff's beachfront condo and Manhattan penthouse are on the auction block, but did the convicted swindler live as well as he might have from his ill-gotten gains?

Plus, teenaged tennis sensation Melanie Oudin finds her fame only takes her so far -- why she had to leave a New York hotel.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Democrats get a lot of money from trial lawyers. Some people wonder if the president will have the guts to stand up to them tonight.


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Well, this isn't a matter of guts or not guts. This is a matter of trying to deal with the problems facing our health care system.


BLITZER: Just ahead, I will press the top Obama adviser, David Axelrod, about the prospects for malpractice insurance reform.

Plus, stand by for more excerpts from the president's big health care speech. That's coming up as well.

And he was one of the most moving, if not the most moving, speaker over at Ted Kennedy's funeral. Now his son, Teddy Jr., is talking about his own future and whether he might actually run for office. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, President Obama's health care speech to Congress just an hour-and-a-half away. Many Americans will be listening. They will be looking for clarity after being deluged for months with information and disinformation about the reform plan. We're going to cut through the noise, try to bring you the facts on what's being proposed.

And the president's senior adviser answers pointed questions on a critical element of the Democratic-led reform plan. The public insurance option, exactly where does the president stand?

And our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta with an incredible story. We're going to take you to the front lines of the war in Afghanistan, where lives are on the line every day, many of them saved by medical heroes -- all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

One of President Obama's biggest challenges tonight is to clear up a lot of misconceptions about health care reform. As we get closer to his address before a joint session of Congress, let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, you have been looking at some of the myths about reform and the realities.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, there have been so many controversial accusations during the health care debate and not all of them true. So, we took a look at the three we have been hearing the most. Claim one, illegal immigrants will be covered.


QUESTION: Why are we inviting 50 million illegal invaders who broke federal law into our health care system?


YELLIN: That was from a town hall in Florida. The truth, Wolf, the bills that have come out of committee in Congress do not provide coverage for illegal immigrants. In fact, the House bill explicitly says there will be no coverage for illegals.

The one exception, illegal aliens would still be able to get treatment only in emergency rooms, just as they can today, no change.

OK, the next accusation, that there will be death panels in any health reform bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What it says is, as a 74-year-old man, if you develop cancer, we're pretty much going to write you off, because you're no longer a working citizen who will be paying taxes.


YELLIN: That was a town hall in Pennsylvania.

Wolf, there are no death panels. No government entity will decide who gets life-saving care in any of the bills we have seen. Now, some critics say even without an actual death panel, they're worried, where will all the promised Medicare savings come from?

One fear that the critics have is that the government will cut costs by cutting care to the elderly. But administration officials say, hey, that's not going to happen. Instead, they say Medicare savings, they will come from other changes, like more efficient systems and preventive care.

And that leads us to the next claim, and the last one we will talk about tonight. Health care reform will not add to the deficit. That's President Obama's claim.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Number one, it's got to be deficit neutral. This has to be paid for, because, in the past, some of the health care plans that we put forward have not been paid for.


YELLIN: OK, this one is a big unknown.

The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan bill price tag evaluator, has found that most of the bills actually do add to the deficit, but that some of the proposed savings for Medicare could lead to huge savings. So they just can't say for sure.

Fiscal conservatives are pushing for the bill to cost less. And, Wolf, expect the president to hit the savings theme hard tonight.

BLITZER: We certainly expect for that and we will be bracing for that.

Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Setting straight myths and realities are surely on the president's mind. So, how might he clear up questions about some of the biggest issues in this debate?


Joining us in our "Strategy Session" is the senior presidential adviser David Axelrod.

David, thanks very much for coming in.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Hey, Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: Is the president -- because we're getting a lot of conflicting information -- going to say absolutely that the so-called public health insurance option, a government-run health insurance company that would compete with the private health insurance companies, is he going to say that that's absolutely essential?

AXELROD: Look, Wolf, what he's going to do is deliver a plan that will bring security and stability to people who have insurance, that will help people who don't have insurance get it at a price they can afford and bring down the cost to the whole system.

He believes the public choice, within that pool that we're going to create for uninsured Americans and small businesses, would be helpful in terms of bringing competition and choice. He thinks that would be good for consumers and he's going to make the case for that.

But he's also going to make the point that this is not -- this is an ends to a means. It's not the essence of this debate. It's a part of the -- it's one of the tools and there are other ideas out there to bring competition and choice that are -- that are worthy, as well.

BLITZER: Including what they call the cooperative option, a series of health insurance cooperatives that wouldn't be the public option, but would be some -- something in between?

Is that -- is he going to get into a detail like that and say he likes that idea?

AXELROD: He will acknowledge the fact that -- that there is that idea. There's the idea of putting a trigger on the public option so that it goes into effect at some date when it's clear that -- that a market is uncompetitive. There are a number of ideas.

But what is very important is that we have the kind of competition and choice that will help consumers. In many states in this country, there's one insurer that dominates the entire market. In Alabama, one insured dominates 87 percent. In North Dakota, there's one insurer that dominates...

BLITZER: So why not break down...

AXELROD: ...the market almost completely.

BLITZER: Why not break down the state barriers and let all of these insurance companies compete nationally without having to simply focus in on a state by state basis?

AXELROD: Because we are trying to do this in a way that advances the -- the interests of consumers without creating such disruption that it makes it difficult to...

BLITZER: Why would that be... AXELROD: move forward.

BLITZER: ...disruptive? If Blue Cross and Blue Shield or United Health Care or all of these big insurance companies, they don't have to worry about just working in a state, they could just have the opportunity to compete in all 50 states?

AXELROD: But insurance is regulated at the -- at this time, Wolf...

BLITZER: But you could change that. The president could propose...

AXELROD: ...state by state.

BLITZER: The president could propose a law...

AXELROD: That is not...

BLITZER: ...changing that.

AXELROD: That is not endemic to the kind of reforms that we're proposing or that...

BLITZER: Why not?

AXELROD: ...that...

BLITZER: Why not?

AXELROD: ...we think -- we're proposing a package that we believe will bring that stability and security to people, it will help people get insurance, it will be -- it will lower the costs and that can pass the Congress. And that has to be the test. We're not into a symbolic expedition here. We're trying to bring real relief to hardworking middle class people in this country. We believe the plan that we've outlined will do that.

BLITZER: Because I want to move on, but if the president wanted great competition -- greater competition -- he could say let's change the law and let these health insurance companies compete nationally.

AXELROD: I'm not sure, Wolf, that that would -- that that would end the debate that you asked me about in the first place. And, you know, I think that the idea that he's proposal will promote that. Others have other ideas. But they are not central.

What's central here is that we get fundamental insurance reforms that will protect people, put a cap on their out of pocket expenses if they have preexisting conditions, make sure they get insurance if they get sick, make sure they don't get dropped off insurance and will a pool where people who can't get insurance today -- you know, if you don't have insurance through your employer, it costs you three times as much to get insurance today. Most people can't afford it. Most small -- small businesses can't afford to insure their employees. A lot of people won't start a small business because they can't leave their insurance.

Our plan would help cope with that.

BLITZER: What will the president say tonight about what's called tort reform or caps on medical malpractice lawsuits?

The Democrats, as you know, they get a lot of money from trial lawyers. The Republicans say the Democrats, including the president, they don't have the guts to impose a cap on medical malpractice lawsuits.

What specifically will the president say about that tonight?

AXELROD: Well, this isn't a matter of guts or not guts. This is a matter of trying to deal with the problems facing our health care system.

Look, the president has acknowledged many times that there is some validity to the medical malpractice issue and that he has heard a concern from doctors about having to practice defensively. And so not -- so tonight he's going to address that issue and he'll have some proposals that relate to it.

BLITZER: Will the trial lawyers will upset?

AXELROD: I don't know, we'll see. But the point is, though, that everyone is going to have to give a little here to -- to deal with what ails our system, to bring the costs down, to help people get security and stability if they have insurance and to help people get affordable insurance if they don't.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, the president's senior adviser.

A farewell tribute to the most trusted man in America -- former President Bill Clinton chokes up. He tells how the late Walter Cronkite showed him some important kindness during his impeachment and the Monica Lewinsky affair. Stand by for this.

And CNN in the war zone -- our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes off on an emergency flight with combat medics in Afghanistan.


BLITZER: More of the breaking news this hour -- brand new excerpts from the president's health care address before Congress later tonight.

Let's talk about it with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; and David Gergen.

He says at one point the time for bickering, David, is over -- over.

So what does that mean?


BLITZER: The bickering?

GERGEN: Yes. But it's going to last for about an hour.

Listen, this speech, we all know, is a critical speech for his presidency. It's a critical speech for health care. And I think the really interesting test -- the important test tonight is whether he can reverse the tide of public opinion -- not whether he can win people in the hall, but whether he can reverse the tide of public opinion. Because whatever happens in the negotiations, I think most of us would feel that when they come to a final vote, if the public is against it, it's unlikely to pass.

BLITZER: Tens of millions of Americans will be watching. And if he does achieve that goal, it could influence the legislative debate.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree with David totally. This is an outside game. He's really not playing to those folks in the chamber, because most of them have already made up their minds about what they're going to do and what they want to.

He's talking to a couple of groups here. Senior citizens, who he's been losing on this issue -- very, very important for him to get them back, convince them that he's not going to cut their -- their Medicare.

Also, people who have access to health insurance and who believe their medical care is good -- he's got to convince them that this is the right thing to do both for them and the country. And for them, he's going to say, we can't sustain this economic course and it's going to, in the end, lower your health insurance bills.

BLITZER: Gloria makes a great point, because the seniors, a lot of them are so worried about their own health care, much more than a younger people. And if you're a young person and your grandfather or grandmother or grandfather says I'm really worried about this, you're going to be worried, as well.

GERGEN: Absolutely, Wolf, because there's -- there is, in paying for this, we all know, there are going to be several hundred billion dollars taken out of Medicare over time. And that's what's really worrying the seniors, as well as these new people coming into hospital care and they're worried they're just going to crowd them out.

But I think what's hard is and why this is so challenging for him is, it's not as if he hasn't spoken on this issue. He has given -- he's appeared in prime time twice. He's given over two dozen speeches on this subject and -- and yet he hasn't really -- he's sort of lost control of the debate in the process.

So tonight, it's got to be that big speech, you know, when you sink the long shot, the three pointer from 30 or 40 feet.

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: If people can't -- that will be very hard to do. I think it's hard to turn opinion around when it starts to swing...


BLITZER: Listen to what he said on "Good Morning America" this morning and what he said earlier in the week. Compare and contrast.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, it is frustrating. It doesn't completely surprise me. I certainly think that I've tried to maintain a tone and my White House has tried to maintain a tone that is open to all comers, that is not sharply partisan.



OBAMA: You've heard all the -- all the lies. I -- I've got -- I've got a question for all those folks.

What's -- what are you going to do?

What's your answer?

What's your solution?


OBAMA: And you know what?

They don't have one.


OBAMA: Their answer is to do nothing. Their answer is to do nothing and we know what that future looks like.


BLITZER: All right, a very different tone in those two comments...

BORGER: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: ...only two days apart.

BORGER: Well, the -- the second clip you showed is candidate Obama. And that's exactly what he's doing. He's now campaigning for health care reform. You're going to hear him tonight saying listen, if you Republicans have some better ideas, put them on the table, because I'm willing to listen to them.

But there is a sense, both from the president and his staff, that they did let this get away from them because they have too ambiguous in what it is they supported. And that's what they need to clear up tonight. And I was told by a senior White House adviser, you're going to know what the "it" is tonight. We're going to tell you exactly what it is we support. If it's not as specific as lots of people expect, it could be a problem.

GERGEN: Well, we've had -- we've got about 600 words of excerpts. And I must say, what we have so far is very familiar. Now, I would assume that what we're still to get is going to have some surprises in it. But I do think he's got to go -- he's got to break new ground. I do not think this can be a speech that we all conclude we've heard most of that before.

BLITZER: Yes, we certainly have. And let's see if he breaks new ground later tonight.

Guys, you're not going away. Stay with us.

Let's get to our Political Ticker, though, right now.

Former Bush White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is said to be seriously considering running for Ted Kennedy's vacant Senate seat in Massachusetts. Veteran GOP strategist Ron Kaufman says Republicans are pushing Andy Card to run, but he hasn't made up his mind yet. Card is a Massachusetts native.

Senator Kennedy's son, Teddy, Jr, says he's thought about running for office and following in his dad's footsteps. But he said today he has no plans right now to do that. Kennedy spoke about his father's commitment to the labor movement at the Connecticut AF of L-CIO convention. The senator's eldest son gave one of the most moving and memorable speeches at his father's recent funeral.

Mel Martinez says he's leaving the U.S. Senate with some regrets and some proud accomplishments. The Florida Republican delivered a farewell speech on the Senate floor today. He's giving up the Senate seat 16 months before his first term was scheduled to end. He was only the second immigrant in the United States Senate.


SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA: A tremendous sense of gratitude for the opportunity to give back to the nation that I love. And it's not the nation of my birth, but it's the nation of my choice, which is a significant difference. It is a great nation and the proud tradition of welcoming immigrants to this country is one that has been throughout the history of this nation.


BLITZER: Florida Governor Charlie Crist appointed his former chief of staff, George LeMieux, to replace Martinez. He'll be sworn in tomorrow.

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

As the 9/11 anniversary nears, CNN deploys to the war zone. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, flies an Afghanistan emergency mission, racing against time with combat medics. This is an incredible story that's just come in.

Stand by. You're about to see it.


BLITZER: Right now, CNN is in the line of fire in Afghanistan. Our correspondents are out in full force bringing you unparalleled coverage from the war zone, as the eighth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, coming up this Friday.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, himself a neurosurgeon, went on an emergency mission with combat flight medics in Afghanistan.

This is a story you will see only -- only here on CNN.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One hour -- that's it. Minutes began ticking down when word came that two men, both civilians, about 40 miles from here, were critically wounded. Without help, they could bleed out and die.

NICK DABNY: If they're an urgent patient, we have time lines where we need to be moving extremely fast, I mean within minutes. We don't mess around.

When that bell rings, we run and we get out here, we get all geared up and we take off.

GUPTA: Right now, we're in the MediVac's (INAUDIBLE) helicopter. It's traveling about as fast as I've ever traveled in one of these, 1,200 feet off the ground. We know there are two (INAUDIBLE) that were dispatched. That's all we know. We don't know how bad off they are. (INAUDIBLE).

It's what these guys do. I'm with an elite medical dust-off crew. The name goes back to Vietnam. It was a radio emergency call signal to chopper in the combat flight medics.

They are a go team -- 24/7, they steal moments of time to save lives.

DABNY: Our job is to get people up and out of here in seconds, because seconds count.

GUPTA: For Nick Dabny (ph) and his team, most missions are about rescuing American military.

DABNY: They're leaving this gate every day on foot and in vehicles knowing what's out there. And if they can do that, then I'll do anything to make sure that they get out all right.

GUPTA: But today, the call came to save Afghan locals. It's a critical part of the U.S. strategy to win the hearts and minds of Afghan civilians. We are now into the golden hour.

Most trauma patients who die of blood loss die within an hour unless we can stabilize them. So we have 20 minutes to fly.


GUPTA: Twenty minutes to get the patient on the chopper, 20 minutes to get the patient to a hospital. It's one golden hour.

DABNY: So when I get on the aircraft, my mind set is airway, oxygen, stabilization of the chest -- fine tuning this down to the very last second is the most important thing.

GUPTA: But with the dust-off teams, the challenge is not just getting to the patients, but about getting out of there safely.

DABNY: This is probably the most dangerous place in Afghanistan.

I couldn't see any security out yet. And here we are coming into this area, it's -- you know, you can see it when we're going, there's six foot high corn fields and water and mud everywhere -- not very many ways for us to get out of there real quick if we had to. So I was worried.

GUPTA: For so many reasons, that fear is always looming. Dabny surprised me when he pulled out this picture. These are his three boys.

DABNY: I've discussed it with my wife. I've even written a letter for her to read to him -- to them. When it comes to that kind of thing, you hope that they're proud of you. It's one of those things you try not to think about.

GUPTA: (on camera): That must have been a tough letter to write, though.

DABNY: It was. It was a real -- in fact, it probably took me about -- you know, being a dad is probably the most privileged and most important job you could ever have, no matter what you do. I mean you know this. And, at the same time, showing them what being a man is really about, you know, fighting for your country, sacrificing for your country -- things that are more important than, you know, staying home and -- and avoiding this kind of thing.

GUPTA: As for today's mission, Dabny and his dust-off crew cheated the clock again. It's now clear the two men they flew in to save will survive their terrible wounds.


BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta reporting, risking his life for those reports.

We want to thank him very much and all of our colleagues.

A lot more live reporting coming up from Afghanistan later tonight on "A.C. 360," 10 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. We're covering the world for you as only CNN can.

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we're counting down to the president's prime time speech on health care. The White House, top Democrats hoping this will be the what they call "a game changer" that they desperately needed.

Also, we'll have new details on what the president plans to say; also the most contentious part of the debate so far -- should the president's proposals be all about a government-run health care option?

We'll have answers in our Face-Off debate tonight.

And the loudest and most influential voice in this debate -- the will of the people being heard in the nation's capital, a departure from the norm.

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs, thank you.

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

CAFFERTY: This question this hour is actually rooted in a charity auction that's going on on eBay for the benefit of wounded veterans -- what would you give to have dinner with Sarah Palin or Karl Rove?

Lots of e-mail.

Bill in Michigan: "Wouldn't giving up my time be enough? It already sounds like a bad date, leaving me stuck with the tab. I can, however, tell you I would like to bring along a geographer, an historian and a translator as my guests. She might learn something."

Missy in Phoenix: "The auction is for charity. Give the woman credit. I think for a good cause, most people would be willing to give what they could and isn't it always fun to have a lively conversation with somebody who you might not agree with ideologically? Pity the person who only dines with people they agree with."

Fitz in New York writes: "I'd rather have surgery, but thanks anyway."

Dustin in Temperance, Michigan: "I'd rather -- I'd prefer eating dinner with Palin so I could have deep conversations about how she can see Russia from her house. We could also talk about her new book, "Governing for Dummies." The highlight of the evening, no doubt, would be listening to Palin try to answer simple questions from the waitress, like, how would you like that steak?"

Teri in Palm Coast, Florida: "You couldn't pay me to have dinner with either one of them. They are right at the top of the list to blame when it comes to what happened to our country -- a liar and an idiot. No thanks."

Robert says: "I'd love to sit down and talk to Karl Rove. I think he would be one of the more interesting people to talk to -- great insight, great instincts. In fact, I just put in a bid."

Karl's $7,500 minimum; Sarah's $25,000.

Diane writes: "I wouldn't let my dog eat dinner with either one of them."

And the most tasteless e-mail comes from Tom in Pennsylvania, who writes: "What would I give? My dead mother-in-law."


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

Some of you are impossible. BLITZER: It's for a good cause, though. Let us know what the final numbers are.

CAFFERTY: Well, it is a good cause. Yes, about scandal. Money for wounded...


CAFFERTY: There are, I think, 12 bids on the Sarah Palin dinner and the -- and so far, it's up to like $37,000. (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: I want to know whether our viewers, for that cause, would get to have dinner with Jack Cafferty and Wolf Blitzer.

CAFFERTY: I'm not available.

BLITZER: For a good cause like that, you would have dinner with them.

CAFFERTY: Well, I would. Yes, actually. Sure.

BLITZER: Let's see.

CAFFERTY: All right. Bye.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CAFFERTY: See you later.

BLITZER: An emotional moment for President Clinton -- he shares some thoughts about how Walter Cronkite helped him get through a trauma in his life -- the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment. That's next.


BLITZER: America's most powerful political figures and journalists said farewell today to Walter Cronkite.

Among the tributes, this revealing one from former President Bill Clinton.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought he was an astonishing man. And I liked his inquiring mind and his caring heart. And he did something for my family that was so simple and even now it's hard for me to talk about. But in a very tumultuous summer in my personal life, in 1998, we were on Martha's Vineyard and Walter Cronkite picked up his phone and Betsy and I want you to go out sailing with us. We'll just go out and sail around. He said, somebody might take a picture of it, but so what?

I'll never forget that. At the time, I could have done with a picture with Walter Cronkite.




CLINTON: I say this because that wasn't something that he had to do. He was 81 years old. He was a good man.


BLITZER: The summer of '98 was when Bill Clinton faced the Monica Lewinsky affair and impeachment.

Walter Cronkite died in July at the age of 92.

I'll be back in less than an hour for our coverage of President Obama's health care speech. That starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks for watching.

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