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THE SITUATION ROOM

Racism and President Obama; Senate Health Care Plan Unveiled

Aired September 16, 2009 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But we begin with some truly shocking comments from the former President of the United States Jimmy Carter, and it's causing an uproar all over this country, suggesting that some people oppose President Obama's policies because of the color of his skin.

And Republicans, some other folks as well, are outraged and they're attacking Jimmy Carter.

Let's bring in our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

It's causing quite a stir out there.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is.

And you know, Wolf, that the subject of race, in particular his race, was always a topic that President Barack Obama as a campaigner didn't much like to talk about. He avoided it when he could. But as he learned on the campaign trail, he is now learning in the Oval Office, sometimes you just can't avoid it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Race and politics is a combustible combo and it explodes into headlines when an ex-president lights the fuse, as Jimmy Carter did on NBC.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.

CROWLEY: It's the sort of thing that tends to raise people's defenses. In particular it tends to turn off independents who by nature hate the hard edges of politics. That makes this entire conversation a political loser for a president with an ambitious agenda. The White House wants no part of this.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does not believe that that criticism comes based on the color of his skin.

CROWLEY: As a candidate, Barack Obama understood the political danger in letting his race become a major topic. He avoided it when he could, but race was always a subtext, as it is now in his presidency. CARTER: There is an inherent feeling among many people in this country that an African-American ought not to be president and ought not to be given the same respect as if he were white.

CROWLEY: Framing criticism as racism cropped up several times during the campaign, always leaving bitter feelings. When Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, said during the primaries that Obama would never have gotten as far as he had if he had not been black, candidate Obama pointedly left race out of it.

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that her comments were ridiculous.

CROWLEY: But Ferraro blamed Obama supporters for her hate mail.

GERALDINE FERRARO, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: I have been called all kinds of names. And the attacks are ageist. They're sexist. They're racist.

CROWLEY: And the topic of race even came to haunt Bill Clinton, the so-called first black president.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since. Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I have ever seen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: And that is when those two words, Wolf, as you well recall, fairy tale, launched weeks worth of accusations sometimes on the front page of "The New York Times" that the Clintons were playing the race card.

Now, this has a very similar feel to it now as you talked with Chairman Steele of the RNC about Republicans say, look, no one's denying that there isn't racism out there, but this sort of blanket Jimmy Carter approach that the bulk of these protests are all about racism they just say if flat-out wrong; it's about policy.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

The goal is enormous, the cost eye-popping, hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years. That's to provide millions of uninsured people in the United States with health insurance, among other things, according to a newly unveiled Senate plan.

Perhaps the most important senator to push through this landmark bill would be the chairman of the Finance Committee, Max Baucus. There are items in this plan you may or may not like and items President Obama may or may not like. But one key question, will any Republican sign on board?

Let's go straight to our CNN senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

It's an important question, Dana. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

So far, no Republican is on board and so far formally no Democrats are on board. But you said that this is important. It is very much so because everyone, especially the White House, believes that what happens in the Senate Finance Committee will be the outline of something that could possibly pass Congress.

So, what Senator Baucus is doing is kind of framing this as a Goldilocks option, too hot for some, too cold for others, so maybe it's just right.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: After months of intense negotiations with Republicans in search of a bipartisan health care agreement, the Democratic Finance chairman made his big announcement alone, but still declared:

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT), FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This is a good bill. This is a balanced bill. It can pass the Senate.

BASH: What Senator Max Baucus means by that is his much anticipated health care proposal is more moderate than other Democratic bills. The most stark example, it does not include a government-run insurance option that many Democrats call critical to increasing competition and lowering costs.

Instead it proposes nonprofit insurance cooperatives. The $856 billion proposal also costs considerably less than the $1 trillion Democratic House plan. Senator Baucus insists it will be paid for with more than $507 billion in cuts and savings to government health programs, mostly Medicare, and nearly $349 billion in new taxes and fees.

That includes a 35 percent tax on insurance companies for high- end so-called Cadillac plans that cost over $21,000. Baucus' proposal would ban discrimination based on preexisting conditions and it would require all Americans to have health coverage. Those who don't would be penalized with a fine, up to $3,800 for a family of four making $66,000 a year.

But low-income Americans would get help from the government to pay for their coverage, either through expanded Medicaid or tax credits. To lower the cost of the plan, though, Baucus offers fewer subsidies than the House Democrats' bill.

BAUCUS: There are some who think I have not gone far enough. There are some on both sides of the aisle who think I have gone too far.

BASH: Some of the harshest criticism is coming from Baucus' fellow Democrats.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: How can we give all of these new consumers of the health insurance industry with no accountability, no competition, and no real challenge for them to honor the reforms that we have in the bill?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, the Congressional Budget Office now says it believes Baucus' plan costs even less, $774 billion over 10 years.

Still, Wolf, the three Republicans Senator Baucus spent hundreds of hours negotiating with simply say that they believe it still costs too much and doesn't do enough to lower the cost of health care in this country. I think we know for sure we are going to see some vigorous attempts when the Senate Finance Committee begins voting next week on both sides of the aisle to change this proposal.

BLITZER: Yes, as I say, that original gang of six so-called right now is a gang of one so far. We will see what happens. Dana, thanks very much.

The White House issued a statement. Let me read it to you. "Last week the president laid out his plan to bring stability and security to Americans who have insurance and high quality -- and high- quality, affordable coverage for those who don't have insurance. The Senate Finance Committee mark released by Chairman Baucus is another boost of momentum for the president's efforts to reform the health system."

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Former President George Bush, George W. Bush, the most recent Bush to inhabit the White House, was not short of opinions when it came to other politicians' shortcomings, according to a new book by a former Bush speechwriter titled "Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor."

Matt Latimer is the author. He writes Bush always believed for example that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic presidential nominee. And one time, he said -- quote -- "Wait until her fast keister is sitting at this desk" -- unquote, except he didn't use the word keister.

After one of then Senator Obama's speech criticizing the Bush administration, the former president said of Obama -- quote -- "This cat isn't even remotely qualified," adding, "This guy has no clue."

As for the now Vice President Joe Biden, Bush said -- quote -- "If B.S. was currency, Biden would be a billionaire."

And the former president didn't spare his fellow Republicans either. Latimer writes Bush wasn't too impressed with Republican nominee John McCain. When Bush was told McCain couldn't get enough people to show up at a planned joint appearance in Phoenix, McCain's home state, Arizona, Bush said -- quote -- "He couldn't get 500 people? I could get that many to turn out in Crawford, Texas."

And as for McCain's V.P. pick, Sarah Palin, Bush said: "I'm trying to remember if I have met her before. I'm sure I must have. What is she, the governor of Guam?"

Bush also told Latimer at one time -- quote -- "I redefined the Republican Party." And that is probably true to some extent. And that may explain why McCain lost and the Democrats now control both houses of Congress.

Anyway, here's the question. Does it surprise you if former President Bush talked trash about other politicians? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

For critics of government-run health care plan, it's the poster child for everything wrong, but the Canadian system may actually surprise you. We're going to put it toe to toe with the U.S. system. We have a senator from each country. They are standing by live here to debate who really does have a better health care system, Canada or the United States?

Plus, the group at the center of a raging controversy sparked by an undercover video sting. What exactly is ACORN and why is it the focus of so much uproar?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to start something special here in THE SITUATION ROOM and we're going to start it right now. The U.S. health care system and health care systems in other industrialized democracies, how do they compare? What are we doing and what are they doing?

Let's start with Canada right now. What's going on with the health care system in Canada, our neighbor to the north?

Here's CNN's Kitty Pilgrim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the largest survey of health care ever, 92 percent of Canadians say they like their doctors so much they would recommend them to family or friends. In Canada, primary health care physicians are basically family doctors and handle everything through a private practice, physical, mental health, maternity, pediatrics, geriatrics, says an author of 18 books on Canadian health law.

LORNE ROZOVSKY, MEDICAL-LEGAL AUTHOR: This is not socialized medicine. The government does not provide doctors, does not provide hospitals. You go to whatever doctor you want, just as you do here and doctors can either take more patients or not take patients. It's up to them. And the same is true with hospitals.

PILGRIM: All Canadians have health coverage through the government, 70 percent of health care is publicly funded and 30 percent is privately funded. Each province runs its own health care budget, although the federal government supplements some provinces that are not as prosperous as others. It is a very cost-effective system -- only 10 percent of GDP compared to nearly 16 percent of the U.S. economy.

And Canada only spends some $3,895 per person a year, that's about half of the expenditure for the average person in the United States. But less expensive doesn't seem to imply less effective health care. In Canada, male life expectancy is 78 years versus the average of 75 years in the United States. Canada does have its problems, the most frequently cited, long wait times for some treatments.

DR. ROBERT QUELLET, CANADIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: That's our biggest problem in Canada. We have a very good system. We have good quality, but we have wait times. And this is one thing we want to fix in our system, to fix that problem of wait times because it's unacceptable.

PILGRIM: More doctors would help. Canada has a shortage. One doctor for every 526 people compared to one for 418 people in the United States. Doctors are paid considerably less than their U.S. counterparts, but lawsuits are not as common in Canada and guidelines for damages were set back in 1978 by the Canadian Supreme Court. The Canadian Medical Protective Association pays damages and provides legal counsel for doctors who are sued.

Kitty Pilgrim, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, so, let's put the Canadian system and the American system toe to toe.

Here to discuss and to debate, Canadian Senator Grant Mitchell. He's a member of the Liberal Party representing Alberta. And U.S. Senator John Barrasso, he's a Republican of Wyoming. He's also an orthopedic surgeon.

Senator Barrasso and Senate Mitchell, thanks to both of you coming in.

Senator Barrasso, that Canadian system, at least based on Kitty Pilgrim's report, sounds pretty enticing, pretty appealing. What's wrong with it?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Well, the new president of the Canadian Medical Association say that it's imploding. There are so few doctors there because doctors leave Canada to come to the United States and practice -- 33,000 patients left Canada last year to come to the United States for care because the waiting lines were too long.

In Calgary, they just cut off 2,000 cataract operations, said, no, we're not going to pay for them this year. Tough. If you don't want to wait, just go to United States, pay for your care there.

So, the Canadian system is free. While it's free, it's very expensive in terms of taxes. BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Senator Mitchell. How do you respond to that?

GRANT MITCHELL, MEMBER OF CANADIAN SENATE: (AUDIO GAP) ... patient care urgently. And any procedure that you need, you will get, and you don't wait any longer than your doctor would require you or would think is reasonable to wait.

The fact of the matter is that the Canadian system is -- maybe is held in highest regard by the vast majority of Canadians. This system is one of the best systems in the world. And the kinds of evidence that or suggestion that the senator is making simply is not indicative of the quality of that system.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, let me press on the point that Senator Barrasso made, Senator Mitchell. Why are so many Canadians crossing the border coming into the United States for treatment?

MITCHELL: Actually, I think you will find that relatively few Canadians are crossing the border.

What -- Canadians are getting excellent health care where they are. What he fails to point out is that 40 million Americans are not covered by their health care system. Every single Canadian is covered by our health care system. And our health care system gives top- quality care.

It was pointed out we're one of the top in the world. We have a longer life span. We have lower birth mortality rates in Canada than in the United States. In all these indicators, all these indicators, we have a very, very strong health care system. You go to Wyoming, for example, there are some...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I will let you get to Wyoming in a second.

But let me have Senator Barrasso specifically respond to that last point.

It may not be perfect, he says, Senator, but you know what? Everybody has health care. Everybody has health insurance in Canada. No one needs to simply go to an emergency room at a hospital to get treated for relatively minor injuries.

BARRASSO: But in British Columbia, the current wait right now to see their primary care doctor is four months. The wait then once you see that person to see a specialist is another four months.

I'm an orthopedic surgeon. I have operated on people who come to -- Canada. The number of CAT scans and MRIs and the lithotripsy machine for kidney stones in the United States far superior in terms of the availability. People don't want to wait. That's why people with cancer from other countries come to the United States, because the wait time is less, the screening is better.

Very few women in Canada have mammograms compared to the United States. So the detection of the cancer, it takes longer. And then the life expectancy after that cancer is diagnosed is less than for women in Canada than it is in the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I'm going to go back to Senator Mitchell in a moment, but how do you explain that people live longer in Canada than they do in the United States?

MITCHELL: Because the fact...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on.

I want to ask Senator Barrasso to respond to that.

BARRASSO: Yes.

Well, in terms of -- you've got to look at quality of life. You have people waiting. And if you want to get an artificial hip in Canada, you're not going to get it if you're over a certain age You're not going to -- we call it trick or treat medicine there, because if that hospital runs out of money, Wolf, by Halloween, October 31, it's time to wait. And then you have still got to wait until the next year to get in line.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRASSO: That can be cataracts. It can be artificial joints.

And if you do have the heart operation in Canada, your chances of not surviving are a lot higher than if you have the same operation in the United States.

BLITZER: Is that true, Senator Mitchell?

MITCHELL: No, that is not true.

The fact is that Canada provides outstandingly good health care, and that everybody gets it. There's 40 million Americans -- 49 million Americans actually who aren't covered by a health care program. So, when you start to talk about people not getting services or immediate -- what are we saying in the U.S., what are you saying in the U.S. about those 49 million people?

How can we simply disregard those people or you simply disregard those people? The Canadian system, as I say, is about -- as you have said, is about half as expensive as your system. Everybody is covered. We have portability, so when I change jobs, I don't have to worry about whether I'm going to have health care or not.

(CROSSTALK) MITCHELL: I have had the same doctor for 33 years because I have been able to change jobs and keep my health care plan at the same time.

BLITZER: Senator Mitchell, you were going to say something about Senator Barrasso's home state of Wyoming. What's the point you want to make?

MITCHELL: Well, the point is that, in Wyoming, Wyoming has the worst record of dealing with heart attack cases in the United States.

BLITZER: Is that true, Senator Barrasso?

(CROSSTALK)

BARRASSO: I find it hard to believe. We have a helicopter that sends out -- we have 500,000 people, Wolf, over 100,000 square miles. We only have 24 hospitals. It is why I work so hard on rural health care issues, because we need to make sure we have more physicians in a number of small communities because of rural issues.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Senator Mitchell, what is your source for that charge about the state of Wyoming?

MITCHELL: Absolutely. It's health care statistics from United States statistics sources.

BLITZER: And, specifically, you're saying that, what, Wyoming is in horrible shape as far as heart attacks are concerned? Is that what you're saying?

MITCHELL: It has the lowest -- the worst case rating for dealing with health care heart attack cases.

BARRASSO: If I had a heart attack, I would much rather be in Wyoming than here in the District of Columbia. I have great respect for all of the physicians in Wyoming. They do an incredible job.

And when people in Canada get sick, they want to come to the United States for care. If people in Canada have cancer, including a member of the parliament, she decided to come to the United States for care, even though she's a big supporter of the Canadian health care system.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRASSO: She said, I don't want to wait as long as I'm go to have to wait, if that's the way that your elected members are treated, and she knows that the best care for her is going to be in the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL: It's interesting. In our system, as a senator, I get the same health care coverage as a single mother in my province gets. In your system, you get a very different health care system.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRASSO: I get the same one as the janitor in this building and the same one as the public rangers in our national parks, absolutely the same choices.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL: You get a very different system than the average person in your -- and in your state.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Senator Mitchell, as a U.S. senator, Senator Barrasso gets the same -- access to the same federal government health insurance program that all federal government employees get, whether you're a senator or a post office worker.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL: And you know what that is. That's a public health care system. And it's publicly funded.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRASSO: No, it's private choices. No, it's not a public system.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRASSO: It's not a government system. No, I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Everybody has a choice.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL: What about military, your military hospitals and your veterans hospitals? Are they not a public health care system? Do they not deliver excellent care? Of course they do. And so does our health care system.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRASSO: I think there's a lot of improvement that can happen with the VA system. I think they do great with trauma, but certainly they do not do the kind of work that I would want to see in terms of an acute illness or a heart attack.

BLITZER: Let me just wrap this up, Senators, first to you, Senator Barrasso.

Is there anything that we in the United States should take away from the Canadian example and learn from Canada?

BARRASSO: Yes, I think what that earlier report talked about was lawsuit abuse. They're not ordering a lot of expensive unnecessary tests to protect themselves against unnecessary suits.

But in the United States, you have a lot of money spent on malpractice insurance because of abusive lawsuits and a lot of more money spent on tests, on medical tests, Wolf, that don't actually help somebody get better, but they are done to protect the doctor in case there is a suit. So, I think we can learn a lot from Canada there and we ought to adopt those approaches.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Senator Mitchell, I will give you the last word. Anything that Canadians should learn from the American health care system?

MITCHELL: The Canadian system is an excellent system. We have -- we have been very, very happy with that it has delivered excellent health care services.

I'm not convinced that there aren't some technical and other things that we can learn from the U.S. system, but our system is in fact far superior.

BLITZER: We will leave it on that note. Good discussion. As I said earlier, we're going to continue our analysis of the U.S. health care system and others. We are going to take a look at England and France and Australia, around the world, what the U.S. can learn from them, maybe what they can learn from us as well.

A victory for gun rights activists, a Southern senator's proposal allowing passengers to carry guns on Amtrak trains passes the U.S. Senate.

And the ACORN scandal. A new tape surfaces. We're going to tell you about it, plus a close look at the organization's background.

And bravery on the battlefield, the incredible story of an American soldier who's being awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for what he did during a Taliban ambush.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The CEO of ACORN is going on the offense after shocking tapes surfaced showing ACORN workers giving illegal advice to a couple posing a pimp and a prostitute.

Bertha Lewis, she was here in THE SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago. She says ACORN is in the process of a major internal review and restructuring.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERTHA LEWIS, CEO, ACORN: I have been with ACORN almost 20-some years. I am always going to make sure that we serve low- and moderate-income people of color. I will clean this house. It is being done now. And here's what I would like. I will come back in three months and you can look at what we have done. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A new ACORN tape has surfaced. This one has the same storyline as the other three videos. Conservative filmmakers posing as a pimp and a prostitute ask for ACORN's help to set up a brothel to fund a future political campaign. The ACORN worker responds by claiming she once ran a prostitution service and that she killed her ex-husband.

The worker says she was playing games with the filmmakers. Police in part back her up, saying her ex-husband is very much alive.

Joining us now with some background on this controversial advocacy group, CNN's Elaine Quijano.

She's been taking a look at ACORN.

Elaine, what are you discovering?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with ACORN in the news so much, we wanted to give people a sense of the group's history.

ACORN itself was started back in 1970 in Little Rock, Arkansas, by a man named Wade Rathke. Well, he's no longer the group's chief organizer, but he sat down for an interview with CNN to give his perspective on the organization.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): Founder Wade Rathke describes his original vision for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, this way.

WADE RATHKE, FOUNDER, ACORN: To build an organization that bridged these many differences and united lower income families to be able to work around issues they had in common and get the attention from decision-makers in government and corporations or anywhere else that impacted them and finally give them a seat at the table where they could make change.

QUIJANO: ACORN now claims to be the nation's largest grassroots community organization of low and moderate income people, claiming over 400,000 member families organized into more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters nationwide. Through the years, the group has taken on a host of issues, including demonstrating against the Bush administration's tax cuts, protesting FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina and boosting home ownership.

But a series of controversies has marred ACORN's reputation. They include voter registration fraud by some workers and the embezzlement case against Wade Rathke's brother Dale, which forced Wade to resign last year as ACORN's chief organizer.

Some critics charge ACORN equals corruption. REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: They are a criminal -- a criminal enterprise. They -- they've been put together, clearly, over the years, to hide where the money goes, how it's spent.

QUIJANO: While ACORN gets money through donations, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa says it's also received $53 million in taxpayer money since 1994. Issa says ACORN's tangled web of associations makes it hard to follow where exactly federal money is really going.

But Wade Rathke chalks up accusations against ACORN to politics.

RATHKE: And, frankly, some level of power in an organization like ACORN is very threatening to some people. I can't explain why, but I know that that is the case.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, the Senate this week voted to cut off ACORN's funding from the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. And top Republicans, Wolf, are urging President Obama to extend that to include money from all federal agencies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, thanks very much.

Learning more about ACORN every day.

The votes are all counted in Afghanistan's election and President Hamid Karzai is the leader, with about 54 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, won about 28 percent of the vote. Mr. Karzai's lead is enough to avoid a runoff, but results won't be certified until complaints of voter fraud are fully investigated.

Today, President Obama spoke about the U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan. And he says there are no plans to commit more troops beyond the 6,000 additional troops headed there right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no immediate decision pending on resources because one of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make determinations about resources. You don't make determinations about resources -- and certainly you don't make determinations about sending young men and women into battle -- without having absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This is important note. Tomorrow, I'll speak with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. You're going to see that interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. This is a CNN exclusive.

Brooke Baldwin is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Brooke, what's going on?

BALDWIN: All right, Wolf, I'm sure you've taken the train. Listen up here, though, the next time you're riding Amtrak and someone tells you hey, stop talking on your cell phone because you're in the quiet car, take it seriously. All right, so we're not so much talking about cell phones here. We're talking about handguns. Today, the Senate allowed -- voted today to allow Amtrak passengers to carry firearms in their checked baggage. Amtrak restricted firearms after 9/11. The proponents of lifting the ban said airline passengers -- they're already allowed to transport licensed firearms.

Imagine this -- having George Clooney, Robert Duval, Kevin Spacey all at your dinner table. Well, that is only a few of the more than 5,000 guests who dined with New Mexico's governor, Bill Richardson, at the state mansion last year. And according to the Associated Press, the bill came to more than $130,000. A spokesman for the governor says it was done to "raise awareness for important causes."

The University of Notre Dame saying a woman who worked catering events for them should have gotten a $29 tip, not what she got -- a $29,000 windfall.

And you know what?

They're suing to get it all back. Her name is Sara Gaspar and she says she called the school three times about getting all this cash, but then went ahead and spent it when the school never got back to her -- Wolf, I'm thinking if I ever get 29 grand, it's maybe not a mistake.

BLITZER: That's quite a little tip, though, (INAUDIBLE) $29,000.

BALDWIN: Yes, how about that?

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

BALDWIN: Thanks.

BLITZER: It's a first for President Obama and a very solemn occasion -- his first awarding of the nation's highest military decoration. The soldier receiving it showed extraordinary, extraordinary bravery.

His father is now speaking to CNN about it. And you'll hear the soldier's story and a lot more.

Ed Henry -- he's got this amazing story for us. That's coming up.

And got milk?

These farmers do. But they're dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons. You're going to find out why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In news around the world, here's some stories we're watching right now.

In Juarez, Mexico, for the second time this month, Mexican gunmen stormed a drug rehab center. Ten people have been -- were shot dead. Eighteen people were killed in a different facility this month. Officials say drug gangs may be targeting rivals using drug rehabs as hideouts.

In Kathmandu, former communist rebels clashed with police during anti-government demonstrations outside a university. The protesters waved black flags and shouted slogans against the president, the prime minister, who was attending a graduation ceremony. The Maoists have been demanding that the government step down. Police used bamboo batons to beat back demonstrators who, in turn, threw stones.

In Belgium, farmers dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk onto the pastures in a price protest. They say too low milk prices are threatening them with financial ruin. The spillage represents the loss of a day's worth of milk production in Southern Belgium. What a waste.

In Tel Aviv, a carpet made of 500,000 imported flowers is put together. The tribute to Tel Aviv from the Belgium city of Brussels. Volunteers are creating the carpet in Rabin Square to mark Israel -- the Israeli city's 100th anniversary. The colorful carpet will be on display for three days.

President Obama is to award this first Medal of Honor tomorrow. It's being given posthumously to a Massachusetts soldier who pulled a wounded comrade to safety. His story is a sad reminder of the thousands of men and women America has lost in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Sergeant Jared Monti really demonstrated remarkable valor on the battlefield in Afghanistan -- a war that is really losing support by the day right now. So I spent some time with his father in Massachusetts. He really wanted to tell his son's story because he believes not enough Americans understand the sacrifice going on right now in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: (voice-over): A crisp New England morning in a small town outside Boston. Paul Monti is wrapping up his daily ritual that ends in the garden he built to remember his son, Jared.

PAUL MONTI, FATHER OF PFC JARED MONTI: And I come over here and sit on the bench once in a while and just with the flowers. So, this is -- this is where I get my solitude.

HENRY: Sergeant Jared Monti was killed in Afghanistan three years ago.

MONTI: I walk an hour -and-a-half post-racial) to two hours every morning. And that's nice. There's a -- there's a sign that the town dedicated to Jared up at what they call the Stone Church in the intersection of the town. And I walk up to the sign, talk to him and complete a big loop.

HENRY: (on camera): What do you say, three years later?

MONTI: I just fell him what's going on and what went on the day before and whatnot, you know, just father son communication, sort of, kind of one way, but.

HENRY: (voice-over): The father wears his son's dog tags, has a shrine in the living room and now he's accepting his son's Medal of Honor from President Obama.

MONTI: It's wonderful meeting the president. And it's wonderful having my son receive the Medal of Honor. But I would give all of it up to have my son back -- everything. There's nothing I wouldn't give, even my own life, to get my son back.

HENRY: His comrades at New York's Fort Drum struggle to keep their composure when talking about Sergeant Monti, how he risked his life trying not just once, but three times, to save one of his wounded men.

SGT. CLIFFORD BAIRD, U.S. ARMY, 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION: If anybody deserved it, it was him, just by his actions of going out three times. He's a hero. He's one of my heroes.

HENRY: It was June 21st, 2006 in the rugged northeast corner of Afghanistan, near Pakistan. According to a Pentagon account and CNN interviews with soldiers who were there, Sergeant Monti was leading a small patrol ambushed by dozens of Taliban fighters. As rocket propelled grenades flew past his head, Monti got on the radio to call for backup.

Sergeant Clifford Baird was on the other end.

BAIRD: They just needed as much firepower as we could give them and as fast as we could give it. And I would definitely say he was calm. He had a -- he definitely knew how to stay calm under fire.

HENRY: A young private named Brian Bradbury was badly wounded, unable to move, exposed to enemy fire. Another sergeant said he would get Bradbury. But Sergeant Mark James heard Monti say no.

SGT. MARK JAMES, U.S. ARMY, 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION: I remember him saying that, you know, Bradbury was his guy. So he was going to be the one to -- to go and get him back and bring him back to us.

HENRY: With bullets flying, Monti had to take cover. He ran out a second time, but the enemy fire got more intense, so he stopped and yelled for help. Then, he ran out a third time.

JAMES: We knew he was going to go and get Bradbury. And then I -- we all kind of heard him, you know, scream.

HENRY: Sergeant Monti knew he was dying and his family was in his final thoughts.

MONTI: He said "The Lord's Prayer." And he said, tell my family I love them. And that's about the most meaningful thing that there is, that he thought of us in -- in his last moments.

HENRY: Inspired, his squadron beat back the enemy. But then a terrible twist. A U.S. helicopter lowered a medic to grab Bradbury, the young Private Monti tried to save. As the two men were being raised in the air, a cable snapped. Bradbury and the medic plunged to their deaths. Frustrating, Paul Monti says, that U.S. troops have never had the proper resources in Afghanistan. But he insists his son did not die in vain.

MONTI: He did what he felt he had to do. It -- it didn't matter the end result, because that was him. He just did what the soldier's creed said -- you never lead a soldier behind.

HENRY: When Jared was just a young boy, he and his family posed for a photo outside the White House gates. Now that they're returning, what would he be saying to his father now?

MONTI: He would not want this medal. He would run and hide. He would say to me, dad, I was just doing my job, this is what I'm supposed to do.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: Now, I asked Paul Monti what advice he would give the president about the way ahead in Afghanistan. And he said send more troops even if it's going to be very difficult to sell to the American people, that after eight years, he thinks it's time, finally, for the U.S. to get the mission right. But as you know, it's going to be very, very difficult decisions ahead for this president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And tomorrow, the president will officially make the presentation, is that right?

HENRY: At 1:45 Eastern time here at the White House. You know, those ceremonies are always very emotional. I spoke to some of his conrads -- comrades. They're traveling. Some of them have come back from Afghanistan just to be here with the family. It's going to be remarkable.

BLITZER: A heartbreaking story, indeed.

But thank you so much, Ed, for doing it.

HENRY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Really important that -- that we got that on the air.

Appreciate it very much.

And we'll be watching the president tomorrow.

A powerful pitch for the 2016 Summer Olympics -- and guess who's rooting for his hometown to host the Summer Games?

And what a dad -- you've got to see this father's Moost Unusual reaction after his little girl does the unexpected with his foul ball catch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get to our Political Tickers in a moment.

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

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

Good to see you yesterday there in Washington.

Tonight, Democrats are divided. The new health care plan has the president's party turning against one another. The so-called public option loved by the left-wing is out, and the rift could potentially be fatal to health -- for health care reform.

Former President Carter mouthing off again. He says most of the attacks against the president are racist.

Is this the new post-racial America or is this the same old Jimmy Carter?

And all the president's men -- Republicans want the details on the administration's countless number of czars who hold powerful sway over big issues but are virtually unknown to American citizens.

All of that, a great deal more, coming up in just a few minutes here on CNN.

Please join us -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We'll see you then, Lou.

Thank you.

Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question is, does it surprise you that former President Bush talked trash about other politicians?

A speechwriter -- I hear somebody in my ear. I don't know what it is.

A speechwriter that worked for him apparently took some notes in some off the record conversations.

And T. writes: "Yes. Former President Bush redefined the Republican Party. I'm a Bush Democrat. Thanks to his administration and the Republican Congress, I cannot think of ever voting for Republicans again."

Harry in Tampa says: "This is how a completely unknown, meaningless person can get his 15 minutes of fame. The author chronicles statements and positions that anybody could say in private moments. Because it comes from George Bush, it must be reviled and ridiculed."

Bob in New Jersey: "The only thing W. could do to surprise me would be to utter a cogent, grammatically correct sentence or pronounce nuclear correctly. Some people just don't know what they don't know. When I looked up clueless in the dictionary, I saw Bush's picture."

Will in Bend, Oregon says: "The surprise is only in the seemingly endless depth to the former president's lack of awareness and tact."

A. writes: "I find it amusing the guy who can't even put a sentence together thinks Obama isn't qualified."

Phil says: "Jack, Bush isn't smart enough to come up with all these clever lines by himself. The author has to be making this stuff up so he can sell some books."

And Dan writes: "No, it doesn't surprise me, Jack. Good for Bush. He took eight years of hearing nothing but trash from the liberal media and people like you. I can't wait to hear what Bush says about you, Jack. I suspect it to be classified as premium trash."

I expect you're probably right, Dan.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. There's a lot of this stuff posted there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have you been reading me on Twitter -- Jack?

Jack?

All right, let me get that -- hold on. Hold on. All right, now you've got it.

Here's the question. Let me repeat the question, Jack.

Have you been following me on Twitter?

CAFFERTY: No.

BLITZER: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Well, a lot of people are.

CAFFERTY: Well, I -- you know, one of these days I'll get with the program -- that stuff is too high tech for me. I'm a kind of an old school guy.

BLITZER: CNN -- yes, wolfblitzercnn -- all one word. Just go to Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn -- wolfblitzercnn...

CAFFERTY: I put my earpiece back in so you could ask me that.

BLITZER: So, yes. It's fun.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I've been enjoying it. People commenting...

CAFFERTY: What are you -- what kind of stuff do you write on there?

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE).

CAFFERTY: What do you put on there?

BLITZER: I say that Jack Cafferty is going to be in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CAFFERTY: Besides that.

BLITZER: Yes. You know, I sort of...

CAFFERTY: I mean do you put personal things on there?

BLITZER: Yes. No, I -- no, no, no. I've been telling them about inside stuff, what's going to happen today. For example, earlier in the day, when we learned that the ACORN CEO was going to come into THE SITUATION ROOM...

CAFFERTY: OK. All right.

BLITZER: ...I alerted everybody right away who's following me on Twitter to get ready. And when -- that great debate we had on Canada and the U.S. health care (INAUDIBLE)...

CAFFERTY: That, by the way, that was a pretty good segment.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: I learned some stuff listening to those guys.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: You should put some personal things on there, though, you know...

BLITZER: You mean where I'm going to have dinner tonight or something like that?

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, and favorite foods and, you know, old girlfriends...

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: ...you used to hang out with, something like that.

BLITZER: All right. I'll do that. All right.

OK, Jack. Thanks.

On our Political Ticker right now, President Obama on the attack. He's wielding a play sword -- wielding the power of the presidency, also revealing a life-long dream.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is true that I always wanted to fence. And I thought that would be cool. So I might get a couple tips from you guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Here's what the president's really talking about -- a stab at the gold prize for Chicago. He and the first lady, Michelle Obama, hope to help Chicago score the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Today over at the White House, they hosted an event to boost Chicago's bid. And competing for the 2016 Games, here's the competition -- Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. The decision will be handed down next month.

The former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, is finding dancing can be dangerous. Guess what, he suffered a pre-stress fracture while rehearsing for "Dancing With The Stars." Doctors will determine if he'll be allowed to continue with the show. DeLay told followers on Twitter -- and I'm quoting now -- "old age is catching up to me."

Good luck to Tom DeLay on "Dancing With The Stars." I want to see that.

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

Catching a foul ball and then throwing it back -- a Major League moment, one you are likely never to forget. I love this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Catching a foul ball at a Major League baseball game -- it's something every fan dreams about. But a fan at a game last night had a different night -- fun making for a memorable and Moost Unusual moment.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a foul ball catch that left folks in anything but a foul mood.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: No, it wasn't Steve Monforto's catch at the Philadelphia- Washington game that had them laughing. It was his 3-year-old daughter's right arm.

And though she threw back daddy's souvenir, the heartwarming hug is what lingers. It's one of those moments that evokes this from women...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...and from men.

(VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm like what are you doing?

MOOS: She was doing what Emily was used to doing -- catching and throwing a Nerf ball with dad. But it was the post-toss hug that tugged at most folks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband would have had a fit, but he recovered very nicely to hug her.

MOOS: That hug turned the 32-year-old engineering project manager into a paragon of parenting: "What a prince," "absolute hero," "dad of the year," "best dad ever," "I want to meet this dad."

Yes, well, he's already married. That's his wife with their younger daughter at the game.

Steve told us he hugged Emily when she looked as if she thought she'd done something wrong by tossing away the ball.

(VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow! Classic.

MOOS (on camera): Right away, the Phillies sent someone up to the stands to give dad and daughter a ball to replace the one that Emily threw back.

(voice-over): When an online curmudgeon suggested dad should have tossed her after the ball, the next person responded: "Do us all a favor and don't reproduce."

But let us reproduce the slow motion replay and watch Steve's face as he realizes the beloved foul may be gone, but the fairest of all was still in his arms.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: I love that story. I love that little girl. I loved the reaction.

Thanks very much, Jeanne Moos.

Remember, I'm on Twitter right now -- wolfblitzercnn. You can always send me a Tweet.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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