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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Afghan President Hamid Karzai; Missile Shield Reversal

Aired September 17, 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: I will ask him about talk of tension with President Obama.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And let's get to the breaking news this hour in a federal terror investigation in Denver, a second round of questioning for an Afghan national suspected of a possible link to an al Qaeda plot to launch attacks in New York.

Agents questioned Najibullah Zazi for hours yesterday as well, and they searched his apartment and the home of his aunt and his uncle, both in Denver suburbs. This investigation came to light Monday, when agents raided several apartments -- apartments in New York City.

Multiple sources are now telling CNN that between nine and 19 backpacks were found during the Monday raid, raising concerns about a possible suicide bomb plot.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is following all of these developments for us. He's joining us live from Denver with more.

What are you picking up, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan national, is being questioned at this hour in the building behind me, the federal building here in downtown Denver.

A source close to the investigation is telling CNN that on one of the computers that was seized by authorities of Zazi's, there was a diagram on how to build a bomb. I asked Zazi's lawyer about that and about why his client was on the FBI's radar in the first place as they walked into the courthouse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: Why would he have that?

ARTHUR FOLSOM, ATTORNEY FOR NAJIBULLAH ZAZI: He doesn't have that.

ROWLANDS: You're saying there was no diagram of a bomb or anything like that?

FOLSOM: There's no diagram of a bomb. There's no information like that. As I said, we're here to simply continue working with the authorities in an attempt to clear my client's name.

ROWLANDS: He was on their radar obviously even before he left Denver. Why?

FOLSOM: I believe because he stayed at a house of an old friend of his who was under observation by the FBI.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: Now, Zazi's lawyers basically saying that they are complying with all of the questions. They say that his life is an open book in terms of this investigation. They want to cooperate with authorities, and they say they have cooperated to this point.

Yesterday, as you mentioned, he was being questioned for eight- and-a-half-hours. He went in about two hours ago. And they expect that he will be in there for a long time again here tonight. But they say they will cooperate and ask -- or answer as many questions as authorities have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of this story with you, Ted. Thanks very much. Check back with us if you get more.

Let's get to the fight over health care reform. GOP critics are venting about a powerful senator's long-awaited compromise. Some Democrats have problems with the plan as well.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us with more on this part of the story -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, there's no doubt, Wolf, that what chairman Max Baucus is proposing is more centrist, less liberal than the Democratic plan that drew so much anger, especially from Republicans, over the summer.

And because of that, the Baucus plan is really becoming the center of the health care debate, and a new bullseye, even drawing fire from fellow Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Forget about Republicans. Even Democrats like Jeff Bingaman, who spent months negotiating with Max Baucus, isn't ready to support his health care proposal.

SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D), NEW MEXICO: I have favored having a public option available and voted for one in the Health and Education, Health Committee, bill, so I hope we can do that.

BASH: In fact, outside a closed meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, almost all the Democratic senators we talked to said they wanted to change what their Democratic chairman, Max Baucus, calls a consensus plan. One huge issue?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Affordability.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Affordability.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Affordability for middle-class families.

BASH: Concerned that Americans would not get enough financial help buying the health insurance they would be required to have.

STABENOW: This has to work for families. And I understand all of the tradeoffs. But the tradeoff can't be that a middle-class family can't afford the insurance in this bill.

BASH (on camera): Are you prepared to vote against this?

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: Yes. I can't support a plan that doesn't have the affordability of health care and doesn't have the affordability for my constituents in it.

BASH: And many Democrats don't like the way Baucus is paying for his health care overhaul, taxing insurance companies for high-cost plans. It was John Kerry's idea.

KERRY: Yes, it was my idea originally.

BASH: But even he now opposes it, saying the way Baucus structured the tax, it penalizes too many Americans.

KERRY: We need to make it fairer to working people, so that working folks don't get dragged into this at a level where they just don't have the incomes that support it.

BASH: Meanwhile, Olympia Snowe is still the one Republican Democrats think they can still persuade.

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: It has to be practical, achievable and doable.

BASH: In fact, Baucus stood listening carefully as Snowe spoke to reporters and then told us:

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT), FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Whatever Senator Snowe wants to do, I'm for her.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH (on camera): Whatever she wants?

BAUCUS: Whatever she wants.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: In all seriousness, Senator Baucus did tell us he is willing to make changes to address concerns about affordability and potentially taxing the middle class. And, Wolf, he knows he has to. He has no choice in order to get the votes, especially from his fellow Democrats, to pass his very important committee.

BLITZER: Good point. I suspect there's going to be a lot of changes between now and whenever. Dana, thanks very much.

One Republican senator suggests that the current lack of consensus over health reform may partly be the White House's fault. Listen to this comment about the senior White House adviser, David Axelrod.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: We're accused by Axelrod of making political things and maybe not being serious in our negotiations.

I just stated, you know, that we have had 31 meetings of these group of six. We have had nine walk-throughs. I have had 156 meetings in my office dealing with health care, either with constituents or with other members.

And if that isn't evidence enough that we were serious to arrive at it, and then being accused of being political during the month of August, when I didn't say anything different in Iowa than I have been saying in Washington, you know, that's not a very good environment to carry on a conversation with the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what is the White House saying about this?

Let's go to Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent.

Dan, what is the White House saying?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a senior administration official is saying that this criticism is silly and makes no sense.

The White House and the president in particular have for now -- for months have been pointing out that they wanted to sit down and have a bipartisan effort when it came to health care reform, the president working behind the scenes meeting with Republicans and Democrats and sending top aides up to Capitol Hill to try to make this happen, and this White House believing that they have created an honest environment to get health care reform done -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's out there speaking once again on health care today. What was his message on this day?

LOTHIAN: The president was at the University of Maryland speaking to a younger, much louder audience today. There were a few boos when he brought up the Baucus proposal. But for the most part it was a very adoring audience and very loud audience, the president saying that he will get health care reform done, but he also called out his critics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have all got a stake in getting this right. That's why I have said I will embrace good ideas wherever they come from. We already have.

But too often during this important debate, we have also seen the same kind of partisan spectacle that has left so many people disappointed about Washington. Too many engage in scare tactics, instead of honest debates. Too many use this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, instead of working together to solve a long-term challenge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: Well, the White House says the president will continue pushing hard trying to drum up support for health care reform. And a senior administration official saying that the first lady, Michelle Obama, will also be taking a more active role involved in pushing for health care reform.

I tried to get more details on that and this official saying stay tuned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will. Thanks very much, Dan, for that.

There's political fallout after those embarrassing videos against ACORN. The House of Representatives passed an amendment today that calls for cutting government funding to the liberal activist group. The Senate has already passed a provision to stop grants to ACORN from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Both measure would need to clear the entire Congress before they take effect. ACORN says much of its money comes from members and supporters and its operations will continue if -- if it's cut off completely from federal government grants.

Now that the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, says the recession is most likely over, what do you think? Our fresh poll shows the majority of you are not necessarily that optimistic -- 86 percent say the country is still in recession. Only 13 percent think otherwise.

What about your family's financial situation right now compared to last year? Nine percent of you say it's better -- 39 percent of you say it's worse -- 52 percent say it's the same.

How can you take control of your economic future? You can start by watching CNN later tonight. It's CNN's money summit, "Money & Main Street." It's hosted by Anderson Cooper and Ali Velshi and airs at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, information you need to know. That's coming up.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Nearly seven million jobs have been lost since this recession began, but it turns out those Americans out of work are not the only ones who are hurting.

CNNMoney.com has a great piece on the Web site that talks about how many people still lucky enough to have jobs have become unhappy and unmotivated. For one thing, raises, bonuses, other incentive programs have all but disappeared in a lot of places. There have been cutbacks in things like health insurance and retirement plans. And in a lot of places, fewer employees are left doing more work, in many cases for less money.

One recent survey showed 40 percent of employees at companies with layoffs say that productivity at those places has taken a hit. Of those, two-thirds say morale is hurting and people just aren't as motivated as they used to be.

Some employers say there's more slacking off going on in their places of business, employees spending more time surfing the Internet or talking on their cell phones than they did when the economy was stronger. Worker morale is a key part of running a successful business. If a company gets a reputation for being a bad place to work, then they have trouble attracting employees once the economy turns around and they start hiring again.

And as a result, they may not be ready to meet increased demand when things do improve. One expert said that employee morale is the leading predictor of future growth and profitability. She predicts that at some point, employers will have to start giving more incentives to their workers.

The question is this: Are you as happy with your job as you were a year ago? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog friend

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

President Obama tosses out the Bush plan for a missile defense system in Europe for his own plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: This ill- advised decision does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our European allies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, who's right? A major about-face. We're going to take an in-depth look. Stand by.

And President Obama honors an American hero, the emotional tribute to a fallen warrior who lost his life trying to save others.

Plus, the growing divide on more troops for Afghanistan and why the White House may not want to hear what the top U.S. commander there has to say.

Also, my exclusive interview with Hamid Karzai, that's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Obama administration denies caving in to Russia on a matter of national security. But there are lots of questions right now about why a Bush era missile defense program is being overhauled, critics warning of potentially dangerous consequences.

Let's go to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here's the quote, stronger, smarter, swifter. That's how President Obama describes his new plan for defending against potential missile attacks from Iran. But the criticism has been swift too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In a major foreign policy decision likely to calm Russian anger, President Obama pulls the plug on a Bush era missile defense plan based in Poland and the Czech Republic, claiming the threat of long-range missiles from Iran has changed.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have updated our intelligence assessment of Iran's missile programs, which emphasizes the threat posed by Iran's short and medium-range missiles.

DOUGHERTY: The new approach with its new technology, the president says, will use ships with sensors and interceptors and eventually land-based systems throughout the region. As the president faced the cameras, he was facing fire from Republicans for what they call a rushed and wrong decision.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I believe the consequences of this decision may be it, albeit unintentionally, encourage further belligerence on the part of the Russians and a distinct lack and loss of confidence on the part of our friends and allies in the word of the United States.

DOUGHERTY: In Poland, palpable anger from a former president, Lech Walesa saying: "It's not because we needed this missile defense system so badly. It's all about a way of treating us. It has to change."

OBAMA: I have spoken to the prime ministers of both the Czech Republic and Poland about this decision and reaffirmed our deep and close ties.

DOUGHERTY: But from Moscow, President Dmitry Medvedev, who had attacked the missile shield plan as a threat to Russia, praises what he calls Mr. Obama's responsible move. The two leaders meet in New York at the U.N. General Assembly next week, and Mr. Obama is hoping Mr. Medvedev will back stronger sanctions on Iran to stop its nuclear program. But in this three-dimensional diplomatic chess game, Medvedev's praise could backfire for Obama, creating the impression he's caving in to the Russian pressure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And although Russia might benefit from Mr. Obama's decision, a senior administration official says that potential benefit was not factored into the decision. And General Cartwright agrees and says the decision was driven by cost savings and being able to have a more nimble reaction to the real threat of short- and medium-range missiles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill, thank you.

Now to the war in Afghanistan -- President Obama's facing growing pressure today to reveal any future plans to send more U.S. troops to the region. The vice president, Joe Biden, and other administration officials are asking for patience as they privately review a report from the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who's getting new details -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the question maybe is, are they asking for patience or are domestic political considerations finally overriding military worries in Afghanistan?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): The latest suicide car bomb attack in the heart of Kabul, another day when insurgents made clear the capital city is not safe. But, suddenly, the Obama administration and the president's top military advisers are split on the urgency to fix Afghanistan's security problems.

Just days after the top military officer said -- the vice president said not so fast. In an exclusive interview, Vice President Joe Biden told CNN's Chris Lawrence...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Wolf, I think we're having a few technical difficulties.

BLITZER: We're clearly getting some technical problems over there.

STARR: Yes.

BLITZER: So, let's just talk about this and we will fix that technology. Go ahead and make the point.

STARR: Sure, Wolf.

Let me make the point here. What we have learned today is that General McChrystal has actually finished his request. He's decided how many more troops he thinks he needs for Afghanistan. And one senior military official said that he wouldn't wave me off the notion it might be in the range of 30,000 to 40,000 troops.

But here's the interesting thing. That decision has not, if you will, been put in the mail, sent to the Pentagon, sent to Washington. McChrystal has been told, hold on to that. Don't call us. We will call you. When we're ready to hear from you about all this, we will let you know. So, the question, Wolf, is, is General McChrystal being muzzled? Why doesn't the administration want to hear what he has to say? A lot of Republicans are getting very unhappy about this. They want to hear the plan and they want to hear it now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a big number, 30,000 to 40,000 troops. Right now, the U.S. has deployed, what, 68,000 troops to Afghanistan. That would bring it over 100,000 U.S. troops. That will cause some political heartburn here in Washington, as you started your report by saying. We will see what the president decides. He is the commander in chief.

Thanks very much for that, Barbara.

S, how many U.S. troops are need to get the job done in Afghanistan? I will ask the country's president. My exclusive interview with Hamid Karzai, that's coming up.

Also, American mothers plead with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to release their children.

And one of Bernard Madoff's homes sells for a small fortune. Who gets the money?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama has a ways to go certainly to achieve health care reform, but he needs some of his old campaign mojo. We will talk about that.

Also ahead, I will ask the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, if his relationship with President Obama is strained. Stand by for our exclusive interview with the Afghan leader.

And we heard former President Jimmy Carter accuse President Obama's critics of racism. Now the former president has a new target. This time, he's taking on pop culture.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to the situation in Afghanistan right now.

We just heard Barbara Starr report from the Pentagon that President Obama may be advised by his military commanders to send tens of thousands of additional troops to the region. The stakes for the United States right now in Afghanistan are enormous.

Earlier, in part one of my exclusive interview with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, we spoke of all of the allegations of voter fraud in his country.

Now part two.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk about the military situation in Afghanistan right now.

There's increasing doubt here in the United States about the -- the war that's going on, less and less support for keeping U.S. troops there. And a lot of top administration and congressional leaders are saying, where is the Afghan army? Why isn't the Afghan army taking the lead in crushing the Taliban and al Qaeda? Why, eight years into this war, are you still so dependent on U.S. and NATO troops?

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Well -- well, the Afghan army is growing well. It has been given the right support in the past some years.

But it's still not ready to the extent that it could take on the whole responsibility. That's why the international community is here, to engage in the struggle against terrorism and also to build the Afghan forces to be eventually able to stand on its own feet.

BLITZER: The United States now has committed six -- some 68,000 troops to Afghanistan.

How many more American troops do you think are necessary in order to get the job done?

KARZAI: Well, I don't have an answer for that. That's for the -- for the military experts to give an answer to. But my -- my view is that the increase in troops and all is not going to address our problems with regard to the war on terror, that it's -- it's working through the Afghan people, it's having the right developmental environment, it's building the capacity of the Afghan government, it's bringing trust from the countries in the region into what the United States and its allies in Afghanistan are doing and the consequences that it will have for the region.

So we have to basically start from a platform where we're not only having a direction that we know leads us to success, but also where we have the support and trust of the countries in the region and the powers in the world.

BLITZER: You had an excellent relationship with the former U.S. president, George W. Bush. But there are now reports it's not necessarily that excellent with President Obama, that there are serious strains, in part, because of some of the steps that you, yourself, have taken.

How would you describe your relationship with President Obama? KARZAI: I had an excellent relationship with -- with President Bush, of which I'm very happy, which -- which I value. I have a lot of respect for President Obama, who's -- who's began somehow to come to -- to -- to a resolution in the United States in terms of new thinking because ideologically, he has my full backing and support. And I'm sure we will have a very productive relationship in the interests of both countries and in the interests of the common interests of us freeing the world from terror and violence.

BLITZER: What's the big difference between President Bush and President Obama in dealing with you?

KARZAI: Well, one knew me personally and engaged with me as such. The other president is just into office for a short time now and we were, through a process of correction and there was this tension between us -- Afghanistan and the United States of the issue of civilian casualties and the issue the conducting of operations, that strained relations exactly at the time of the transition of power from the Republican administration to the Democratic administration.

Now, that is I hope, as far as we -- Afghanistan is concerned, behind us. We're looking forward to and when I'm confirmed as the president to the next five years of a constructive relationship, of a relationship in which there is agreements reached through mutual dialogue and -- and consensus in which the -- the measured progress is achieved by adopting policies that we have agreed upon through a common compact among us.

BLITZER: Every time you and I speak -- and we've been speaking now for about seven or eight years, Mr. President, I always ask you about the problem of opium -- the -- the poppy crop in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the world's largest supplier of opium. Lots of money at stake right now in Afghanistan; indeed, around the world.

You always tell me you need more time, you're working on the problem. But it seems to be getting worse and worse and worse. And some have suggested, either you can't deal with it or you don't want to deal with it.

What's the answer?

KARZAI: Well, if you read the latest U.N. report on the poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, 22 provinces have now been declared almost entirely poppy free or are a significant reduction in them, that even the province of Helmand has seen a 33 percent decrease, that the Afghan government's campaign against poppy cultivation has been successful.

That, as we move forward, there is proper resources and implementation of a common plan between us and the international community there will be better success.

So as far as Afghanistan is concerned and the Afghan government is concerned, we are successful. Where the international community is concerned, we have -- we have issues there, we've views there and we think money has been wasted. BLITZER: Mr. President, when I interviewed Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, your chief political rival, last week, he made a specific allegation on this whole drug war issue involving your brother in Kandahar.

I'm going to play for you what Dr. Abdullah said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there are a lot of allegations about his brother, Wali Karzai, in Kandahar. There are a lot of evidences provided, international media. International organizations have been talking about it.

So even if that's the rumor, this has to be stopped. In this, he has to come clean about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Mr. President, is your brother a drug trafficker?

KARZAI: Well, of course not. But I'm not going to engage, as I told you earlier, with a fellow Afghan on an international media. So I will just not respond to that.

BLITZER: Mr. President, a lot is at stake right now for the Afghan people, for the U.S. its friends around the world.

Good luck in Afghanistan.

A lot of people are watching right now to make sure it works out, because the stakes are so enormous.

Thanks so much for joining us.

KARZAI: It will be all right. And thanks for the help from the United States.

And thank you, Mr. Blitzer, for your always good interviews.

BLITZER: President Obama honors an all-American hero who gave his life to save another.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Compassion, perseverance, strength, a love for his fellow soldiers -- those are the values that define Jared Monti's life and the values he displayed in the actions that we recognize here today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Sergeant Jared Monti refused to let one of his own die in the battle zone of Afghanistan. His last words, "Tell my family I love them." Now his family watches as he posthumously receives the Medal of Honor. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He's a true American hero and Sergeant Jared Monti paid for his heroism with the ultimate sacrifice -- his life.

Today, President Obama paid tribute to him. The sergeant posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his incredible courage as he tried to save a wounded soldier in Afghanistan.

We heard that story yesterday from our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

Ed is joining us now with more -- Ed, Sergeant Monti's parents were present at the White House today.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A very large group of family and former comrades here as well at the White House for a very emotional ceremony and for the president, a very tough reminder of the heavy responsibility of being a wartime commander-in-chief.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: (voice-over): As he comforted the family, President Obama said Sergeant Jared Monti was awarded the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his own life to try and pull a wounded soldier from the line of fire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY U.S. ARMY)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was written long ago that the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike. And yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it. Jared Monti saw the danger before him and he went out to meet it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Sergeant Monti met that danger in June, 2006, in the rugged northeast corner of Afghanistan, when his 16 member patrol was ambushed by up to 50 Taliban fighters.

OBAMA: One member of the patrol said it was like thousands of rifles crackling, bullets and heavy machine gunfire ricocheting across the rocks.

HENRY: A young private named Brian Bradbury was badly wounded -- unable to move. Another sergeant said he'd go and get him. But Monti said, no, he's my guy.

OBAMA: He tightened his chin strap and with his men providing cover, Jared rose and started to run into all those incoming bullets.

HENRY: The enemy fire got more intense, so Monti twice had to take cover. But he was determined not to leave one of his boys on the battlefield. OBAMA: And so, for a third time, he rose. For a third time, he ran toward his fallen comrade. Said his patrol leader, "It was the bravest thing I had ever seen a soldier do."

HENRY: Monti was killed trying to save his comrade, which is why the president awarded him the nation's highest military decoration and recognized surviving members of his patrol -- some of them flew in from Afghanistan to be at the White House.

OBAMA: I would ask them all to please stand.

HENRY: That sparked a spontaneous tribute from Sergeant Monti's father, Paul, who told CNN before the ceremony that three years later, his heart still ached.

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

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: Now, for the president, very significant that the first Medal of Honor he handed out went to someone who was killed in Afghanistan, not in Iraq. He's winding the war in Iraq down, whereas he sent 21,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan already this year, now beginning to weigh whether to send even more. It's going to be a very tough decision ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very tough, indeed. And our heart goes out to that family.

Thanks so much, Ed, for what you did yesterday for us and today, as well.

Appreciate it.

HENRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is our senior White House correspondent.

Campaign fever all over again -- he's been buffeted by battles over health care and his speech to America's school kids, but is President Obama getting some of his mojo back?

And Jay Leno may have lots of fans, but is Jimmy Carter among them?

Wait until you hear what the former president is saying about the talk show host and Kanye West.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: 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.

Tonight, at the top of the hour, President Obama's big foreign policy call -- planning to build a missile defense shield to protect against Iran -- scrapped. Not everyone feels so safe and many of our allies are angry.

Another outrageous hidden video and more action in Washington today to cut off funding to the leftist activist group, ACORN.

And first it was Jimmy Carter playing the race card, now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warning the president's critics that they could spill blood. I'll be talking about race and politics with the NAACP's Hilary Shelton.

Also, allegations the White House is secretly trying to take your private information off the Internet.

Join us for all of that, all the day's news and much more at the top of the hour, right here on CNN -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou, thank you.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty once again for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, are you as happy with your job as you were a year ago?

Getting deep into this recession now, CNNmoney.com has got a piece on declining morale in the workplace.

Kriss writes: "After working way too many years at jobs that lit up only a few little places in my soul, I hit on a dream job. Yes, it's less money, but boy does it meet my other needs 100 percent. I work at a golf course full time, year round. I get to play for free on all six courses we manage, eat for half price, get merchandise at a 40 percent discount. And I go to work everyday at a beautiful, peaceful place among happy people."

Randy writes: "No, not particularly happy, but what choice does anyone have? Employers everywhere are giving their workers the shaft, with longer hours, less compensation, because they know in this market they can get away with it. If you're not willing to be treated like disposable chattel, there are thousands out there who would love the chance."

Kelly in Atlanta: "Happier, Jack. As of a year ago, I was unemployed. In fact, I have to admit, I've been so grateful for the opportunity to have a job again that I go above and beyond for my new employer. I spent an entire year feeling about absolutely worthless and depressed, sending out literally a thousand resumes -- maybe more. Working fills me with pride now and an absolute sense of purpose. For those still struggling, keep the faith."

Derick in New York says: "I'm very happy to still have a job. There are dark days these days, for sure. But I have confidence things will get better. In the meantime, I try to remember that adversity is an opportunity. I know it sounds cliche, but every day that things are a little slower is a day I have a chance to present ideas to management and prove that I'm committed and capable of thinking about the big picture."

Susan in Arlington, Virginia: "Jack, no I'm not. Not many are. Compared to a year ago, I'm making $50,000 a year less. My job function has changed to one I don't particularly like or enjoy. But I remain grateful every day that I have a job at all and I keep in my thoughts those who don't and hope that it will be better for all of us in the near future."

And, finally, Jay writes: "Hell, no. Cafferty, can I have yours? I can ask questions all day long and really that's all it takes."

That's true, Jay. But they're not onto me here yet. They -- they think there's more to what I do than that.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, we've got to be grateful, all of us who have jobs...

CAFFERTY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And especially those of us who love our jobs. You know, I was just thinking of the millions and millions over the past year-and-a-half, two years, who have lost their jobs. And some of those jobs, you know what, they're never coming back.

CAFFERTY: And, you know, I wish I had time. I mean, we've got probably 1,500, 2,000 e-mails on this question. I wish I had time to read a bunch more, because people are very willing to kind of open up their hearts and souls on some of these subjects. And some of the stories are absolutely touching.

But there's this indomitable spirit that comes through among a lot of Americans that, you know what, it's tough now, but the sun comes up tomorrow and, by golly, things are going to get better. And that's -- that's kind of a nice thing to read before I head off to the end of my day.

BLITZER: Yes. I totally agree. And you've just got to be grateful if you have a job on the -- in these difficult times.

Jack, thanks very much.

On our Political Ticker, a new vote to give the late Senator Ted Kennedy his dying wish. The Massachusetts State House just gave initial approval to a bill that would allow the governor, Deval Patrick, to name an interim senator to fill Kennedy's seat until the special election in January. The measure still faces a second vote in the statehouse. Then it's on to the state senate, where the bill's prospects are uncertain. We'll watch this story. The Democrats need every vote they can get.

A White House correspondent gets called on the carpet by the Health secretary. Watch what happened when NBC News White House correspondent Chuck Todd sneezed -- sneezed during a White House briefing today and didn't follow the recommended protocol.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A senior administration official...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- described it as an impossible (INAUDIBLE)...

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: I mean what is that about?

Jeez.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: (INAUDIBLE) a few minutes ago very correctly in the sling. I mean it would be one thing to do...

(CROSSTALK)

SEBELIUS: I don't know.

Who's got some Purell?

Give that to Mr. Todd right away, a little -- a little hand sanitizer. Good. Good. We'll have Elmo give Chuck a special briefing. We'll get Elmo over. Elmo knows how to sneeze.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You may remember the Muppet character Elmo is featured in a public service video on how to sneeze without spreading germs. You don't go like this, you go like this.

Jimmy Carter raised some eyebrows in recent days by accusing President Obama's critics of racism. Now, the former president is diving into a very different controversy, pitting rapper Kanye West against country music sweetheart Taylor Swift.

Listen to the question and Carter's punch line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think of Kanye West calling out Taylor Swift at the VMA?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you agree with President Obama's response to his actions? CARTER: I don't know what Obama's response was. I thought it was completely uncalled for and his punishment was to appear on the new "Jay Leno Show." So...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama, you remember, called him a jackass, Kanye West.

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

President Obama back in campaign mode right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY YOUTUBE/BARACK OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you fired up and ready to go?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Only this time the candidate is health care reform.

Jeanne Moos is getting ready to take a Moost Unusual look.

Plus, Hot Shots, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Everything old is new again as President Obama tries to sell health care reform. Apparently, he's got his mojo back.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): The way the president jogged up the steps, the way all those hands clutched at his, the back and forth.

OBAMA: I love you back.

MOOS: Sound familiar?

OBAMA: I love you back.

I love you back.

MOOS: Thursday's health care rally felt like a time warp back to campaign '08 -- even change.

OBAMA: And we're going to bring about change.

MOOS: Hasn't changed.

OBAMA: And so our time for change has come. MOOS: The president resurrected a favorite campaign story.

OBAMA: She's dressed like she just came from church. She's got a big church hat.

MOOS: A story about the South Carolina councilwoman who invented that favorite slogan the president is likewise resurrecting.

OBAMA: Are you fired up?

Are you fired up?

Ready to go?

Ready to go?

MOOS: It's like mojo deja vu.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY YOUTUBE/BARACK OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

OBAMA: One voice can change a room. And if one voice can change a room, it can change a city.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: That rings a bell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY YOUTUBE/BARACK OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

OBAMA: And if it can change a city, it can change a state. And if it can change a state, it can change a nation.

I'm Barack Obama. And I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Just when you thought we had a president and the campaign was over, it's back -- only this time the candidate is health care.

OBAMA: Let's go change the world.

MOOS: That really rings a bell.

(VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Let's go change the world.

(VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Let's go change the world.

MOOS: But reliving the past isn't always pleasant.

OBAMA: When none of you knew how to pronounce my name.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brikme Oman (ph), something like that. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never heard of him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His name is like Arako Bimbala (ph).

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

Remember, I'm now on Twitter. You can go to Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn -- wolfblitzercnn one word. Read what I'm Tweeting.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.