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Protesters Defy Iraq Crackdown; Hotel Says No to President Ahmadinejad; Interview with Mitt Romney

Aired September 18, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, they're two of the most remote and seldom used border crossings in the entire United States, so why does the federal government want to spend more than $30 million on these two posts?

And a botched execution -- the condemned man pricked with a needle 18 times as executioners try for two hours to deliver a deadly cocktail of drugs to no avail. Now, controversy raging as they plan to try once again.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Chants of "Death to the Dictator!" and dueling marches filled Iran's capital once again today. Thousands of opposition protestors took to the streets of Tehran for the first time in months facing off against supporters of the hard line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's lashing out at the United States and Israel. Iran has kicked out most international news media. But CNN's Reza Sayah is following the demonstrations from nearby Islamabad -- Reza?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a dramatically and charged day in Tehran on Friday, as Iran's opposition movement showed it hasn't lost much steam.


SAYAH (voice-over): Iran's hard-liners had warned them to stay away, but tens of thousands of defiant opposition supporters hit the streets of Tehran in their first mass demonstration in nearly two months.

What followed was a tense face-off -- opposition supporters still protesting the June 12th elections on one side, pro-government crowds on the other. Paying the price for showing up, former president, Mohammad Khatami. A reformist Web site reports the opposition figure lost his turban when he was roughed up.

The green clad-opposition supporters made their comeback on Quds Day, a day that's supposed to be a show of solidarity for the Palestinian cause. Inside Tehran University, President Ahmadinejad unleashed a tirade against Israel and the West.

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): Today, the most important issue in the world is the issue of Palestine. If there is a conflict going on in Iraq, we believe that the conflict has been instigated by the Zionists. If there's a conflict in Afghanistan, the war has been provoked by the Zionists.

SAYAH: Outside Tehran University, it was protestors giving the president a tongue-lashing. "Death to the Dictator!" they chanted, as the president spoke. Supporters also blaring, "No to Gaza, No to Lebanon, I'm giving my life to Iran."

Making an appearance at the rally, opposition leader and former prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi -- perhaps the loudest and most aggressive critic of Iran's headliners, Mehdi Karroubi, was there, too. So was former president, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.

In recent weeks, Iran's hard-liners have called for the arrests of key opposition figures. On Friday, they showed up anyway. On June 12th, Iran's elections divided the country. Three months later, no sign of the two sides making peace.


SAYAH: Despite the face-off, there were no reports of widespread clashes. The opposition leaders don't appear to have any political options remaining on the table, but the big turnout is an indication, analysts say, that they're still a force to be reckoned with and they'll still continue to apply pressure on President Ahmadinejad during his second term -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah watching all of this for us.

Meanwhile, there's no room at the inn for the Iranian president. One New York hotel is canceling an event with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit to the United Nations next week. Others hosting the president are being targeted.

Let's bring in our Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, which hotel specifically is saying no?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's the New York Helmsley Hotel that is saying not welcome to President Ahmadinejad for his stay next week. A spokesman saying in a statement that when they learned that the Iranian president was planning a function there, then they learned of the details, they canceled it immediately and said he's not welcome there or at any of their properties.

They learned this through this group, United Against Nuclear Iran, an organization that is currently targeting meeting halls, hotels -- places where the Iranian delegation might be hosting events in the week that's coming. They're currently targeting a meeting hall, Gotham Hall, in New York City -- a meeting hall where they say another event is scheduled next week. But the general manager tells us today that that group is incorrect on that.

They're also focusing on the Barclay Intercontinental, where President Ahmadinejad has stayed in the past. A spokesman for that hotel would not commenting, saying for the privacy of their guests, they never comment on who might be staying there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Let's take a closer look now at the protests resurging in Iran on this day and President Ahmadinejad's comments blasting the West and Israel.

Rudi Bakhtiar is joining us right now. She's a former CNN "HEADLINE NEWS" anchor, currently the director of public relations for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian-Americans.

Rudi, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: What is the right way to treat the visiting Iranian president when he comes to New York next week to address the U.N. General Assembly?

BAKHTIAR: I think when you ask the Iranian-American community, they want to see a more robust activity on the -- on the part of their own community protesting the president, protesting what they've been seeing going on in the streets of Iran. There's something going on among the Iranian-American community that we haven't seen in the past 30 years, since they've started migrating here. And that is that -- that you see the diaspora, which normally thought that the governments of Iran would change at a very slow pace and had completely lost hope in any change in Iran now have been galvanized by the -- the visuals that they see out on the streets of Tehran, on the streets of Shiraz, on the streets of Eswan -- the people showing that they really want to protest at what has been happening, that they really believe they've been wrong, that they really don't like the way this government has been treating their people both on the streets and in the jail cells.

BLITZER: Now, he needs a place to stay when he comes to New York. He's going to be there for a few days.

Should hotels, based on what you know, based on what your organization supports, should hotels in New York allow him to stay there?

BAKHTIAR: The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian-Americans is an organization that brings together Iranian-Americans. It's not an organization that has any political activity with regards to Iran.

But what it does is it allows for other organizations, like United for Iran, which is an organization that sprung up post-June because of the fact that the diaspora felt the need to unite, to be able to be effective here in terms of shining a light on the atrocities that are going on inside of the prisons. That is what our organization allows for -- that to happen among (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: But are -- are you calling for demonstrations in New York next week? BAKHTIAR: PAAIA is not. The Public Affairs Alliance is not. But many organizations are. And people are allowed to do what they believe is right for their country.

BLITZER: Now, you've studied the situation in Iran. You've got good contacts there closely over these past several years.

What do you think is going to happen, not necessarily next week or two months, but down the road, as far as Ahmadinejad is concerned?

BAKHTIAR: I think the movement was very heartened by what they saw today. Despite the brutal crackdown these past few months on the Green Movement, on members of the Green Movement, on innocent protestors, even though they've seen images of people being beaten, even though they've heard that people are being raped brutally and killed inside the prisons, you still saw Iranians taking to the streets, which means that the movement is very strong.

What you saw which was even more important today, Wolf, was that Rafsanjani, who had headed the prayers on Quds Day ever since it was initiated by Khomeini back in '79, the a -- the summer that he took power, you saw them remove Rafsanjani and put in a hardliner named Khatami, not to be confused with the former president, a hardliner very aligned with Ahmadinejad. They -- you saw them put him, today, to speak. And that tells me that the Iranian government is very, very scared.

BLITZER: Rudi Bakhtiar, thanks for coming in.

BAKHTIAR: You're welcome.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of this story, too.

Gruesome new details of alleged grave desecration at a well-known Jewish cemetery. Workers give new details of bones and skulls discarded to make way for new plots.

And his crime was horrific, but some say his punishment was cruel and unusual -- an extremely painful botched execution that went on for two hours.

And scrapping a missile defense shield in Europe -- critics open fire on President Obama's move. Now Hilary Clinton is firing right back. A sharp rebuke from the secretary of State.

The former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's walking in. We're going to talk about that and more.


BLITZER: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is sharply rebuking critics of President Obama's move to scrap Bush-era plans for a missile defense shield based in Europe.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is joining us now live -- Jill, what's the secretary saying?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Secretary Clinton had a big speech this morning, actually, on the upcoming U.N. General Assembly. But she ended up defending President Obama's missile defense decision and she was ready for a fight.


DOUGHERTY: (voice-over): Hilary Clinton fires back at critics who charge President Barack Obama caved into Russia and shelved the Bush-era missile defense system.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This decision was not about Russia.

DOUGHERTY: But in Moscow, Vladimir Putin praises Mr. Obama for "a right and brave decision."

"The Washington Post" says, "The president's move brings smiles to Russia."

"The Washington Times" says his own new system "veers more in line with Russia."

Wrong, says the secretary of State.

CLINTON: It was about Iran and the threat that its ballistic missile program poses. And because of this position, we believe we will be in a far stronger position to deal with that threat and to do so with technology that works.

DOUGHERTY: Missile defense is not dead, says Hilary Clinton.

CLINTON: We are not shelving missile defense. We are deploying missile defense sooner than the Bush administration planned to do so. And we are deploying a more comprehensive system.

DOUGHERTY: But what about Poland and the Czech Republic, the two countries where the system was supposed to be built?

A Polish tabloid blares, "The U.S. sold Us to Russia and Stabbed Us in the Back."

CLINTON: We would never, never walk away from our allies.

DOUGHERTY: To critics who claim Mr. Obama's decision puts America's security at risk, Hilary Clinton says, think again.

CLINTON: Make no mistake, if you support missile defense, which I did as a senator for eight years, then this is a stronger and smarter approach than the previous program.


DOUGHERTY: And Secretary Clinton was asked whether Russia might harden its line on Iran as a result of Mr. Obama's decision on missile defense, but she sidestepped that question -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

Let's talk about this with Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate, former governor of Massachusetts.

Why do you think -- you don't think she's right, do you?

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, not at all. You have a -- a very belligerent Iran that's pursuing...

BLITZER: But she says and the president says that this new missile defense shield will deal with the short range and the mid- range -- the medium range missiles. They don't have a long-range missile.

ROMNEY: Well, they have the capacity, over time, to develop a long-range missile. And the idea that we're going to time our long- range defense to the exact moment when the most rosy prospect for when Iran might develop that long range threat is going to occur is obviously ridiculous. You -- you have to have the capacity, as early as you possibly can put it in place, to protect ourselves and protect our allies from threats which can develop. And our intelligence is not so clear-sighted in Iran to know exactly what they have and when they're going to develop new capacity.

If we want to protect our European allies and ourselves, we should pursue missile defense with all due speed.

BLITZER: Because the president and the secretary of State, they clearly are -- are suggesting that what they want to do is protect Israel right now in the short-term, because Israel apparently at the greatest -- is in the greatest danger from Iran and what they have in mind will protect Israel.

ROMNEY: There's no question but that protecting Israel is very, very important and we should use what resources we -- we can to provide that missile defense. But we also should protect others of our allies and invest in our missile defense system. The president also pulled back on our missile defense system in Alaska.

Look, at a time when North Korea is testing nuclear weaponry, when -- when they're testing missiles, when Iran is pursuing their own nuclear ambitions, this is a time for us to be investing more in missile defense, not pulling back from it. And this is something which the Department of Defense has worked on for a long time. Our good friends in the Czech Republic and Poland took a lot of political heat to put in place the capacity to develop these sites and then to back away is a -- is a kick in the -- in the sand in their faces and, at the same time, is something which jeopardizes our...

BLITZER: Will...

ROMNEY: ...our friends across the world.

BLITZER: Will this short-term, will this plan, now that the Obama administration has reassured the Israelis enough to stop thinking about some sort of preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, if they're told by the United States, you know what, there's a missile defense shield that will protect you from Iranian missiles?

ROMNEY: I think it's hard to assess what -- what Bebe Netanyahu and the Israelis are going to think that America is going to do. I think the assessment that was made that somehow this is not as great a threat as we thought is going to be more troubling to them than it is encouraging. And I think the only people who are encouraged by this, as you've seen on the -- on the coverage, your own coverage -- is the Russians. And I think it tells Vladimir Putin that -- that if you bellow loud enough, that -- that America will -- will back down. And the first rule of negotiations is -- is if you're going to give something up, make sure and get something. And we simply didn't do that.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about health care reform, another key issue on the agenda right now. Some say that the program that the president of the United States has in mind is very similar to what you, as governor of Massachusetts, put in place.

ROMNEY: You know, some things are similar. An exchange that allows people to purchase insurance at -- at a good price, that's a good idea. That's something we did. And telling people that they're not going to get refused for a preexisting coverage, that's a good idea. Not letting insurance companies drop you if you get sick, that's a good idea.

But that's about where the good ideas end and where he goes on with this government option is a very, very bad idea. Ultimately, that's going to lead to a new entitlement, to massive spending, ultimately, to the kind of rationing that you see in Europe. That's the wrong way to go.

BLITZER: Mike Hucka...


BLITZER: Mike Huckabee, who was your rival for the Republican presidential nomination, the former governor of Arkansas, he was at a rally -- at an event here in Washington today. And it sounds -- he didn't mention you by name, but he sounds like he's going after you personally because of what you did as governor of Massachusetts.

Listen to Huckabee.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want to see what government-run health care looks like?

A couple of states have tried it -- Tennessee and Massachusetts. It bankrupted both states. You know, the only thing inexpensive about the Massachusetts health care bill is that there, you can get a $50 abortion. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wow! That's a pretty strong statement from a Republican, basically going after a fellow Republican.

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I agree on abortion. But the -- the abortion decision was made by the courts. There was nothing in our bill, in terms of health care reform, that dealt with abortion at all.

BLITZER: But did your health care legislation, your program in Massachusetts, bankrupt the state?

ROMNEY: Of course not. The program in Massachusetts is working well. The cost is -- is precisely in line with what was forecasted by the Conference Committee. It cost the state a little over 1 percent of the state budget and we have 98 percent of our citizens insured.

BLITZER: So you're satisfied with the way it's working?

ROMNEY: Oh, it's not perfect. And -- and we can learn lessons from it. The key lessons are these -- you can get everybody insured without a government option and without having to break the bank.

BLITZER: So what do you want to say to the former governor of Arkansas?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm -- I'm saying the American people, come look at Massachusetts, learn what worked and what didn't. And what worked is you don't need to have government take over health care in order to get people insured. And you don't need to have a back-breaking expensive tax increase in order to do that.

And in our state -- look, we -- we were able to get the plan in place. It cost the state about $340 million. And that's a little over 1 percent of our budget.

BLITZER: So you're happy. You're ready to debate him on this...

ROMNEY: I'm not...

BLITZER: ...on the value of the Massachusetts...

ROMNEY: I'm not talking debates yet, but I'm happy to talk about the fact that when the president's talking about a -- a business mandate for insurance and he's -- and he's going to have a government option. That's the wrong way to go. We've proven you don't have to go that way. You don't need something that would cost -- well, his plan is almost a trillion dollars. That's just completely out of line with what the American people think America should see.

BLITZER: And some political pundits, based on what Huckabee said today, are already suggesting, you know what, he's thinking about 2012. You might be thinking about 2012. There could be a little rivalry going on for the Republican presidential nomination.

ROMNEY: I'm actually thinking about this year and making sure that the president doesn't put on the American people an extraordinary burden by having a government-run health care system that's massively expensive and with a government entitlement. That's the wrong way to go. But reform that accomplishes what we accomplished, I'd like to see it done on a state by state basis rather than a federal basis, but that reform is a good idea.

BLITZER: Because when I asked you if you're ready to debate, you said I'm not ready to debate yet.


ROMNEY: I'm not looking at debates. I'm looking at getting the right course in Washington and making sure we elect some -- some moderate and conservative voices in Congress and in the Senate to support our team that's there.

BLITZER: I'm ready to host that debate between you and Huckabee if you want.

ROMNEY: You're going to have to wait long and hard. I'm not sure that's ever going to happen. That's well beyond my horizon.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see. It could happen. It's happened before. We'll -- we'll watch it closely.

ROMNEY: I enjoyed it last time.

BLITZER: Yes. And I enjoyed hosting it, as well.

Thanks very much for coming in.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Republican lawmakers rallying party troops.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While some are prepared to write the obituary on our values and our movement, I believe we are on the brink of a great American awakening.


Is he right?

I'll ask Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett. They're standing by.

Plus, plans to spend $30 million government stimulus dollars on two very remote border crossings raising eyebrows right now. It's under fire. CNN's Special Investigation Unit is on the story.


BLITZER: All right. There's information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from Baltimore right now.

Let's go to Fredricka Whitfield -- Fred, what's going on?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, we're talking about what appears to be a major broken water main in Dundalk, Maryland. Take a look right there at those images. Many feet of water there flooding over. In fact, now they're concerned about the people who live and have been commuting through that area. They're also putting out an all man search out to make sure that no one is missing, because possibly some cars could have been swept away, as you see right there -- a lot of the vehicles that are simply flooded by the water. It looks like a river in some parts of the neighborhood there.

And also some bad news on the job front we want to turn to -- or rather, before we get to that, let's talk about the update on the Yale killing. The "Hartford Courant" newspaper is reporting that police found the suspect's DNA in a ceiling and in the wall where graduate student Annie Le's body was found. One official tells the newspaper that Raymond Clark III tried to hide blood-covered equipment. Police arrested Clark and charged him with murder yesterday. They're calling Leigh's death -- Le's death, rather, a case of workplace violence.

And here's something that you don't see every day -- a rare video of North Korea's Kim Jong Il. The reclusive leader is seen here meeting with a special envoy from China. The meeting represents an easing in tensions since North Korea's most recent nuclear tests. The communist leader is believed to have suffered a stroke last year, although officials insist that he is in good health.

And OK, you love that big screen -- that high def TV. You officially call yourself the coolest family on the block, right?

Well, not for long. Several television manufacturers are now developing 3-D television -- special glasses and all. And experts say it will be ready for the home market as early as next year.

So, Wolf, THE SITUATION ROOM just went high def this week, on Monday. And so now, soon, to see you in 3-D.

BLITZER: Oh my god.

WHITFIELD: what's the world coming to?

BLITZER: This is scary stuff.

WHITFIELD: We love that.

BLITZER: All right, thanks.

WHITFIELD: We can't get enough of our Wolf Blatz -- Blitzer.


WHITFIELD: And now we get to see you in 3-D.

BLITZER: And you, too.

WHITFIELD: Just as if we're in the room with you. BLITZER: Much better to see you.

Thanks, Fred.

We're taking you on a hunt to see how millions of your tax dollars are being spent.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: We've flown to Billings, Montana. We've been driving for five hours through a country that has more antelope than people. And I'll tell you, we've done the bridges to nowhere, the roads to nowhere, but this may be the topper.


BLITZER: They're among the most -- the most remote and least used border crossings in the country, so why did the federal government shell out $30 million to expand them?

Plus, botched execution -- we have some dramatic new details of what went wrong and why it could keep a convicted killer from being put to death.


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

Happening now, the widening terror probe in New York and Colorado involving Afghan nationals -- so what's going on?

We have new information.

Covering the Tea Party protests here in Washington -- we answer an erroneous Fox News ad claiming that CNN, among others, ignored the news in the nation's capital last Saturday.

And Rambo rabbis -- to beef up security, rabbis at some synagogues are getting a crash course on anti-terror tactics.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


With so much focus on border security, it's easy to understand why the Homeland Security Department is spending millions of dollars on updating its border crossing facilities. But two projects are raising eyebrows. Some call them flat out crazy. Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit takes us there.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT: We knew this one we had to see to believe, but after driving for hours we thought we might never see it. We've flown to Billings, Montana. We've been driving for five hours through a country that has more antelope than people, and I tell you we've done the bridges to nowhere, the roads to nowhere, but this may be the topper.

It was supposed to be $15 million to replace what appears to be a perfectly fine border crossing station, especially when you consider the Bureau of Transportation statistics say this border crossing station at Scobey, Montana sees fewer than 20 vehicles a day.

It's not that you could just call this border crossing slow. Here I am in the middle of the day sitting in the middle of the road. There's nobody here.

It's even quieter here, the border crossing at Whitetail, Montana. The Bureau of Transportation statistics says the custom agents here get an average of fewer than two vehicles a day. Yet, this too was to see a $15 million upgrade thanks to the Federal Stimulus Bill.

BURL BOWLER, DANIEL COUNTY LEADER: Well, I think everybody was pretty well blown away that they're spending $32 million on Daniels County on new border stations. I believe they need the update, but that just seems to be kind of a crazy number.

GRIFFIN: Why suddenly was so much money supposed to come to Northeast Montana border crossings, especially when you consider that these border crossings are so unused they're both closed at night? Could it be politics?

Since the Democrats took over in the senate, Montana's two Democratic senators have become very powerful. Senator Max Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Jon Tester is on the Homeland Security Committee, and both took credit for the millions allocated up here in a joint press release, saying they pushed Homeland Security for the stimulus spending.

"This is good news for all of Montana and especially communities across the northern tier," Senator Baucus said in that release. Senator Tester said the spending would "pay off for generations to come by creating new jobs and opportunity that will benefit all of Montana." And just this week, Senator Tester reiterated his support in a statement saying through his spokesperson, "Because our borders are only as strong as their weakest link, Jon supports sealing up all security gaps and expects to see the work done as responsibly and efficiently as possible.

The Department of Homeland Security even told us that security concerns -- not politics -- drove this decision to spend on the ports.

TRENT FRAZIER, HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT: We feel that these ports, like all of the ports of entry, are a vital part of that network of security that we established along the borders and that the investment that we're going to do at these ports of entry are a critical step in ensuring that we can perform our mission.

MARK CHABOT, SCOBEY, MONTANA RESIDENT: My dad, Paul... GRIFFIN: Mark Chabot's family has been farming this border for generations. His land is adjacent to the border crossing in Scobey. In winter, entire days go by, he says, where you won't see a single car. An idea to build a new border station that sees fewer than 20 cars a day -- at a cost of $15 million tax dollars -- he says could only have come from Washington.

CHABOT: Well, when you're spending somebody else's money, cost is no big deal, right? But if I'm spending your money, what do I care as long as you've got a big pocketbook, what do I care where I spend it? The accountability that we need to have and the sensibility and the common senses needs to apply here. I mean the senators did a fine job as far as getting money for Northeast Montana -- absolutely great. But would it be wiser spent on something more useful to the public generally?

GRIFFIN: Scobey and nearby Whitetail would have received a temporary boost to the local economy, but not anymore. Shortly after the DHS defended the project to CNN on camera, the Secretary pulled the plug, ordering a full review of how her department makes spending decisions.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Scobey, Montana.


BLITZER: And to be clear, CNN tried to get comments from the two US senators from Montana for two weeks before the project was put on hold. The only response we received, that's the -- that's what you heard in this report.

A botched execution leaves a condemned man in excruciating pain as he's poked with a needle 18 times in an unsuccessful effort to insert an IV, and now there's a controversial plan to try it again. And CNN's own Rick Sanchez -- he's all fired up, and he's drawing a line in the sand.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, today thousands of you flipped through the pages of the Washington Post only to come across a lie so bold and so upsetting that frankly I'm just not going to sit here in silence and allow my craft or my news operation to be unfairly maligned, because enough is enough. And, yes, I'm talking to you, FOX News.


BLITZER: The debate over health care reform -- it is hot. It is very, very hot. Let's talk about that and more with our CNN Political Contributors, the Democratic strategists Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett, the host of the Conservative national talk radio show "Morning in America." He's also a fellow at the Claremont Institute.

I'm going to play a little clip of some Republicans really getting their supporters enthusiastic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: While some are prepared to write the obituary, our values and our movement, I believe we are on the brink of a great American awakening.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Ordinary Americans speaking their minds, dismissed and ridiculed by people in power. The reason they're doing this is clear -- because we're winning the argument.


BLITZER: Are they, Donna, winning the argument right now in this health care debate?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No. They've muddied the water, but I don't believe they're winning the argument. I think they're also misreading the tea leaves. If you look at the latest Gallup Poll that just came out, 58 percent of Republicans disapprove of the -- the work that members of congress are doing. So perhaps rather than focus on the next election, they might focus on coming up with good alternatives to the -- to the Democratic proposals so that they can go to their voters and their base and say here's -- here's what we're planning to do. Right now they're not doing that.

BLITZER: Are they winning the argument?

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think they are winning the argument -- yes. Otherwise, I don't think the president would be on -- what? -- five or six or seven shows this weekend. And the polls have shown over the last two months more and more doubts about the president's program.

It seems odd to have wasted this opportunity, but there is so much catch up, it seems to me, the Democrats are doing on this -- on this debate. They are on defense and the Republicans are on offense. Some of this was a gift, I think, given the number of the confusions that came out. But I think people are just nervous about the plan.

BLITZER: Because it seems -- at least based on the coverage that we all see -- that the base of the opposition is much more riled up than the base of the supporters of the president in terms of going out there and demanding action.

BRAZILE: Well, Wolf, I think -- I think the media has -- it has put the spotlight on those with the loudest voices, but those with reason answers to a crisis that is really troubling to many Americans. This -- this impacts...

BLITZER: Well, why aren't -- why haven't we seen a hundred thousand or 50 thousand folks come into Washington to rally on behalf of the president's plan?

BRAZILE: Well, you know -- Look, Wolf, I -- I think -- I think the Democrats, if they choose to call a protest meeting or a rally, they should. But right now the Democrats are the majority party and the American people by and large still continue to support this president. He may have lost a little bit in terms of his personal standing, but they trust his policies, and I think that that's when the debate's going to end is when they see fully what the Democrats will put forward.

BENNETT: I think the point about the passion is -- it's because 80 percent or something like 80 percent of the American people like their health care. They're happy with it. And they're worried that things could get -- could get a lot worse.

The other place to look is not just the base of the Republican Party, but the independents. You see an awful lot of defection from support of Barack Obama's proposals from the independents. The elderly are nervous about this. I think you're right, the passion...

BLITZER: Let me -- let me read you what Jay Rockefeller -- the Democratic senator from West Virginia -- said about his Republican colleague Olympia Snowe, a moderate. "I think the world of Olympia Snowe. She's got incredible courage, and the Republican leadership is brutal in the way they apply pressure -- much more so than the Democrats. They bring the hammer down on her, and I'm not going to say how."

You've been in Washington, Bill, for a long time. Those are pretty strong words.

BENNETT: I also know Olympia Snowe. She's pretty indifferent, I think, to any kind of hammers. I don't see this happening. But if you want a heavy hammer, I think Rockefeller's hammer on Max Baucus -- chairman of that committee...

BLITZER: He doesn't like the fact that he abandoned the so- called public option.

BENNETT: Absolutely. Absolutely. It doesn't look like there will be any Republican support for this plan that Baucus has. And now that Baucus may not have very much Democrat support either.

BRAZILE: Look, I still believe that this bill is a work in progress, and what chairman Baucus has been able to do is to bring together a bunch of ideas that the Republicans offered. They wanted to have a bill without a public option. That's what Chairman Baucus gave them. They wanted a bill that allowed for interstate competition. That's what Chairman Baucus gave them.

Chairman Baucus has given the Republicans pretty much everything that they wanted, but they don't want reform, they don't want to see the American people be able to afford health care, they don't want to see the uninsured be able to have access. And with that -- No, no, Bill. This is serious because...

BENNETT: No, no. This is serious...

BRAZILE: This -- this -- this is a...

BENNETT: ... a serious charge.

BRAZILE: ... this is an issue for many Americans. As Michelle Obama said today -- the First Lady -- this is personal. Many Americans are losing their health insurance each and every day, and for the status quo -- the Republicans to sit around and say, oh, let's just let the status quo...

BENNETT: No one's advancing that, Donna.

BRAZILE: Well then what...

BENNETT: That's just a flat misrepresentation.

BRAZILE: What's the bill? What's the bill?

BENNETT: There are 30 different bills, there are 30 different plans...

BRAZILE: Has CBO -- has CBO analyzed any bill?

BENNETT: Yes, they have analyzed several of the bills.

BRAZILE: Which bill?

BENNETT: The Ryan-Coburn Bill has been analyzed, for example.

BRAZILE: And what is the cost? And how many people will it cost (ph)?

BENNETT: The cost is less. The cost will not drive up the deficit. It will cover 90 percent of the uninsured, and it's a perfectly good plan. We -- That's where I complain about the media, but I don't want to say, you complain about the media, I'll complain about the media.

But Dr. Price -- Tom Price in Georgia has collected all of the Republican alternatives. There are 30 Republican alternatives. They are serious, they address the problem of the uninsured, they address the problem of (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: We're not going to resolve this right now. Both of you are going to come back in a few minutes. We wouldn't resolve it right now, but I do -- I do want to -- I do want to get you on the record, Bill, because we haven't spoken since this whole uproar over the czars has come up, and you actually were a czar. You were the drug czar during the Reagan administration and -- so what -- I mean, you have a unique perspective on -- on the complaint that there shouldn't be these czars.

BENNETT: Well, point of privilege, if I may.

BLITZER: You may.

BENNETT: A couple weeks ago we talked about the drug czar and maybe we can't get anything done and maybe that's why nothing has been done. You don't ever finally win the war on drugs -- meaning nobody's using drugs, but you can have periods of time in which you make great progress and then you could fall back. And the late '80s, early '90s was a time of great progress. I will give credit to Joe Biden, chairman of the Judiciary Committee who created the position I first took, and to Charlie Rangel, actually, who was very helpful.

It was a bipartisan effort. There were 24 million active drug users in the 1980s. In 1992, there were 11 million. That's a big slice. That's a big cut. We raised the price of cocaine, we lowered the purity of cocaine. Now I had the wind up my back. The American people cared a lot about this issue. But the notion that government can't do anything and that we didn't do anything just isn't right.

Let me say one advantage I had, public opinion, one. Two, I was confirmed by the Senate. And I think it really helps a czar to be confirmed. I think if Mr. Jones -- whatever you think of the merits -- had gone up for a confirmation, he might have avoided this whole process.

BLITZER: Don't go away, guys, because we're going to talk about something that's happening right now. CNN's John King has just spoken to President Obama. John is going to join us live right at the top of the hour with part of his interview. Stand by for that. We'll get analysis from Donna and Bill.

And CNN's own Rick Sanchez -- he has a two-word message.

SANCHEZ: We put a call into FOX News for a comment, and we expect an apology. But we're still waiting.

Let me address the FOX News Network now, perhaps the most current way that I can, by quoting somebody who recently used a very pithy phrase. Two words -- it's all I need. You lie.


BLITZER: Now a CNN exclusive and a dramatic follow-up to a story CNN's Special Investigation Unit broke involving a major Jewish cemetery outside Los Angeles. A lawsuit claims workers desecrated graves there for years. Now one of the cemetery's own employees is speaking out exclusively to our Special Investigations Correspondent, Abbie Boudreau. She's joining us now with more.

Abbie, what's going on because the -- the allegations are very, very dramatic.

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and the person that we're about -- that you're going to hear from, he was nervous because he didn't want to show his face because he was scared he was going to lose his job by talking, so he did ask us to hide his identity. He tells a gruesome story about grave diggers chipping into vaults to make room for new ones and then throwing away human bones and skulls.


BOUDREAU (voice-over): This grave digger just got off work from Eden Memorial. He was still in his cemetery uniform when he agreed to talk to CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I want to tell the truth.

BOUDREAU: He says his supervisors told him many times to break concrete vaults to make room for new ones. Oftentimes, bones from the broken vaults would fall out. He says his supervisors told him to throw those bones away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Whatever you need to do, just break it so the new grave will be dug and the new bones could go in.

BOUDREAU: He says he and other grave diggers dump human bones and skulls into a 70 to 80 foot hole in the cemetery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They will pick it up and take it to the dump.

BOUDREAU: When asked how often graves were disturbed, he told us two to three times a week, and the total number of broken vaults was in the hundreds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There are 300, but probably more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So 300 gravesites were disturbed and the remains were moved around?


BOUDREAU: He says he feared getting fired if he didn't do what he was told, though he did feel bad about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Because it wasn't correct what our bosses told us to do. If I didn't do it, they would run me off.

BOUDREAU: He says he was even instructed what to do if people were visiting the cemetery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They would cover the holes with green so that people couldn't see it.

BOUDREAU: And Mateo Ruelas Garcia, a former Eden Memorial Park worker, tells the same story, that a salesman from the cemetery was the one to instruct him.

MATEO RUELAS GARCIA, FORMER EMPLOYEE: Say break this piece -- break this piece. And I said you're not supposed to be break, and saying, "Go ahead. Nobody can see. Go ahead and do that."

BOUDREAU: Garcia was fired last year, but the company that owns the cemetery, Service Corporation International -- or SCI -- wouldn't say why. Both Garcia and the current employee have come forward now, days after a lawsuit was filed against SCI. In a statement, SCI said, "These people are not credible."

The company went on to say that in a prior investigation conducted by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Eden's grounds crew was interviewed. Obviously these two disgruntled individuals did not raise these sweeping allegations in prior opportunities with the state and are now changing their stories.


BOUDREAU: And Wolf, we have new development tonight. The Board of Rabbis of Southern California says it's, "concerned and troubled by the allegations being made against Eden Memorial." The group says that issue affects the entire Jewish community, and of course tonight is Rosh Hashanah -- the start of the Jewish High Holy Days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbie, thanks for following up for us. Appreciate it.

A botched execution, a condemned man is poked with a needle 18 times as executioners try for two hours to deliver a deadly cocktail of drugs. And a rabbi's unusual calling -- teaching anti-terror tactics over at synagogues.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please don't hurt me! Don't hurt -- OK, OK, OK, OK. Come on! And the gun comes out. So.



BLITZER: Will the highest court of the country stop a convicted child killer from being put to death just days after prison staff botched his execution. An Ohio inmate is asking the Supreme Court to keep him alive.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now with more. Brian, you've come up with some dramatic new details. What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the first ever lethal injection in the US to fail and then be rescheduled, but we've just learned that the condemned inmate's lawyers have delayed his execution again. This operation went so poorly that according to an inmate -- according to that inmate in question, rather, a female nurse left the room flustered -- one of several strange details surrounding this case.


TODD (voice-over): Just 17 steps from the room where he'd be put to death, Romell Broom was helping his executioners. He laid on his side, flexed his muscles to help them find a vein to inject lethal chemicals.

For two hours they tried. He says they pricked him 18 times. His lawyer gave other details to CNN.

TIM SWEENEY, ROMELL BROOM'S ATTORNEY: There were attempts made in part of the body where bone was hit. That was excruciating for -- for Mr. Broom.

TODD: It all happened Tuesday in an Ohio state prison. Broom, convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl 25 years ago, never made it out of the preparation chamber.

Ohio's governor postponed his execution for a week. Officials were going to bring him back to die next Tuesday, but Broom's lawyers have just succeeded in delaying it and want to stop it completely. They say bringing him back to die would be cruel and unusual punishment -- a violation of his civil rights.

The head of the Prosecutors Office in the county where the crime occurred is furious.

BILL MASON, CUYAHOGA COUNTY ATTORNEY: It's really ironic in that this defendant and his lawyer are whining about getting pricked with a needle when -- they call it cruel and unusual punishment when he stood over this 14-year-old girl after he raped her and then stabbed her and plunged a knife into her seven times.

TODD: But Broom's lawyers also want to change the way lethal injections are done in Ohio. I spoke about that with Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center. Dieter says his group chronicles executions, doesn't take a moral position on the death penalty, but it has been critical of how they're carried out.

And the gist of the issue here is the protocol in Ohio, which is similar to other states.

RICHARD DIETER, DEATH PENALTY INFORMATION CENTER: Yes. I mean, this is a complicated protocol involving three drugs administered by people who are not doctors, but rather who are guards and there are going to be complications when you deal with human physiology.

TODD: Ohio prison officials say the vein insertions are done by what they call the execution staff, not doctors. But they say those people have to be trained as EMTs or paramedics.

TERRY COLLINS, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION: Do I have confidence in the process? Yes. Do I have confidence in my team? Absolutely, positively yes.


TODD (on camera): And we're told by Mr. Broom's lawyers that that prison official you just heard from, Terry Collins, actually thanked Romell Broom later for all the cooperation he gave them when they were trying to execute him.

Wolf, every detail we got on this case was more bizarre than the last one.

BLITZER: In some states, are doctors present at these executions?

TODD: Richard Dieter say some other states do require doctors to be present during the execution, but that is a very sticky ethical issue with the American Medical Association. In states like Ohio, doctors check the inmate for usable veins the night before the execution but they are not present during the event.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. Happening now, breaking news, a brand new interview with President Obama. Our own John King is just emerging from their one-on-one interview over at the White House. Stand by for that.

And Michelle Obama follows Hillary Clinton's lead. How far will she go to help her husband promote health care reform? And our own Rick Sanchez has two words for one of our competitors: You lie! We're debunking false claims that this network didn't cover Obama protests last weekend.

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.