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President Obama's Mideast Challenge; New Flooding Danger & Deaths; Bill Clinton is Everywhere

Aired September 22, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama dives into one of the toughest diplomatic challenges in the world. Can he bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together for more than a handshake and brief talks?

I'll speak about that with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He'll be joining us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Bill Clinton unplugged. He's all over the interview circuit right now and the diplomatic scene. This hour, questions about whether he's actually upstaging his wife or the president.

And the Atlanta area is awash in water and misery. The death toll is rising from historic flooding, and more rain is on the way.

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

Here in New York right now, President Obama is in the midst of a whirlwind of diplomacy as world leaders gather at the United Nations, but his talks today with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders had the highest stakes. It's Mr. Obama's most direct involvement yet in the Middle East conflict that so many American presidents have tried and failed to solve.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's here watching this story for us.

What was the president hoping to achieve today, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the White House, Wolf, did not have any grand expectations for today's meetings on Mideast peace talks, but there are clearly grand expectations for the future. President Obama says it's time to move forward, past the hate and mistrust, and achieve lasting peace in the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): On the world stage, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands, but they remain deadlocked, unwilling to restart talks despite strong pressure from the U.S.

JAMES RUBIN, FMR. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it's a reflection of how difficult this really is. Not only can't we get negotiations started, but imagine how difficult it's going to be to deal with issues like Jerusalem or refugees, the big fundamental questions.

LOTHIAN: In his private meetings with the two leaders, President Obama expressed his frustration according to a senior administration official, adding that they clearly heard his tenor and tone. Publicly, President Obama praised and then prodded the Israelis and Palestinians.

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security, but they need to do more to stop incitement and to move forward with negotiations. Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians and have discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity, but they need to translate these discussions into real action.

LOTHIAN: President Abbas is holding back until there's an Israeli settlement freeze, something Prime Minister Netanyahu won't fully embrace. And Netanyahu, a hard-liner, is unwilling to give up any part of Jerusalem.

President Obama urged compromise to get the ball rolling again.

OBAMA: ... to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back. Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency.

LOTHIAN: After a three-way meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell called the effort positive and suggested the distance between the two sides is shrinking.

GEORGE MILLER, MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: We have substantially and significantly progressed in reducing the number of issues on which there is disagreement, and we hope to complete that process in the near future.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: A senior administration official tells me that the president told both leaders that they shouldn't hold out for the perfect formula. He's really tried to convey a sense of urgency here, and Mr. Obama is also calling on Arab states to take concrete steps to promote peace -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's next for the president here in New York?

LOTHIAN: Well, next week in Washington, Senator Mitchell will be meeting with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, and then president Obama HAS asked secretary Clinton, secretary of state, to give him a status on how the negotiations are going by mid-October.

BLITZER: And the president later today is going to be speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative.

LOTHIAN: That's right. That's correct.

BLITZER: And he heads off -- he gives his big General Assembly speech tomorrow, and then he moves off to Pittsburgh.

LOTHIAN: That's right. Exactly. A busy week for the president.

BLITZER: The G-20 summit. All right. Very busy, diplomacy. Lots of stuff going on.

This important note to our viewers -- my live one-on-one interview with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that's coming up later, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll press him about his talks with President Obama today and any concessions he might be willing to make.

Now to the devastating flooding in the Southeast. Neighborhoods in the Atlanta area are swamped by several feet of murky brown water. At least eight people are dead, seven of them in Georgia, and officials say the danger won't let up until floodwaters recede.

Look at this. That's a roller-coaster track at Six Flags that's submerged. And the rain eased somewhat today, but there's more in the forecast. And flood warnings still are in effect across the region.

Many roads and some major highways have been shut down, and Atlanta area schools are closed for a second day. Georgia's governor has declared a state of emergency in 17 counties, and he's asked President Obama for federal aid.

CNN's Susan Hendricks is in the middle of all of this.

Susan, where are you?

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm in Cobb County, and it's been sunny all morning long. We've been here since 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. But don't let that fool you. As you said, a state of emergency in 17 counties.

It has receded a bit. I would say about six feet. The water started here when we arrived, and now it's gone back, I would say, about six or seven feet. But that's not much of a reprieve for all of the residents who live behind me.

That was a neighborhood 48 hours ago, just 48 hours ago. Also a famous restaurant, I would say, about a stone's throw away. A canoe also submerged in water. A real mess here.

And I spoke to a lot of the residents who live in this area. I want to introduce you to one gentleman. His name is Charles. He's lucky enough. He grew up here, but his home is a little bit above the flood level, so he literally watched this unfold.

Take a listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw these posts shooting out of the ground about -- I'd say 10 feet in the air out of the water, and it rose definitely within a 24-hour period. And I had seen something like this in 1990 when I was 5 years old, but nothing like this.

It was about five feet from my House, and we live up on the hill right here. So, I've been trapped up there with my car not able to get out, snuck through my neighbor's back yard to get out to the public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDRICKS: And his brother John, believe it or not, was supposed to get married right here.

If you pan over, Dave -- that gazebo is where his brother was supposed to get married in just two weeks. Obviously that's not happening. The entire neighborhood, that club under water. He does say, look, I have Plan B, being very positive here.

I've been here for several hours. It seems like a tight-knit community, literally helping each other out.

They use a canoe now as a mode of transportation. What used to be a roadway is now a waterway. I've seen canoes back and forth with people trying to salvage anything they can to get out of their homes.

And as I said, the weather seems nice now, but Sonny Perdue saying, look, this is far from over. The rain could catch up to us. Seventeen counties under a state of emergency, schools are shut down, lives lost.

And so, they put it into perspective and say, look, we're pretty lucky in this neighborhood. No one died here, we will rebuild -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to all the folks down there, Susan. We'll be watching it closely. Thank you.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it's a week where President Obama's global support will likely be put to the test with meetings at the U.N., here in New York, as well as the G-20 Summit over in Pittsburgh. There is no question this president is better liked overseas than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

A recent Pew survey finds significant support for President Obama still throughout Africa, Europe and Latin America. Attitudes towards the U.S. are mostly more favorable in many of the Muslim countries as well.

The survey shows America's image has improved "markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama." In a lot of places, opinions of the U.S. are as high as they were before Bush took office. But the question might be, how much does it really matter? What's changed on the international stage as a result of President Obama's increase in popularity?

The answer is not much.

North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, Afghanistan, Iraq all still present the same challenges to this country as they did before Mr. Obama won the election. And just because other countries may like our president, it doesn't always mean they are going to support his foreign policy decisions.

And one more thing. The arrest of suspects in a terror plot this week here, inside the United States, indicates the terrorists haven't suddenly decided to lay down their arms and become our friends either.

It's nice to be liked, but being president of the United States isn't necessarily about winning a popularity contest overseas. And that brings us to the question, which is this: Is it more important for an American president to be liked or feared outside the country?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question -- can you be liked and feared at the same time?

CAFFERTY: You bet.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: I like you and I'm scared to death of you.

BLITZER: Not true.

Jack, thank you very much.

There's a new Clinton campaign to address the world's problems. We're not talking about the secretary of state. We're talking about the former president of the United States.

The Clinton Global Initiative unfolding in New York right now. We're standing by to hear from President Obama. He's getting ready to address that forum.

Also coming up, major developments in a terror investigation, and a new warning about possible targets of attack where lots of people are gathered right now.

And David Letterman's (INAUDIBLE) by chatting with President Obama. I'll ask the late-night host Craig Ferguson what he would have asked the commander in chief if he had a chance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If you haven't seen Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, in recent days, you probably haven't been watching a lot of television. He's been all over the place promoting the Clinton Global Initiative, his annual forum that takes place this week in New York City, doing very important work.

He has been very busy. You might think he's the one with the job in the current administration, not his wife.

Brian Todd has been following the former president, unplugged.

What are you seeing, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with a big high- profile event in New York, five network interviews, and a detailed book on his years in the White House making news right now, Bill Clinton is again in the spotlight and loving it. It's certainly, as you mentioned, Clinton unplugged, even when he's trying not to be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A balancing act Bill Clinton style. He opens his annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative with a guest speaker you might have heard of. And a no fewer than five network talkers, the former president says repeatedly that he is not there to step on President Obama's toes or his wife's.

He says it on "LARRY KING LIVE"...

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Beyond that, I think I shouldn't say anything because I don't have any policymaking authority anymore.

TODD: ... and on "The Daily Show."

CLINTON: Given Hillary's job, I think you should always suck up to the boss.

TODD: But asked about the issues driving the day, Mr. Clinton still jumped in with both feet on a possible troop surge in Afghanistan...

CLINTON: What I think President Obama will want to do is to let the selection settle down, make it clear what the victor is.

TODD: ... and on "The Today Show," a thumbnail take on the Iranian president's emotional state.

CLINTON: Ahmadinejad is lashing out at the world.

TODD: But is this Clinton-palooza crowding the stage, elbowing out a president and secretary of state who have serious business at hand at the U.N. and the G-20 summit this week?

JOHN HARRIS, AUTHOR, "THE SURVIVOR: BILL CLINTON": Obama doesn't have any competition for that main platform in American politics. I don't think Bill Clinton has any obligation to not express himself, and it's clear he doesn't feel that he does either.

TODD: Following tension over last year's election battles with President Obama, Bill Clinton has gotten some of his mojo back this summer. His mission to North Korea, an insider's book putting him back in the political conversation.

How should the current White House occupant handle it?

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: The key for Barack Obama and his people is to not overreact, know that this is Bill Clinton's week in the sun. If there's more controversy like this new book, maybe it's good that it all comes out at the same time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, analysts give the former president credit for showing some restraint in all of these network interviews, giving disclaimers that he's not there to influence policy. But in the end, they say Bill Clinton just loves the attention, and anyone who thinks he's going to slowly fade to black just doesn't know him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

In a bid to get more support, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is unveiling changes to his health care overhaul bill. He's offering more aid for poor Americans to buy insurance and reducing the penalty for not getting insurance.

Our political analyst, Gloria Borger is joining us to talk a little bit more about this debate.

Gloria, we've just seen President Obama become much more involved in state politics, especially here in New York State. What about stepping up his involvement in his own health care priority? What do you anticipate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, Boss Obama, as he was with Governor Paterson? I think there are a lot of Democrats, Wolf, who are asking the question, when is the president really going to roll up his shirt sleeves and start writing this bill?

We were all asking that question, where is he? And then he gave the address to the joint session of Congress.

In talking to folks inside the White House, what I'm gleaning is they are waiting for Senator Baucus to get his bill out of committee. They would like to see something passed on the Senate floor, and they will be involved in that. But they really believe that their input is going to come when the House version of health care reform and the Senate version of health care reform have to be reconciled into one bill, and that will be President Obama's bill.

So, that's where he's going to be very, very intimately involved.

BLITZER: Let me quote from your upcoming column, Gloria, on CNN.com. You write this: "Sure, the president wants something bigger. That's what he promised. But if it's not going to happen, he needs to start to boss some folks around a Plan B. After all, Barack Obama may have pledged to dump politics as usual in Washington, but he did not take an oath of political celibacy."

Go ahead, explain BORGER: Well, I do think that at a certain point, Barack Obama is going to have to start angering people in his own party because he wants to get a health care bill done. That means telling liberals there may not be a public option and telling conservatives there's going to be a higher price tag on this than he would want.

And you guys were just talking about Bill Clinton. In Bill Clinton's first term in office, he hardly did anything except anger the liberal base of his own party. He wrote a smaller budget than they wanted, he passed a trade bill they didn't like -- and that was three years before he passed welfare reform -- and he managed to get re-elected.

So, at a certain point, the president is going to have to start taking on these constituencies in his own party. The problem I'm told, Wolf, is that in his own heart, the president himself wants a larger health reform package.

BLITZER: And indeed. And despite all of the problems he had with his base, let's say, the left wing of the Democratic Party, and the impeachment issue, he did have job approval numbers, Gloria, as you well remember, in the 50s and even 60s, which is not too shabby.

Let me wish you, by the way, Gloria, a happy birthday.

BORGER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Happy birthday today. Many, many more.

BORGER: Thank you very much. Thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Where are they? A relative of one of three American hikers being held in Iran is hoping Iran's president has some good news for them when he visits New York and the United Nations this week.

And Tea Party Express protesters plan to hit the road once again. What should Democrats do to counter this group?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, unwelcome in New York. Did Libyan officials resort to posing as Dutch diplomats to try to find the Libyan leader a place to say during his visit to the United Nations?

Stand by.

Gun control versus gun rights. Who is winning an increasingly polarized debate? Just follow the money. And roads and parts of interstates are closed, entire subdivisions under water. Some of the amazing pictures of deluged residents of Atlanta, these pictures are coming in. Rare floods in the metro area.

Stand by.

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

From security alerts to a search for more suspects, there are major new developments today in an alleged homegrown terror plot.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is following all of this for us.

Jeanne, what's the latest?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've been told from the get-go that this is a broad-ranging and ongoing investigation. And now a source familiar with the investigation tells us that investigators are focusing on about a dozen suspects. We don't know if the three men who were arrested Saturday night figure into that dozen figure or not.

In addition to finding people connected with this alleged plot, authorities are looking for materials that might have been used for bomb-making. There's a storage facility in Queens, New York, that is one of many facilities visited within the last week by the FBI, both in New York and Denver. The manager of the facility in Queens says that the FBI showed him a series of pictures of suspects, asked him if he recognized them. He did not.

Najibullah Zazi, the man who is at the center of this plot, remains incarcerated in Englewood, Colorado, at the Englewood Correctional Institution. He is next slated to appear in court on Thursday morning. It is possible that at that detention hearing, prosecutors may reveal a little bit more about the plot and the investigation.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have issued homeland security notes to state and local law enforcement and others, urging them to be vigilant around stadiums, arenas, and also luxury hotels. But they say they have no specific information indicating any of those venues have been targeted.

Back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jeanne.

As President Obama reviews U.S. options in Afghanistan, what about NATO's role in fighting the Taliban? Will NATO members continue to support the war?

Let's talk about that with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, you had a chance to speak with the NATO secretary- general today. He's a new guy on the block, if you will.

Let me play this little clip from your interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: I agree with General McChrystal, and I had an opportunity to discuss all these things with him some weeks ago. I agree with him, and I think we should focus on a more population-centric strategy...

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What does that mean?

RASMUSSEN: ... to win hearts and minds of the Afghan people. It means that we should focus much more on delivery of basic services.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Anders is Rasmussen the former prime minister of Denmark.

So, go ahead. Tell us what we learned today.

AMANPOUR: Well, that he's not rushing for the exit, despite plummeting opinion in Europe. He says the debate must be brought back to -- to let the publics know the reason why NATO and the U.S. are in Afghanistan, because that's where al Qaeda launched its attacks from, but also to say that he supports General McChrystal, whose assessment, as you know, we have been reporting, was leaked over the last 24 or 48 hours.

He supports the nation-building element, but didn't really address the counterinsurgency element. NATO is not doing much counterinsurgency, if anything. And General McChrystal says that's a weakness. That really does need to be addressed, and certainly in order to beat back the Taliban, all of this within about 12 months.

But he said we're in it for the long haul, no rush for the exit. We have to stay the course.

BLITZER: But, you know, there's so many people on Capitol Hill complaining that the NATO allies simply are not stepping up. They are relying on Uncle Sam to get the job done in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: Well, do you know, that is actually true, by and large. It's U.S. and U.K. troops who are the bulk of the -- of the fighting troops there.

On the other hand, NATO forces -- and the Spanish prime minister has sent more, and there are considerable numbers of NATO forces, but they are doing more of the training. And that's another thing that the U.S. and -- and other allies want to see, the Afghanization of this process, to bring up the police, to bring up the Afghan army.

So they are doing a lot of that. But, yes, and one of the things that General McChrystal has said is that, by alienating the civilians, they make their life and their operation there much more difficult. So, that bombing from above, that -- that -- that platform from 15,000 feet, is not going to do the trick.

BLITZER: They have really got to get down there and fight. And that's the danger -- most dangerous kind of combat.

AMANPOUR: And nation-build.

BLITZER: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Resolved what the civilians need.

BLITZER: Christiane, thanks very much.

Be -- be sure to catch Christiane's new show, by the way. It's entitled -- what else? -- "AMANPOUR." The global interview program airs Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. It debuts this Sunday.

There's an angry push under way right now to make sure the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, does not feel all that welcome in the United States. We are going to hear from people who think -- still think Gadhafi is a -- quote -- "monster."

And did President Obama sound too apologetic at the United Nations today? Ed Rollins and Lisa Caputo, they are here on their take on global warming. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And see it for yourself. He was Washington's once-called Hammer. Now he's a wild thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now.

Joining us, the Democratic strategist Lisa Caputo, a former spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton, and CNN's political contributor and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

The Tea Party Express, Lisa, they are getting ready for phase two right now. How should Democrats deal with this?

LISA CAPUTO, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, well, I think -- I mean, you can't get Dick Armey off the stage, clearly. This is his organization who is orchestrating this.

And I think Republican Party -- the Republican Party is desperate. They will do anything to create noise around health care. And they are clearly trying to lay the ground, I think, to set the stage for the midterm elections around trying to define the Democratic Party, try to define the president as someone who is only going to increase taxes, somebody who is about big government.

And I think it's a lot of noise that's not being very successful.

BLITZER: Is it going to energize, though, the base in terms of translating that energy? There's certainly a lot of energy out there, Ed. Is it going to translate into votes and winning elections next year?

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think there's a long ways to go, but the key thing here -- and this isn't just Republicans. I wish they all were Republicans.

These are very unhappy Americans, who feel that this president, this administration, is going too far to the left, spending too much money, whether it's health care or the stimulus or what have you. And there is an energy. I haven't seen anything quite like this since the Perot movement in 1992, which was a gigantic, angry group of voters who in turn probably helped elect Bill Clinton.

BLITZER: A lot of them say they were pretty angry at the Republican administration of President Bush, too.

ROLLINS: Well, a lot of us Republicans were kind of angry at them, too.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINS: I think -- I think the bottom line here, though, is that these things are going to really affect people's lives.

BLITZER: Why are we seeing all these protests, demonstrations from the right, and not necessarily from the left? In other words, why isn't President Obama's supporters in the Democratic Party, in the left, why aren't they out on the streets, like their counterparts on the right are?

CAPUTO: Well, I think the right has always done a much better job of galvanizing and organizing, quite frankly, to get people out in protests.

I think vis-a-vis Obama supporters, I think that they are, but they are doing it in pockets. And I think that they are, in their own quiet ways, trying to galvanize around the health care issue. And you see a lot of the efforts that are going on now with the different interest groups getting behind the president's agenda around health care.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

ROLLINS: Most people who are for the health care, who are going to benefit, you know, are not necessarily activated people. And I think young people, many who are going to benefit, don't even want it. They don't want it today. They want it if it's free, where, I think, elderly, many people on Medicare, who feel that they are going to lose something, they are out there fighting for something they think they have paid for. They think they have a right to it.

And I think, to a certain extent, this has always been a voter group that turns out in great numbers in midterm elections. I think that could be a real swing...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because if they hear about hundreds of billions of dollars of proposed cuts in Medicare, they don't necessarily believe it's just going to be waste and abuse. They believe it's going to come out of their health...

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: Well, it is. And I think -- I think, to a certain extent, you know, when they start talking about taking away Medicare Advantage, programs that the -- most people in Congress don't know anything about, but the 10 million people that have it, it saves them an awful lot of money.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPUTO: But I think -- but...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I want to move on...

CAPUTO: OK.

BLITZER: ... about the president's address today on global warming. He was at the United Nations. Going to be back there again tomorrow, but he said this.

And I want to play this clip, Lisa. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is true that for, too many years, mankind has been slow to respond or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I can already hear the criticism: part of his apology tour, if you will, on the international stage, apologizing for U.S. policy, saying, but now there's a new sheriff in town.

CAPUTO: Well, I think that's precisely what he's doing.

Let's -- let's hearken back to the Bush administration that would not seen the Kyoto agreements. Now this president is -- is literally drawing a line in the sand and taking a stand, saying, you know, I accept responsibility for this. We are at fault for not playing our part.

He's got an eye toward the Copenhagen summit coming up, and -- and desperate to get an agreement there. He's also, I think, later in the mark -- remarks, talked about, indirectly, China, the world's fastest-growing economy, and they have to play a role, too, in order to get to an agreement... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Without China and India, there is not going to be any...

CAPUTO: No -- no deal.

BLITZER: ... real significant progress.

ROLLINS: This president is becoming the greatest apologist ever. I mean, every place he goes and gets in front of another leader, he apologizes for everything we have ever done.

What we did, though, as a country is, we became the greatest industrial nation of the world. In order to do that, some of the things that we did, we can have hindsight change, but in order to get our economy moving again, we can't give up all the things that I think he wants to give up.

BLITZER: So, what are you saying? He should acknowledge a fact -- at least -- he says: "It is true of my own country as well. We recognize that, but this is a new day."

Do you think it's OK to say that to a domestic audience, but not necessarily an international audience?

ROLLINS: Well, I think he -- I think he better -- I think he better say it to a domestic audience. You better go into an Illinois, an Ohio, and what have you, these industrial states that have lost their manufacturing jobs, and say, you know, we are going to have the carbon caps and what have you. And -- and, obviously, they are going to have impact on future jobs.

I think, to a certain extent...

BLITZER: He admits, the president, a lot of those industrial jobs, manufacturing jobs, are gone. They are never coming back.

CAPUTO: Right.

BLITZER: But there's a potential for the so-called green jobs to come...

CAPUTO: That's correct. That's...

BLITZER: ... in and create...

CAPUTO: That's...

BLITZER: ... enormous wealth.

CAPUTO: That's exactly right.

I think that his energy plan, his environmental plan is absolutely his growth plan for the economy. ROLLINS: We have not seen that yet. And I think there's all this stuff about everybody is going to be -- environmental repairs and what have you, let's see it. Right today, we have 9.7 percent unemployment. People want to go back to work.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to let you guys go and get ready for that gridlock in Manhattan. You just came over. You almost didn't make it, did you?

CAPUTO: I almost didn't make it.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys, thanks very much...

CAPUTO: Only for you, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... for coming in...

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... Lisa and Ed. Appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We're getting ready to hear from the president of the United States within the hour. He's getting ready to address the conference hosted by the former President Bill Clinton. Stand by. We will have live coverage.

And he's someone who doesn't take politics all that seriously. The Scottish-born host of "The Late Late Show," Craig Ferguson, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to talk about a lot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a lot of competition right now for those talk show hosts who duke it out in the late hours of the evening. The rivalry got even stiffer this week, thanks to an appearance by the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Craig Ferguson, the host of "The Late Late Show" on CBS. He's also the -- also the author of a brand- new book entitled "American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot," with a great picture of Craig Ferguson on the book cover.

Thanks very much for coming in, Craig.

CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON": I would have worn the kilt if you -- if I had known how much you liked it.

BLITZER: I would have -- it was a great -- do you have it here with you here in New York?

FERGUSON: I can maybe get it later, if you want to go out.

BLITZER: Next time. Next time you come on...

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: Maybe later we can go for a snack.

BLITZER: Maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: I will wear the kilt.

BLITZER: You will wear the kilt?

FERGUSON: Who knows where the night will end up?

BLITZER: We can just walk around Manhattan.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: We will walk around. People will be like, "Hey, it's Wolf and the late-night guy."

BLITZER: Yes.

FERGUSON: Yes.

BLITZER: Craig Ferguson, you're a big star, you know.

FERGUSON: No, no, no, no.

BLITZER: Huge.

FERGUSON: No, you're a big star.

BLITZER: You tell an amazing story...

FERGUSON: It's a big story.

BLITZER: ... in this book. There's a lot of funny stuff. But there's a lot of serious, good stuff, and I want to get to it in a moment.

FERGUSON: OK.

BLITZER: But let me pick your brain, a little political stuff, right now.

FERGUSON: OK. Well, good luck.

BLITZER: Did you see the president of the United States on David Letterman's show?

FERGUSON: Yes, I saw a bit of it, yes.

BLITZER: What did you think?

FERGUSON: I thought he was pretty good. And Obama was good, too. I think both of them would be -- would be a fine choice for broadcasting at the 11:30 hour.

BLITZER: At the 11:30 hour?

FERGUSON: At the 11:30 hour.

BLITZER: And you think that, after he's president, he might have a future in broadcasting?

FERGUSON: I think so. He can take over my show, if he wants.

BLITZER: No, no, you're at the -- you have "The Late Late Show."

FERGUSON: That's right. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You know, it only makes sense to me, Craig, if he's doing "The Late Show" one day...

FERGUSON: Yes.

BLITZER: ... maybe one of these days, he will do "The Late Late Show."

FERGUSON: No, no, I don't think Obama should ever do my show, simply because I think it would give the presidency a bad name.

BLITZER: No, it wouldn't.

FERGUSON: No, it would devalue the job itself.

BLITZER: You are an unlikely patriot.

FERGUSON: I am. I am.

BLITZER: You love the United States of America.

FERGUSON: I do, but 12:30 is too late for the president to be awake. It sets a bad example to our nation's schoolchildren.

BLITZER: Well, maybe you could -- you could pre-tape it earlier in the day.

FERGUSON: I would never do that.

BLITZER: No. FERGUSON: I would never pre-tape a show. How dare you even suggest I would do that?

BLITZER: All right.

He's here in New York right now, as we're speaking, the president of the United States. If he runs into President Ahmadinejad of Iran...

FERGUSON: Is he here, too?

BLITZER: He's -- he's about to get here, yes. He's here, too.

FERGUSON: All right.

BLITZER: What do you think? How -- how -- how should he behave?

FERGUSON: I think with tact and diplomacy.

I, however, would not behave with tact and diplomacy. I want to know how he can run a country and say that there's no gay people in it. I think that's fantastic.

BLITZER: There's only 40 million people...

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: There's 40 million people there. Somebody, one of them is gay. I'm just -- I'm -- I'm just going to say it.

BLITZER: You just have that assumption.

FERGUSON: Right. I think...

BLITZER: You have to assume that's -- that's true.

If he were to meet him in the hallway going up to the General Assembly for a speech, and they -- they passed each other, does he shake hands with Ahmadinejad, or not?

FERGUSON: Yes, I think so. Don't you?

BLITZER: You -- you don't have a problem with that?

FERGUSON: No. I think you say hi and you're polite.

BLITZER: You're civil, you're cordial and all that?

FERGUSON: I think so. I don't know.

I mean, I -- I would never get into politics, because you have to talk to way too many people that you -- that you don't like and who are terrible. And I think that what I do is, I can veto that before they come on the show.

You clearly can't. You have to talk to anybody who shows up, obviously.

BLITZER: I talk to whoever...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... whoever comes in.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But what about a little kiss on the cheeks, the kind of -- because, in Europe -- you're from Europe originally.

FERGUSON: Yes.

BLITZER: Scotland -- Scotland, I think, is still Europe.

FERGUSON: Where is this leading?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes. Do they -- do they kiss each other, a little, you know...

FERGUSON: No, I don't think they kiss each other. I don't think the president of the United States should kiss the -- the supposed elected official from Iran, although that's debatable, too.

BLITZER: Yes. That would be -- that would be inappropriate right now.

FERGUSON: yes.

BLITZER: All right, Scotland.

FERGUSON: Yes.

BLITZER: Universal health care, they have health insurance in Scotland, as in the United Kingdom, for everybody, is that right?

FERGUSON: Sure. Yes.

BLITZER: And, you know, there's a huge debate going on here in the United States about...

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: Yes.

BLITZER: Give me your perspective, as someone who has been there and has now lived in the United States for, how long, 12, 15 years?

FERGUSON: Fifteen-plus years, yes.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Yes. So, what do you think about this -- this whole debate over health care?

FERGUSON: I think that the -- I mean, I don't want to get too involved in that, because it -- it's not really -- it's an environment which -- which causes a lot of heated feeling.

But I will say that, from -- coming from a society that has it, I didn't see an overt amount of government control of people because there was government health care.

BLITZER: A national health insurance.

FERGUSON: Right, national health insurance, which is what we used to pay -- it would just come out of your wage packet. You paid it like your tax, like national health insurance.

And -- and, you know, it's -- it exists and it's worthwhile. I mean, you can get health care. They have it in Canada, and Canada seems to be OK.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Well, that's -- a lot of people agree with you who have come to the United States from Europe, where there is national health insurance, health care, and they agree with you.

Scotland, it's been in the news lately because of the Lockerbie bomber.

FERGUSON: Oh, yes, yes.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, it's caused -- I mean, everybody loves...

FERGUSON: I wish they -- I wish they hadn't done that.

BLITZER: Everybody loves Scotland, except...

FERGUSON: Yes, I know.

BLITZER: ... now, all of a sudden, they are getting some criticism for taking a guy who is convicted of killing 270 people...

FERGUSON: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: ... aboard Pan Am Flight 103, and saying, you know what, you may have prostate cancer. Go ahead and spend the rest of your life in Libya.

FERGUSON: Yes, I would -- I don't agree with that decision. I'm sure there are many people in Scotland who don't agree with it as well. I think he should die in jail.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what a lot of people think.

FERGUSON: He should. He should die in jail.

And there's a very similar case -- well, not a similar case, but a similar type of judgment. One of the Manson family came up for parole who also has a terminal illness, and the courts in California said, nah, you're -- die in jail.

BLITZER: And he only killed, how many, a few people, not 270. Yes.

FERGUSON: Well, it was -- murder is murder. And, yes, I think that he should have stayed in jail and died in jail.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about "American on Purpose."

You know, people who watch your show, as I do, know you, know your background. But a lot of people don't know that you weren't always this hugely successful comic, if you will, talk show host. There was another part of your life that was -- and you're very open about writing it.

FERGUSON: Yes. Well, I don't -- see, I don't see myself as hugely successful. And that's not false modesty. That's just like I -- I do what I do, and I try to do the best I can.

But I think that there's a great myth that success, particularly at your job, somehow negates any kind of personal failures that you have had in any other part of your life. And I think that's -- that's not how I feel about it.

I mean, I'm not -- I hope I'm not foolish enough to mistake success in show business, however much or little as I have, as being something that's been of real value in the world. It's nice, but...

BLITZER: But you talk -- you talk about overcoming drug abuse, alcohol abuse. You had all sorts of serious problems.

FERGUSON: Mm-hmm. Yes.

BLITZER: And you have important lessons for folks out there. You know, I -- I was really moved in reading really the introduction. You dedicate this book to your parents, but -- but you write over here -- right in the preface, you talk about your little boy playing baseball.

FERGUSON: Yes.

BLITZER: And you write this.

"I rejoiced that he loves this most American game. He will know from an early age that failure is not disgrace. It's just a pitch that you missed, and you had better get ready for the next one." And then you write: "My son and I are Americans. We prepare for glory by failing, until we don't."

FERGUSON: Yes.

BLITZER: Which is a really important lesson.

FERGUSON: That's why baseball makes America the greatest country in the world, because you teach your children early, we teach our kids early, swing and you miss. It doesn't matter. Go again.

Now, here's what you did then. Look what went you did. You know, look what wrong and go again. Get ready.

And Bobby Thompson, who had arguably the greatest homer ever in the history of baseball so far, was from Glasgow in Scotland. So, it seemed a nice way of tying it in for me. If Bobby Thompson had not come -- if his family had not come from Scotland to the United States, perhaps he would not have learned -- he certainly would have played baseball, and he wouldn't have learned about that philosophy, that most American of philosophies, which is, failure is not disgrace.

And it's important, that, because, right now, the -- the tabloid culture which exists, disgrace is a real commodity, like the schadenfreude, the search for disgrace in anyone. Here's how it...

BLITZER: Taking pleasure in somebody else's misfortune.

FERGUSON: Yes, of course, yes. You know, there's this great -- there's this great push for disgrace in other people, or people willingly disgracing themselves on these terrible reality shows.

That's -- I don't like that. That's un-American to me. Failure is a necessary byproduct of trying, of attempting, of learning.

BLITZER: And if you can learn from that failure, though...

FERGUSON: Of course.

BLITZER: ... then that it might have been worth it?

FERGUSON: Yes, it is worth it. It is worth it.

BLITZER: This is a really great book.

FERGUSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: And I'm glad you wrote it, Craig. I'm glad you're a huge success, even though you don't necessarily think you are. But I love your show.

FERGUSON: I don't think it does -- it does well to walk around life thinking you're a great success. That could get you in trouble.

BLITZER: I think you're right, totally.

FERGUSON: Yes.

BLITZER: Craig Ferguson, "American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot."

Thanks for coming in.

FERGUSON: Thanks, Wolf. Nice to see you again.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: It's one of those things you have to see to believe. Tom DeLay shakes things up on the dance floor. And the former House Republican leader is anything but conservative. You are going to want to see this. We are going to play the clip at length.

And they believe Moammar Gadhafi is responsible for killing their loved ones. So, they are trying to yank the welcome mat out from under him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Take a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Iran, troops wear special gear as they march in a parade remembering the Iran-Iraq war.

In Kabul, Afghanistan, a family takes a stroll in a park.

In Washington, a portrait of a baseball Hall of Famer, Tommy Lasorda, is placed in the Smithsonian.

And, in Kazakhstan at the zoo -- check it out -- A 40-day-old lion club makes his first appearance in front of the media -- 40 days old, cute little lion.

Remember, those are our "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

On our "Political Ticker" today: The wife of the South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, is now writing a book. She will have plenty to tell in this tell-all, after her husband admitted an affair with an Argentinean woman. But Jenny Sanford says she is writing an inspirational memoir about keeping your integrity during life's difficult times. Ballantine Books says Ms. Sanford's memoir will be available in May.

And, remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out CNNPolitics.com.

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

CAFFERTY: Did you show that Tom DeLay video yet?

BLITZER: We will. We will be showing it.

CAFFERTY: That's just disturbing.

BLITZER: If you haven't seen it...

CAFFERTY: I -- it's disturbing. It's very disturbing.

BLITZER: It takes guts to do that.

CAFFERTY: It takes something. I'm not sure guts is what it takes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Wow. You make my heart...

CAFFERTY: When he goes to prison, they can show that, like, the dances and stuff, to the general inmate population.

The question this hour, is it more important for an American president to be liked or feared outside the country?

Carla in Alabama writes: "Better to be loved than hated, Jack. Our country has seen the results of having a president whose my-way- or-the-highway attitude and refusal to even converse with other world leaders caused him to be despised in the international arena. We now have a president who listens to what other leaders have to say and who accepts responsibility for his actions. I hope the world continues to like Obama. Wouldn't it be nice to have real allies again?"

Pete in Georgia writes: "In today's dangerous world, we need to remember the words of Don Corleone, 'The Godfather' -- paraphrased -- 'Your enemies will become my enemies. And then, they will fear you.' A president who is liked in the global arena only emboldens adversaries to challenge him, while fear causes hesitation in consideration of severe consequences for provocative acts. Likability fades quickly. Fear lingers."

Gordon writes from New Jersey: "Both, although I would rather be respected than feared. Bush wanted to be feared, but his fiasco in Iraq destroyed our military credibility. However, there has been a big change since Obama. Pakistan really is fighting the Taliban now, whereas, before, they were just pretending to. What's scary is all this talk of pulling out of Afghanistan just as the Pakistanis show up to fight on our team."

Jan in Punta Gorda: "I think a little patience is called for here when it is said that nothing has changed just because some foreign countries like President Obama. Like most of us citizens, they are just getting to know him. And like us, they may like the change, not just in skin color, but also in attitude. But we all are waiting to see if he is a man of integrity that can be trusted. And it takes time to build trust."

Diane writes: "How correct you are. The president is not supposed to win a popularity contest, rather to gain respect. If fear is part of what it takes to get respect, so be it."

And Leslie says: "Like is a start. Bush was neither feared, nor liked. Let's get an international consensus, get the world back on our side again, and then kick butt."

Only, she didn't say butt. She used that other word.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.

When are you playing that Tom DeLay thing?

BLITZER: Soon.

CAFFERTY: I'm turning the TV off. It's very disturbing.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: It's very funny, though.

Jack, thank you.

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