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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama's War Council; New York Congressman Charles Rangel Under Fire
Aired October 7, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Inside President Obama's war room -- more talk and more tension over at the White House, after eight long years in Afghanistan -- what we're learning right now about those high-level meetings under way and the president's strategy.
The prospect of a U.S. bomb attack on Iran -- a retired U.S. Marine Corps general's take on what needs to be done to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
And almost a year after the election, there's new evidence that voters are disillusioned with the Democrats. Is this the start of the Republicans' comeback?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama's been meeting with his war council over his the Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House. It's the third of five crucial meetings on the future of the war in Afghanistan. We're now getting a better sense of when he and his advisers will zero in on the question that everyone is asking.
Will more U.S. troops be ordered onto the battlefield? Let's get an update on what we know right now.
Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we're learning this hour is that the president's now inching closer to actually making the decision on resources, on troop levels, on whether or not to send up to 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as his commander on the ground, General Stanley McChrystal, has recommended in his now famous memo.
What I mean is that top White House aides are saying that the president officially now has in his hands the document from General McChrystal that lays out the specific resource request, not just the big number on troops, but the specifics on how many trainers vs. how many combat troops, how much money he wants, how much he wants in terms of weapons, et cetera, right down the list.
And we're also learning that the president is being very adamant behind closed doors about saying that he wants to get the strategy right first before he deals with those resource questions. So, that's why, in fact, we're told this meeting that's going on right now is expected to go about another 30 minutes, at least 6:30 p.m. Eastern time.
That will mean the president will have his team behind closed doors for at least three hours tonight on top of that three-hour meeting they had in the Situation Room last week. He wants to get the strategy right before they actually get into the specifics about the troop levels, Wolf.
BLITZER: When do we think, Ed, we will get the new strategy, the number of troops he wants dispatched? Is there any timeline there?
HENRY: We did get some new information on that as well, which is that we expect that, on Friday, at his next big meeting, the president will start talking about troop levels and then weigh it, but a final decision I'm told by top aides will not come until the end of October or early November, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry is over at the White House.
And this number maybe weighing heavily on the president's mind right now. U.S. troops have now been in Afghanistan exactly eight years as of today. And 865 Americans have died in Afghanistan since the war began.
Let's bring in the best political team on television. Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, Nia-Malika Henderson, the White House support for Politico, our CNN political contributors James Carville, the Democratic strategist, and Bill Bennett, the national radio talk show host.
Let's listen first to the way President Bush exactly eight years ago described the conflict in Afghanistan and the way President Obama describes it now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 7, 2001)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And the president of the United States, he describes it in a tough, tough way. He did that yesterday.
Let's talk a little bit about what's going on. I want to bring in James Carville first.
This is a tough decision that the president has to make, James.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Tough. It's more than tough. As I said before, it's not difficult. Math is difficult. This is might near impossible.
I think they're going through a very methodical process here and let's see where they end up. We will know soon enough.
BLITZER: Anything wrong with this methodical process they're going through, Bill Bennett?
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know.
I heard reports this morning, Wolf, from Republicans who were at the meeting with the president yesterday that were somewhat heartening. They said, look, the president said, I'm not going to abandon Afghanistan. I'm not going to withdraw from Afghanistan. I'm not retreating what from what I said in August, that success in Afghanistan is fundamental to the defense of our people.
That's what he said. The reason I say I don't know, Wolf, is I don't know whether politics is getting involved in this. We know that he's got recommendations from General McChrystal seconded by General Petraeus and thirded, if you will, backed by Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
That's a pretty good lineup. Other people have questions. They're asking them I guess today and there will be another meeting on Friday. One hopes that he will then reach a decision soon.
Again, I heard from the people I talked to this morning, Wolf, that they thought he was going to make a decision pretty quickly after the meeting on Friday.
BLITZER: Yes, that's what we're all hearing, that this decision could come down very quickly.
But if some of those generals say send more troops, Gloria, the vice president says the 68,000 troops that the U.S. now, that's enough. General Jones, the national security adviser, he may have a different opinion. And we don't know specifically about the defense secretary, Bob Gates.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Gates is really key in all of this, Wolf, and I think the president is going to turn to him and really want to hear what Gates has to say.
What strikes me about the clip that you played from George Bush is that his mission was essentially the same as the mission that Barack Obama's talking about, disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda. Where we are, I think, is really a strategic fork in the road here, Wolf.
And the president's got a lot of conflicting advice that he's got to figure out what to do, because, on the one hand, you have the vice president, who says we have got to change our strategy right now to counterterrorism-plus, as they call it, Biden advisers call it. And then you have got McChrystal saying, OK, we have got to keep with this counterinsurgency. We have got to add 40,000 troops.
BLITZER: Nia-Malika Henderson is here.
Listen to how the president describe his goals in Afghanistan back at the end of September.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It is absolutely critical that we are successful in dismantling, disrupting, destroying the al Qaeda network and that we are effectively working with the Afghan government to provide the security necessary for that country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Some are suggesting, and you have heard this, that he's going to come down in the middle between these two competing factions.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Right. I think that's probably right.
He is going to have to really build a coalition here that we haven't really seen before. It's going to have to be kind of bipartisan. We saw yesterday Reid and Pelosi saying that whatever decision he makes that Democrats and Republicans will support him. She kind of rolled her eyes about that. But I think we're going to have to see a new sort of coalition here, and that we have seen a president that normally kind of splits the middle. And it looks like that is probably what he will do...
BORGER: But there are some who say if you split the middle, then you're going to end one the status quo, and the status quo you don't want. So, that again is a difficult decision.
BLITZER: I know they say, James, they don't like to look at public opinion polls in making these decisions, but the American public is pretty much split down the middle. A new Associated Press poll that just came out, do you favor the war in Afghanistan? Forty percent favor -- 57 percent say they are oppose. Do you support -- favor or oppose a troop increase in Afghanistan? Forty-six percent favor a troop increase -- 50 percent oppose a troop increase.
Take us behind the scenes. How closely do they look at these polls?
CARVILLE: Well, I think the polls they probably instinctively know where they were, and they're not sort of surprised in here.
I think that what as I understand it makes sense is, is the president wants to decide on a strategy. Then after the strategy has been decided on, then they're going to deal with the troops levels they need to follow whatever that strategy is.
And, again, you know, we just don't know. Everybody is speculating. Obviously everybody is playing pretty tough politics here and they come out of meetings and say this is what he's saying, and this guy leaks this report and everything else.
That's part of the turf. When you run for president of the United States, you have been in a war for eight years, the war is not going well, it's some really tough stuff that they're dealing with here. And let's wait and see how they deal with it and what they're doing.
Whatever it is that he comes up with, he's going to have to get out there and sell it, and he's going to have to convince people that this is a strategy that he has arrived at. It's one that he thinks that can work. And he's going to have to get on front. He's going to have to sell it to the Congress, going to sell it to the American people, absolutely.
BLITZER: Not only him. He's going to have to have his top political aides and his generals sell it as well.
It's going to be a complicated mission. I want everybody to stand by.
By the way, we're getting the first picture now of this meeting that's going on over in the White House Situation Room. The president of the United States, you can see there, not our SITUATION ROOM, their Situation Room, convening this meeting, the stakes clearly enormous.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada is another example of all that is wrong with the Congress.
Ensign told CNN yesterday he didn't break Senate ethics rules when he helped get a lobbying job for the husband of his mistress. Ensign claimed he was very careful. He merely recommended this man for a job like he has recommended a lot of other people.
But "The New York Times" recently reported that the senator played an active role in securing the lobbying position for Doug Hampton, whose wife Ensign was sleeping with, and that Hampton then went on to lobby Ensign on behalf of his clients, which he's not supposed to do.
Ethics rules bar him from lobbying his old boss for a year after leaving his job on Capitol Hill. Hampton was working for Ensign. Now, this slimeball senator insists he did nothing wrong.
Senator, it's all wrong. When asked if he has any plans to resign, Ensign told us, "I'm focused on doing my work." That's a quote. Now the Senate Ethics Committee, which is an oxymoron, has begun a preliminary investigation, which if history is any judge is absolutely meaningless. They won't do anything. They never do when they're judging one of their own. The whole thing is a joke and it shows the impunity with which these arrogant elected scumbags operate. Meanwhile, Republicans in Nevada and Washington say Ensign can survive this thing politically, unless he really gets slammed by the Ethics Committee, not a chance, or if the situation should be referred for a criminal investigation. Don't hold your breath for that either. Here's the question. In light of ethics revelations about Senator John Ensign, why hasn't he resigned? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and unburden yourself -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect a lot of folks will, Jack. Thank you.
He was a top U.S. military commander in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf area. We're talking about retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. If he were still in charge of that region, would he recommend bombing Iran's recently revealed nuclear site? General Zinni is here. We will take him over to the magic map.
And credit card holders who say they were gouged may soon get some relief with CNN's help. Lawmakers take notice of our report. What could it all mean for you?
And one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress now under new pressure to quit his post. Republicans are going after him. What will Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York do next?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Can you continue to serve as chairman with an investigation...
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Yes, I can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The head of the powerful House Tax Writing Committee is now under growing pressure to step down. That would New York Democrat Charlie Rangel. He's been under investigation for a year over several issues, including hundreds of thousands of dollars of unreported income that he apparently did not pay taxes on.
Republicans took a new shot at him today trying to force Rangel to give up his committee post.
Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's got the details.
What happened today, Brianna?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this resolution did not pass, but Republicans weren't expecting it to.
KEILAR (voice-over): Republicans' third attempt in a year to bump the Democratic chairman of the House Tax Writing Committee from his powerful perch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be a 15-minute vote. KEILAR: It failed, but they made their report, keeping a spotlight on Charles Rangel's acknowledged failure to pay taxes on $75,000 he earned renting out his beach house in the Dominican Republic. And there are several other ethics-related violations.
REP. JOHN CARTER (R), TEXAS: Representative Rangel acknowledged his failure to pay -- failure to publicly disclose at least $500,000 in cash assets, tens of thousands of dollars in investment income, and his ownership of two pieces of property in New Jersey.
KEILAR: Rangel has called some of the violations mistakes. As the Ethics Committee continues its year-long investigation, Rangel continues to defend his post on the committee that's instrumental in drafting legislation on important issues, like health care reform and climate change.
QUESTION: Can you continue to serve as chairman with an investigation...
RANGEL: Yes, I can. The way it works on the House is that when allegations are made and referred to the Ethics Committee, what is normally is members wait until the Ethics Committee completes its investigation and its report.
KEILAR: Rangel has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
QUESTION: Speaker Pelosi, do you still support Chairman Rangel?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Yes.
KEILAR: And her deputy, Steny Hoyer, says Democrats are awaiting the Ethics Committee's findings.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: We will await their report. Prior to that, any actions with reference to Chairman Rangel would be premature.
KEILAR: But as Republicans keeps up their steady drumbeat against Rangel, political analyst Stephen Hess says he has become a liability for Democrats.
STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Of course this is a political liability. These charges are serious. And they keep adding more charges. So they're going to have to be met and dealt with and voted upon. They can't be swept under the table. On the other hand, the general feeling about Congress, another day, another scandal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: So how big of a political liability, though, is Rangel for Democrats? Hess says he is a minor one, though still an opportunity, Wolf, for Republicans to score points.
BLITZER: We will be watching with you, Brianna. Thank you. Right now, we're getting an example of CNN getting results. We recently profiled on this show, in fact yesterday, a couple of victims of what one watchdog group called the worst abuse by a credit card company he had ever seen.
Members of Congress saw our report. And now they're demanding action.
Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here.
You broke this story for us here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday and today there was follow-up.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There was, Wolf.
We reported yesterday on the Lanes, one of millions of families across the country whose credit card payments have dramatically risen as these companies change rates before the new regulations go into effect. As you say, members of Congress saw the story. They were enraged and now they're calling on the banks to do something about it.
YELLIN (voice-over): This week, CNN told you about Chuck and Jeanne Lane, a couple that's played by the rules, but their credit card company, like so many others, has jacked up their payments ahead of new regulations that go into effect next year.
CHUCK LANE, CREDIT CARD CUSTOMER: I'm calling to find out why my payment jumped from $370 to $911 this month.
YELLIN: Through no fault of their own, the Lanes' monthly minimum payment more than doubled. Now they will have to decide whether to pay the card or get surgery Jeanne needs and support Chuck's son in college.
(on camera): Do you have a message you would want to give to Congress?
LANE: I would like Congress to take a stand for the American people and stop credit card companies from making these kind of changes that do have major impacts in people's lives.
YELLIN (voice-over): Guess what? Congress is listening. Freshman Congresswoman Betsy Markey saw the story on CNN.
REP. BETSY MARKEY (D), COLORADO: It gave awareness to people like me, other members of Congress who saw that and were just outraged by the fact that credit card companies are just blatantly increasing rates solely because they know that, once the law takes effect, they are not going to be able to do this anymore.
YELLIN: She and 17 other members have since written the banks, calling on them to stop raising rates and changing policies ahead of the new credit card bill. Bank of America had already announced it's freezing its rates for now, but Chase, the company that holds the Lanes' credit card, tells CNN they have no plans to do the same. And Wells Fargo, they are raising their interest rate 3 percent.
An industry representative says the card companies are just trying to protect themselves in a rocky economy.
SCOTT TALBOTT, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, FINANCIAL SERVICES ROUNDTABLE: The industry is not making changes to interest rates or lines of credit in anticipation of the new law. It's simply a reflection of the changing economic times.
YELLIN: Now, tomorrow, there will be a hearing in Congress because some members are proposing a bill to move up the date when of these new consumer protections go into effect. But guess what, Wolf? The banks, they don't like that idea. They say it's going to take them a long time to change their computer programs to adapt to all these new regulations. They say they need months.
YELLIN: Months. You know those computers.
BLITZER: Those are terrible.
BLITZER: Get new computers.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
The cost of health care reform, critical new numbers are just coming out about the Senate Finance Committee's plan. Does it make the financial cut?
And details of a new compromise that could put the Guantanamo Bay detainee camp one step closer to closing.
Plus, a shakeup over the U.S. Olympic Committee. A key player is stepping down.
BLITZER: A voice of experience on the battlefield warning of the danger of a military confrontation with Iran. Stand by for my interview with retired U.S. Marine Corps General Tony Zinni.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GENERAL ANTHONY ZINNI (RET.), FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: If Iran were to launch missiles at our troop installations in Iraq or in the Persian Gulf, maybe mine the straits and blow up some oil tankers, you can imagine what happens to the economy of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He was a top U.S. military chief with the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, one of his main responsibilities.
So, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Tony Zinni speaks with great credibility when he weighs in on what is happening there right now.
He's the author of the book "Leading the Charge," and the general spoke with Tom Foreman and me about one prime issue the world is deeply concerned about right now.
BLITZER: There's a huge issue right now, what to do with that second nuclear enrichment facility they have near the Shiite holy city of Qom.
This is a real perplexing question for the U.S.
And I think, obviously, we hope we can resolve this diplomatically now in the dialogue that is going on, if not, through sanctions. We need international support. Military operations are going to be highly questionable.
BLITZER: Is it doable? If you were in charge, could the U.S. launch a sophisticated strike with high-intensity bombs, and knock out, destroy that facility?
ZINNI: I don't think you can make a guarantee that you can completely take it out. Obviously, it's deeply buried. It's scattered around.
But what worries me more than that is, what would the reaction be? If you go back to the Gulf, the Persian Gulf area, you will see that we have troop installations and allies on the other side of the Gulf that could be vulnerable to their missiles, which are very mobile.
BLITZER: So, when the president of the United States says all options are on the table, the implication being the military option, as well, is that just a hollow threat?
ZINNI: I don't think it's hollow, but I think what people have to understand, if you opt for the military strike, a prudent military planner now has to plan for consequences.
If Iran were to launch missiles at our troop installations in Iraq or in the Persian Gulf, maybe mine the straits and blow up some oil tankers, you can imagine what happens to the economy of the world. What if the MOIS, their intelligence service, activates sleeper cells?
What if there is a reaction from the Muslim world about another preemptive attack? And now you have problems that stretch beyond just that region. A prudent commander, General Petraeus in CENTCOM, is going to have to take into account preparations for all that.
This is not just a simple airstrike.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look at this facility, if you would, general, and these pictures. This is from DigitalGlobe.
I want you to look at what has happened in this area. That was about 2005, it looked about like this. This is what it looked like in January of this year. You could see deep dug-in areas in this development, big rebar work going on over in here. All of this is excavated dirt, so they have moved a tremendous amount of dirt, digging this quite deeply. And this is from GOI. And I'll try to bring this other image up from just a week ago.
When you look at this sort of thing, what do you think in terms of the ability to strike this and hit these, because these are very deeply dug in?
ZINNI: Well, obviously, the deeper it is, the more difficult it is. We certainly have some capability. I can't discuss all the capability. But the depth is important. The hardening of -- of the facilities underground. And depending on what is where -- how many locations are there, do we know where they all are?
I mean I think these are all issues that -- that our Intelligence Committee will be talking about.
FOREMAN: So these -- these facilities we saw just a moment ago, as you can see now, from last week, from the GOI image, completely buried. This one is not buried. It doesn't look like it will be, but it could be.
ZINNI: You can't tell. That might be just a building over buried site.
FOREMAN: And then we have -- down below here, we have some indication of military support facilities in the area.
When you look at all of this -- and I want to widen out to what you were saying earlier about the region.
So what you're saying is when you have missiles in this area and you're talking about that sort of weaponry -- and we've calculated the range, you can go really quite high up in here. You're talking about our people over here, anybody who comes in here in this area. ZINNI: Remember, we have bases down in here, in Qatar, in Kuwait, obviously, in Iraq. We have allies with positions there. Obviously, there are oil refineries and -- and natural gas refineries. You -- you know, of course, the tanker transportation through there. Our -- our fleet is out there, the Fifth Fleet. There are a lot of potential targets out there -- fast patrol boats with cruise missiles. There are mobile missile systems. There are ability to throw mines off of dowels in the water that would be hard for us to detect.
There's all sorts of things that could go on. And -- and imagine not just the military impact, but imagine the economic impact around the world if that suddenly happens.
BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE), as does Israel, not that far away, right...
BLITZER: ...right over there along the Mediterranean -- a wild card. You know the Israelis. You've worked with them for a long time.
What do you think?
Is it possible they might take their own unilateral action to try to knock out those Iranian nuclear facilities?
ZINNI: Well, I think, clearly, the Israelis see this as an existential threat. I mean they -- Ahmadinejad has said he's going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. They take it seriously. They obviously feel that this has to do with their very existence.
I would doubt they would do it without us either being informed or in some way acknowledging that they're going to do it, because if they didn't, they would leave us unprepared in those places where we're vulnerable, as I mentioned.
BLITZER: But they have to fly over Iraq. They would have to fly over Saudi Arabia.
BLITZER: It's not easy to get from Israel to Iraq.
ZINNI: No. I mean it's Jordan, Iraq into Iraq and -- and those areas. And the obvious issue about who clears that, if it's cleared at all, what can be perceived as an incoming threat, whether we've been notified and we're prepared. Our Arab allies in the region could be vulnerable in some ways. And -- and...
BLITZER: But there's no way the Israelis could launch F-15s or F-16s and fly over Iraqi air space, let's say, or Saudi air space -- without the U.S. government knowing about it.
ZINNI: No. No. We would know.
BLITZER: And so what would the U.S. do...
BLITZER: ...if the Israelis had (INAUDIBLE)?
ZINNI: That is a great question.
ZINNI: It is a great question.
ZINNI: I don't know what we would do. I think that -- that is something we'd probably discuss with the Israelis. Obviously, it's -- it's not public. But certainly we would be aware.
FOREMAN: We're looking at -- well, it's about 1,200 miles, roughly, if you went from Israel to roughly where we're talking about the missile facilities being, in this area.
BLITZER: There is one other way they could do it and go around from Turkey into Iran, if they wanted to go up there and avoid Iraqi air space.
ZINNI: Well, when you're violating other people's air space, it becomes problematic from a diplomatic point of view, a military point of view -- how well can they penetrate their air defenses or foil them. The longer it goes, the more you need tanker support and other things that could be more obvious and vulnerable. So it's like a (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: Realistically, how much time do you think the president of the United States has right now in dealing with this Iran nuclear issue?
ZINNI: Well, first of all, I think we'll see where the diplomacy goes and the dialogue. And we'll see where the motivation is for international sanctions. If those two fail, then I think we're at a serious crunch point.
At the same time, how fast are they enriching uranium to the point where, you know, we feel that they could actually weaponize it and have the capability.
So I think those two factors that are more condition-based and drive the time lines are -- are where the crunch point is going to be determined.
BLITZER: In your estimate -- and I'll leave it on this note, General -- what would be worse, from the U.S. natural security perspective, Iran getting a nuclear bomb, having a nuclear capability, or the U.S. and/or others destroying -- launching a preemptive military strike to destroy those facilities and living with those consequences, economic and military, diplomatic, that you discussed?
ZINNI: Well, obviously, that's a -- that's almost like a lose- lose situation. Neither one is a good choice.
BLITZER: Two bad options.
ZINNI: Two bad options. But what worries me as -- as a part of that is those young people and those reformers in Iran that have gone into the streets now, that were hoping for support and -- and at least acknowledgement of their efforts. They may be encouraged if the dialogue is -- is forced and the hard-liners are -- come to the table. But more importantly, if the international community now embraces this as a serious effort, gets behind them and is serious about the sanctions, that might give us some breathing room and an alternative.
This is something important about Iran and Afghanistan. We cannot make these American problems. These have to be international global problems. Unfortunately, both are becoming our problems. And I think that's where our leadership needs to focus.
BLITZER: General Zinni, thanks very much for coming in.
ZINNI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The Republicans gaining ground in the polls -- is it a sign a -- of GOP tactics, that they're working?
Plus, the National Organization for Women is now blasting David Letterman over his affairs with female employees and they're demanding that CBS take action.
BLITZER: We're nearing one year since President Obama's historic election. Voters have had a lot to take in since then, from the economic stimulus package to the battle over health care reform -- a lot going on.
Let's get back to the best political team on television.
Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us, as well.
He's in Hazard, Kentucky -- John, how are the folks in Hazard doing right now?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is a struggle here. We go on the road every week, as you know. And one of the reasons we're here in Hazard is because 11.1 percent unemployment in Kentucky. It's 13 percent here in this county. And, you know, we just wanted to come and get a sense, as the president ponders whether he should do more, as he has said in recent days, to create jobs, just what are people expecting out here and how optimistic are they about the future?
And I can tell you, Wolf, right here, it's pretty bleak. If you go up and down Main Street -- I was here 10 years ago with President Clinton. There are small businesses closing -- a printing shop closing down, a novelty and gift shop closing down. Just a few months ago, a big lumber factory closed down -- 180 jobs there. Just before that, a uniform factory -- 150 jobs there.
So out here, if you say is the economy about to bounce back, the answer you get, Wolf, is no.
BLITZER: And that's got to be, James, bad news for a lot of Democrats.
Look at this Gallup Poll showing -- it's just a generic Congressional preference poll, if you like Democrats or Republicans. Right now, if you take a look, James, it's 46 percent prefer the Democrats, 44 percent prefer the Republicans. That's about as close as you can get, especially considering the fact that in January 2007, it was 58 percent preferred the Democrats and -- and only 35 percent preferred the Republicans.
It doesn't necessarily, James, bode all that well for the Democrats.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I guess it doesn't. But the election is not in November, it's November of next year. So we have some time off. And if you look at all of the polls, it shows that the Republican Party is held in as low esteem as any political party ever.
I'm not going to sit here and try to say that this is sort of great sort of timing for Democrats right now. But I also think that we're going to get a health care bill. I think it's going to be a pretty good one. And, you know, I think, there's some evidence that the economy is starting to -- that it's turning around. And, you know, hopefully, if the economists are right, job growth will follow the growth that's coming in the economy. And a year from now, we may be -- may have a different situation here. And that's eminently possible, I might add.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, what -- what's interesting about this poll, James, is not only -- it doesn't look good for the Democrats, obviously, right before the election, they were up 15 points in what was called the generic ballot -- Republican versus Democrat.
But what's interesting about this same Gallup Poll is the differences come with Independent voters and that now they prefer the Republican Party by 9 points. And I think that's kind of a danger for the Democrats here, because, of course, they had those Independent voters in the 2008 election. And the worry is they're losing them.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, and the White House has its eye -- I mean, the election is obviously in November, but there's an election coming up in November, these elections in -- in New Jersey and Virginia. And they're eying them...
BLITZER: In four weeks.
HENDERSON: In four weeks. They're eying those to see how the Obama brand is doing. In Virginia, it seems like it's down. And in New Jersey it seems like -- it seems like it's surging a bit. But there's clearly concern there.
And you mention Independent voters. They also, the White House, have their eye on Independent women. And their sense is that if they do well on health care, they'll be able to run on that. And the economy, if that all rebounds, they'll also have some -- some running room there in November.
BLITZER: You know, John, this other poll that we -- we have over here -- we put it up on the screen for a second before, but let me put it back up on the screen. The popularity on Democrats in Congress, it's going down -- lopsided majorities in the House and the Senate for the Democrats. Only 21 percent of the American public approve of how Congress is behaving right now -- more bad news, I assume, for the Democrats.
KING: And that is the worry, Wolf, the Democrats -- will 2010 be 1994?
Will they have a Democratic president-elect and will they control both houses of Congress and will they go into that first midterm and get swamped and overwhelmed?
When you travel the country now -- this is my 39th state in the last several months. And you don't sense the anger you did, say, heading into late 1993, into early 1994. But you do sense a great frustration with Washington.
Now, it's not all the Democrats, it's just Washington. They don't see Washington as being any different.
Remember, President Obama promised it would be.
And Gloria mentioned those Independents. The one thing, Wolf, that comes up time and time again is concerns about all the spending in Washington. County governments, state governments, city governments have all had to cut back their budgets. Families have all had to cancel vacations. Many are on unemployment. They don't see Washington making the tough choices that they have to make.
BORGER: Who was it who said, "It's the economy, stupid?"
I -- I...
HENDERSON: Was that you, James?
BORGER: Was that you, James?
You know, it's not what it's about, right?
CARVILLE: But -- it was. But, again, I hesitate to point out -- but I'm going to go ahead and point out, is we are over a year away from an election.
BORGER: True. CARVILLE: And if this election were going to be in November, I'd say, boy, it really doesn't look that good. But what we're -- we're projecting a year ahead and -- and not me, but a lot of people who think about this think that the economy is going to be considerably better a year from now. And a lot of people believe that this president and the Democratic Party is going to get a very meaningful health care bill.
I mean, let's not forget, there was some pretty big news that the bill that came out of the Finance Committee is going to save us $81 billion on the deficit over 10 years.
So we -- I'm saying these are not good numbers for the Democrats. Look, if you go from 57 to 30 -- from 57 to 35, from 46 to 44, you're losing some votes somewhere. And there's no question about that.
But, look, we've got to be very careful here. There's a year to go and that's a long time in politics.
BLITZER: James Carville is an optimist for the Democrats.
All right, guys, thanks very much.
There's a developing story -- in fact, a breaking story happening right now.
I want to bring in Fredricka Whitfield, who's monitoring what's going on -- Fred, what is going on?
WHITFIELD: Well, Wolf, you know, the Pacific has seen a very active season of earthquakes and tsunamis. And now today, just moments ago, in fact, we understand that, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, an earthquake with the magnitude of 7.8 has struck the Santa Cruz Islands there in the South Pacific. And now a tsunami warning is in effect. CNN is confirming this information in effect now for neighboring countries and islands. And that includes Fiji, Manawatu, Papua New Guinea, as well as the Solomon Islands. So once again, now a tsunami warning in effect as a result of an earthquake measuring 7.8 magnitude -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We'll follow this story. Obviously, very, very worrisome with the tsunami warning. Stand by. Stay with CNN for complete coverage.
NASA is gearing up for an unusual lunar landing. On Friday, it's going to crash a rocket into the moon -- blasting a huge hole in the surface. We're going to tell you why.
And the ethics of Senator John Ensign under scrutiny.
So why hasn't he resigned?
That's Jack Cafferty's question and he has your e-mail.
BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, we get a glimpse of the first lady's taste in art. Check out some of the works she's chosen to adorn the White House residence and the East and West Wing offices.
With the help of curators, Mrs. Obama seemed to gravitate toward a good deal of abstract art, like that red oil painting by Edward Ruscha. Seven of about 45 paintings are from African-American artists, including Williams Johnson's son's portrait of Booker T. Washington. Four works are by Native American artists and 12 depict Native-Americans, including George Catlin's Buffalo Chase with Accidents.
All the art works are on loan from Washington area museums.
Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.
Well, Afghanistan -- eight years later, to the day, nearly 800 Americans have been killed, thousands more wounded in the war in Afghanistan and what has been accomplished?
Should President Obama send in more troops?
What will happen if he doesn't?
Has it all been worth it?
Should this president bring our troops home?
Also tonight, a cross standing on federal land in the California desert -- it's a World War I memorial. It was erected 75 years ago. Now, some say it violates the separation of church and state and must come down. The Supreme Court will decide and we will have a Face-Off debate tonight.
And ACORN under assault, coming apart. The left-wing activist group targeted by local, state and federal investigators. Its alleged crimes even worse than originally thought and reported and the money is now beginning to dry up. We'll have that special report, all the days news and more.
Please join us at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Lou.
Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour -- in light of ethics revelations about Senator John Ensign of Nevada, why hasn't he resigned?
Judy says: "There's no reason for him to resign. The Senate's filled to capacity with people of little honesty, character or integrity. They take care of their own. Sickening, isn't it?"
Art writes: "Ensign should resign right after Charlie Rangel resigns."
Donald in North Carolina: "The real question is why has it taken this long to start a preliminary investigation? He should have already resigned and been forced out, along with Craig and Vitter. The Senate's gutless and has no honor left among them."
Kate in Florida: "Because as a member of the family, he believes he's among the chosen few -- handpicked by God himself to be in government. He thinks of himself as a modern-day version of King David, just like that knucklehead in South Carolina."
Craig in Florida writes: "I'm hoping we'll see him and Charlie Rangel at the depot soon. Actually, if we hold up the train a bit longer, we could fill it and send half the Congress packing. What an embarrassment to the nation. But we deserve it. We keep voting these slugs back into office."
Victor writes: "It seems to me we have leaders who snub ethics, thinking, as long as I can get away with it, who cares what you think?"
Bob in Massachusetts: "the Republicans stand by Ensign. The Democrats stand by Rangel. Ethics are in the eye of the beholder."
And Bob writes: "Why should he resign? He has a great gig -- a good health plan, a good pension plan, no accountability, no deliverables, great pay above and below the table. Resign? I wish I had his job. We the people are the idiots. Why do we keep these guys in office?"
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- or don't.
BLITZER: No. I think they will, Jack.
BLITZER: It's a good blog.
NASA is about to leave its mark on the moon -- and we really mean it -- in the form of a giant hole. Jeanne Moos looks at this Moost Unusual mission, when we come back.
BLITZER: Let's take a look at some Hot Shots -- pictures coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. In Indonesia, a father carries his son over trees downed by a landslide.
In New York, traders consider their next move on the floor of the Stock Exchange.
In Turkey, British and Italian athletes compete in the Fencing World Championships.
And in Afghanistan, two girls play on a swing.
Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.
NASA is now planning to slam a rocket into the lunar surface on Friday. I'm not making this up.
CNN's Jeanne Moos
Looks at this Moost Unusual mission.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It gives a whole new meaning to shoot the moon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NASA wants to bomb the moon on October 9.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bombing the moon -- what are they thinking?
They should bomb Mars.
MOOS: Nope. The target is definitely the moon -- a crater on the South Pole. A rocket the size of a school bus will be sent crashing into the moon. The impact will kick up a huge cloud of debris that will be scanned by a second spacecraft looking for water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our stupid (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) government and NASA is going to bomb the moon.
MOOS: Actually, no explosives will be involved. But the moon's defenders have launched their own counterattack.
MOOS: Some are joking, but others are serious. Take this online petition with 560 signatures and comments like, "heavenly bodies should not be disturbed."
This spoof from the late '90s was prophetic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "MR. SHOW," COURTESY HBO)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America can, should, must and will blow up the moon. Yes, and we'll be doing it during a full moon so we make sure we get it all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Come to think of it, the first science fiction movie ever from 1902 foreshadowed the present.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suddenly, the shadow kisses the eye of the moon.
MOOS: Or less poetically...
MOOS: Some worry about the effect on the tides.
MOOS: But NASA says forget the disaster film scenario, that the moon gets hit by things like meteorites with the same impact several times a month.
(on camera): NASA's purpose is to look for signs of water in the debris, which is already giving people money-making ideas.
(voice-over): "Bottled moon water," posted someone on Wonkette. Forget Poland Spring, make it Spring of Tranquility.
(on camera): It's enough to make the moon blue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess we'll see what happens. Hold on.
MOOS (voice-over): Leave it to Letterman to come up with unintended consequences.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: This is something they weren't counting on. Oh, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: NASA even got a call from a woman worried bombing the moon would affect her monthly cycle.
Jeanne Moos, CNN...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May the moon stand strong. God bless America.
MOOS: ...New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Jeanne, thank you. Tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, His Holiness, the Dali Lama -- he'll be among my guests. He's going to be responding to President Obama's decision not to meet with him while he's here in Washington this week. This is a very, very sensitive subject for the US, for China and certainly for the Dalai Lama. We'll get his response to what's going on.
Also, we have a new way for you to follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm now on Twitter. You can get my Tweets at Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn -- wolfblitzercnn, that is all one word.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.