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THE SITUATION ROOM
Stunning Twist in Balloon Boy Drama; Mom's Plea: Let Our Kids Go; Interracial Marriage Outrage; A.P.: President Obama Woos Key States
Aired October 16, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: "People" magazine reports that the disgraced Blagojevich was spotted on the set of the hit show, along with celebrities Sharon Osborne and Darryl Strawberry. NBC, however, is not confirming the cast. This summer, Blagojevich's wife Patti appeared on the network's reality series, "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here."
For the latest political news anytime, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. Remember, I'm also on Twitter -- Wolfblitzercnn, all one word.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, stunning new developments in a story that's captivated the country. The Colorado boy who was feared trapped in a runaway balloon -- we now have the desperate 911 call for help his parents made. And at the same time, serious new questions about what really happened. The boy drops a bombshell in my interview with the family, leading some to question whether the entire incident was a hoax.
And fresh from a Democratic fundraiser in San Francisco, President Obama heads to Houston to team up with the first President Bush -- details of their common cause. We're going to go live this hour to their joint event. You'll see it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Exactly 24 hours ago, millions of people were watching the gripping story unfold on live television and fearing the worst for that 6-year-old little boy, Falcon Heene. By this time yesterday, the runaway balloon in which he was believed to be trapped had landed and the boy was nowhere to be found. Less than two hours later, however, we learned that he had been hiding in the attic of his Colorado home. But now there are some serious new questions about the family's account of what exactly happened. More on that in just a moment.
But first, the newly released tape of that 911 call his parents made.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, COURTESY LARIMER COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so it was an experimental plane? MAYUMI HEENE, BALLOON BOY'S MOM: Yes. It's a flying saucer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a flying saucer?
M. HEENE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it -- that -- that's gone too, right?
M. HEENE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long -- is the flying saucer gone, as well?
M. HEENE: Yes. About 20 minutes, I think.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been -- they've both been missing for about 20 minutes?
M. HEENE: Yes. We've got to -- we've got to get my son.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Ma'am, does it have any kind of a tracking device or anything on it?
M. HEENE: No. No, nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Is it electronical?
M. HEENE: You know, I may need to talk with my husband. I know it has a...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I -- I can't understand what you're saying, ma'am.
M. HEENE: I...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does he know how to work the flying saucer?
R. HEENE: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, is this Richard?
R. HEENE: Yes, it is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. How long has the 6-year-old been missing?
R. HEENE: Just a few minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And was the flying saucer in the backyard?
R. HEENE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So it obviously has electronics which he can know how to work it and he gets it up off the air -- off the ground?
R. HEENE: No. He doesn't know how it operates.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He does not know how to operate it. So -- and that's gone, though, too, right? So you are sure that he's in that?
R. HEENE: Yes. We -- we looked everywhere. And then my son just said he's terrified. He said, yes, he went inside just before it went off because we have it tethered. It wasn't supposed to take off.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Was it running then?
R. HEENE: Well, it doesn't run. It's filled -- it's filled with helium and it operates out of a million volts to move left and right and horizontally.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
R. HEENE: And we were testing it to find out what effects we could get.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And so it was last seen 20 minutes ago?
R. HEENE: Probably. I'm losing track of time. Probably -- yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So there's no electronics on it?
There's no tracking device, right?
R. HEENE: No. No. I don't know whether it's possible you guys could detect the electricity that it emits, but every five minutes, it comes on for one minute and it emits a million volts on the outer skin.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
R. HEENE: And if he takes a ride in it, he could get electrocuted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the wind is going pretty good today.
Which direction is the wind going?
R. HEENE: Hold on one second.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
R. HEENE: Who the hell is calling me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which direction is the wind blowing?
R. HEENE: It's going southeast. So he's headed right straight for the Loveland Airport.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
R. HEENE: I would hope the FAA is -- you know, was listening to me because if an aircraft hits it, I mean, you know...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So it might be headed for the Fort Collins, Loveland Airport area?
R. HEENE: Yes, just the Loveland.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And he has no idea how to turn it or anything, is that right?
R. HEENE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No instruction has been given to him?
R. HEENE: No. No. There's no way to turn it. No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And he has no idea how to land it or anything, right?
R. HEENE: No. No. And there's no communication. I mean it was just supposed to be in the backyard, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, I'm going to go ahead and -- we've already contacted the FAA. They've already been aware of -- made aware of it. I'm going to go ahead and call the Loveland Airport and let them know, as well, OK?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: A very emotional call, indeed. But as we reported, there are now some questions swirling about whether the entire incident could have been a hoax. Colorado authorities now say they plan to interview the family again in light of a remark that that 6- year-old little boy made.
Listen to this exchange from last night's LARRY KING LIVE.
I was filling in for Larry and I interviewed the Heene family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE")
BLITZER: And Falcon was really in the garage this whole time. I don't know if Falcon can hear me, but was he -- because I know at some point, he fell in sleep in that garage, but he was hiding out because he thought you were going to punish him for something that happened earlier in the day.
Did he hear anything?
Did he hear you screaming out, "Falcon, Falcon?"
R. HEENE: He's asking, Falcon -- did you hear us calling your name at any time? F. HEENE: Uh-huh.
R. HEENE: You did?
M. HEENE: You did?
R. HEENE: And why didn't you come out?
F. HEENE: You had said that we did this for a show.
R. HEENE: Yes...
F. HEENE: No...
R. HEENE: You didn't come out?
F. HEENE: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What did he mean, we did this for the show?
R. HEENE: I have no idea. I think he was talking about the media. They've been asking a lot of questions. So somebody asked him that question earlier.
BLITZER: Do you want to ask him now -- I don't know if he can hear me -- what he meant when he said we did this for the show?
Do you want to ask Falcon?
R. HEENE: Falcon, they want to know -- they want to know why you were in the attic, OK, for so long and why you -- say it again.
BLITZER: Why he said -- at least he said we did this for the show in explaining why he didn't come out of the attic.
R. HEENE: Oh. Yes. Let me interrupt this real quick, because I think I can see the direction you guys are hedging on this. Because earlier, you had asked the police officers the questions. The media out front -- we weren't even going to do this view.
And I'm kind of appalled, after all of the feelings that I went through, up and down, that you guys are trying to suggest something else, OK?
I'm really appalled, because they said out in front that -- that this would be the end and I wouldn't have to be bothered for the rest of the week with any shows or anything. So we said OK, fine, we'll do this.
So I'm kind of appalled that you guy would say something like that, you know.
BLITZER: No, no. We -- we're not asking anything unusual. You were asked earlier about if this was a publicity stunt. You say it wasn't. The police say it wasn't. The rescue operation say it wasn't. The only thing I just wanted to clarify why Falcon had said earlier "we did this for the show." And I -- I just wanted to clarify. I didn't understand what he was referring to.
R. HEENE: Well, you know, we were on "Wife Swap" a couple of times. So the camera crews out there, I would imagine, they had asked him a couple questions in reference to this. And I believe, you know, he meant something to do with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The reference to "Wife Swap," that's an ABC TV reality show and the family had appeared on that program. The Larimer County sheriff in Colorado says he's now been inundated with calls about that specific exchange I had with the family last night. And he says his department will now investigate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KMGH)
SHERIFF JIM ALDEREN, LARIMER COUNTY, COLORADO: There was an interview conducted last night, I believe by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, where he asked why he did this. He, I believe, responded we -- we did it for the show or something of -- of that nature.
Clearly, that has raised everybody's level of skepticism again. And we feel it's incumbent upon us as an agency to go back to the family and attempt to reinterview them and establish whether this is, in fact, a hoax or if it's a actual event. We believe, at this time, that it's a real event.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The sheriff says that the family was exhausted today. The little boy, Falcon, was sick. As a result, they're not going to start the reinterviewing until tomorrow, Saturday. We'll stay on top of this story for you.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The child was throwing up on two of the national television shows this morning.
BLITZER: Yes, two shows. Yes.
CAFFERTY: Why would you take a sick child onto live television show...
CAFFERTY: ...and have him lose his breakfast in front of a national TV audience.
BLITZER: It's -- I know. My heart goes out to that little boy.
CAFFERTY: Yes, mine, too -- to the little boy. BLITZER: Yes.
CAFFERTY: Here's just another example of your government at work. Senate Democrats want to try to get quick approval of a bill separate from the overall health care reform plan that would increase Medicare payments to doctors by about $250 billion over the next 10 years. This is money that would be added to the deficit. The measure would avoid a 21 percent reduction in Medicare fees paid to doctors scheduled to go into effect in January, along with future cuts.
Now, whether or not the doctors deserve these payments or not is a separate issue. The American Medical Association, of course, is calling on Congress to pass this thing, saying it will protect seniors' access to quality care. The measure was introduced without much fanfare in the Senate on Tuesday of this week and it's been set aside for a quick vote next week instead of being sent to the Finance Committee for hearings, which is the way things usually work.
It will need 60 votes to pass. Republican leaders, along with some Democrats, are opposed. They rightfully feel that our deficits are big enough without adding another quarter of a trillion dollars if these increases in doctors' payments are put into place.
Why are there two separate bills, you might ask?
Well, if this $250 billion is not included as part of the overall health care reform tab, then the Democrats can say they're not exceeding President Obama's goal of $900 billion for health care reform over 10 years.
I know the government treats us with contempt, but we're not stupid. It's as if there's nothing beneath these people in Washington.
The question is this: Should Congress add $250 billion to the deficit with a separate bill for higher doctor fees?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack.
Their children held in Iran for months -- now these desperate American mothers are taking matters into their own hands.
Also, President Obama has arrived in Texas. He's teaming up this hour with the first President Bush, whose son he strongly criticized during the presidential campaign.
Here's a question -- what's bringing the two of them together today?
You'll see it unfold live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, a couple denied a marriage license because he's black and she's white by a justice of the peace who calls interracial marriage "wrong." Now, he's under fire, but standing by his decision.
BLITZER: They've been waiting for months, now desperate mothers are taking matters into their own hands. They're pleading directly to Iran to release their children -- young adults who were detained while hiking over the summer. The moms spoke to CNN's Mary Snow.
Mary is joining us now live -- Mary, what did they tell you?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they haven't gotten any word about their children since Swiss diplomats were able to visit them late last month. Now, these women have put their lives on hold to get their kids free. And they came to New York to make a direct appeal to Iran through its mission here. We got caught up with them as they got ready to do that.
SNOW: (voice-over): Inside this New York hotel room...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, two, three.
SNOW: -- these mothers are on a mission. They are doing everything they can to win the release of their three children being held in Iran, and that includes gathering some 2,500 petitions from friends, family and strangers.
NORA SHOURD, MOTHER OF DETAINED HIKER: "We're keeping you in our prayers." We get a lot of prayers. A lot of people are praying for these kids.
SNOW: Those kids are Sarah Shourd, her boyfriend, Shane Bauer, and their friend, Josh Fattal. The three went on a hiking vacation in Northern Iraq when reportedly they accidentally crossed an unmarked border into Iran. The three have been held there since July 31st and have not had any contact with their families.
SHOURD: (INAUDIBLE), Sarah and Shane.
SNOW: And it's that image of the hikers that the mothers attached to several boxes of petitions they prepared to deliver to the Iranian mission here in New York. They didn't want cameras to go with them to the mission, but they met with us after making delivery.
(on camera): How did it go?
SHOURD: We delivered the petitions to the Iranian mission. And they accepted the petitions. We -- we think it went well. And we're encouraged that had they accepted them. And we think that the petitions are extremely important because they have such positive messages from all our supporters around the country and around the world. SNOW: (voice-over): And they're staying positive, hoping the messages will ultimately reach Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Back in September, he told CNN's Larry King, the hikers illegally entered the country, but said he wasn't happy they are in prison.
These mothers say they found some of his words encouraging.
LAURA FATTAL, MOTHER OF DETAINED HIKER: President Ahmadinejad is a father. And I think he can easily imagine how difficult it is for the families of the hikers. And we very much see this as a humanitarian issue unrelated to anything else.
SNOW (on camera): You had some diplomats -- Swiss diplomats who were able to visit with them. Tell me what they told you about that.
CINDY HICKEY, MOTHER OF DETAINED HIKER: That the children were in good health or the young adults were in good health. They're always our children. And, you know, they were able to give them a hug, which, for me personally, you know, as soon as I heard that, I felt, that. You know, I thought, I hope they feel us through that hug. They offered them chocolate and just let them know that we were doing everything we possibly can. And that, to me, hopefully, offered them more hope.
SNOW: (voice-over): These mothers look to one another and now wear bracelets with three stones, marking the birthstones of each of their children.
SNOW: Now these mothers say while they're demanding the immediate release of their children, they first want a phone call. And each of them say they've rehearsed that first phone call at least a hundred times in their heads. And they're keeping their phones right by their side at all times. For now, they say they're taking a day at a time, trying to think what can be done next as they wait for news -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope for the best and hope those kids get out of there and get out of there quickly.
Thanks very much, Mary, for that report.
A justice of the peace says it's his right -- his right to deny a marriage license to an interracial couple, but denies he's a racist. He's defiant in the in face of growing pressure to resign.
And we're standing by for President Obama and the first President Bush together this hour. You'll see it live here in SITUATION ROOM.
What's bringing this political odd couple together?
BLITZER: More than 40 years after the United States Supreme Court struck down laws banning interracial marriage, a Louisiana justice of the peace is under fire for denying a marriage license to a young couple because he's black and she's white. And he says -- and I'm quoting now -- "it's my right."
CNN's special correspondent, Soledad O'Brien, is working this story for us -- Soledad, this is generating a lot of commotion out there -- a lot of outrage. Give us the background.
What's going on here?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, you know, he's probably not right. It's not his right. We'll get to that in a moment.
We're talking about a couple -- Terrence McKay is the groom to be. He's 32 years old. He is black. Bess Humphrey is his fiancee, the bride to be, 30 years old. And she's white. They went to a justice of the peace near Hammond, Louisiana to get married. The justice of the peace said nope, I won't do it.
Here's what the groom had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WAFB)
TERENCE MCKAY, GROOM: It was disheartening, seriously. You know, it's 2009 and we're still dealing with a form of racism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: The disheartening part, of course, was the race issue. You can see Bess right there. She's white. Her fiance, African- American. And because of that, the justice said that, in fact, he does not have to marry them. He, in fact, refuses to marry interracial couples. In fact, this is what he said: "I stand by my decision. It is my right not to marry an interracial couple. It is just wrong," is what he said. That's Keith Bardwell, who is a justice of the peace.
Now, as you mentioned, Wolf, the Supreme Court overturned the ban on interracial marriages in 1967, the "Loving v. Virginia" case.
And in that particular case involved a statute -- a state statute that made it a crime, basically, for an interracial couple to marry.
But what the Supreme Court made clear out of that crime is that, actually, any couple can marry. And so the judge, in saying I don't have to obey the law of the land -- many legal experts will tell you that's just not the case. In fact, as a supreme court justice, he takes an oath where he is going to obey not just the law, but the Constitution, as well.
And, of course, he's probably going to be in some severely hot water, having a moral objection to interracial marriage is not enough for a justice of the peace to say no, I'm not going to do it. Here's what probably happens next. The Louisiana Supreme Court will probably rule on this. They could issue a sanction. They could go ahead and just remove him from the bench or he could step down on his own. He did say he would rather quit than marry an interracial couple, so it might actually come to that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I certainly must hit a nerve for you, Soledad, given your background. Your mom and your dad, a biracial couple -- an interracial couple.
O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely. You know, my mom and dad, back in 1967, when the "Loving v. Virginia" case was being adjudicated, at the same time, they were actually asked by the Supreme Court to be part of that case that would overturn the ban on interracial marriage. They lived in Baltimore, Maryland. And in the State of Maryland in 1958, when they got married, interracial marriages were illegal. So they drove to D.C. They got hitched, they drove back to Maryland and lived illegally as an interracial couple.
So it's been very interesting to sort of see these things, in this day and age, kind of a surprise. Even my parents, when I talked to them today, they were like oh, gosh, still this is going on?
At the same time, the justice's position on this is that biracial children -- interracial marriages do not last and it's a challenge for the biracial children. I'm one of six kids. I think my parents would say we all turned out just fine. That usually, I think, seems to be a -- a ruse. And my parents would talk about how people said that to them, as well, back in 1958 -- duh, don't do it for the kids. It was wrong then. It's wrong now. And my guess is the Louisiana Supreme Court will have their say on this.
BLITZER: I believe there's a president of the United States right now who has a similar background. Indeed, he turned out to be just fine, as well.
O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely. You know, and I write a lot about this, Wolf, in -- in my book, "Latino In America," which is a companion piece for our documentary. A lot of what I talk about is growing up half black, half white in Long Island, New York. So hopefully folks who want to know more about that can take a look at that, as well.
BLITZER: There's the book. I recommend it highly, this companion to Soledad's documentary.
Soledad, thanks very much.
An important note to our viewers -- please be sure to join Soledad next week for a two day special here on CNN, "Latino In America." Witness the evolution of our country, as Latinos change America and America changes Latinos. It airs next Wednesday and Thursday, October 21st and 22nd, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. "Latino In America," only here on CNN. And go ahead and buy the book, as well.
We're standing by with the best political team on television for President Obama at Texas A&M University, where he'll join forces with a Republican predecessor in a celebration of volunteerism.
He could weigh in on Afghanistan, health care and a host of other pressing issues. We don't know, but we'll take it live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, crossing the partisan divide -- we're waiting for President Obama to join a Republican predecessor in Texas today to celebrate community service. We're going to go there live -- President Obama and the first President Bush together.
Balloon boy, day two -- a true crisis in Colorado or an elaborate bid for media attention?
We're investigating. We have the very latest.
And Wall Street's robust week ends with a dip -- earnings reports indicating that businesses and consumers are still struggling with debt sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 67 points. The Dow closed the week at 9995.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We continue to wait for President Obama in Texas right now, the latest in a state by state visit. Some of the president's critics complain that he's never really stopped campaigning.
A new analysis of his travels by the Associated Press adds some fuel to that fire. It suggests that he's already spending a lot of time in states that might be critical to his re-election. Supporters, however, are throwing cold water on that claim.
Let's walk over to CNN's Tom Foreman.
He's over at magic wall for us.
You've got a little analysis of what's really going on here, Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The Associated Press has stirred the pot with this. They've got people worked up.
This president has been, in older parlance, a rambling kind of guy. Look at the number of trips he's made. He visited 26 of the 50 states, over 51 total visits, as you mentioned, Wolf, down in Texas today. That's a pretty good bit of travel. And if you look at the numbers of where he has been you can get an idea of which state he visited the most. As you might guess, once you move west of the Mississippi, the trips generally fall off a fair amount because it's much harder to get out there. It takes a lot of time.
More trips over here but now look at this. I'm going to tilt this map because there's another way of looking at this. If we tilt it you can sort of see the depth of the states, you can see which states are tallest here. And these are the ones he's visited the most.
And I want you to look at those. I'll turn off the numbers now. Look at the height of those states and now I'm going to turn on the election results from last time and you can see, that yes, he's going an awful lot to blue states over in here.
However, and this is important, Wolf, many of his fans and supporters say of course he's going to blue states because blue states have awfully large population centers in them. If you want the most bang for your buck as a president you go to the places where there are a lot of people and if those happen to be the places he won because he did win the vote, that's a natural thing.
It's not a matter of him campaigning, it's a matter of him simply going to reach the most people and get his message spread around to people. Now beyond that the question is he targeting some particular places? Well, you might say that to some degree because you can look at places like Missouri over here or Indiana over here.
These are both very, very close votes with John McCain. McCain won over here, Obama won over here. That would make the case that maybe he's trying to work these because you can see when we look at his travels, yes, he has been over here to Missouri but then you have places like New York over here and look at this.
He's had a tremendous number of trips to New York and yet New York is solidly Democratic. He should have no trouble at all there in the coming years so the Associated Press has certainly stirred the pot, created a lot of talk but at the moment both sides seem to have reasonable arguments that the president is mainly just traveling a lot and seeing a lot of Americans along the way. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Tom, thanks very much. Let's discuss what's going on with our senior political analyst Gloria Borger and our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.
Gloria, what do you make of this Associated Press analysis?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, look, I think -- I think the president has to travel to states that are in flux right now, you know. They made a lot of gains in the west that they could lose in the next election. He's got to travel to New Jersey. He's got to travel to Connecticut, you know.
I mean, these are -- the president has to keep in mind the states that he won in the last election that are really in play right now.
BLITZER: And all presidents do this, you know. We talk about -- I know -- I don't know why we should be so surprised that the president of the United States wants to visit a battleground state like Ohio, for example.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I know. And you're right, (INAUDIBLE). And when it comes to states like New York or California, well, Democrats go there because that's where the money is, so -- and you know, you owe somebody something. You know, they helped you in your election or whatever, but I don't know a president unless it's been some horrible disaster or tragedy that -- whose staff doesn't look at the political implications of where he's going and go.
You know, it would be good if we went to this particular spot. They just do that. Long-term planning.
BLITZER: I suspect between now and 2012 he'll be visiting Florida a lot. That seems to be a pretty important battleground state as well.
BORGER: Yes. Absolutely. He will.
BLITZER: And there's nothing wrong with that.
BORGER: Yes. And he'll be -- as we were saying, he'll visiting certain states to raise money like California and certain states to keep his gains like the west.
BLITZER: Now take a look at this, the first President Bush, George H.W. Bush getting ready to speak. You know what? We haven't heard a lot from him lately. It might be worthwhile to hear what he's saying at Texas A&M University, getting ready to introduce the president of the United States.
Let's listen a little bit to President Bush as he gets ready to speak.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 41ST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Michelle from whom we've just heard, Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light Institute, and in whom I have so much confidence and we are so lucky to have her running this wonderful organization.
I'm sure that her son Neil and Michelle together have taken the helm together as the Points of Light movement enters a new and exciting chapter. While I'm at it, let me also salute the many sector leaders, our previous Point of Light award winners and finally our daily Point of Light for today, Mallory Myers, a...
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
A Big Event fame. If you don't know about Big Event, stick around, it's a wonderful program, exemplifying the Aggie Spirit of Service.
Some of you may have gotten my mass e-mail this week. (LAUGHTER)
Freudian slip only.
About today's event, and if you did, please don't turn me in as an inveterate spammer but if you look at Mallory and the corps of cadets and indeed the entire student body, I honestly couldn't imagine a better place to invite our president and celebrate community service than right here on this campus.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
That's one of the key reasons I'm so proud to have our Bush School of Government Public Service here. I would -- they need to get out of class, those guys. OK. Here I...
Here I'd be remiss if I did not very quickly brag on this school. We're here to talk about serving others and it is estimated that U.S. non-profit organizations over never the next decade need to attract some 640,000 new leaders, and I'm proud that our Bush School trains and motivates leaders who are ready to step in and advance the work in the non-profit fields that inspires all of us here today.
In fact, I'm just so proud of our Bush School that I hesitate to mention that the only stain, the only stain on our school's reputation came a few years ago when we lost a critical softball game in the coveted Armadillo Cup against the LBJ School over in Austin.
Bob Gates was our Dean then. Bob -- he was our dean then. I know Bob has a lot of fans here and I really do hate to say this when he isn't here to defend himself but frankly I was disappointed in Bob over that loss, and I...
I hate to dwell on that one softball game, but I thought some of our players were out of position and the batting lineup needed some tweaking. OK.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Here we go. Look who's here.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
OK, OK. Since then he's gone on to even big and better things and made all of us in the Aggie family very proud in the process. So please you already welcomed him. Welcome him back home to Aggie land, our superb secretary of defense, our own Bob Gates. Once again.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) And now for the main event. It seems altogether fitting that the occasion of our first meeting since the president's inauguration should come over the issue of community service since it was the same service that brought us together in the first place.
It was September 2005, and our home town of Houston had just welcomed tens of thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. President Clinton and I were hosting a briefing by local officials out there, and one of the national leaders who contributed to our work that day was then Senator Obama.
I might add there were plenty of other folks who also showed up in Houston who seemed mostly concerned not with the evacuees and their plight but of getting media attention, getting on the tube, and that was not Senator Obama.
He came without fanfare, and I can quickly see he was someone who genuinely cared about helping others so it was no surprise...
So it is no surprise that on the eve of his historic inauguration our president sounded a call to service. We cannot allow any idle hands, President-elect Obama said this past January. Everybody's got to be involved. Everybody is going to have to pitch in.
Once in office both the president and first lady have followed through by launching their United We Serve campaign, calling on all Americans to serve our communities and be a part of building a better future for our country.
Our 44th president is absolutely right that there isn't a more important time than now for us all to get involved, so I salute the president for his leadership on this issue and Barbara and I are delighted to join all of you in welcoming him now to Texas A&M University.
Ladies and gentlemen, the 44th president of the United States, President Barack Obama.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.
So, howdie Aggies.
OBAMA: All right.
It is an honor to be here with all of you today at this outstanding university. Now I was told that if the winds had been different today President Bush would have parachuted in to kick things off here. That's the story, but that's OK. I am still thrilled to be introduced by this man whose vision of service we celebrate today and whose life of service is an inspiration to all of us.
And much to his likely embarrassment I'm going to talk a little more about the singular nature and impact of that service in a minute, but before I do I'd like to recognize several other people joining us today starting with President Bush's extraordinary wife, Mrs. Barbara Bush, who is...
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Where did she go? Madam First Lady, there she is over there.
As we all know, Mrs. Bush has an impressive record of service herself, particularly her tremendous work to promote family literacy across this country, and so we are very, very grateful for everything that she's done on behalf of our nation.
We have our secretary of defense here, Secretary Bob Gates, who I think you know a little bit about. He has served for four decades under eight presidents with integrity, with candor, with an undying commitment to keep this nation safe, and I know...
I know how much he loved his time as president here at A&M which is why he was relieved to hear about this week's game is out at Kansas State. I didn't want him sneaking away to relive his glory days, leading the Yale practice and never returning to Washington, but I can tell you, and I want everybody to understand this, although it is an enormous sacrifice for him to have left this institution, he could not be doing a better job on our behalf. And I want you all to know that I'm very proud to have him as our secretary of defense.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
I want to acknowledge former secretary of state Jim Baker who served this country for decades as a trusted adviser to presidents, more importantly as a statesman. I also want to thank another Texan, Ambassador Ron Kirk, for his terrific work as our United States trade representative.
Former senator Sam Nunn for his lifetime of service. I want to mention particularly Senator Nunn's visionary work on nuclear non- proliferation, and we have two outstanding members of Congress who are here with us today, Chet Edwards and Sheila Jackson Lee, so -- where's Chet? Chet's over there.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
I want to recognize Melanie Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council for outstanding work on service and many other issues. Stand up, Melanie.
I want to thank Michelle Nunn, the CEO of Points of Light as well as Neil Bush, chairman of the board, for their wise leadership.
I want to congratulate Mallory Myers, today's Daily Point of Light award winner and commend her for tireless work to pulling together the Big Event, which I know is no easy task.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
And I understand that this event is just one of the countless ways that students at this university are giving back to this community, in tutoring children and building homes to raising money to fight cancer and aids, to continuing NM's proud tradition of military service. So I can see why President Bush chose to locate his library at this school. What you all are doing right here, is precisely what he was talking about when he called for those 1,000 points of light and became the first President to create a White House office devoted solely to promoting tourism.
To vision its changed life across this country, including that of a young woman who went to work for an organization called Public Alleys to prepare young people for public service careers. An organization initially funded by the Bush Administration. And her experience there inspired her to devote her own life to serving others and that young woman happens to be my wife Michelle Obama. And I've been instructed to pay her gratitude today as well.
But here's the thing, George Bush isn't just a president who promoted the Ethic of Service long before it was fashionable. He's a citizen whose life has embodied that ethic. From his bearing service as a navy pilot in World War two. Enlisting the day he was 18 to his time in Congress at the CIA and as UN Ambassador, Vice President and as President. He easily could have chosen a life of comfort and privilege. And instead, time and again when offered a chance to serve, he ceased it. It was second nature to him. The continuation of a proud family tradition that he and Mrs. Bush clearly passed on to their children and grand children - and one which is carried on throughout quote unquote, "retirement". Who's that working out Mr. Bush?
Spends it tirelessly helping others without paying fair or any expectation or desire for recognition. But I do recall one endeavor of his that actually drew quite a bit of attention, that was back in 2005. And some of you may remember this, he and President Clinton had agreed to come together to raise money for the nations devastated by the tsunami that killed nearly 230,000 in Asia. That partnership between these two presidents would continue in the wake of hurricane Katrina. At first long time friends and aides to both of them were suspicious. Let's tell the truth now. They were convinced that the other guy was using the their guy to burn reputation. That's how staffers are.
But then when one operative expressed his concern to President Clinton, the President sharply rebuked him replied, "this is much more important than politics". This is much more important than politics, that's the conviction that drew these two outstanding leaders, once fierce adversaries to join forces. The belief that there's some things that are beyond politics.
That there's no place for partisanship when a great American city is under water. That R or D next to your name is irrelevant when nations in crisis need the world's help. That certain moments call on us to stop the back and forth and the bickering, to forget the old rivalries and embrace the common purpose that is bigger than our differences.
And while you might not always know it from watching the cable news shows, or listening to folks on the radio, I think it's clear that we stand in one of those moments, we're seeing turmoil in our economy that's left many people wondering whether their kids will have the same opportunities that they had to pursue their dreams. We face threats to our health, our climate and of course, our security - that have left many of our young people wondering what kind of future they'll be living for their own kids. And if anyone here thinks that our government has all the solutions, President Bush and I will be the first to tell you that you'll be sorely disappointed.
Government can build the best school with the best teachers. But we can't run the PTA or chaperon those field trips or mentor those kids after school or have them sit down and do their homework at night. We can pass the most comprehensive health reform bill but Congress can't be on the ground in our communities caring for the sick and helping people live healthier lives. Government can give our troops they equipment they need and the pay and benefits that they have earned. And nobody is working harder than doing that than Secretary Gates. But he can't be there to offer a home cooked meal to a military family stretched thin. Or to make sure that our veterans get the respect and appreciation they deserve in their communities when they come home.
In the end, when it comes to the challenges we face, the need for action always exceeds the limits of Government. While there's plenty that Government can do and must do to keep our families safe and to keep our planet clean and our markets free and fair. There's a lot that Governments can't and shouldn't do. And that's where active engaged citizens come in. That's the purpose of service in this nation.
And that's the point I want to emphasize today that service isn't separate from our national priorities or second to our national priorities, it's integral to achieving our national priorities. It's how we will meet the challenges of our time. To this day, despite all the evidence to the contrary there are still folks with a notion out there that well, service is nice, but it's not really essential. It's something you do once in a while to fulfill a requirement or to fulfill ourselves or for a year or two after college to put off getting a real job. I'm talking to you -- the notion that the real work of changing this country is done by people with fancy titles and big offices out in Washington, D.C. but history tells a very different story.
It's the story of patriots who set forth the ideals that animate our democracy and all those who fought and died for their ideals. It's the story of women who reached for the ballot and people who stood up and sat in and marched for justice -- the story of firefighters and police officers who rushed to those burning towers and ordinary people who rushed to the aid of a flooded American city. That's always been the story of this nation, the story of those who stepped forward in our darkest hours to service, those who rose to answer the defining questions of their time.
Colony or country? Free or half free? Separate but equal or truly equal? Those folks weren't in it for the money, those folks were volunteers, their service wasn't extra, it was the work that changed this country. The courage, the patriotism, the compassion that drove them to act are the same qualities we need today, as we seek to answer the questions of our own time, will we continue to be a land of opportunity where all things are still possible for all people? Or place where those born without advantages of wealth and health and good luck have the deck stacked against them. Will we engage with the world to confront our share of threats? Or hope against hope to defer them to the next gen - Administration -the next generation?
The answers to these questions lie in large part with all of you, the young people especially who are here today. And that's why I feel so optimistic about our future because you all are the most engaged, service-minded generation since the 1930s and 40s, serving your communities in record numbers. Last year, applications to City Year triple and the Peace Corps had three applicants for every position. America's applications were up -- 400% in just the first 4 months in this year alone. Having come of age in serious times, you all don't have a lot of patience for pettiness and bickering and the war and divisions of the past. Rather than arguing about whether or how we should do something, you'd rather just go out there and get it done.
As President it's my mission to put that passion and commitment to work. To build on the efforts of President Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and others to engage not just young people but people of all ages and walks of life to serve their communities. That's why I was proud to sign the Edward M. Kennedy America Act, expanding Americorps and Seniorcorps - other programs it gets people a chance to give back.
That's why we created new community innovation fund to seek out the most creative, effective nonprofit organizations in America. Ones that could be the next Harlem children's Owner, teachers of America. And replicate their efforts all across this country. That's why this summer we launched United We Serve, a nationwide effort calling on all Americans to make service part of their daily lives and we partnered with more than 400 organizations, made more than 250,000 service opportunities available on serve.gov and watched as nonprofits and foundations and corporations and individuals spent hundreds of thousands of hours serving their communities.
So we've been doing everything we can to get people involved. And I'm pleased to have with us, today my nominee to lead the charge on these efforts, the CEO of national and community service, Patrick Hartman. Stand up and wave so we can all recognize you. But I also want to be honest with you. While we'll do our best to make it easy to get involved, the service itself won't always be easy. People won't always appreciate what you're trying to do for them. You won't always make the difference you had hoped for. And let's be honest, some problems are so big, so stubborn, and that even your best efforts will only help just a little bit. It might just help one person; it might just help one corner of a neighborhood.
But those are the efforts that matter the most. It's through that struggle, the fact that it's hard that the difference is made, not just for others, but for yourself. That's how you young people in particular will discover your strengths and weaknesses and the depths of your compassion and courage, it's how you will grow and how you grow closer to the people you serve. And once you form those connections, you'll find that it's a little harder to numb yourself to other people's suffering. It's a little harder to convince yourself that their struggles aren't your problem. It's a little harder to stand by as a bystander. Once you have tutored young people in a struggling neighborhood, it's hard to care about that ballot measure to fund their school. Once you've volunteered at a food bank, it's hard not to care about poverty and unemployment.
Over time the needs of the people you serve become your stake in the challenges of our time. See, in the end, service binds us to each other and to our communities and our country in a way that nothing else can. That's how we become more fully American, that's what it means to be American. It's always been the case in this country, that notion that we invest ourselves, our time, our energy, our vision, our purpose into the very fabric of this nation. That's the essence of our liberty that we give back, freely. You don't have to devote your entire career to service, though I hope that many of the students here will.
But I am asking you to have a public service mindset. I'm asking that no matter where you live or what job you do or what obstacles you face, you're always looking for ways to make service part of your life, whether it's-it's through your workplace, your house of worship, or your local school; whether it's in your own neighborhood or another where the need is great, whether you offer some special skill or just an extra set of hands and a sympathetic ear. I know you're busy. I know that sometimes even if you don't like to admit it, service can feel a bit like a chore.
But if Mallory Myers can repeat last year's success and get more than 12,000 students to perform more than - 20, 100 let me try that again, 1,200 -- it's so much it boggles the mind. Mallory, 12,000 students and 1,200 service activities in this community. If Mallory can do that, then surely you can round up a few friends to volunteer in your community too.
That's right. I got amen back here. If President Bush could fly 58 combat missions when he was younger than many of you here today, and keep on fighting even after he was shot down and nearly captured by the enemy then surely, you can keep going when - when your service project gets a little tough. What you think?
If 11 year old Eran Binger...