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Engage Iran or Attack Iran?; Battle Over Anti-Rape Amendment; McNair Text Messages; Hate Crimes in the Suburbs; GOP Officials Use Jewish Stereotype

Aired October 20, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: P.J. writes: "Yes, Jack. Any national health care reform must included a public option and it should also be mandatory to have health insurance. Recently diagnosed with cancer and subsequently terminated from my job, I have lost the Cadillac health insurance I had and now can't get anyone to insure me. Can you say pre-existing condition? I'm screwed. We need a public option."

And Lisa in San Jose, California writes: "I want The Cafferty Bill, end the anti-trust exemption for the insurance companies and expand Medicare to everyone."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, check by blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jack, thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, nearly nine in 10 Americans think Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

But should the U.S. talk with Iran or strike at Iran?

Amid new tensions, you may be surprised to learn how Americans feel about those options.

A young woman who says she was gang raped by other defense contractors in Iraq fighting for the right to sue in court.

The Senate backs that effort, but why did so many vote against it?

And as the GOP faces a new embarrassment, a poll shows only 20 percent of voters now identify themselves as Republican. I'll speak with the Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Engage Iran or attack Iran -- our latest poll shows the American public is divided over what to do about Iran's nuclear program. And even as American diplomats try to jump start talks, there are new tensions between the two countries. Let's go straight to our CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

She has the latest for us -- Jill, what's going on?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. You know, there -- for two countries that don't have diplomatic relations, there's a lot going on between the United States and Iran. And as President Obama pushes forward with his engagement policy, there's not a lot of good news.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: (voice-over): Engagement with Iran hits a speed bump. In Vienna, Iran's negotiators delay talks with the U.S. and its allies, objecting to which countries would be allowed to process its nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes.

But Americans have their doubts about Iran's peaceful intentions. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows nearly 90 percent Americans believe Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, in spite of its denials. Fifty-four percent of Americans favor U.S. military action to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons. At the same time, more than three quarters say the U.S. should negotiate directly with Tehran.

That's not what critics of President Obama's engagement policy think. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney says: "Stop thinking a charm offensive will talk the Iranians out of their pursuit of nuclear weapons."

In Tehran, funerals for Revolutionary Guard commanders killed in a suicide bombing. Iran's government accusing the U.S. of having links to the group that carried out attacks. The U.S. Denies it.

And bad news for three American hikers being held by the authorities in Teheran -- ordered to undergo more questioning.

Meanwhile, a Tehran court sentences an Iranian-American, Kian Tajbakhsh, to what the State Department says is 15 years in prison, accusing him of spying for the CIA and agitating among Iranians during recent democracy demonstrations to overthrow the government.

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Given the groundless nature of charges against him, we call on Iran to grant his immediate release.

DOUGHERTY: In spite of all the tensions, an Iranian American academic who spent more than three months in solitary confinement in a Tehran prison thinks, ultimately, engagement is worth it.

HALEH ESFANDIARI, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: And I believe if the United States and Iran were engaged in talking, I would -- I and many others like me would have not been victimized.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY: And there was one ray of light, you could say. After being stalled, those talks in Vienna are continuing. In fact, the United States and Iran met directly in an effort to get them back on track -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is the State Department, Jill, doing anything openly to try to encourage or -- or strengthen the opposition in Iran?

We saw all those demonstrations after the election there.

What are they saying about public diplomacy, as they like to call it, at the State Department, vis-a-vis the opposition in Iran?

DOUGHERTY: They certainly encourage democracy, but they are not going to encourage any direct action. It's a very sensitive subject, because that could be perceived as fomenting revolution and that's not what they want to do, Wolf. They have to support the democracy -- people in Iran who are supporting democracy, but they can't say rise up against the government.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty is over at the State Department for us.

Thanks.

President Obama, meanwhile, is sticking to his timetable for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq. Meeting with the visiting Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki today over at the White House, the president said the first step is for Iraq to complete an election law that voting can take place in January.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is consistent with the transition that has been taking place. And I reemphasized my commitment to Prime Minister Malachi that we will have our combat troops out of Iraq by August of next year and all of our troops out of Iraq by 2011.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president said the two countries are starting to move beyond security issues, beginning to talk about the economy, trade and commerce. The Iraqi leader is here in Washington for an Iraq investment and business conference.

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

CAFFERTY: When it comes to Afghanistan, the Obama keeps pointing fingers at President Bush. Although the war in Afghanistan is now in its ninth year, they make it sound like things are back to square one.

Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, says President Obama is asking the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side and the strategic side. That's a not so thinly veiled reference to Obama's predecessor. As President Obama continues to delay a decision on whether to send as many as 40,000 more troops into battle there -- the latest excuse is the runoff election in Afghanistan -- the tide is turning against the war here at home. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 59 percent of Americans are opposed to sending more troops into Afghanistan. Only 39 percent support the idea of sending more troops and 28 percent say we ought to withdraw all U.S. forces.

Perhaps even more troubling for the current administration, 52 percent of those surveyed say that Afghanistan has turned into another Vietnam -- President Obama's Vietnam.

There's no doubt President Bush deserves a lot of the blame for the problems in Afghanistan. His decision to invade Iraq derailed America's mission there.

But President Obama has been in office for nine months now and, well, some days, his administration acts like they just discovered we have troops in Afghanistan.

Here's the question: At what point should President Obama stop blaming the Bush administration?

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thank you.

After horrific testimony about an alleged gang rape involving U.S. Contractors in Iraq, an amendment sponsored by freshman Democrat Al Franken recently passed the Senate. It says contractors who are victims of sexual abuse overseas must be able to take their cases to court.

Let's go to CNN's Elaine Quijano.

She's over at the Pentagon working this story for us.

There's a lot of outrage among some that a few Republicans voted against this.

What's going on?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, there is a lot of outrage in the blogosphere, especially, Wolf, about this. But Republicans and officials here at the Pentagon say that this amendment is too broad and would have a much bigger impact than it appears. And they say in practical terms, it just wouldn't work in the real world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: (voice-over): Jamie Leigh Jones spared no details two years ago when she told lawmakers she was drugged and gang-raped by fellow employees in Iraq in 2005 while working for defense contractor and Halliburton subsidy, KBR.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM 2007)

JAMIE LEIGH JONES, FORMER KBR EMPLOYEE IN IRAQ: The next morning, I was extremely sore between my legs and in my chest. I was groggy and confused. I went to the restroom and realized I had bruises between my legs and on my wrists and was bleeding be -- and was bleeding between my legs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Eventually, Jones fought to sue KBR in open court, despite signing an employment agreement requiring her claim to be handled through private arbitration. An appeals court sided with her and her story got the attention of freshman Democratic Senator Al Franken.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Asking a victim to enter arbitration with someone who raped her or with a company that wouldn't protect her is outrageous.

QUIJANO: This month, Franken successfully pushed through an amendment that would ban the Pentagon from doing business with KBR and other contractors that require employees to agree to arbitration in a number of areas. They include discrimination grievances, sexual assault claims and sexual harassment claims.

Senator Jeff Sessions is one of 30 Republicans who voted against the proposal.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: It's a political amendment, really, at bottom, representing a sort of a political attack directed at Halliburton.

QUIJANO: Republicans cite the Pentagon's opposition to Franken's amendment. The Pentagon says Defense officials and its contractors might not be in a position to know about specific cases and officials argue the amendment would be hard to enforce.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: And, Wolf, today a senior official told me here that the Pentagon has reached out to Senator Franken's office to try to rework the amendment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The amendment passed the Senate, but it's still got to go to the -- through the House, is that what -- what's happening right now?

QUIJANO: It's in conference committee, according to Senator Franken's office.

BLITZER: All right. So they've got some work to do before it becomes the law of the land, if it becomes the law of the land.

QUIJANO: That's right. BLITZER: We'll see what happens. You'll stay on top of it for us.

Elaine Quijano.

Police release shocking text messages sent just before the murder/suicide involving the former -- the late football star, Steve McNair, and his girlfriend. Stand by.

And violent hate crimes in the suburbs -- Latinos are targeted on New York's Long Island. Mary Snow is investigating.

And he was the drummer in the rock band Kiss, the one in the cat mask. Now, he's a breast cancer survivor and he's got a message for men.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The national police investigation into the former NFL quarterback, Steve McNair's, murder by his lover reveals a woman who was stressed and struggling financially. The police also released a series of text messages sent between the woman and McNair right before police say she killed him and then took her own life.

Abbi Tatton is here -- Abbi, these text messages about the relationship very, very startling.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: They really do reveal a woman who was strung out, struggling with bills. And on July 3rd, the day before police found their bodies, Sahel Kazemi's texts to Steve McNair were coming in rapid succession.

Look at these three. In about 15 minutes, around 10:00 a.m., July 3rd: "Baby, I might have a breakdown. I so stressed."

Just a few minutes later, the next one: "I need to pay the cell phone bills and the hospital.

Can you transfer $2,000 to my account?"

And then another one: "I might need to go to the hospital. What's wrong with me? I can hardly breathe."

McNair's texts were coming just as rapidly. They seemed supportive -- reassuring despite this constant text messaging coming in: "Sit down, baby and rest for a minute. Drink some water. Please let me know. I'm here if you need me." And then later on, it seems like he's willing to help financially, as well. Look at this text message at 4:00 p.m.: "At the pool with the kids. I got the guy transferring the money."

McNair was a married father of four. This police report says that he might have been in a relationship with another woman, as well.

Now, Nashville police, in this report, released details from a witness that say that McNair was getting overwhelmed by all these calls from Kazemi. But from these text messages, Wolf, it really seems that he was being reassuring, at least the day before.

BLITZER: And the text messages also show that they were making arrangements to meet that night.

TATTON: That evening, and arrangements that started, actually, in the after round -- afternoon, around 4:00 p.m. here. There's text messages, again from Kazemi, saying: "I have to be with you tonight. I don't care where." Then another one: "Tell me, you going to be with me?"

A few hours later, McNair returns these texts: "At home until the kids fall asleep."

Later, just after midnight, he says: "On my way."

The police report also has a taxi driver, a witness who says that between those times, he was actually taking McNair to and from a nightclub.

Then, the final compensation of the text very, very mundane -- a conversation about who's going to leave the door open -- or the front door or the gate unlocked.

And then after that, Wolf, 1:14 a.m., it goes quiet. It was 12 hours later that police found the bodies. They believe that Kazemi shot McNair while he was sleeping and then turned the gun on herself.

BLITZER: What a horrible, tragic story.

Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

In an area of New York's Long Island, Latinos have been the targets of violent hate crimes and federal authorities are investigating allegations that police in Suffolk County have discriminated.

CNN's Mary Snow has been digging into this -- Mary, what are you learning about the situation?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Justice Department opened a civil investigation this month to determine whether Suffolk County police discriminate when responding to crimes reported by Latinos. The county's police commissioner told me he welcomes the probe and that the department has pledged full cooperation. And it comes as a broader investigation is taking place, examining hate crimes targeting Latinos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: (voice-over): It's an open secret -- by 7:00 a.m., illegal immigrants line up along this road connecting suburban communities roughly 50 miles outside of New York City. Anyone interested in hiring day laborers for about $12 an hour can pick them up.

Most of these undocumented immigrants are Latino, living in the shadows for fear of being deported. But here, they also live under the threat of violence -- singled out because of their heritage.

Javier Munroy wanted to speak out, explaining how he was beaten by two men last year in this parking lot. Through a translator he told us he had to get nine staples in his head.

JAVIER MUNROY, VICTIM (through translator): And they kept beating me. They were yelling things, but I didn't understand.

SNOW: Munroy told his story as part of an investigation into hate crimes in Suffolk County by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group blames county officials, an indifferent police force and anti- immigration groups with stoking tensions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WABC)

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: People talked about being stoned, about beaten with baseball bats to the point where their faces were caved in, with being shot with BB guns, being pepper sprayed in the street, having bicycles run off the road by cars.

SNOW: And the most extreme violence was the November, 2008 murder of Marcelo Lucero, a legal immigrant from Ecuador. Seven teenagers are accused of being part of a white gang targeting Mexicans, calling their actions "beaner hopping." They are awaiting trial and have pled not guilty.

The Justice Department opened its own investigation into bias crimes in the county, adding to the list a recent break in at this church in Patchogue, New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This thing over here.

SNOW: The pastor says notes were left on the altar, saying: "Hispanics don't rule here, whites rule."

MAYOR PAUL PONTIERI, JR, PATCHOGUE, NEW YORK: It took a long time to get to the point we're at. It's probably going to take a long time to get out of it to a point where we want to be.

SNOW: Patchogue's mayor says the debate over illegal immigration has increased hostility and says his challenge now is protecting Latinos and reaching out to them.

PONTIERI: It's very difficult for the white guy with gray hair to understand the Latinos, who speak very little English.

SNOW: But plumber Steve Saunders doesn't see it as complicated. Across from a site where day workers gathered, he told us hate isn't directed toward individuals.

STEVE SAUNDERS, LOCAL RESIDENT: We hate the sin.

SNOW: (on camera): And the sin is?

SAUNDERS: Going against the laws of the land.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And both the Suffolk County Police Department and its chief executive declined our request for interviews, but they did list initiatives being taken to promote tolerance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How widespread, Mary, are these kinds of crimes?

SNOW: Well, that's one thing that's hard to determine. And what became clear in Suffolk County is that you can't get a definite number because victims are sometimes afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation.

But we did check with the FBI about national statistics on crimes against Latinos. Now, its latest findings are from 2007. Overall, it reported a total of 7,624 incidents of bias crimes. That includes race, religion and sexuality. It lists 595 incidents of bias crimes targeting Hispanics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow working the story for us.

All right, Mary. We'll stay on top of this together with you.

We're just one day away from "Latino In America," our comprehensive look at how Latinos are changing America. That airs tomorrow night and Thursday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. "Latino In America" -- it will also be simulcast in Spanish on CNN en Espanol.

There's almost certainly more trouble in store for the parents of the 6-year-old boy they said might have been in the runaway balloon.

We're going to tell you what charges they could be facing. Plus, Humane Society volunteers in Georgia work with the local sheriff to rescue dozens of pit bulls -- pit bulls kept in terrible conditions and allegedly being trained for dog fighting.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, the Federal Aviation Administration says it has opened an investigation into the balloon boy incident. And police say the Heenes falsely reported their son had floated away from the Colorado home in a huge helium balloon that you see right there. An FAA official says the couple may have violated rules barring people from flying balloons or kites close to an airport.

Separately, though, the couple could also face a number of local charges, including contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Well, there is no release for film director Roman Polanski, who has been in prison for nearly a month now. A Swiss court says he poses too high of a flight risk to be freed on bail pending his extradition battle. Now, Polanski even offered to put up his Swiss chalet as security, but the court decided that wasn't good enough. Before he fled the U.S. back in 1978, Polanski did plead guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old.

President Obama has honored an Army unit for extraordinary heroism in the Vietnam War some 40 years ago. He gave the 86 men of the Army's Troop A, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Calvary Regiment the Presidential Unit Citation. It's for their daring rescue of dozens of U.S. Soldiers who had come under heavy enemy fire. It is the highest honor given to a military unit. So congratulations to them.

And NASA's experimental new rocket is ready to go. It is the first time in 34 years that a rocket other than the space shuttle has stood at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad. That thing right there, taller than the Statue of Liberty. The rocket is scheduled to blast off next Tuesday on a two-and-a-half minute unmanned flight. Yes, just two-and-a-half minutes. It could one day, though, carry astronauts to the moon. But the White House may decide to scrap those plans.

I guess, Wolf, that's why it's called an experiment.

BLITZER: Do we know yet, Betty, what time on Tuesday we're going to see that?

NGUYEN: We don't have the actual time just yet. We're -- I'm working on that. I'll get that for you.

BLITZER: I'm hoping it happens while we're on the air here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

NGUYEN: I know. That would be great.

BLITZER: We'd like to take that live.

NGUYEN: Definitely.

BLITZER: All right, Betty, thanks very much.

By the way, we have a new way for you to follow what's going on behind-the-scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm now on Twitter. You can get my Tweets at Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn. Wolfblitzercnn all one word. In fact, during the next commercial, I think I'll send out a Tweet.

State GOP officials use some anti-Jewish stereotypes to praise a Republican senator.

What's going on?

I'll speak about that and a lot more with the Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele. He's standing by live. Stand by for that.

Plus, the first lady, Michelle Obama, talks with those who take care of troops after they've served their country. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, amid claims of fraud, Hamid Karzai agrees to take part in a second round vote.

How will this affect the president's decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan?

We're taking a closer look at that.

Also this, a Medicare fix -- what Democrats are doing to win doctors' support for health care reform.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're standing by to speak live with the Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele. Stand by for that.

We've got some good questions for him.

But first, the new embarrassment for his party, as a pair of regional GOP officials use an anti-Jewish stereotype to praise a Republican senator.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is looking into this for us -- Jessica, what's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here's what this is all about. In a South Carolina newspaper, the heads of two county Republican parties made surprising stereotypical comments about Jews in an op-ed. They wrote that: "There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves." Hmm. Well, the op-ed was written in defense of Senator Jim DeMint, who is known as a penny pinching deficit hawk. He is not Jewish.

Now, not surprisingly, the suggestion that Jews are excellent penny pinchers, which is an old stereotype, offended many and triggered a wave of denunciations.

Jewish State Senator Joel Laurie accused the two Republican Party chairs as being "individuals who unapologetically espouse racist and stereotypical attitudes."

Karen, the chair of the state Republican Party, called the comments "offensive and inappropriate." The head of the Republican Jewish coalition accused them of doing a tremendous disservice to their party and Senator Demint himself a Republican called the comments thoughtless and hurtful. All this prompted apologies from the two Republican chairs who said they made a great error. They denounced anti-Semitism. Get this, Wolf, one of them, the Orangeburg GOP chair Jim Ulmer went on to say that he actually meant the comments, "truly in admiration for a method of bettering ones life." To that, we can only say oi.

BLITZER: Indeed. All right. Thanks very much for that.

Let's get the reaction from the Republican Party Chairman, Michael Steele. I suspect he'll say oi as well. Go ahead. What do you think of this?

MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think it's silly and I agree with Chairman Floyd, it's ridiculous. I'm glad to know that the two county chairs apologized. I was a county chair. I know you can get caught up in the hyperbole of you know big time races and a diminced (ph) race and certainly this environment is important for a lot of people. They kind of overextend themselves. This was unnecessary. It was hurtful. I'm glad they apologized. Wrong headed. Don't do it again.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about some big issues out there, Afghanistan. What if anything is wrong with the president taking his time consulting methodically consulting the military commanders, intelligence community before coming up with a decision on whether to deploy thousands of troops to Afghanistan?

STEELE: I don't think anything is wrong with that at all. I wish he apply that principle to the health care debate quite honestly. I wish he would approach the health care the same way he's approaching the seriousness of Afghanistan. Both of them will have a devastating impact regardless of the decision one way or the other. Lives are at stake here. It's a big decision. I think McCain and others, Senator McCain and others have been applauding the president for his approach. At the end of the day, you have to listen to what the generals are saying. Their boots on the ground. They are in the hunt, if you will, and know best how to get the ultimate goal of winning this war in Afghanistan. I appreciate the president taking this approach and really trying to find the smartest way to win this thing. It starts by listening to those generals and giving them the support that they need.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate, former governor of Massachusetts, who thinks all this reaching out to Iran right now is simply a sign of weakness and it's time to get tougher with the Iranians?

STEELE: I think Governor Romney makes a very good point there. The one thing you don't want to do is embolden a nation like Iran who looks for those glimpses of opportunity to reposition itself on the chess board. If you have a chance to sort of get them to own up to what they are doing, take responsibility for it, if they want to be a part of leaders in this country, in this world who are peace abiding folks, then you need to demonstrate that. Don't tell me that you want to have nuclear energy for the purposes of turning lightbulbs on. But then we know there are other purposes it could be used for as well. You are not prepared to fully address the U.N., the world community, in that regard. So I think Governor Romney is dead on when he says let's not get too cozy, too soon here with Iran. Let's make sure that they are honest brokers and honest players here when it comes to nuclear proliferation.

BLITZER: Nothing wrong with trust, but verify, which Ronald Reagan used in dealing with the Soviet Union.

STEELE: Yes, but it was the verifying part that the Soviets would often trip up on. So you can trust until the cows home but if you are not going back and verifying what you are trusting to take place has in fact taken place, then all you have done is allowed for a lot of bad acts on behalf of people who may have ulterior motives than the ones they are expressing publicly.

BLITZER: The other issue is health care reform, a subject close to your heart. I know that The Washington Post/ABC News poll that's just come out on the so-called public option, a government run health insurance company to compete with the private insurance companies. According to this poll, 57 percent of the American people support the idea of a public option. 40 percent oppose. I know you are adamantly in that 40 percent. It looks like a significant majority feels differently.

STEELE: Well, you know, I appreciate that. I don't necessarily trust that number. If you look at the question and what they are asking, it kind of lends itself to a yes for the public option. So, I'll take that at face value, Wolf and give "The Washington Post" its due on that point.

What then I look at is the subsequent tabs and the subsequent questions in which the majority of the people, 60 some percent are saying they don't want a government controlled system. They are upset about the taxes. They have real concern about the spending. When you put those two together, I think you come to a different place on where the folks really are on a public option. Yes, we like the idea of it, but the reality of it is going to be something very different that's going to lead to more taxes, more spending, more debt and deficit. Money we don't have now. And more importantly, the secrecy with which this is taking place is something for me that's rather problematic Wolf. I'm sure that you played the clips on your program of the president during the campaign and recently talking about transparency and yet, it's not what we are seeing here. It doesn't lend itself to the kind of trust what we get is going to be good.

BLITZER: Chairman Steele, the poll also by the way said that if the so-called public option were run by the states, not the federal government, but each state could have their own public option and it was only good for people with no other alternative, couldn't go to the private sector, because the private sector wasn't going to give them the insurance because of pre-existing conditions or they didn't have a job or whatever, support for that public option would jump to 76 percent. Is that something you would be open to, a state run public option?

STEELE: No. Well, as a former state official, I know what the cost and what the burden is on the state. You are talking another mandate coming from the federal government that's not going to be backed up by dollars. It sounds good and it makes you feel great. If you ask the question just right, you get the 78 percent response. The reality of it is 38 percent, 40 percent of state budgets are driven by health care. Another 40 percent is education. On those two fronts, you are talking three quarters of the state budget. Now you want to compound that with additional mandates to cover and provide insurance that, in many cases states are already covering because the federal government doesn't have the appropriate protocols or programs in place to offset some of those costs right now.

So I think again for me, the bottom line is, can we step back a bit, take the same kind of time we are taking in Afghanistan to look at health care, one-seventh of our nation's economy and get it right? We don't have to do this broad based wholesale reorganization of the health care system. Let's do it piece by piece and address the cost centers that need addressed.

BLITZER: Here's a number that should be of some worry to you as the chairman of the Republican Party. In the same Washington Post/ABC News poll, the folks were asked, do you think of yourself as a Democrat, Republican or ass an independent. Last year, October, 2008, 36 percent cited themselves as Democrats, now, it's down to 33 percent. Twenty-six percent a year ago thought they were Republicans, now, it's down to 20 percent. Thirty one percent a year ago saw themselves as independent. It's up now to 42 percent. Only 20 percent of the American public in this poll are willing to say that they are Republicans. That's a source of concern, I assume, to you.

BLITZER: Not really. I'm concerned with how you vote. At the end of the day, you could call yourself whatever you want but if you vote for my candidate, who is espousing common sense approaches to health care, who is talking about free markets and free enterprises that lift up small businesses to create the jobs that will employ your kids and my kids and others out there to get to work and earn a living for themselves, that's at the end of the day where I am focused as a party chairman in delivering candidates and delivering a message that empowers people and lifts them up, not put the government in front of them as the president and the Congress, the Democrats in Congress are doing right now on health care, card check, cap and trade, you name it.

BLITZER: I have ten seconds. Predict New Jersey and Virginia.

STEELE: I love the feel of a win, my friend. I'm the chairman.

BLITZER: Predict, what do you think? Both?

STEELE: You know, I feel good about where we are now, Wolf. We have a lot of work, still, to do. We are ahead, slightly. You know how these things can go. As a national chairman, I feel good about a win.

BLITZER: Michael Steele is the national chairman of the Republican Party. Thanks very much for coming in.

STEELE: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: This may surprise you. Men as well as women can indeed develop breast cancer. The former drummer of the band Kiss tells us what can be done.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Dublin, Georgia, dozens of pit bulls were kept in terrible conditions and allegedly being bred to fight. Humane society volunteers worked with the sheriff and the local private investigators to stage a daring rescue. CNN's Brooke Baldwin was there. She's joining us from CNN Center in Atlanta.

These pictures we're about to see are pretty gruesome, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some of it Wolf, it's tough to watch just even the video let alone being there in person. Here is what happened. Investigators are working off a tip there were 40, maybe 60 dogs chained up in the woods. When they got there, they found 97 that were live. I'm going to take you inside this raid but I first want to warn you, as you said, some of the video you're about to see is disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN (voice-over): It's just around 8:00 in the morning we're at the county sheriff's department right now. Our team is just inside talking last minute tactical decisions before the raid happens. Our CNN crew hasn't been given the address as to where the raid will happen simply because the fear is the information will leak. Their biggest worry here is the raid has been a year in the making. The biggest worry is that the dogs will just disappear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to go to the back house to the house in front.

BALDWIN: The group of volunteers covered in camouflage is braced for battle. The war they are waging is on animal cruelty. Today's mission, conduct a raid in the woods of eat Dublin, Georgia, rescue dozens of dogs the humane society says were allegedly bred to fight.

CHUCK SIMMONS, NORRED ASSOC., SPECIAL OPS: Who has 40 to 60 pit bulls chained up in the woods on chains with barrels for houses and calls them pets? Nobody.

BALDWIN: Chuck Simmons is leading this tactical team. He's a private investigator from Atlanta working along the Lawrence County sheriff's department.

SIMMONS: I want to thank everybody for coming. It's for a good thing. It's for the dogs.

BALDWIN: We are following a number of cars out to the location. How it will work is the sheriff and the sheriff's deputies will first arrive on the scene. They will execute the search warrant, then the private investigators, the volunteers with the humane society, they will be the ones called in to collect the dogs. They have no idea what they are about to see. This is video from inside the raid, provided exclusively to CNN. It shows the dogs, primarily pit bulls, cowering in cages or chained. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beside one was the skull of a dog. The dog that I was documenting its number was playing with the skull. It's horrific. It's criminal.

BALDWIN: The water is filthy. Some of the dogs scarred, others are skin and bones. The most gruesome discovery of the day, a dead puppy tossed in a trash bag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't do it to anybody. How can they? What do you need 80 dogs plus -- 80 plus dogs for?

SHERIFF BILL HARRELL, LAURENS COUNTY, GEORGIA: We want to get it stopped.

BALDWIN: As buzzards circled overhead, property owner Monty Lloyd waited furious. CNN tried to talk to him. I want to give you a fair chance to explain.

We did reach out to Lloyd's attorney who said, "Despite a search warrant for evidence of dog fighting, my client has not participated in dog fighting and is not charged for dog fighting." The sheriff's department says no evidence of dog fighting or training was found on the property. The veterinarians are examining the dogs for any physical signs of fighting. The test results are pending. Since the story broke about Michael Vick's dog fighting ring two years ago, they have devoted time, money and expertise.

GREG NORRED, FOUNDER & CEO, NORRED & ASSOC.: I'm an animal lover. With the type of business that I'm in and the resources that I have, it seems like dog fighting is the best vehicle that I can use to do something about animal cruelty.

BALDWIN: The first group of dogs has been brought here. We can't tell you where here is. There's a true fear that these dogs could be stolen back. The next step, feed them and bathe them and hold them here as part of live evidence of the criminal investigation.

So far, Norred's dog raids have put 20 people behind bars. Make that 21.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: That night, the Laurens County sheriff arrested Monty Lloyd and charged him one county felony animal cruelty. He's posted bond.

BLITZER: They're taking care of the dogs now. What about the fate of the dogs down the road?

BALDWIN: Right. It's unclear at this point and time. They are live evidence. It's an ongoing investigation. At a certain point, the dogs may be turned over to the county. Some will have to be put down. That's how it was explained to me. Some will be adoptable. I wrote a blog at CNN.com to read more about the dogs, more about dog fighting and get the tip line because this is how this whole thing started. BLITZER: There's a lot of interest, high interest in this story. Dog lovers who are interested in the story. Thanks for doing it, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: He was the drummer in the rock band KISS. Now, he's a breast cancer survivor and he's got a message for men.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Back in the '70s, the '80s and even later the rock band Kiss filled arenas with their explosive sound and unique makeup. Peter Criss is the one in the cat makeup playing the drums. Last year, Criss says he flipped out when he found out that he had breast cancer. Yes, men do get breast cancer and hundreds die from the disease every year. Peter Criss has set out to tell other men of the risks and what they can do about it. Let's get some more from our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

You had a chance to speak with him?

ELIZABETH COHEN, SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, I just sat down with Peter Criss this afternoon and he gave us this CNN exclusive about how he was diagnosed with breast cancer and why he kept it a secret for so long.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN (on camera): You're the baddest, meanest rocker dude, what did you think when you heard those words, breast cancer?

PETER CRISS, FORMER KISS DRUMMER: I was petrified. I thought this can't be happening to me. I was in total shock, but it just didn't happen to men.

COHEN: What were you doing feeling your nipple?

CRISS: I played in spandex for a half decade.

COHEN: Were you ever embarrassed? Did you try to keep it from people that you had breast cancer?

CRISS: Yes, my wife and I discussed it a lot and we were like we can't let anybody know this. Because tabloids are vicious. But this is not a joke, it's something really, really serious.

COHEN: If you had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, would you have been embarrassed about it?

CRISS: There's no literature when you go into a doctor's office for breast cancer, there's nothing there for a guy to answer. So it's kind of embarrassing. It's all for women. I'd like to say something about it. I have never seen a man ever on television say I had breast cancer and I beat it. I have never seen any man have to say that.

COHEN: What made you decide to be the first?

CRISS: Somebody should. I don't need any medals. I prayed hard about this with god. I believe in god very much and I believe it's sort of like I think you should open your big mouth and talk about this. Lots of men get this. Then I tease then.

COHEN: If you were ever to write a song about your breast cancer, what would you call?

CRISS: Hard rock knockers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: Peter Criss is now 60 years old and he still plays the drums. He records on his own no longer with the band KISS. And as you can see, he no longer wears his makeup.

BLITZER: How many men are diagnosed each year with the breast cancer?

COHEN: About 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. It's significantly less than women who are diagnosed but as Peter points out. You don't hear much about it.

BLITZER: It's a very important thing that he's doing. Peter Criss is by the way only one of a handful of men who have gone public with their breast cancer diagnosis. The actor Richard Roundtree better known as Shaft underwent a mastectomy as a result. And former Massachusetts Senator Edward Brook the first African-American to be elected to the Senate since reconstruction was diagnosed in 2002 and underwent a radical double mastectomy, both men survived and fortunately both men are still alive today.

Hamid Karzai's decision to open another election set the stage for a new U.S. strategy? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: Get right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf: Is at what point should President Obama stop blaming the Bush administration, especially when it comes to Afghanistan?

J.G. writes: "Obama and his administration appear to be over their heads. They don't have a plan for Afghanistan, unemployment or the economy so they continue to blame Bush and Fox News. They are starting to look like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off throwing excuses and accusations against the wall and seeing if they will stick."

Tim says: "The time to blame the Bush White House passed months ago. Like it or not, Obama owns the conflicts. Having been in the military for 26 years, I believe Afghanistan is a pretty easy decision, either accept the recommendations from the commanders on the ground and commit the troops or take everyone out. If the president goes part way on the number of troops requested, he will indeed take steps toward creating the next Vietnam. A poor decision will empower our enemies globally and put all of us at risk."

Susan writes: "Obama shouldn't stop blaming the Bush administration at all because Obama knows that if he stops doing this then people will easily forget who started it. So I would always remind the people whose war it really is and how we got into it. How soon we forget."

Bob in Indiana writes: "The day Obama took the oath of office, the Afghanistan war became his issue to deal with. He didn't go into the presidency blindly, Obama received briefings from November 2008 until January 2009, his inauguration. His chief of staff, press secretary and the rest of the White House damage control team needs to pony up now and quit trying to dodge the issue."

Michael in Virginia writes: "When we stabilize Afghanistan, finish cleaning up that mess, and pass a tax bill which deals with the mounting deficits caused in large part by the Bush tax cuts, the unfunded expansion of Medicare and the expansion of the military, that will be a long time."

Tito in Hollywood says: "He should stop blaming the Bush administration immediately. We all know who got us in this mess and bringing Bush's name up only makes Obama look unsure of himself. He needs to get off the pot and start making some very difficult decisions starting with Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want out of Vietnam II."

If you didn't see your email here, you can check my blog at cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, will do. Thank you.