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Pilots Punished For Missing Airport; U.S. Diplomat Quits in Protest of War in Afghanistan

Aired October 27, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the best political team on television on these stories.

The ex-Democrat Joe Lieberman throws a monkey wrench into his former party's health care plans. This hour, the independent senator's big announcement about the so-called public option. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins our panel on health care reform and politics.

Plus, two pilots pay a steep price for mysteriously flying past the Minnesota airport. The FAA hands out its punishment, but have we learned what really happened?

And he's believed to be the first administration official to quit his job in protest of the war. A former Marine-turned-diplomat explains why he believes the Afghanistan mission has gone terribly wrong.

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

In the nine years since Joe Lieberman was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee, he repeatedly has surprised and disappointed his now former party. Today, the independent senator from Connecticut is at it once again. What's at stake? Nothing less than the Democrats' fight for health care reform and the Senate majority leader's new plan to include a government-run option.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is working the story for us.

Dana, update our viewers on what's going on.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The halls here, Wolf, were buzzing all day today with reporters like me talking to Democratic senators trying to nail down whether the Democratic leader in the senator has the votes for his health care plan.

And then Joe Lieberman gave a surprisingly blunt answer.


BASH (voice-over): Anyone who thought Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid's new health care bill with a public option could ultimately pass the Senate didn't talk to Joe Lieberman.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: If at the end it's not what I think is good for our country and most people living in our country, then I will vote against cloture, I will join a filibuster, and I will try to stop the bill from passing.

BASH: Lieberman says he will try to block any kind of government-run health care option from passing the Senate, even if it allows states to opt out.

LIEBERMAN: It's still a government-run health insurance plan that puts the federal taxpayer on the line, and I don't want to do that at this point in our nation's history.

BASH: But the independent senator did Democrats one piece of good news. He will vote yes to start the health care debate.

LIEBERMAN: We have got to begin a debate on health insurance reform, and we have got to do something on health insurance reform this year. That's different from the merits of the bill.

BASH: Lieberman with his complicated calculus is exhibit A of how uncertain a government-run health insurance option still is in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs 60 votes to do anything, and with 60 Democrats and independents in the Senate, there are likely no votes to spare.

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: I'm not a fan of government-run public option.

BASH: Democrat Ben Nelson is another wild card. He hasn't told party leaders what they will get his vote at all.

NELSON: No secret handshake, no wink, no indication whatsoever, other than I haven't decided and I can't decide until I see the actual physical bill, get a chance to review it, and then I can make the decision.


BASH: Several other Democratic senators, conservative senators, are withholding their support from this. They're not saying whether or not they will vote yes or no, especially senators who are facing tough reelection battles next year in states where this whole idea of a government-run health care option is not very popular.

But senior Senate Democratic sources, Wolf, they say the reality is what we just illustrated, that they simply do not know if the votes are there to even start debate on a health care bill, which they want to do next month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Dana, a lot of health insurance companies are headquartered in the state of Connecticut. What if anything is this having -- is this playing on Senator Lieberman?

BASH: We don't know that for sure. I didn't ask Senator Lieberman that direct question. He has been very protective of insurance companies, because they do have a big stake in his state. But I will say that there's another Senate from Connecticut, Senator Chris Dodd, who also has those insurance companies in his state and he is very much for this public option. So that whole idea cuts both ways.

But Senator Lieberman was very, very clear that he believes his biggest problem with this isn't so much about insurance companies. He's concerned about the deficit and about the fact that this would create what he calls a new entitlement program and that it will be very hard, even impossible, to continue to pay for that without adding to the debt and to the deficit in this country.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you very much.

We will have much more on this story coming up.

But let's get to Afghanistan right now, where 58 Americans with hopes and dreams and families were killed this month. October isn't even over yet, but it's already the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the war began exactly eight years ago, back in 2001.

Today alone, eight soldiers were killed in two roadside bomb attacks.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is in Kabul -- Chris.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, defense officials are telling us that these were two coordinated complex attacks. That means that the insurgents set one or more roadside bombs and also attacked with small-arms fire, which suggests that it was a possible ambush.

Seven American soldiers were killed in one attack. One American soldier was killed in another attack, also an Afghan civilian. We're also told that all of these soldiers were in their armored vehicles when this attack took place.

This threat from IEDs has been rising for some time. Defense officials have been telling us that the insurgents in the Taliban have improved their capability to make bombs, to train attackers, and to strategically target American troops from what their capability was just last year.

That is one reason why Defense Secretary Robert Gates authorized up to 3,000 more troops to come here to Afghanistan, to clear mines, to gather intelligence, medics to treat injuries, all to help the troops here fight off this threat of roadside bombs -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Chris, be careful over there in Kabul.

The latest deaths bring the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan up to 906. And, as we reported, this is now the single deadliest month in the deadliest year of the eight-year-old war, 280 U.S. fatalities in 2009 alone.

And you can see the steady rise since the U.S. invasion back in October 2001. It's largely to blame on roadside bombs, also known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. They now account for 70 percent of the casualties in Afghanistan. Compare to only two years ago, the number of troops killed by roadside bombs is now up 400 percent.

New punishment for the two pilots who flew right past the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, where they were supposed to land. Their story is generating a lot of controversy and a lot of mystery, many unanswered questions.

Let's go to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. She's working the story for us.

There's been a decision made by Delta, the parent of Northwest, about these two pilots.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Delta has said yesterday that they were going to keep the pilots on suspension until the NTSB completed its investigation.

But the FAA has gone ahead before that investigation is done and revoked the licenses of the two Northwest Airline pilots who flew right on past their Minneapolis destination last Wednesday evening, out of contact with air traffic controllers, and sparking fears of a hijacking.

In a statement, the FAA says they were operating carelessly and recklessly. The FAA did not mention the pilots' admissions that they had been using personal laptops in the cockpit. But it does say they violated a number of federal aviation regulations, including failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances.

On Sunday, the pilots were grilled for five hours by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators and acknowledged they were not monitoring the aircraft while they were on their computers, nor conversations on the radio, and didn't notice efforts by company dispatchers to reach them.

The revocations of their licenses are effective immediately. The pilots have 10 days to appeal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will stay on top of this story, huge interest as you can imagine in the flying public out there. They want to know what really happened. Jeanne, thanks very much.

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

I know you do a lot of flying, Jack. All of us do. We want to know, what were these two pilots really up to?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I don't buy that laptop computer stuff. Two guys on laptops? Might have been buys on laptops. I don't know whether computers were involved or not, though. Do you buy that story?

BLITZER: No, I think there's a lot of questions. Even if you're on a lap top, you can hear air traffic controllers saying, you know, check in, tell us what's going on.


BLITZER: I'm on a laptop all day, Jack, and I hear what other folks are saying.


CAFFERTY: And you have never overshot your destination, even once, have you?



CAFFERTY: Some Democrats are calling it the Obama hangover. Even with President Obama on the campaign trail, at fund-raising events and taping TV ads for many state and local candidates, well, it seems like the electricity of the 2008 campaign is a fading and distant memory.

"The Los Angeles Times" reports how much tougher it is now to get people fired up to volunteer, to vote Democratic this time around. And as President Obama tries to address health care and the economy and the wars, some of his decisions may not sit well with voters at the local level.

A lot of eyes are on the races for governor of New Jersey, governor in Virginia, and a congressional race in Upstate New York's 23rd District. With Election Day just a week away now, things are not looking so hot for Democrat Creigh Deeds in Virginia. One poll shows him trailing the Republican, Bob McDonnell, by 11 points.

Meanwhile White House officials are complaining about the quality of Deeds' campaign. This is a way of distancing themselves from a guy they expect might lose. In New Jersey, polls show Democrat incumbent Jon Corzine leading his Republican challenger, Chris Christie. But one survey found 73 percent said that a campaign appearance by President Obama would not affect the way they vote.

Meanwhile, pollsters say it's conservatives who are the most energized this time around, and Republicans are already describing any victories in these elections as a referendum on President Obama, claiming it could be a sign of things to come in next year's midterm.

So, here's the question: When it comes to upcoming state and local elections, where has the Obama magic gone?

Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Still got a week to go. See what can happen in one week. CAFFERTY: Big night, though, next Tuesday. You coming to New York?

BLITZER: No. We will do it from here in Washington. We're high-definition now here in Washington.


CAFFERTY: Something we said?



BLITZER: I will be back. I will come visit you from time to time.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

What works and what doesn't when it comes to universal health coverage? In Massachusetts, almost everyone has health insurance right now. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is there and makes a special appearance with our political panel. That's coming up. He interviewed, by the way, Mitt Romney, who helped ensure so many people were covered when he was the government of Massachusetts.


BLITZER: Let's get to our political panel right now and a special guest joining us, our chief medical continue Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He received a unique opportunity today to interview the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on his home turf. Massachusetts has the lowest percentage of people who don't have health care insurance. We're going to get to Sanjay in a moment.

Also joining us, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, the former Bush speechwriter David Frum -- he's with -- our chief national correspondent, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," John King, and our senior political analyst, David Gergen, lots of folks that have come to discuss.

Let me bring John King in first to just get your quick thought.

Lieberman, Senator Lieberman, you heard Dana Bash report he's now suggest, you know what, there may not be 60 votes in favor of what Harry Reid wants to do on this public option. If there's 59, it's not enough.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those of us who have covered politics a long time and have been around politics a long time, and you have got a good group here, the L-word used to be liberal. I think going into this health care vote, the L-word is leverage, that all these conservative Democrats who might want something out of this realize they have quite a bit of leverage with the majority leader right now.

It would be a fascinating drama if Joe Lieberman after coming back into the Democratic fold decided on the number-one priority of the Obama administration to be the roadblock. But that is the position where he's put himself right now, saying you don't get my vote right now.

The vote is not on the floor yet, Wolf. Let's see what Senator Lieberman wants and how good of a negotiator both Senator Reid is and will the president get involved here.

BLITZER: And, very quickly, David Gergen, what do you think? Is this the final word from Lieberman or is it a negotiating ploy?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, it's definitely a negotiating ploy. But, early on, Senator -- President Obama was told by an aide he was going to see health care die three or four times during the year.

I think he would amend that now to say you're going to see the public option, a robust public option, die three or four times before we get a final vote.

SANCHEZ: All right, let me get -- bring Sanjay in.

Sanjay, you had an opportunity to spend some time with Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, today. He was instrumental in getting the health reform package passed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I'm going to play a little clip of you our interview with him. Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: ... were unable to deal with and didn't have any pretense that we would somehow be able to change health care costs in Massachusetts.

We still have a fee-for-service reimbursement system here, like every other state in America. That's the way Medicaid and Medicare are structured. That's the way the insurance industry is structured. That's a whole different topic, which is how do we get the health care cost down in America.

And, as you know, we're way above the cost of health care of other country in the world as a percentage of our total economic vitality.

So, that's a different topic. We didn't deal with that here in Massachusetts. And frankly we dealt with a much more narrow issue, getting people insured that weren't insured, and -- and this is just as important, perhaps even more important -- for those who are insured, making them understand that they will never lose their coverage.


BLITZER: All right, Sanjay, what can the rest of us learn from the folks in Massachusetts?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what was interesting here, I think this was as candid as I have heard the former governor talk specifically about the issue of cost.

When you're talking about the Massachusetts model, everyone talks about the fact that they have such a high insurance rate, as you mentioned, about 97, 98 percent of the people now insured, which is really remarkable over the last three years.

But what Governor Romney, former Governor Romney, was really talking about there is they never really dealt with health care costs overall. It wasn't part of their plan. They kept a very narrow focus. And the reason I really wanted to sort of get at this with him is when you're talking about health care on a national level, you keep seeing these two pillars. Can you increase access and decrease costs at the same time?

So Massachusetts can be a model in many ways, but not with regard to cost, Wolf.

BLITZER: So the bottom line in terms of costs in Massachusetts, they're skyrocketing right now, even obviously the end result is a lot of folks have health insurance, but that state is in financial trouble.


I mean, you know, as you might expect, there's a lot of details still that need to be analyzed quite carefully. If you ask Governor Romney about the costs specifically so far, and I did ask him about this, he says it's sort of where they projected it to be, about 1 percent overall of the state's budget paying extra towards insuring the 400-some-thousand people who now have insurance that didn't three years ago.

But he fully admits that those costs could continue to go up. When he was governor, he said he created a plan that would pay for itself, but it is getting more expensive. And he, by the way, cites several federal examples as well. He says Medicare is several hundred times more expensive than was projected in 2009.

So, it is all about trying to bend that cost curve down in a very reliable, consistent way, while increasing access. He fully admits he wasn't able to do it, but he wasn't targeting that either. And he's not equivocal at all that he thinks the way that the plans have been laid out so far with the public option are not the way to go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How does this play out, Candy, in 2012, assuming -- and a lot of us simply assume -- Mitt Romney Romney might throw his hat in the ring once again?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are assuming at this point at least he's still keeping his options open.

BLITZER: He didn't rule it out in the interview with Sanjay.


CROWLEY: No, exactly, and hasn't and I don't suspect he will, as most of them don't.

But I think health care will move on to the next level, which is, what's been passed; has it worked? And that's where the argument will be by the time we get to 2012. And it's one of the arguments we're also going to see this week and next, which is how much of this health care plan when it passes can Democrats get up front as they move into next year and as they move into 2012?

Because if this is delayed gratification for the people out there who really need health care at this point, it's not going to work for Democrats, so you will see a big push on Capitol Hill now to say let's move some of these benefits and get them effective immediately.

BLITZER: Getting back to Joe Lieberman, Donna, I'm getting a lot of tweets on Twitter right now from angry Democrats who are saying if Joe Lieberman stops the public option from going forward, they want the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, to strip him of his chairmanship of a committee and get rid of him as part of the Democratic Caucus.

Would you go that far?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I'm not an angry Democrat, but let me just say what I am concerned about, of course, Wolf, is that as Senator Reid progresses in putting this final bill together, he will have to keep the family together.

And that's not just the moderate or conservative Democrats, but the liberal Democrats. We have a very diverse caucus in the United States Senate, as well as the House. I'm inclined to believe that Joe Lieberman will allow Senator Reid to go forward with bringing this bill on the floor, meaning he will vote for cloture.

He has never allowed the filibuster to stop him from opposing a bill later. He's done that in the past. But he's also been a champion of health reform in the past, especially for children.

BLITZER: All right, very quickly, David.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think the Lieberman and Romney show what a hair ball in the throat this public option is, just what broad consensus there could be if you would use incentives, and what a killing thing it is when the Democrats insist, no, we want to have central control and administered prices as our way to hold costs down.

BLITZER: You don't like it, do you?

FRUM: Not much.

BLITZER: I can tell.

All right, guys, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss, including a dramatic protest by a respected American diplomat.


MATTHEW HOH, QUIT DIPLOMATIC JOB IN AFGHANISTAN: If I agreed with our mission there, if I believed in what we were doing, and I believed it was worth our sacrifice, then I would have stayed working in Afghanistan in Zabul Province.


BLITZER: He's upset about the war. He's quitting his post and he's speaking out about where he thinks the U.S. mission has gone so horribly wrong.


BLITZER: The best political team on television is standing by.


BLITZER: President Obama on damage control, and the governor's race in Virginia is hanging in the balance. Is it too late for the Democrat in chief to save the day?

Plus, a former Marine-turned-diplomat quits his job to protest the war -- what he want you to know about the situation in Afghanistan right now.


HOH: What I would like to accomplish is for just people to understand that, when the newspapers or television reference, you know, somebody's son or somebody's husband being killed by the Taliban, it's not the same guys that attacked us on 9/11.



BLITZER: The most powerful Democrat in the country is putting his prestige on the line today, President Obama campaigning in a state he won in the election, but a state that could turn its back on Democrats in only a few days.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, has more from Norfolk, Virginia -- Jessica.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, despite recent White House sniping about the struggling campaign of candidate Creigh Deeds, President Obama was here in Virginia stumping for the Democratic candidate for governor, trying to avoid an embarrassing loss for the Democratic candidate right here in the president's backyard.


YELLIN (voice-over): At a high-spirited campaign rally in Southern Virginia, plenty of enthusiasm for President Obama.

OBAMA: Again and again, Creigh has been there for the people of Virginia. And now he needs you to be there for them.

BASH: Not so much for this man...


YELLIN: ... Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate for governor. Even many of Deeds' supporters say his campaign has fallen short.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think that he had the momentum that Barack had.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most of my friends pretty much they don't really know about these elections. Just the big elections and not really the local ones.

YELLIN: Some local leaders argued Deeds waited too long to reach out to young and African-American voter who carried the president to victory here.

ALVIN SCHEXNIDER, PRESIDENT, THOMAS NELSON COMMUNITY COLLEGE: He has had very little presence in this area, in my judgment.

YELLIN (on camera): So it's a little -- too little too late?

SCHEXNIDER: I think he -- it's a situation where he may be a day late and a dollar short to be honest with you.

YELLIN (voice-over): Then there's grumbling he didn't use the president more.

(On camera): When you talk to folks about him, what's their impression? Non political folks like on campus?

SCHEXNIDER: That's the issue, I mean, folks don't really know. He's not made a clear case for who he is and what he wants to do.

YELLIN (voice-over): A new "Washington Post" poll shows Deeds losing ground to Republican Bob McDonnell trailing by 11 points. That's a sea change from the days when President Obama became the first Democrat to win here in decades.

OBAMA: I promised you we will win Virginia.

YELLIN: The national party has tried to pump up this campaign, fundraising, sending in Bill Clinton and the president now twice. Leading Republicans to suggest that a loss here would be an indication key areas of the president's support are weakening, perhaps one of the reasons why the president came here trying to turn up the energy for Deeds in the homestretch of this race.


YELLIN: Wolf, that same "Washington Post" poll shows President Obama has a 57 percent approval rating in Virginia. So it's the campaign's hope that popularity together with stepped up outreach in the final days will make the crucial disturbance for Deeds next week -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin, thanks very much. On our political ticker right now, according to the White House Web site, both Sasha and Malia Obama have now been vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus.

The president and Mrs. Obama say they're waiting until sufficient supplies of the swine flu vaccine become available. All of the family have also received the usual seasonal flu shots. That's just coming in.

In South Carolina, a new resolution to impeach the Governor Mark Sanford is being pushed to the back burner. The State House speaker has turned aside the impeachment measure introduced today by a fellow Republican against the GOP governor.

He says state lawmakers can consider only a limited number of items during the special session but the impeachment resolution can be reintroduced for next year's session. Members of Sanford's own party are trying to oust him for leaving the state for five days in June to visit his mistress in Argentina.

Six in 10 Americans support a cap and trade proposal to cut pollution. That according to a brand-new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll. Cap and trade calls for Washington to limit the amount of greenhouse gasses that companies could produce from their factories and power plants.

The plan would penalize companies that exceeded the greenhouse gas limits with fines or make their businesses pay money to other companies that pollute less. The polls' release comes as top Democrats touted cap and trade in the Senate hearing earlier in the day.

Sarah Palin is revealing the benefits of going rogue. The former Alaska governor reports receiving $1.25 million up front to write her upcoming book. The information comes from a financial disclosure statement released today.

Palin's book already number one on and some other sites. The publisher, Harper Collins, moved up the release date to November 17th.

Remember for the latest political news any time, you can always check out You can also follow what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM behind the scenes. Remember, I'm now on Twitter. You can get my tweets at, WolfblitzerCNN, that's all one word. Republican versus Republican in a contest that could shape the future of the GOP. The best political team on television is here to examine the growing fault lines inside the party.


BLITZER: One man with influence is raising his voice and quitting his job in protest of the war in Afghanistan. His name is Matthew Hoh. He's a former U.S. Marine who worked for the State Department in Afghanistan and he's going public now with his resignation and his deep concerns about the war.

Our Brian Todd spoke with him -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if Matthew Hoh was some kind of malcontent or incompetent, this would not be the story that it is. But Hoh is a decorated marine veteran, he fought in Iraq, and he was a widely respected civilian political officer for the State Department in Afghanistan.

His resignation after about five months of service there has surprised and dismayed many in the Obama administration.


TODD (voice-over): Matthew Hoh says his position as a U.S. civilian officer in Afghanistan was the second best job he's ever had. The best one he says was as a marine commander in Iraq. Now the widely respected Hoh has turned in his resignation to the State Department.

An emotional letter saying, "I failed to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government."

I caught up with Matthew Hoh outside his apartment near Washington.

(On camera): Well, what's the fundamental reason why you feel the way?

MATTHEW HOH, QUIT DIPLOMATIC JOB IN AFGHANISTAN: Basically it's because I believe that the people we are fighting there are fighting us because we're occupying them. Not for any ideological reasons, not because of any links to al Qaeda, not because of any type of fundamental hatred towards the west.

TODD (voice-over): Hoh is believed to be the first U.S. official to resign in protest over the Afghan war. A move that has surprised and dismayed officials in the top echelons of the State Department.

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We take his point of view very seriously, but we continue to believe that we're on track to achieving the goal that the president has set before us.

TODD: Hoh says America's special envoy to South Asia, Richard Holbrooke, offered him a job after he resigned. He says he initially accepted but then changed his time.

(On camera): Why not try to take that position and change things from the inside rather than take this step?

HOH: If I agreed with our mission there, if I believed in what we are doing and I believed it was worth our sacrifice, then I would stay working in Afghanistan's other province.

TODD (voice-over): Hoh says supporting President Hamid Karzai's government whose failings he calls legion and metastatic is not worth the cost in American lives.

(On camera): Do you believe in the end that those lives would have been given in vain?

HOH: That's a very difficult question to answer and I will make one thing really clear, is that one of the hardest things about doing this is that I know by saying it's not worth fighting, I'm hurting a lot of families.


TODD: State Department officials are hitting home the point that Hoh's resignation is not a trend. Jack Lu, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, says they have more volunteers than they need for civilian jobs in Afghanistan and there's no softening of interest -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. We're back with the best political team on television, Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent is joining us.

It only adds to the pressure on the president to make a decision, to make a decision quickly.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does, even more so I'd say the pressure is building because of the deaths we've seen in these last couple of days. I mean yesterday with the helicopter crash, I think, there was 14 dead, now about 8 more dead today. U.S. service men and women serving very bravely.

And I think what's most important of all about the president's decision-making process is coming up with clear goals and explaining once and for all to the American people what are we doing from here on out so people inside the government and outside the government understand exactly why we're sending more men and women, because it seems from the officials I talked to that the president is leaning towards sending more troops.

It's just a matter of how many. But after eight years the American people are souring, obviously, more and more on the mission. They want to know what are we really trying to get done there.

BLITZER: David Gergen, we're counting down to the president's decision. He's got to make a decision fairly soon because later in November he's heading off to Asia? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely right, Wolf. We're on about a 15-day countdown to decision because on November 11th he does go off to Asia. And this decision making is getting very complicated now.

These new deaths in Afghanistan, Mr. Matthew coming out -- Hoh coming out here with this criticism, he's going to be an appealing figure as a former Marine. Things are getting worse in Iraq. Ken Pollack from the Brookings Institution has pointed out that as things get worse in Iraq it may be harder to get out of there and therefore harder to put new troops of the kind that McChrystal wants into Afghanistan.

There is rising opposition from Democratic senators, senators on the Hill, and John Kerry, influential in this area, just yesterday. All of this is making the president's decision making tough.

I would note it appears now that Secretary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke are on their way to the region and I imagine that what they find there and what they bring back to the president is also going to add yet another layer of complication before it's over.

BLITZER: You know, David Frum, it's interesting because when I heard about this young foreign service officer, former marine going ahead, quitting his job in protest to the war in Afghanistan and he handed his resignation in effect to Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It reminded me, Holbrooke himself was a young foreign service officer in Saigon during the Vietnam War, so this kind of one person speaking out can resonate.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Look, I really want to commend Matthew Hoh for doing what he did. I don't agree with him at all. I think he has the wrong answer. But through the Bush years, when people had criticisms to make of the Bush policy, they leaked, they sabotaged the policy, important policies like the electronic surveillance were blown up by people who would not in a forthright, candid manly way putting themselves on the line, saying I oppose this.

And this is exactly in line with the gust traditions of the American government and I think he's wrong, but I salute him for stating his views in such a forthright way.

BLITZER: And it's an honorable thing to do given the fact he was a Marine. It's a totally honorable thing to do.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I agree with David, I commend him for his service, and I read his story this morning and I couldn't put the paper down until I read to the bottom line. But I think the president is doing the right thing and not just making the best possible assessment, but when he comes out with his final decision, he's going to have to explain to a war weary public why we should do more and the reason we're doing it, how much it will cost us, and he's going to have to rally the American people, not just Democrats, but Republicans, too, to support this plan. CROWLEY: Well, he can look toward Republicans to begin to form that base because they're the ones in the polling that show that they support him more. This is why presidents get political capital.

We have seen in the most recent polls that the president is more popular, that his approval rate is far higher than his policies. This is where it's going to come into play. He's apparently told people -- Ed would be better at this than I -- that he has not going to decrease troops which -- and you know, he's not going to leave it where it is, so you know he's going to increase them, and that's where he's got to take that political, private approval rating that he's getting from the American public, and say you've got to stick with me.

BLITZER: Candy...

CROWLEY: And that's a tough road.

BLITZER: Let me make a turn to a congressional election one week from today in upstate New York in the 23rd congressional district. There are two Republicans running, one Democrat. This is a very Republican area in upstate New York, Watertown, Ft. Drum, a very military oriented area.

And it looks like these two Republicans are battling it out, and it's possible the Democrat could sort of sneak in.

CROWLEY: Absolutely, and it's -- yes, it's Republican -- historically it hasn't had a Republican representative in that area the district...

BLITZER: A Democratic representative.

CROWLEY: I'm sorry, a Democratic representative in a century. It did go for Barack Obama. So there are some folks there that certainly are quite willing, obviously, to vote Democratic and this is, you know, (INAUDIBLE) small the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

You know there is the pragmatist and then there -- you know, there is the conservative backed by Club for Growth, backed by the tea party folks who are in there both on the Internet and on the ground saying, no, the party's gotten too liberal, the Republican-backed candidate, the establishment candidate, is too squishy on spending.

And this is where they want to -- this is where, in particular, the tea party people want to make their stand.

BLITZER: Because these guys -- this conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman, he's got a lot of big name Republicans endorsing him, if you take a look, we'll put up some of those names up there. Fred Thompson, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Dick Armey, Steve Forbes, Rick Santorum.

The official Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, she's fighting for her life right now, David Frum. FRUM: Think of what a shot in the arm it will be for the Democrats if they manage to take this seat in this year. And the ironic consequence of this (INAUDIBLE) could be that the Democrats become more emboldened and that this actually supports the president with his health care ideas.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, another race that Republicans should have in the bag, there is a very impressive third party candidate, also a Republican, this one from the more liberal side, who may defeat the Republican there.

This is a party that is very vociferous. It's not just the tea party folks, though, will have to be considered, because there are people in New Jersey who are fiscally conservative, pro-environmental who are defecting from the coalition, too.

BLITZER: We'll continue to watch one week from today. We've got a big election coming up and we'll watch all of these races in New York, New Jersey and in Virginia among others.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour. Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: We got a lot coming up, Wolf. Thank you. A U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan becomes the first official to quit in protest over the war in Afghanistan. He says it's not worth the fight.

Twenty-two Americans have killed in Afghanistan over the past 48 hours. When will we hear from the president about his new strategy? Can the war in Afghanistan be won should we withdraw all of our troops?

And a showdown over health care and a so-called public option. Democrats opposing their leadership. A Republican filibuster now being talked about. Does a government plan for health care have any chance at all? Should it?

Also tonight, swine flu scams. Vaccine shortages driving people to desperate moves. Warnings tonight about dangerous fake medication. We'll tell you what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.

Also tonight, four of the sharpest political minds on the health care debate. Can a public option survive and should it? Join us for all of that, all the day's news and more at the top of the hour.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou, see you in a few moments, thank you.

Sacks of dog food for sacks on the football field? Jeanne Moos will explain. That's coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're right back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is when it comes to upcoming state and local elections, where has the Obama magic gone?

CM writes from Los Angeles; "The magic is gone because all of the energy we spent on hope and change turned out to be wasted. We were told things we believed in would happen if we just got a majority in Congress and a Democratic president.

"Well now we have the entire health care bill being rewritten to accommodate one Republican, and they're whining that it's too hard to govern because Bush left a mess. At least Bush acted like a president and pushed through what he believed in."

Amanda writes in New Jersey: "If Corzine doesn't win in New Jersey, it's not a referendum on Obama, who is wildly popular in this state. It's about an unhappy state dealing with an unhappy economic situation." Just like the whole country.

Jerry in Georgia: "The magic died along with the promises of how things were going to change. The only thing that is now transparent is President Obama. He can talk the talk, but walking the walk requires action and not words. Absent or abstained are not options when you're the leader."

David in San Diego says: "It was never there. He is an intelligent, thoughtful policy leader, not a party based cheerleader. He's a serious man whom the Republicans are trying as hard as possible to destroy. The GOP has nothing going for it except to rabid 40 percent of the population making itself into a clownish stereotype."

Tina in Texas asks: "The Republicans who are cheering that he's sinking in the polls, the main thing that has helped kill his afterglow is that the jobs are not back and they're not being created. If he can create the jobs, get our folks back to work, his numbers will come back and then some."

Jackie writes: "All politics is local. A national figure really never plays into it that much." And Eva writes: "Magic? Come on, Jack. He's the president, not Jesus. He can only do so much."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog, I can only do so much, Wolf, and that's it.

BLITZER: But you do a lot, Jack. And we're grateful to you for it.

CAFFERTY: And I do it with great enthusiasm and gusto.

BLITZER: That's true. Passion. Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: And that, too.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: Good-bye. BLITZER: A sack of Michael Vick on the football field could now lead to sacks of dog food for animal shelters. Jeanne Moos is next.


BLITZER: Animal rights advocates have come up with a most unusual way to promote their cause based on Michael Vick's performance on the football field.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The original deal was this, every time quarterback Michael Vick got tackled or sacked, five sacks of dog food would be donated. You remember Vick.

MICHAEL VICK, NFL PLAYER: I made a horrible mistake.

MOOS: He spent 18 months in jail for funding dog fights. Now he's being used to inspire a dog food giveaway. You're looking at a truckload of dog food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four tons. Four tons of food.

MOOS: Bill Smith, the founder of Main Line Animal Rescue outside Philadelphia, took out this ad offering to donate sacks of dog food every time Vick got tackled in the Philadelphia/Washington game.

Vick ended up not playing much and only got tackled twice, but Main Line Animal Rescue managed to collect four tons of food. Including a hundred bags donated by talk show host Rachel Ray. The food was handed out to shelters in the Washington, D.C. area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're southern state (INAUDIBLE) rescue, and you know, obviously, they're huge, so they eat a lot of food. And this really helps us out a lot.

MOOS (on camera) But taking out a newspaper ad is small potatoes. Main Line Animal Rescue is better known for putting up giant billboards.

(Voice-over): Like the one they put up in Chicago so Oprah would see it. Her own dog had died recently.

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: Just before Sophie passed away, I heard about this billboard. Actually I saw it on my way to work, that was put up right near Harpo Studios. It says, "Oprah, do a show on puppy mills."

MOOS: She did the show.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Inside are rows of cramps wooden crates stuffed with dogs.

MOOS: Another of Bill Smith's billboard went up in Pennsylvania Dutch County. Welcome to scenic Lancaster County, home to hundreds of puppy mills, but this time, he used Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vick to attract attention to his cause.

The truck was like a soup kitchen. Who are the dog food distributor is rooting for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anybody but the Eagles.

MOOS: Back in the '80s, Sherry O'Neil says she was an Eagles cheerleader but when asked for a cheer now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is making me hungry.

MOOS: Anyone who wanted to feed Michael Vick to the dogs -- metaphorically -- got their risk. Bone appetite, Shiloh.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Jeanne, thanks very much. Don't forget our new and improved Web site. Go there. It's really amazing what we have done. I think you will enjoy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou?