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Obama: Time to Act on Health Care; Same-Sex Marriages in Washington, D.C. Now Legal

Aired March 3, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Rick, thanks very much.

We're going to be all over this story.

Happening now, the president's end game for health care reform. Many of you just heard a long excerpt of the president's remarks today. Now you're going to find out whether he's saying anything really new and different and whether his plan will work.

Also, one of the most influential members of Congress gives up the -- gives up his power base after being caught in a so-called ethics swamp.

Will Charlie Rangel and fellow Democrats pay a bigger price on election day?

And it's one of the busiest air control towers in the world -- so why was a grade school kid radioing instructions to a pilot?

Just ahead, the answer and the punishment.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A full year after President Obama started promoting health care reform, he says everything that can be said has now been said.

So you may be wondering what, if anything, is different today?

We now know the president's strategy to finally try to cross the finish line. After recent efforts to reach out to Republicans, he made it very, very clear today he's ready and willing to push forward without any Republicans.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: No matter which approach you favor, I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: We have debated this issue thoroughly, not just for the past year, but for decades. Reform has already passed the House with a majority. It has already passed the Senate with a super majority of 60 votes. And now it deserves the same kind of up or down vote that was cast on welfare reform, that was cast on the Children's Health Insurance Program, that was -- that was used for COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and, by the way, for both Bush tax cuts, all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority.

I have therefore asked leaders in both houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks. From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, and our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dan, first to you.

I guess we shouldn't have been surprised by anything the president said today. He's saying all of this for a long time, although if there was any doubt about going for a simple majority in the Senate, he removed that doubt today.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He didn't say the word "reconciliation," but that's exactly what the president was spelling out. And no surprises here today, Wolf. The president has, for some time, been talking about wanting this up or down vote.

We've heard the president also talk about not wanting to start over -- that not being an option.

But what the White House saw today as sort of the last big pitch for health care reform -- and -- and, also, the president was able to spell it out in a very forceful tone. You heard, at the end of the speech, the remarks that the president made here at the White House, saying, let's get it done and also forcefully talking about how baby steps is not the way to get this done, because you'll end up tinkering around the edges for years to come.

Ultimately, though, what today was, was the letter that he sent up to the leadership in Congress yesterday and what that summit was about was this White House saying to the American people and to those moderate Democrats, listen, we have tried to extend a hand to Republicans. We have made concessions -- things that Republicans brought up. We've tried everything. They have not accepted it and we're moving forward.

BLITZER: What's next for the president in the immediate days ahead?

LOTHIAN: Well, Wolf, he hits the road. It's this road show. We've seen the president do this with other things in the past. They plan to do that again, on Monday, heading to Philadelphia; on Wednesday, to St. Louis. And a -- a top aide here at the White House telling me that what the president wants to do is really spell out to the American people and to small business owners what reform will mean to them. And the president wanting to push very hard until he gets this done.

BLITZER: And I know he has an overseas trip in mid-March. He would love to get it done before then. We'll see if he can.

Thanks very much, Dan.

The senator -- the Senate minority leader predicts the president will likely be able to pass health care reform without any Republicans. But Mitch McConnell is promising GOP lawmakers will get political revenge in November.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I assure you that if this bill is somehow passed, it won't be behind our Democratic friends, it will be ahead of them. Because every election in America this fall will be a referendum on this issue. And there's an overwhelming likelihood that every Republican candidate will be campaigning to repeal it.


BLITZER: All right. Let's go to Dana Bash on the Hill -- Dana, walk us through the legislative process.

What happens now?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the president talking about a simple up or down vote -- it is anything but simple what Democrats here in Congress have to do to get this done.

First of all, what we're talking about is the House agreeing to pass the Senate version of the bill, what they already passed in -- in late December. And then a compromise package -- some changes that House Democrats are demanding in order to have that vote. That is what would go through the so-called reconciliation process -- a process that won't allow a filibuster and needs just the simple 51 votes in the Senate.

What is going on right now, Wolf, is they're trying to figure out exactly what would be in that compromise package. That really is the first priority the key. That is the key, because they -- they need the sweet spot, basically, to get the -- the votes in order to do that. That's what they're working on.

Democratic sources tell me they hope to have something ready to send to the Congressional Budget Office to see how much it would cost by the end of this week or early next week.

And then they have to do a lot of politicking to see if that would actually get the votes that they need -- Wolf. BLITZER: Do they have the votes they need right now?

And it's unclear, either 216 votes or 217 votes. Normally, you need 218...

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- if everyone, all 435 seats are in place.

But right now, it's either 416 or 417, right?

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: Or 216 or 217?

BASH: Exactly, because there's -- it's -- it's -- it's a very fluid situation with retirements and vacancies in the House, even today.

But the answer to that question, you talk to Democratic sources and they say it's really unanswerable until they figure out what this compromise package really is. And that will really hold the key to whether they have the votes, because you heard Mitch McConnell saying Republicans are going to push against this with every fiber of their being. They already have been, which makes it so politically dicey, some Democrats think, especially Democrats from vulnerable districts in the House.

That's why it is really unanswerable, Democrats say, if whether they have the votes until they figure out the package. In fact, those two things really go hand in hand -- what will be in the package will determine what they need to get the votes, especially in the House. In the Senate, they think that they're probably OK to get that 51. The House, that's the question mark at this point.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by.

Let's bring in our senior political analysts, Gloria Borger and David Gergen -- David, I assume that this White House and these Democrats, they're smart enough to know if they didn't have the votes, they wouldn't be going through this right now.



GERGEN: I -- I -- I think this is a gamble.


GERGEN: They have -- they -- they've doubled down on what they were betting before. This is his signature issue. He's going to push it through.

BLITZER: So you think he could still fail? GERGEN: I do think he could fail.

BORGER: I think he's going to work to not fail.

GERGEN: And I don't think he has the votes yet, because people haven't seen it. You know, a lot of people are not committed.

I think there are a couple of things, though. One thing that's working in his favor is he does have the bully pulpit. And there is some evidence that if you look at the average of the polls over the last week, that the opposition -- the difference between the opposition and the favorable is actually shrinking. It's come down some.

If you look at it, it was up in double digits. Today it's about 9.5 percent. But it's come down some. So it seems to be moving a little bit and the wind seems to be blowing a little bit. But the intensity is in the opposition and the grassroots movement. If the Republicans get the grassroots to really work on this, they could still keep that big opposition out there.

BORGER: It -- it is a real risk. And it's going to be very interesting to see how the Republicans play this, because David and I were just talking about this -- and you know this, that in the -- in the Senate, there's an unlimited number of amendments you can add to this.

So is it in the Republican interests to prolong this debate, which they might do?

Or is it in their interests to cut it off and bring it to the American people, as Mitch McConnell seems to be saying today?

And I think, you know, they -- they're sitting up there in the Senate trying to figure out, Republicans, you know, what works for them right now.

BLITZER: Because, you know, as you take a look at this right now, some have said, you know, from the Democrats' perspective, they don't know what's better, to get health care reform passed or not get health care reform passed...

BORGER: Well, they...

BLITZER: -- looking ahead politically toward November.

GERGEN: Well, that's right. And if you're in -- in some -- in some swing districts, it might be better for you to vote no, even though your base will probably stay home in November. But if you're in a lot of Northeastern districts or California or (INAUDIBLE) districts, then you clearly want to see this done. Otherwise your base is going to stay home in November.

So it -- it cuts -- and a lot of it depends on where -- and this is so -- this is such a big, diverse country that people's interests, even within the Democratic Party, are obviously in great tension. BLITZER: Because if he can't get it done right now...


BORGER: It's bad.

BLITZER: -- I mean he sort of advertises his weakness to not only...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- everyone in this country, but around the world.

BORGER: I -- I spoke with a senior adviser at the White House today. He said, look, we need an accomplishment. We need a big accomplishment. We've been working on this for a year. And to walk away from this now would be to say that the Democrats can't govern.

And so in this instance, because it's been the president's number one agenda and so they can turn to jobs, they really feel that they need to do with something and then get very quickly onto the jobs move, which is why the president has said I want this done by spring break.

GERGEN: I agree. There is a great cost in what he's doing now, because he has taken his eye off jobs.


GERGEN: And the country knows that. And, you know, I think his best course was to get this done last year, obviously, and be focused on getting a jobs bill passed but he's past that.

BLITZER: He wanted to get it done last year.

BORGER: How did that play?

BLITZER: There were a lot of other deadlines that came and went.

GERGEN: Yes, that's right.

BORGER: How did that go for him?

BLITZER: I -- I -- well, we'll see if this one comes and goes.

GERGEN: This is something.

BLITZER: We'll see.

GERGEN: This is a major, major...

BORGER: But again...


BORGER: -- again, it's in the fate of Congress. You know, he's put -- it's...


BORGER: -- it's back in Congress' hands and that didn't work out so well for him last time, remember?

BLITZER: I Tweeted earlier today, it's crunch time big time.

GERGEN: Crunch time big time.

BLITZER: For the president.

BORGER: A poet. You're a poet.

BLITZER: Thanks, guys.


BLITZER: One of the most powerful members of Congress says he didn't want to hurt his fellow Democrats.

But did Charlie Rangel have any choice when he stepped aside from the chairmanship of the very important Ways and Means Committee today?

Just ahead, the pressure, the politics and the ethics violations.

And CNN was there for a terrifying aftershock in Chile and panic that there could be another tsunami.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The one man Jim Bunning filibuster ended and now the Senate has voted to pass a $10 billion jobless benefits measure. The 78-19 vote means there will be a 30 day extension of unemployment benefits, highway funding and other federal programs.

President Obama praised the Senate's vote, saying it will extend access to health care benefits for those who lost their jobs and will help small businesses get loans so they can grow and hire more workers and will extend unemployment insurance benefits for millions who are looking for work.

If the Senate had not approved this measure, it's estimated more than a million people would have been affected this month and nearly five million by June. There's no question that with the national unemployment rate at 10 percent, millions of Americans are depending on these government benefits to get by. But some point out that never-ending extensions of unemployment benefits are a drain on the Treasury, an addition to our ever exploding deficits and a disincentive, in some cases, for recipients to actively look for work. Why search for a job when the government is cutting you a check every week?

Generally, federal unemployment benefits kick in after the state- funded 26 weeks of coverage ends. And during this deep recession that we've had, Congress has approved 73 weeks of additional unemployment benefits.

So here's the question -- at what point should the government stop extending jobless benefits?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a great question. It's a fair question.

Jack, I want you to listen to this next report, because I know you care deeply about this.

Listen to this -- one of the most powerful men in Congress giving up one of the most powerful posts. Today, Congressman Charlie Rangel stepped down from the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee temporarily. Rangel is dogged by ethical questions.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: In order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the Ethics Committee completes its work.


BLITZER: Rangel's work on the House Ways and Means Committee affects every American because it deeply involves health care and taxes. We want to remind you just what Congressman Charles Rangel has been slapped with and what could still be coming.

Our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with that part of the story.

These -- these challenges that he faces are only just beginning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And one of the ones that's actually kind of small -- one of these ethical rebukes, or a potential one, is something that happened on Wednesday. The House Ethics Committee said that Rangel broke the gift rule by going on a trip that was paid for, in part, by a corporate sponsor. He went to Antigua in 2007. He went to St. Marten in 2008 for a business summit. And documents show that two of Rangel's staffers, including his then chief of staff, Wolf, were aware that there were corporate sponsors involved and he was held accountable for their behavior.

BLITZER: Yes, for their -- these are relatively minor. There are much bigger ones down the road. KEILAR: That's right. The Ethics Committee still has not determined what it's going to do on perhaps the biggest one, which has to do with Rangel not paying taxes on money that he made from a rental property that he owned in the Dominican Republic.

In fact, this is a really big deal for someone who is the head of the Congressional tax-writing committee, as you can imagine.

This is actually a photo -- a really unflattering photo, at that -- of him that was taken there in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, where he does have this -- this villa of his. Also, he failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets in his financial disclosure form in 2007. These are the type of forms that all members of Congress have to submit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He really didn't have any choice this morning but to take this temporary leave of absence because there was a resolution on the way that would have -- he would have lost.

KEILAR: Yes. And the real problem for him is that while Republicans have been hitting him for over a year now, Wolf, Democrats were starting to mount opposition to him. And so if, with this vote, Demo -- or, pardon me -- Republicans were able to get some Democrats to vote with them, it's very possible that it could have passed. It would have been very embarrassing.

And so it's pretty obvious that Rangel and Democratic leaders saw the writing on the wall.

BLITZER: So what do the Democrats do now without Charlie Rangel as the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee?

KEILAR: There's certainly going to be a void in leadership, because even though there is an acting chairman, Pete Stark, he is someone who Democrats will tell us is prone to gaffes. He's got issues of his own. He's had health issues. And when you talk with Democratic aides, they say there are many members who wonder if he's up for the job.

And right now, this is a committee that is very involved in health care, very involved in the jobs bill, very involved in, really, almost any large Democratic legislative priority.

BLITZER: A critical moment. He spent so many years on Ways and Means Committee. He finally became the chairman. And look -- and now to have it end, apparently, this way, what a personal tragedy for Charlie Rangel.

All right. Thanks very much, Brianna, for that.

Congressman Rangel is adored by many of his constituents in Harlem. He wins overwhelming reelection votes almost every two years. But he's disliked seriously by many of his critics here in Washington and elsewhere.

He's had a long time in power and earned both -- to -- to earn the fans and the political enemies in the process. He's been in Congress representing New York's 15th District since 1970. He's been the powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee since 2007; the first African-American to sit on that committee back in 1975.

He also served in the U.S. Army, receiving a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor while serving in Korea.

A vacation turns into a nightmare -- this ship set sail for a fun filled adventure. Instead, it was rocked by a killer wave. You might not believe how high this wave was. Now, some vacationers are dead.

And political pop quiz -- which recent president could bump Ulysses Grant from the $50 bill?


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- hi, Lisa.

What's going on?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

A strong aftershock caused panic in Chile today, after Saturday's deadly 8.8 magnitude quake. Residents of coastal areas started running after hearing of a possible tsunami warning.

CNN's Karl Penhaul happened to be taping when word hit one town.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tsunami, tsunami, tsunami.


SYLVESTER: Chilean officials eventually used loudspeakers to assure residents that no tsunami was imminent. The number of dead from last week's massive quake has now risen to 802. Next hour, we'll bring you Karl Penhaul's full report from Chile.

And two people on board a Mediterranean cruise have been killed after freak waves hit the ship, seen here on the Lewis Cruise Lines Web site. Officials say waves as high as 26 feet slammed into the Louis Majesty off Marseilles, smashing windows. A German and an Italian were killed and more than a dozen others were injured. It's believed the recent storms and high winds caused those waves.

The late congressman, John Murtha, was honored by colleagues today at a memorial on Capitol Hill. The Pennsylvania Democrat and powerful chairman of a defense appropriations panel died last month at the age of 77 after complications from gallbladder surgery. Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were among those attending.

Mr. Biden paid tribute.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a man that always was fighting -- he was fighting for opportunity. He fought for his country, but he never stopped fighting, when he got back here. But it wasn't a fight out of anger and resentfulness, it was a fight about this is just right. It wasn't complicated.


SYLVESTER: A North Carolina lawmaker wants to put former President Ronald Reagan on the $50 bill. Republican Representative Patrick McHenry proposed legislation today that would bump President and legendary Union General Ulysses S. Grant from the bill and replace him with Reagan. McHenry says several historians have ranked Reagan a greater president than Grant and he says it's time to honor -- and this is a quote here -- "the last great president of the 20th century.

What do you think of that idea?

BLITZER: I -- I don't know...

SYLVESTER: We could see Ronald Reagan's face there.

BLITZER: I think Patrick McHenry loves Ronald Reagan, I would say.

SYLVESTER: I think that there are a lot -- he's got -- Ronald Reagan obviously has a lot of fans out there.


SYLVESTER: I don't know what the -- the Clinton folks would think of though, the last great president of the 20th century.


SYLVESTER: That remark, but...

BLITZER: Patrick McHenry obviously does not love Bill Clinton. He loves Ronald Reagan.

All right, Lisa, don't go too far away.

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry won big yesterday -- yesterday's Republican primary.

Here's a question -- is he already looking beyond November, perhaps toward a run for the White House?

Also, President Obama has been accused of giving short shrift to the problems of African-Americans.

Does his final push for health care reform give black Americans what they need to get healthy and stay healthy? I'll ask the head of the National Urban League, Marc Morial. Come on in, Marc.

He's walking into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.


BLITZER: We're getting ready for a good discussion.

MORIAL: Thanks, Wolf.

Appreciate it.

BLITZER: One hundred years of the National Urban League.

MORIAL: One hundred great years.


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

Happening now, a respected Islamic scholar's fatwa -- a warning to suicide bombers -- you're going to hell, not paradise.

Could this really have an impact on terror attacks like the wave of suicide bombings in Iraq today?

And it's the second most common cancer in men. Now there's new advice from the American Cancer Society on whether you should get screened for it. And warnings about potential risks of treatment. We'll talk to a leading cancer expert.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


On health care reform, President Obama says the time for delay has passed, the time to act is now.

Let's get some more on our top story. The president urging Congress to push ahead on the health bill. Republicans say Democrats want to force it through. The president says it deserves a fair up or down vote majority vote and if Republican lawmakers don't like the bill, the president says they should vote no, but not hold up a vote. Joining us is Marc Morial, the CEO of the National Urban League, celebrating 100 years.


BLITZER: African Americans suffer disproportionately from health insurance, we looked at this Gallup poll from last year, almost 20 percent non Hispanic blacks do not have health insurance. That compares with non Hispanic whites of about 12 percent. On the left, some are disappointed that the president has given up on the so-called public option. Are you among them? MORIAL: I'd like to see a public option, but at the end of the day, what's important is to have a strong by that provides an opportunity for every American to get coverage, and I think brown and black Americans are disproportionately uninsured and underinsured.

BLITZER: It's not as strong as you would have liked?

MORIAL: The good should never be the enemy of the perfect. Maybe there's a more perfect bill out there, but there's not a better big that the president can get the votes he needs to pass it at this time.

BLITZER: From the perspective of African Americans, will it get the job done?

MORIAL: I think eventually.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

MORIAL: That means the implementation of this bill will take a number of years. I think for uninsured people, the fact that over a period of years they will have insurance, they will have coverage starts the road to better health. It's not automatic. Having health insurance is an important component of a healthier community, but more has to be done.

BLITZER: Some have expressed concern the president is spending so much time on health care reform, he's neglecting jobs.

MORIAL: The president has --

BLITZER: Let's put up these numbers. The unemployment rate among white, Latinos and African Americans. How worried should African Americans in particular be that all this attention on health care is neglecting the jobs issues?

MORIAL: I think the president has up against a very clever and crafty effort by his opponents. To block even a vote on health care. I'm confidence that the agenda will immediately move to jobs. You talk about teenagers looking for work, it's so much higher.

BLITZER: And unacceptably high rate of unemployment.

MORIAL: That's why a strong, targeted jobs bill is needed as fast as we can. We need a strong summer youth employment program.

BLITZER: The one in the Senate is relatively modest.

MORIALR: It's timid, weak, let's extend unemployment benefits but what the Senate bill is not a jobs bill of the type we need. We need a strong jobs bill and our voices are going to be out there saying create direct jobs, put youth to work. We do support the idea of using the tax goal to create some economic growth but we need a strong bill and most importantly, in this political environment, we need an up or down vote, not procedural delays. BLITZER: This is a sensitive issue. We've seen in the last few days the governor of New York, David Paterson facing enormous problems. Now he's not going to run for election in November. Charlie Rangel, who's been in Congress for 40 years, is stepping down temporarily as chairman of the ways and means committee. Jill Tugman says this, "Let this be a lesson to African Americans in power, if you break any rules or accepted mores, you will get throw under the bus quicker, most likely, than a non-black politician who does the same thing." Do you agree with this?

MORIAL: I think that's always been the case. I think they experience a greater degree of scrutiny.

BLITZER: There have been plenty of white politicians who have gone down, Mark Sanford, Blagojevich in Illinois, they were taken down pretty quickly.

MORIAL: If you look historically certainly what he says is indeed the case. Let me say this about Chairman Rangel. He's been a great member of Congress, a great leader for Harlem, New York and the nation. I think today he did something that only a person of his courage and standing could do. He put the interests of his party, the interests of the nation ahead of his own personal interests. He could have fought and fought and fought, but I think by deciding to step aside temporarily, he demonstrated the type of character he is.

BLITZER: But he faced a resolution of disprove on the house floor today, including a lot of yea votes from not only Democrats, but from some members of the national black caucus.

MORIAL: And there's no doubt perhaps he could not have prevailed in that situation, but let's say that he put the interests of the nation and the interests of his party ahead of his personal political interests, and let's not -- even though he's experiencing some difficulties at this time, let's not put that ahead of this distinguished-years career as an advocate for cities, as an advocate for the disadvantaged, and as someone who's always demonstrated a great deal of collegiality in the Congress.

BLITZER: Marc Morial, thanks for coming in, CEO, of National Urban League, doing important work.

MORIAL: Go to I am to learn more.

BLITZER: Thanks, Marc.

MORIAL: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: If you're a gay American who wants to get married, today could be the day. What's going on? We'll tell you.

And a homemade explosive device prompts the evacuation of a Detroit school. We'll tell you what happened there as well.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. Well, same- sex marriages are now legal in the nation's capital. More than 100 couples filled out applications today to get married. There is a mandatory waiting period of three days. D.C. now joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont in allowing gay marriages.

Independent Senator Joe Lieberman and a dozen Democratic senators today introduced legislation that would repeal the don't ask/don't tell laws and gays in the military. The legislation would prohibit discrimination against service members on the basis of sexual orientation. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin was one of the bill's sponsors.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: People are not allowed to serve. It diminishing or readiness, denies us and robs us of men and women who can contribute to the defense of their country and our country.

SYLVESTER: And four senators are urging the Obama administration to stop a stimulus program they say will funnel more than a billion overseas. Charles Schumer, Robert Casey, Sherrod Brown and John Tester want a moratorium on all pay outs from a clean energy grant program. They introduced legislation to stop payments to projects like a Texas wind farm set to receive hundreds of millions of stimulus funds, even though most of the jobs it creates would be in China.

A Detroit school was evacuated after a homemade device leaked powerful fumes in a hallway. There were no injuries, and a student at the Phoenix Multicultural Academy is now in custody. Detroit police say the device contained household chemicals. Wolf?

BLITZER: Lisa thanks very much.

He came, he saw and he clobbered his opponents. The Texas Governor Rick Perry, now that he's roundly defeated his Republican opponents in yesterday's primary, how might he fare against former Houston Democratic Mayor Bill White? And could Perry be an early Republican fast for the next presidential race? Stand by.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us our CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Mary Matalin. In Texas, Mary, Rick Perry wins the nomination. He gets 51.8 percent, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, 30 percent, Debra Medina 18 percent. Give me your bottom-line assessment rights now, what this means for Republicans nationally.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It says it's more about a harbinger, more potentials for the 2010 mid terms than it says anything about Republicans. Between Rick Perry and Scott Brown, who both stood as distant underdogs, they both turned their opponents, who were able, who were serious politicians, turned them into a proxy for what is across the country, intense opposition to expansive government to whatever the policies are that grow from that, health care, the stimulus or the debt or whatever but that's what it portends is more bad news for the Democrats.

BLITZER: More bad news for Washington, Donna, because Kay Bailey Hutchison has a senator for a long time, Rick Perry has not.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That seems to be the baggage she had to carry around Texas. I think voters wanted to, especially Republican voters warranted to stick with Rick Perry. They like the kind of government he runs, but you know, he's going to face a real stiff challenge from the former mayor of Houston, Bill White. This is an opportunity for the Democrats to potentially put a blue dot right there in the Deep South. I think Kay Bailey Hutchison was also hampered by the fact she couldn't make up her mind whether she wanted to retire or run. Voters in Texas said, we'll just stick with more of the same.

BLITZER: How formidable is Bill White the former Houston mayor in this election that will be held in November?

MATALIN: He's formidable, but Rick Perry is too. It will be at battle of the titans. The registration would favor Rick Perry but abler men than Bill White who is have tried to take him down and haven't and I will say again if there's a blue dot in Texas, I'll owe Donna a big steak dinner somewhere else.

BRAZILE: Get your steak sauce out. Let me also say Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and many others went down to campaign to Kay Bailey Hutchison, but once again they decided to stick with the Republican governor, and I think it was because of the Washington baggage.

BLITZER: You think there will be a third-party candidate that could take away Republican votes from Perry?

MATALIN: No, that's what the Democrats are hoping and spinning, but the next governor will oversee redistricting where there are four seats at stake in Texas, and Democrats or independents would rather not seed an additional Democratic seat in 2010, so there will be a cross over to Rick Perry is my considered opinion, going into this race.

BLITZER: Donna, what does it say that Charlie Rangel the today had to take a leave of absence as chairman of the ways and means committee?

BRAZILE: It saddens me for all the reasons that Marc Morial talked about. He's been a great Congressman for the people of New York and Harlem, but he's also been an exceptional lawmakers when it comes to championing issues for the poor and middle class. I'm sorry to see the chairman step aside. I know Mr. Rangel personally. He's a man of enormous integrity, but I agree it was the right thing to do, because it was becoming a distraction for the Democrats trying to moved forward on health care and job.

BLITZER: Some are saying, Mary, he didn't go far enough. He should just step down completely. What do you think? MATALIN: I think giving his tenure, and what Donna just said, there's no way he'll get back up, but another bad day for the Democrats. The Congressman from New York resigned because he was caught sexually harassing a male page. Nancy Pelosi was going to drain the swamp and it's stocked up with her version of tax cheats and sexual predators. Not a good thing.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, Mary, we have not confirmed it and that Congressman totally flatly denies that allegation.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

MATALIN: Okay. I stand corrected.

BLITZER: So let's be careful in circulating rumors. The statement that Marc Morial made, I want you to weigh in. He thought it's been like this forever, that black politicians face a double standard, even more scrutiny than white politicians. Do you agree with him?

BRAZILE: You know, we don't have as many African American elected officials as white officials, so when you see one African American elected officials facing an ethics allegations or corruption charges, then all of a sudden there's a big broad brush being painted. Some do believe there's a double standard. There are other lawmakers, Mr. Lewis of California, Mr. Young of Alaska, who also are facing some form of ethical investigation, but they're not being asked to step aside. That's why I think some people believe there's a double, triple, quadruple standard when it couple times to black lawmakers in this country, but I believe all should be held by the same standard, and that is you are there to serve the public, not there to serve yourself.

BLITZER: Donna and Mary, thanks for coming in. We'll continue this conversation.

They may face off in 2012 but first, a couple possible Republican presidential candidates, and a late-night showdown. Who was funnier? Would it be Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney?


BLITZER: Here is a look at some of the hot shots coming from our friends at the Associated Press, and pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In India, a farmer carries a bundle of sugar cane along the border of Pakistan.

In Indonesia, a protester leaps over a pile of burning banners in an anti-government rally.

In the Philippines, parks and wildlife workers stare at a room full of confiscated elephant tusks.

In London, check it out, an actress performs a scene from "Love Never Dies" the sequel to the "Phantom of the Opera." Hot shots, a picture worth a thousand words.

Mark your calendars, because the National Republican Committee has set is the date for the 2012 convention which will be held by August 27. The Democrats will have their convention after that, because they control the white house. And three cities have been named finalists to host the Republicans which is Phoenix, Tampa and Salt Lake City.

We may have gotten a taste of the 2012 Republican presidential race on late night television last night. The former Alaska governor Sarah Palin went on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno to hawk her book and to try her hand at standup comedy. Take a listen.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: In Alaska, being so different from Los Angeles. Here when people have a frozen look on their face, I find out, it is Botox. So it is so beautiful here and warm, and back home, it was freezing. Five degree below Congress' approval rating.

BLITZER: Palin's potential rival Mitt Romney sat down with David Letterman, and he is also selling a book, and the former Massachusetts governor also joked with Letterman about the recent airplane spat with a rap artist.

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: This is guy? This is the guy on the airplane with you?

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. His name is sky blue.

LETTERMAN: Sky blue.

ROMNEY: Yeah, mine is dull gray, but I -- you by the way, we are friendly, he calls me his home boy now, and I will take him as a tax deduction on the income taxes.

LETTERMAN: I don't know what any of that means.

BLITZER: By the way, Mitt Romney is going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday and you decide who is funnier on late night TV. Remember for the latest political news any time you can check out

Suicide bombers are going to hell which is what a prominent scholar in London says and he has put out a fatwa, a religious decree against suicide bombers. At one of the busiest airports in the world, why did an air traffic controller allow children to give important instructions to pilots?


BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is at what point should the government stop extending jobless benefits? Joe writes from Dallas, "This question is one that I have asked myself. Most of the people suffering now are not to blame for this awful mess, and could not survive without government help. If Congress does not bring back manufacturing jobs to America and rebuild the disappearing middle-class soon, rather than resorting to this Band-Aid approach of endless unemployment benefits we will find ourselves in the land of extremes, rich and poor, and that is what is known as a third-world country."

Rich in Texas says, "If the government keeps paying me to sit home, I will do it as long as I can. My house is paid for, and my car runs. I can live quite well off of what they pay me not to work."

Harry says, "I am against the byproduct of this extension, i.e., deficit. And I can't find a job. I am a registered architect and I apply for at least 10 to 20 jobs every week. That includes not only the U.S., but all English-speaking countries. I have applied for my own business, but the government refuses my loans.

And Jerry says, "We pay members of Congress one hell of a salary for doing nothing. What does it hurt to help some poor person a little unemployment money so they can eat? I think we need to pay them until they find a job."

And Frank in Florida says, "I'm in Florida. I hate being unemployed. I didn't ask for the Chevrolet dealership I had been working at for five years to go under. I still can't find a job even though I'm highly qualified and it's been a year now."

And Mark in New Jersey says, "There should be a limit. But more importantly there should be term limits."

If you want to read more on this you'll find it on my blog at