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Health Care Reform; Tension between House and Senate; The Joker, Scooby-Doo & Socialism; Turkey is Angry; Clinton Argument vs. Obama Argument; Shooting near the Pentagon; New York Governor Scandal

Aired March 4, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, blunt talk and arm twisting for President Obama, a day after laying out his health care end game can he persuade fellow Democrats to play by his rules?

Also, students and teachers across the country protest education budget cuts, this hour worries that they're learning less and paying more than they can afford.

And some of Governor David Paterson's closest allies could send him a powerful message tonight. Will they urge him to resign amid an exploding scandal?

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

In the next three weeks, the cherry blossoms will start bursting open here in Washington, and Democrats hope health care reform will finally become a reality after a paralyzing winter. House Democrats are pushing to hold a climactic final vote by March 29. That's when Congress begins its Easter break or even better, by the 18th when the president leaves for Asia.

But that may be wishful thinking because several past deadlines have been blown. Democrats aren't sure they'll have the votes they need, so President Obama has been meeting today with a slew of House Democrats. Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by. Dan, tell us about these meetings.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, the president inviting these House Democrats here to the White House, essentially trying to build support for his health care reform proposal. You have liberal Democrats, House Democrats, and also more moderate members that came here in separate sessions.

And in characterizing the tone of the meetings today, a White House official telling me that the president was very blunt, essentially telling them that he needs them to stay on board, even though it might be politically risky, saying to hang in there because we need to get this done, but the president also pointing out that they will not be able to get everything that they want. Now this is not the end of this big push, the White House official telling me that the president will continue this outreach not only in meetings here at the White House but also in phone calls to Capitol Hill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's going to get much more actively involved if he wants this deal done. He dropped in on a meeting that the Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was having with some health care executives.

LOTHIAN: That's right. She's talking with those executives about the high costs of those premiums. They've been skyrocketing over the past few months and certainly last year, and the president walked in with this letter from a 50-year-old Ohio woman who was diagnosed with cancer 16 years ago.

She's concerned about hanging on to the home that her parents built, and so the president using this letter from this woman to sort of show how bad the situation is with these skyrocketing costs for insurance premiums, the president also using very strong language and asking these executives to justify these hikes and I should point out that we did reach to the insurance company for this woman. They did not return our calls, but in general, these insurance companies have talked about the reason for these hikes is because they are seeing increases as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, Dan Lothian is working the story at the White House. In this long, drawn-out debate over health care reform, we've talked a lot about the tensions between Republicans and Democrats. But guess what? There is no love lost between House and Senate Democrats, either. Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin explains why.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Senate Democrats are making life and reelection very uncomfortable for their colleagues in the House, and here's why. Remember, President Obama promised transformation. He wanted bold action on jobs, on financial reform, on climate change. Well it would seem very little has become law because Congress has been busy grappling with health care, right?

Well actually, the House has been busy passing these bills. The House passed an expensive jobs bill but the Senate passed much less expensive, smaller measures, expect House Democrats to get accused of voting to spend money the U.S. doesn't have come election time. On financial reform the House passed a bill that the White House wanted. It met tough standards for Democrats, and the Senate, they're still working on a watered-down compromise version that so far has gone no where.

And then climate change, the House Democrats have taken very controversial vote on a bill there and passed it that the White House wanted. It's gone nowhere in the Senate. And this one issue is already coming back to bite Democrats in the House. Here's an ad I want to show you that was run against Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello (ph) for his vote on climate change legislation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Perriello (ph) is voting with Obama and with Nancy Pelosi over and over. Call Perriello (ph). Tell him he was wrong to vote for the Pelosi energy tax.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, the Republican Campaign Committee has run similar ads similar to this one, slamming several other Democrats for their climate change vote already. The problem is, Wolf, agree with their agenda or not, over here in the House they have taken tough votes time and again, measures the president called for, but in the Senate, they didn't follow up. So House Democrats may have walked the plank in vain, and there is plenty of frustration over here, that in this election year, Democrats will be done in by inaction of Senate Democrats over here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they're saying the House Democrats trust but verify as far as the Senate Democrats are concerned, recalling what Ronald Reagan used to say about the old Soviet Union, no love lost there. Jessica, thank you.

Get a load of these images from the Republican National Committee. You can see President Obama depicted as the joker. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi portrayed as Crueler Deville (ph) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid charactered as Scooby-Doo. It's part of a new strategy to raise campaign money by mocking Democrats stirring fears among them. Critics are accusing the party of hitting way below the belt. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. What is the RNC saying about all of this, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well they're trying to distance themselves from this as much as possible. Today the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele (ph) said it's something, I certainly would not tolerate. I wouldn't want it presented to me, and we're dealing with it administratively, which probably means that somebody's job is on the line here.

BLITZER: The official -- the RNC official who actually did this sort of --

BORGER: Yes, yes --

BLITZER: -- PowerPoint presentation?

BORGER: Exactly because you know you look at it, Wolf, it's a little beyond the pale (ph), correct?

BLITZER: Yes, Michael Steel (ph) is not happy with this at all. But does it take it to a new low, or is this sort of -- does it happen all the time?

BORGER: Well, look Wolf, we hear Republicans refer to Barack Obama is a social list all the time. Barack Obama himself has spoken about that. But you know we remember campaigns when the Democrats were trying to retake control of the House they called Republicans corrupt, right? And that worked for them.

We've seen George W. Bush in effigy, but when you look at this, this is just kind of silly. It was something that they were using to appeal to their fundraisers, maybe to get them all rah-rah about this. And it's just juvenile and the message here is no message about the Republican Party, it's just a cartoon.

BLITZER: Well how is it going to impact Republican fundraising?

BORGER: Well it's not going to help. Because as part of this PowerPoint presentation, remember it was made at an internal event for Republicans, four people who are going to go out and raise money. This same PowerPoint also referred to high-level donors as ego driven, people who liked access, and also it said, be sure to give them a lot of chachkis (ph), Wolf, which is a technical term you might know for gifts.

And so I spoke with some senior Republicans today who said, look, this is going to turn off our big funders. They're going to be mad about this stupidity and they're not going to give more money. It's going to bring our fundraising down.

BLITZER: Yes and it could in the end benefit Democrats.

BORGER: Well already, Wolf, it took about what, a nanosecond for Democrats to come out with a fundraising letter, saying that this was part of a coordinated effort at the highest level of the Republican Party, so send us a check.

BLITZER: It's a CNN exclusive interview, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says he may ask for some U.S. troops to stay longer than planned.

And a strong U.S. ally is very angry, Turkey upset at what U.S. lawmakers did today. It involves killings during World War I and a question of genocide. The White House warns what American lawmakers did could hurt U.S. foreign policy.

And look closely at this, a boat is stuck in the middle of an icy nightmare and more than 1,000 people are treated.


BLITZER: A big hint today, the U.S. forces could end up staying in Iraq longer than planned. All combat troops are supposed to be out by the end of August, but in an exclusive interview with CNN's Arwa Damon (ph), the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says he may ask the U.S. to stick around for a while based on the security situation. Listen to this.


NURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): It just depends on the future, on whether the established Iraqi army and police would be enough or not. So this issue is depending on the developments of the circumstances and regulated by the strategic framework agreement between the United States and Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So just to clarify, if this situation dictated it, you would be willing to have U.S. forces extend their stay in Iraq?

AL-MALIKI (through translator): Absolutely.


BLITZER: Iraqis face a crucial election this Sunday, but early balloting has already been marred by major violence.

A vote in Congress today triggering a stunning diplomatic setback for the United States as a key NATO ally recalls its ambassador here in Washington. That vote over a terrible period of history may have far reaching consequences going forward. Brian Todd is here looking at the story for us. Brian, what do you know?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a Turkish government is furious. As you mentioned, they have called home their ambassador to the U.S., at least temporarily. This over a resolution passed by one vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee today, a resolution recommending that the U.S. recognize the 1915 killings of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman, Turkey as genocide.

For years the Armenian government has been pressing other countries to label those events as genocide. Historians do acknowledge that the Ottoman military forced hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians into death marches into the Syrian Desert in 1915. But the Turks have always denied that a genocide took place, saying that both sides massacred each other at that time. Now Turkey, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, which hosts a crucial U.S. refueling base is very upset. On the House floor today one congressman had this warning.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: This resolution, I don't question the truth again, Mr. Chairman, I question the timing of the resolution, because I see it harming Armenians and the government of Armenia more than helping. I see the border with Turkey not being opened and commerce not taking place. And lastly, I see it harming something near and dear to my district, and that is the troops.


TODD: But a fellow Republican, Dana Rohrabacher (ph), said just because Turkey is an important ally the U.S. should not refrain from confronting Turkey's past.


REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: If Germany, which was so important to us during the Cold War, would have been upset that we acknowledge the holocaust and it was suggested that I should vote against a resolution acknowledging the holocaust to spare Germany's feelings, I would have rejected that notion.


TODD: Now this resolution goes to the full House. This is not something the Obama administration wanted right now. The White House had urged this committee not to pass this resolution, concerned that it could harm U.S. relations with Turkey and could jeopardize the effort to normalize relations between the Turkey and Armenia. Wolf, even though those two countries are working on normalizing, they always get into this dispute this time of year.

BLITZER: Some powerful U.S. defense firms have also now weighed in.

TODD: That's right. Reuters reports that Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, several others wrote a letter to the committee chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee saying please don't pass this resolution. There are billions of dollars in defense contracts at stake between the U.S. -- some of these firms and the U.S. and Turkey. There were billions last year. There are many more billions in the pipeline.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, the ambassador is heading back to Turkey right now. All right thanks very much.

As candidates they argued over it, but it appears to be a different story now that one is the leader of the free world, the other one is the nation's top diplomat. We're talking about President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and something they fought over in the past. Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty has more.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, stretching out the hand to Iran, engagement. Remember that? Barack Obama tried it. Back in the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton shot it down. Now that hand looks more like a fist. So is Hillary Clinton saying, I told you so?


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Spin the time machine back to 2007.

Question: Would Barack Obama as president meet face to face with America's enemies like Iran's leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would, and the reason is this -- that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.

DOUGHERTY: Hillary Clinton then blasted Obama as irresponsible and naive -- now, tough talk on Iran from Barack Obama.

OBAMA: And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt. They, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise.

(APPLAUSE) DOUGHERTY: So did Hillary Clinton win the argument? We sat down with the Bush administration's point man on Iran.

(on camera): OK, so who was right?

NICHOLAS BURNS, KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: I think they both turned out to be right. The problem the United States had is we didn't have enough credibility with the rest of the world because we had not tried negotiations with Iran and invariably countries would say to me when I said please support us on sanctions they'd say but you haven't even tried diplomacy yet.

DOUGHERTY: OK, so back to the time machine. You also had President Obama, now President Obama firing back at Hillary Clinton.

OBAMA: I don't want a continuation of Bush/Cheney. I don't want Bush/Cheney lite (ph).

H. CLINTON: I've been called a lot of things in my life, but Bush/Cheney lite (ph) has never been one of them.

BURNS: Now Iran has turned President Obama down and here you had Secretary Hillary Clinton I think being very effective in recent weeks, she has said that Iran is in danger of being taken over by a military dictatorship. That's the right thing to say.

DOUGHERTY: Is it fair to say that Hillary Clinton's policy was vindicated by what has happened?

BURNS: I actually think the president has been right all along on engagement, but I also think Secretary Clinton has added some, some real steel to the administration's policy over the last couple of weeks in her public statements, which I think have been right on.


DOUGHERTY: President Obama's policy of engagement has paid off in some ways, like winning more support for economic sanctions on Iran from countries like Russia. But the tougher policy is still a hard sell, even as his secretary of state, with his blessing, turns up the heat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, good report. Thanks very much.

They're mad as you know what and they say they won't take it anymore, students angry at state budget cuts causing tuition hikes. They protested in the streets in more than 30 states.

And earthquakes in Chile, Haiti, Japan, Taiwan, could they all be connected? What experts are saying may surprise you.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa? LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well a pilot is dead after his twin engine plane crashed into a house in central Virginia today. Both the plane and house caught fire. Officials say one person was in the basement of the house and managed to escape. No one other than the pilot was onboard the plane. Federal authorities are investigating.

And stuck in the ice -- check out these pictures -- more than 1,000 people are trapped on dozens of ships, including a passenger ferry in the Baltic Sea off Sweden. Officials say they're trying to break the ice but gale force winds are working against them. They say no one has been injured and rescuers are on stand-by.

Well spring breakers should stay away from Mexican border cities. That's the warning coming from Texas. The state's Department of Public Safety says there is an increase in drug cartel violence in these places. It says parents shouldn't let their children go to the Mexican border cities because their safety can't be guaranteed.

And smoking killed me, that's the message one British man is taking to the grave with him. Albert Whittemore (ph), who smoked when he was younger, died after battling emphysema. The 50 -- the 85-year- old's dying request was to have this message put on his hearse and grave and he meant it as a warning sign to young people about the dangers of smoking. That is a very powerful message there, but very sad as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. All right Lisa. Thank you. Don't go far away.

More fallouts surrounding New York's embattled Governor David Paterson as another key person flees his administration. We have that.

And across the nation today, students and teachers take to the streets in an outcry over budget cuts they say will destroy the nation's education system.


BLITZER: A disturbing development over at the Pentagon -- let's go to our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. Jeanne, what are we learning?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a developing situation. We do not have all the details, but apparently there has been a shooting outside the Pentagon Metro Station. That's across the river in Virginia. We're told by Christopher Lament (ph) of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency -- that's essentially the Pentagon police -- that they believe they have two officers who have been shot.

They believe they have one person in custody. We don't know yet the circumstances of this. This information is still very early. We're still waiting to learn more, but once again, the reports are two Pentagon police officers shot outside the Pentagon Metro Station over in Virginia, one person currently in custody, this according to the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. Wolf, we'll bring you more when we have it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeanne. You'll update us. I know you will. Thank you -- disturbing development over at the Pentagon right now.

In about an hour or so, black Democrats are set to meet in Harlem for what they are describing as an emergency meeting involving the governor, David Paterson. This after Paterson lost a key ally today, his spokesman. Mary Snow is covering this for us. Mary, what do we expect to emerge from this meeting in Harlem?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the big question hanging over everyone is will the leaders meeting tonight collectively come together to ask Governor Paterson to resign. Elected officials from New York State are expected to be there along with African- American leaders in New York. Earlier today I spoke with Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks (ph) of New York.

He said that he and Al Sharpton called this what they're categorizing as an emergency meeting. He said there is a growing concern about whether the state can continue to function and leaders want to hear from state lawmakers, this, of course, against the backdrop of a scandal surrounding Governor Paterson. I asked Congressman Meeks (ph) if he would call on the governor to resign.

He said he wanted to reserve his decision until this meeting is held tonight. He stressed it's important for everyone to move what he called past personal and emotional ties and do what's best for the state. Now many of the people who are expected to gather tonight also met last weekend, and there are some Democrats who feel nothing should be done until this investigation over. Some believe he should not step down at all, and there are other Democrats behind the scenes who feel that Governor Paterson should step down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there was another big development today, the resignation of a key Paterson staffer.

SNOW: Yes, and this was seen as a big blow. This was Governor Paterson's Director of Communications. His name is Peter Kauffmann and the statement he provided is particularly telling. Kauffmann mentions that he is a former Navy officer, and he said that integrity and commitment to public service are values he takes seriously.

He goes on to say, as recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscience continue in my current position. Now, Wolf, he is the third administration official to leave in the past week since these allegations broke, the allegations being that whether or not Governor Paterson intervened in a case involving a domestic violence case involving one of his former aides. The question is, was there a cover-up?


BLITZER: And it comes after another allegation, Mary, as you know that the governor lied under oath.

SNOW: Yes, that one came out yesterday, and New York State's Commission on Public Integrity found that the governor lied when he was asked about free tickets to the World Series back in October. Now, the governor disputes the findings. But Democratic leaders are growing increasingly worried because these problems keep growing, and, of course, this larger investigation into whether he intervened in this domestic case, domestic abuse case involving one of his aides.

Some say that this is an attempt to cover it up, but Paterson has denied it. He won't give out any details. He says he can't talk because there is an ongoing investigation by the attorney general, but some Democratic leaders in the state have been urging him to get his story out and get it out quickly. The fact that he's not is leaving a lot of uncertainty about his future.

BLITZER: Mary Snow is working the story for us. Let's get some analysis from our CNN contributors Donna Brazile and Roland Martin. What's going to happen, Donna? What do you think the governor, David Paterson, is going to do because the pressure is clearly mounting on him?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, Wolf, tonight, many of Governor Paterson's most strongest (ph) supporters will be gathering there. I talked to former mayor David Jenkins today who remains very supportive of the governor.

He had lunch with him earlier today at the Yale Club, along with a 13-year-old blind young man who wanted to meet the governor. He said the governor was in good spirits, and Mr. Jenkins believed that Governor Paterson should remain in office until the investigation is done.

He doesn't see any need for the governor to step down before Attorney General Cuomo completes his investigation.

BLITZER: Because Al Sharpton and some of his friends, they're meeting in Harlem, as you know, Roland, right now. Do you think they're going to urge the governor actually to step down?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. I don't know. I mean look, understand, these are people are obviously are supporters of him. Also when I interviewed Governor Paterson for my Sunday show he made it clear that under his administration African-Americans have gotten four times more business in terms from state investment as a result of his performance as well.

And so you have folks who understand what his impact is as governor. I mean, obviously, you know, for the nation -- and this is really a New York issue as opposed to a national issue. But the fact of the matter is you really don't know.

There are people who are supportive. Likely with some will say, look, you have to go, but others will say, as Donna said, wait until the investigation is over. I never understood, frankly, whether you're white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or whatever, why you would tell somebody get out of office until the investigation is done. I never understand that. That's why you actually have those things.

BLITZER: It's a different situation with Charlie Rangel, though, in Washington. There was an investigation. He was given an admonition by the House Ethics Committee so he stepped down at least temporarily as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

BRAZILE: It was clear that Chairman Rangel felt that by staying as chair, that it was a distractions, that he wanted the House Democrats to move forward on this jobs bill that they're doing, health care. And the chairman, I thought, it was appropriate to step aside to allow another person -- in the case of Sandy Levin -- to take over the important work of that committee.

MARTIN: I'm still trying to figure out, though, how can literally seven people go on a trip but six people are cleared, but one person says well, you should have known but the other six should not have known. I mean I'm still trying to figure one that out.

Maybe that's the D.C. congressional thing, but I don't understand how literally seven people can go on one trip, but only one should have known, the other six were clear. That makes no sense to me.

BLITZER: I spoke to Marc Morial of the National Urban League yesterday and I asked him if he felt that some bloggers out there are suggesting now that blacks are being treated -- black leaders are being treated to a double standard. This is what he said to me.


BLITZER: Do you think that's still the case right?

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: I think that's still the case that African-American elected officials are going to experience a greater degree of scrutiny in many cases.


BLITZER: Do you agree with him, Roland?

MARTIN: First of all, you've seen individuals on local level in certain parts of the country who believe that they have been targeted by certain U.S. attorneys. But the reality is this here. I would say to any political official that if someone busts you for bribery or for corruption, if you don't do it, if you're not involved, then you have no issues.

So what I'm suggesting to anybody is don't get involved in any kind of controversial or messy stuff where they can throw your behind in prison. But again there are people out there who -- again who do believe, based upon many examples where they have been targeted for unnecessary reasons.

So it's really based upon, frankly, to the individual and also the part of the country.


BRAZILE: Well, if you look across the country, there are scandals going on all over America today. Even in the state of George where there's just pretty much the Republican Party in turmoil.

But you know, what so few black elected officials in this country, when one African-American makes a mistake, clearly sometimes you think that it's being blown out of, you know, proportion.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile and Roland Martin, guys, thanks very much.

All right, let's go back to the Pentagon right now. There is a developing story over there. A shooting.

Chris Lawrence is standing by.

Chris, tell us what's going on.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we've been pretty much locked here in the Pentagon for the past hour ever since this shooting happened.

What the Pentagon police are now saying is that two of their officers -- the Pentagon police officers -- have been shot outside of the Metro entrance to the Pentagon. They also have the shooter in custody now, and the situation seems to be calming down somewhat.

There was a loudspeaker announcement just about 20 minutes, a half hour ago that told everybody basically that, you know, you can't leave, you can't come in right now, the Pentagon is locked down while they secure that area.

Just to give you an idea of what we're talking about, because you hear Pentagon, you hear Metro entrance, there is a Metro stop here at the Pentagon that's used by thousands of people every day.

Tons of buses come in out of there. It's obviously a stop on the local Washington, D.C. train line as well. You don't have to be an employee at the Pentagon or a military person to use the Pentagon Metro area.

You know, it's -- tons of people use it every day. But wait as you come out of the Metro entrance, so you come up the escalator, you come out of the train, there are Pentagon police outside, and they're checking our I.D. badges.

So what they'll do is you'll walk up there and you'll have to, you know, show your I.D. badge, and that way you can go about the extra 10 yards or so to actually walk into the building.

So it's believed that these were guards who were outside the Pentagon because once you show your badge, which you have to do to get access to even open the door of the Pentagon -- once you go through there, there are obviously more guards. There's also a vantage point, a secure vantage point for a sniper position.

It is the most probably well-fortified area and entrance of the entire Pentagon.

BLITZER: I remember many years ago when I was a Pentagon correspondent, Chris, it was not all that unusual to get a lockdown when there was some shooting incident in the nearby area.

How unique in your experience is what's happening right now?

LAWRENCE: Well, I think if you said that it was just a shooting at the Metro, you know, that could have happened at any Metro stop at any place in D.C., Maryland or Virginia. But the fact that it involved Pentagon police officers, I think that's what makes this incident a little more unusual than others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Were you anywhere near this incident, Chris?

LAWRENCE: Not really. It's hard to describe, but the Metro entrance is one way to get out of the Pentagon. There are other ways to get out as well. It's probably about three corridors down. But the Pentagon is a huge place. We're not that far but we're not that close, either. I don't know if that makes any sense.

But basically, it's where -- it's probably the busiest entrance. That's the easiest way to describe it. It's where most people enter and leave the Pentagon. But, again, it's only one way -- it's only one of the ways in and out, and again, it's where most of the Pentagon police officers are compared to some of the other entrances and exits where you might only have, you know, one or two officers posted at that post.

BLITZER: I take it, Chris, you didn't hear any gunshots?

LAWRENCE: No. No. I mean the way the Pentagon is set up, I mean, it'd be almost impossible to hear anything that happened outside of this building. I mean even if it was, you know, minutes and minutes of rapid gunfire. If you're inside the building, you're not going to hear anything like that.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. Jeanne Meserve is also watching -- monitoring this story for us.

So what else are you picking up, Jeanne?

MESERVE: Wolf, I think that Chris has really reported the bare bones of this. What we're hearing from this Pentagon Force Protection Agency is that what they believe they have is two Pentagon officers shot. And they believe they have one person in custody.

We really have gotten no detail yet. I think they're still assessing the situation there. There had been reports from some of the local television stations here in Washington, including our affiliate WUSA, that three people were being transported to a local hospital, but we don't have independent confirmation of that at this point in time. So really, it's still very much something under development. But you know, Wolf, that the Pentagon is a critical piece of infrastructure here in the Washington area. One of those buildings that is very, very highly protected, always has been, but after 9/11, that ramped up even further.

This is a civilian agency, this Pentagon Force Protection Agency, that helps provide security at that building. Obviously, they're having a difficult night tonight. Wolf?

BLITZER: We're hearing, by the way, Jeanne, from George Washington University Hospital here in Washington, D.C., that they are now treating three individuals. We believe two of them are the individuals who were shot and one is the suspect in this case.

That information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. As you know, George Washington University Hospital just across the river from the Pentagon. You take the Memorial Bridge, you get right over to GW, so that's probably the nearest hospital.

Chris Lawrence, what else are you picking up?

LAWRENCE: Yes, Wolf, here at the Pentagon, we're just listening to -- we're just listening to another announcement come over the loudspeaker basically saying that the Metro entrance remains closed but the other entrances to the Pentagon have now been reopened.

So people can leave the Pentagon. They can get back in if for some reason they needed to get back in. And I think Jeanne made a great point, that we want to emphasize again. You know these Pentagon police officers are not uniformed military personnel. They are not military police or MPs, so to speak. They are a privatized security force that is used to -- to secure the area in around the Pentagon.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor what's happening in the Pentagon. We'll check back with Chris Lawrence, with Jeanne Meserve. We'll watch that situation. We'll continue our coverage of that and all the other news right after this.


BLITZER: And just to recap we're watching that developing story at the Pentagon right now. A shooting incident. Two people shot, one suspect apparently in custody.

We are now told the FBI is on the scene. We'll check back with the Pentagon shortly. We'll get you the latest. I just wanted to recap what we know right now.

Other news we're following. For students right now, you might say a GPA isn't for grade point average but grand protest and anger. Look at this. Crowds of students, parents, and teachers in more than 30 states trying to teach lawmakers and administrators a lesson in civil disobedience.

They're mad about budget cuts that's cost higher tuition rates, have canceled classes and temporary layoffs for professor. Slashed funds for elementary and secondary education are also a big issue.

The biggest cuts have happened in the nation's biggest educational system. California has seen about $1 billion in state funding cuts between 2008 and 2010.

CNN's Dan Simon is in San Francisco watching the story for us -- Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Wolf, the crowds have dispersed here, but earlier today there were thousands of student protesters here at San Francisco State University and across California.

The weather was cooperative today, which was obviously good for the protesters. It was unlike yesterday when we were here on campus trying to get a sense as to why students are so angry.


SIMON (voice-over): It's the middle of a rainy day at San Francisco State University. Junior Akasha Perez has finished her classes. It would be nice to go home, put the feet up and get dry. But for Perez, it's off to work.

(On camera): How hard is it taking two jobs and also being a full-time student?

AKASHA PEREZ, COLLEGE STUDENT: It's tough. It's really hard. There's not much sleep involved.

SIMON (voice-over): She works here on campus and also as a waitress. Perez says she had to take on a second job to offset a 32 percent increase in tuition this year, $1,000 more.

PEREZ: It was a huge jump. And students were very upset. And a lot of people lost their classes because they couldn't afford to pay the increase when it happens so their classes got dropped.

SIMON: These are five of her classmates, each with their own tale of hardship, each with a message to state lawmakers.

ROSHAN URANWALA, COLLEGE STUDENT: I didn't attend school last semester because I wasn't able to afford it, and neither were there classes for me to have a reason to even pay that extra tuition.

SIMON (on camera): Has this been tougher for you financially or is it because the courses you want just aren't available?

JIRO PALMIERI, COLLEGE STUDENT: Yes, I think it's a bit of both. You know, certain courses are not available, so, you know, it takes years. It takes longer than expected to graduate.

LETICIA ARCE CARRELO, COLLEGE STUDENT: I am sitting on $10,000 in student loans. I'm only in my second year and I come from a low- income family, so they can't help me at all. I mean they can try, but they can't be much help. SIMON (voice-over): The cuts have also met the elimination of 300 professors and college employees on campus. And a 10 percent pay cut for those lucky enough to still have a job.

Professor Jason Ferreira teaches ethnic studies.

PROF. JASON FERREIRA, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY: It means I'm living as a graduate student or undergraduate all over again. You know? I've been working here five years, and basically month to month, you know? Living on my credit cards.


FERREIRA: You know? To get groceries.

SIMON: For Akasha Perez, it has come down to this -- either work two jobs or don't go to school. Leaning on her parents isn't an option. A reality for her and her classmates.

PEREZ: This is a commuter campus. This is a community of worker -- working students. So it's -- it's been tough.

SIMON: And with tuition expected to rise further next year, it's going to get even tougher.


SIMON: As far as we could tell, the protest here at San Francisco State was entirely peaceful. Earlier there was talk that some students might attempt to overtake a building and occupy it, but I haven't seen anything like that today -- Wolf. Back to you.

BLITZER: Dan Simon is in San Francisco, working the story. Thank you.

A potential new nightmare for Toyota. Complaints from drivers are surfacing after Toyota's supposed fix of its accelerator.


BLITZER: All right. We're watching that situation over the Pentagon. Two police officers shot. One individual, a suspect, in custody. We're told all three have been taken to the George Washington University Hospital across the river from the Pentagon.

There's a new video just coming in, courtesy of our affiliate here in Washington, WJLA.

The Pentagon has reopened, although we're told that that one door to the Metro center, the Metro exit at the Pentagon, remains closed right now.

We'll check back with Chris Lawrence, our man at the Pentagon, and see what else is going on. In the meantime, let's check back with Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lisa, what else is going on?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Well, the government says more than 60 Toyota drivers have filed complaints of unintended acceleration even after the cars were fixed. As part of a recall of more than eight million vehicles worldwide the Japanese automaker has been installing special parts.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says if it's not working they can force Toyota to come up with a different solution.

And dramatic video of people stuck in an elevator in southern Taiwan when that 6.4 earthquake stuck. There have been more than 15 aftershocks since the powerful quake. At least 12 people were injured and there've also been reports of fire, electricity being cut off. Cracks in buildings and bridges and disruption of train service.

And Wolf, you know, one question a lot of people are asking, is if there are any connection among the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Japan and Taiwan, and the answer is not likely according to the experts.

They say earthquakes are sporadic and unpredictable and they believe that it's actually a coincidence that several relatively strong earthquakes have occurred around the same time.

But when, you know, you take a look at these magnitudes it's pretty interesting that we have all of these happening around the same time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, when you think about it, Haiti and Chile, and Japan, and Taiwan, I was beginning to think there's some sort of connection, too. But the experts say it's coincidental.

SYLVESTER: Yes. The experts are saying that it's sporadic and that it's just a coincidence. But, you know, we'll have to see. Hopefully we won't have another one here any time soon, though.

BLITZER: Hopefully, we won't. Lisa, thank you. We're going to go back to the Pentagon, get the latest. The shooting incident at the Pentagon. Two police officers have been shot. A suspect is in custody. All three, we're told, are at George Washington University Hospital right now.

We'll check back with Chris Lawrence when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's get a close-up look now at the devastation following Chile's earthquake.

Here's CNN's Sara Sidner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mother searches for the most precious thing in her life. She is looking for her 4- year-old son.

For five days now she and her husband have been picking through the debris from their home hoping for any sign of him.

"If you know my son, please keep pictures of him. I don't have any pictures left of him. It's very important to me."

The boy was last seen inside a boat with his grandfather. Both jumped in after the massive earthquake fearing they'd be crushed in the house.

"We felt the tremor and her son said, momma, momma, the world is about to end."

In a way, it did. Family lost their grandfather, young son, and their home.

In this town, about 300 kilometers from the city of Concepcion, there is a great deal of suffering. Dozens dead. And more damage.

(On camera): The sea is just behind me. All you have to do in this city to get an idea of just how bad the destruction is here is take a look around. Literally turn around in a circle. 360 degrees. And you see devastation literally everywhere. House after house after house flattened.

(Voice-over): And yet, there are families who have decided to stay overnight to protect what little they have left.

But for the Gutierrez family, this concrete slab is all that is left of their home. What the tsunami didn't swallow, looters stole.

Sarah Sidner, CNN, Constitucion, Chile.


BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. Continue our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker," "America's Most Wanted" nabs an in-demand guest to celebrate its 1000th episode. The show's host, John Walsh, will interview President Obama during the broadcast airing Saturday night.

The FOX TV network says Mr. Obama will discuss the show's impact during 22 years on the air. The president will discuss his administration's anti-crime policy as well.

Congratulations to John Walsh. Episode number 1,000 coming up.

Wouldn't you ask these guys for their opinions on politics? For decades, members of the band, KISS, have been singing about rocking all night and partying every day.

Frontman Gene Simmons tells CNN's Becky Anderson he's qualified to talk about music and makeup. After that he draws the line.


GENE SIMMONS, KISS: If you come to a KISS show and you're expecting us looking like this to comment on acid rain, whales, the nature of green, global warming, boy, are you at the wrong concert.

I am so sick and tired of politicians asking rock stars what they think about the politics of the world. I'm less interested in that than I am of what -- you know, why would a politician ask a rock star about politics? I would certainly never ask a politician how's that new rock song you're working on?


BLITZER: Remember for the latest political news any time, you can always go to

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, Campbell Brown.