Return to Transcripts main page


White House Weighs Reversal on 9/11 Trial; Karl Rove's Biggest Mistakes; Jobs Lost on President Obama's Watch

Aired March 5, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thank you.

Happening now, the Obama administration rethinks its plan to try the alleged 9/11 mastermind.

Will he face a military court instead of a civilian jury in New York?

This hour, the political pressure on the White House to reverse course.

Also, Karl Rove unplugged -- "the architect," as he's called, of the Bush presidency, is admitting his biggest mistakes and stealing some old scores. We'll reveal what's in his new book before it goes on sale.

And no apology from Republican Mitt Romney. He's touting his own new book with that name and accusing President Obama of fueling anti- Americanism around the world. I'll ask him about that, Sarah Palin, his White House prospects in 2012 and more.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


It's been a controversial idea from the start, trying 9/11 suspects in a civilian court in the city where the Twin Towers crumbled over eight years ago. Now, the White House is considering whether to switch course and listen to critics who say Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants should not be treated like common criminals. It would by a stark reversal that could also have political consequences for the president.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is digging into the story -- Ed, what is the administration about to do?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is really trying to tamp down this furor among liberals that maybe there's some sort of a decision on this -- maybe there's a flip flop that's imminent. And I just spoke to a White House official who said, look, no final decision has been made and that they think this decision process is going to take weeks now. It's not imminent and it's not coming down very quickly.

But the fact remains that the private signals that we're getting is that this White House is headed toward using the military tribunal system to try these 9/11 terror suspects -- a system that candidate Barack Obama called flawed and said he would reject as president.

And just a few months ago, his attorney general, Eric Holder, insisted that the suspects would be tried in New York in civilian court.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: They will be brought to New York -- to New York -- to answer for their alleged crimes, in a courthouse just blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood. I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years.


BLITZER: Ed, what -- what would be the fallout, if there was such a dramatic shift in course by the administration?

HENRY: Well, look, in fairness, as you know, there's a new political reality. The fact of the matter is local officials in New York -- Republicans and Democrats -- have said they're really concerned about the security for these kinds of trials, number one. And, number two, there's a political reality in the Senate where this president is not going to get the funding for these trials without a super majority there. He's going to need to compromise to win over some Republicans like Lindsey Graham to support his position.

But that's not good enough for liberals. I just got off the phone with Anthony Romero, who is a top official at the ACLU. And he was saying that he thinks this administration is looking more and more like the Bush administration when it comes to the war on terror every day. And he said he's been calling the White House for nearly a week to get some answers about this and they're not calling him back. And he thinks that silence shows that they are headed for a flip-flop.

And the attorney general was out in public today. He did not talk about this, but alluded to the controversy. When he got some applause, he said it's nice to get a standing ovation, especially today. He knows full well that this is a big political firestorm that's brewing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry will stay on top of it for us.

Thank you.

There may be valuable lessons for Team Obama from within the pages of Karl Rove's new book. George W. Bush's long time political adviser is opening up about some of the toughest moments in the Bush White House.

Our Lisa Sylvester, she's got a copy of the book right here.


BLITZER: Has been going through it.

What are you finding out?

SYLVESTER: Oh, this is a fascinating book. And, Wolf, as you well know, Karl Rove is the guy who is seen as this brilliant political adviser. But the book shows another side of him -- someone who grew up with not a lot of money, worked very hard as a teenager. And during the Bush years, sometimes he was in real emotional turmoil. And he acknowledges at least one big mistake.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): It's a book about setting the record straight, looking through the rearview mirror, Karl Rove says had the United States known Iraq didn't possess weapons of mass destruction, things might have been different.

"Would the Iraq War have occurred without WMD? I doubt it. Congress was very unlikely to have supported the Use of Force Resolution without the threat of WMD. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change and deal with Iraq's horrendous human violations."

But Rove says that was a hypothetical, because conventional wisdom was that Saddam Hussein did have the weapons.

"So then did Bush lie us into war," Rove writes. "Absolutely not.

One of the biggest mistakes during the Bush years, Rove says, was not responding in setting the record straight. "They didn't because, in part, they thought it was beneath the dignity of the president to refute such outlandish charges. If you wrestle with pigs, the old line goes, you get muddy."

9/11, 2001 molded the mindset of the Bush administration -- the president determined to keep Americans safe.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people...


BUSH: And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

SYLVESTER: A speech that showcased President Bush as a leader. It was 20 years before, to the day, September 11th, 1981, when Karl Rove faced a personal tragedy -- the suicide of his mother, described in a chapter called "A Broken Family on the Western Front." His family situation drove him to the comfort of books and eventually to a career in politics.

The low point for Rove personally during the Bush presidency was when reporters were camped out at his home. He faced a possible indictment over leaking operative Valerie Plame's name to the media, stress that also fell on his wife and son.

Upon finding out that federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, was not likely to charge him, he says he placed the receiver in its cradle and wept.

Ron Christie is a friend of his who worked with him in the White House. I asked him what Rove wants to accomplish with this book.

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Karl wanted the -- the world to see a different side of him, rather than just being Bush brain's or "the architect" or some of these nicknames that you hear about him, I think people wanted -- he wanted people to see him as a human being and as a very warm person, rather than some of the caricatures that are out there.


SYLVESTER: Now, the book is also meant to be his account of what happened -- a record for the history books. And Rove does take aim at some individuals in the media and with President Obama. And he talks about the differences that he had with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell, in his words, that thought of him as being a politico -- somebody who waded too much into policy. And Powell used to say to him -- he used to actually call him Private Rove and would order him down and say, "Give me 20." It was supposed to be meant as a joke. But one day, Rove did just that. He got down and did 20 pushups.

But -- so and there's a very good picture of that in there, if anyone wants to take a look at that.

But throughout the book, you know, Rove remains a Bush loyalist -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Of course. Of course, he does. If you've heard him, ever since he left office, the president -- he's -- he's very loyal. But when a four star general tells you to get down and do 20, you get down and do 20.

SYLVESTER: And he did.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.

Do two of the world's biggest music stars deserve an all access pass to the White House Situation Room?

Beyonce and Jay-Z in the president's inner sanctum. Stand by.

And we'll talk about what happens when Democrats are accused of behaving badly. One politician facing scandal is about to resign. Just ahead, the fallout for the president and his party.

And a political candidate now open -- openly talking about the horrors he faced in Iraq and his struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt like I had this disease inside me -- this -- this dark secret, that if anyone back home had known what -- what I had done, there's no way they could accept me. Some -- they -- I would be seen as this monster.


BLITZER: It's becoming a daily drill for New York Governor David Paterson. He told reporters once again today he's not -- repeat, not stepping down. The watchdog group, Common Cause, is urging him to do just that.

But prominent African-American leaders decided last night in New York to keep standing behind Paterson until the end of a state investigation into whether he misused his power.

Paterson is but one of several Democrats grappling with scandal, investigations and the political rumor mill right now. That includes Congressman Eric Massa of New York. He's -- he's a Democrat. We learned today he will resign on Monday, amid an ethics investigation that's now underway.

All this isn't making the lives of Democratic leaders any easier.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is rumor city. Every single day, there are rumors. I have a job to do and not just be the receiver of rumors.


BLITZER: All right. Let's assess what's going on with our senior political analysts, Gloria Borger and David Gergen -- David, you know, the -- the Democrats regained the House and the Senate 2006 and 2008 because the Republicans were in a lot of trouble as a result of investigations and scandals. But now there are a whole bunch of Democrats finding themselves in -- in deep trouble, as well.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: That's absolutely right, Wolf. We saw that in 2006 of Jack Abramoff and others. The Democrats converted that into a firestorm and it helped to sweep them into control.

We saw it earlier, back in 1992 and '93, when the House of Representatives had what they -- an internal bank that -- that members were using, -- in this case, many Democrats. And they were using it like a piggybank. And they got chased out of power. That was Newt Gingrich and all the Republicans who took power then.

This has the potential to get there. I don't think it's there yet. This is more like a fire than a firestorm. It -- it's going to -- partly because it's restricted right now to New York. All the scandals have been around New York politics or politicians. And partly -- they have moved to get Charlie Rangel out of his seat. I think Gloria thinks they moved too slowly, but they did get him out of his seat.

BLITZER: But take a look at it. We put some picture up there. You've seen a lot of Democrats over the past year or so, not just Governor Paterson and Charlie Rangel...

GERGEN: Right.

BLITZER: -- Eric Massa, but you look at the lower list -- take a look behind you. You can see Eliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich, John Edwards. They're all Democrats, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, right. It's a rogue's gallery. But, you know, the Democrats are in a bad spot when they're reduced to arguing that our corruption is not as bad as their corruption was. You know, and that's the case that you hear some Democrats making, which is essentially this isn't Tom DeLay, this isn't Mark Foley, you know, the page scandal. These are -- these are not as serious infractions.

But I think that's a weak argument to make, because when you're in power and when you promise the most ethical Congress in history, as Nancy Pelosi did promise, and then you have this creeping up on you, including the chairman of the tax-writing committee, I think it's a very difficult argument to make, which is that we're cleaner than they were, even though we have some problems.

GERGEN: Yes. I -- look, I think it does make life more difficult for the Democrats.


GERGEN: I just don't think that this alone it's going to is going to force them out. And that -- it's not this...

BORGER: There's plenty else.

GERGEN: It's not -- it's not of the...

BORGER: -- going on.

GERGEN: -- the magnitude is not yet that big. But a couple of others -- a couple more and they will be in trouble, because once you get a sense that power brings corruption...


GERGEN: -- and that you're out of touch with -- and you're not obeying the rules of every people, then you get in trouble.

BORGER: And -- and it adds to the anger...

GERGEN: Right. Absolutely.

BORGER: -- which you...

BLITZER: And there is anger. BORGER: -- which is already out there.


BORGER: And there's already anger out there. And whether it's about health care, whether it's about jobs, this just adds to it.

BLITZER: It adds to this notion...

BORGER: And, you know, you blame the folks in power.

BLITZER: -- against incumbents...

GERGEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- whether Democrats or Republicans, just get the bums out and get some good people in there -- David.

GERGEN: It does -- it does -- it certainly adds to that. And what we're seeing, of course, now, is that this is also affecting the state level. We have all sorts of states -- New York State, we were just talking about. There is -- we've had Spitzer and now Paterson -- two governors in a row. Illinois, I mean they -- they compete with each other to see which is more corrupt sometimes. Massachusetts, we've had three speakers of the House of Representatives in a row indicted in Massachusetts. And that helped to fuel the anti- incumbency and brought Scott Brown to Washington. It helped his campaign.

So this has the potential to certainly help Republicans. But at this point, Wolf, I don't think, at the national level, it's yet going to chase the Democrats out of office.

BORGER: You know, there -- there is this anti-incumbent feeling out there.

GERGEN: Right.

BORGER: I believe it always affects the party in power much more than it -- than it affects the folks who are not running things. And the Democrats happen to be running things.

And I think the big question here is, how will this affect the intensity of the Democratic turnout in the mid-term elections?


BORGER: Because the folks who are angry are the folks who are going to come out and vote.

GERGEN: That's right.


BORGER: And Barack Obama, in 2008, changed the entire composition of the electorate. He brought out young voters. He brought out minority voters. And the question now is whether he's going to have the juice to get Democrats across the finish line that -- that voters are angry at.

BLITZER: Because a lot of the enthusiasm and the energy right now is on the conservative or Republican side...

BORGER: Absolutely.

GERGEN: Right.

BLITZER: -- as opposed to the Democratic side. But there's still plenty of time for the Democrats to regroup between now -- November.

BORGER: The good news is this happened early, right?

GERGEN: Yes, if they get -- if they get health care done, then that will help energize the Democratic base. On the other hand, it's also going to energize the Republican base.

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: This is -- we're in the most interesting off year election period I think any of us can remember.

BLITZER: We'll...

GERGEN: This is in a very, very dramatic moment in time.

BLITZER: We'll watch every step of the way with both of you guys.

Thanks very much.

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: As Chile recovers after that devastating earthquake, a potentially dangerous aftershock strikes. It's the most powerful one in days. You'll see and hear what happened.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Lisa.

She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on -- Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, emergency crews on alert and street lights shaking -- that nightmare scene unfolding in Chile as the most powerful aftershock strikes in six days from Saturday's powerful earthquake. Today's was a magnitude of 6.6. Fears of more death and damage forced patients out of hospitals and people into the streets in their pajamas. Officials say these aftershocks did not cause any known injuries or damage. Meanwhile, Chile is stepping back from an earlier death toll, citing counting errors.

And they provided relief in Haiti. Now the group known as the Red Falcons is coming home -- more than 700 U.S. soldiers based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They helped provide meals, shelter and treated more than 7,000 patients over more than 40 days in Haiti.

Meanwhile, President Obama will meet with Haiti's president, Rene Preval. That will happen Wednesday at the White House.

More efforts to stop terrorists from blowing up planes -- the government announced 11 more airports will get full body scanners. Austin gets them today. By summer's end, airports in Chicago; Fort Lauderdale; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City; Charlotte; and in California, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland and Los Angeles Airports will receive them. Nineteen U.S. airports already have them -- have 40 machines. Critics, though, deride the screening as virtual strip searches. The TSA says the images are blurred and they won't be saved -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see if it does some good.

Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

Republican Mitt Romney isn't feeling very generous toward President Obama when it comes to jobs and the economy. Just ahead, I'll ask the former GOP presidential candidate about the economic recovery and Mr. Obama's role in it.

And what does it say when the former Republican standard-bearer has to be helped out by a rising star?

Senator John McCain's reelection troubles in Arizona. That's coming up in our Strategy Session.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: An enlisted man in the United States Army, as a member of...



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

Happening now, Iraqis are set for Sunday's national elections, but worried because early voting is marred again by violence. You'll see Iraq's special weapons trying to rev up some combat responsibilities on election -- to deal with election day violence. And I'll talk with the son of the Iraqi president.

And officials say he was nicely dressed in a suit, calmly approached the busiest entrance of the Pentagon and then started shooting.

But why?

There are revealing -- even bizarre details surrounding this deadly incident.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


On another Friday when many jobless Americans will do without paychecks, President Obama is trying to put the best spin possible on new unemployment numbers.

Here's what he said while visiting a small business in Virginia.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning, we learned that in February, our economy lost an additional 36,000 jobs. Now, this is actually better than expected, considering the severe storms all along the East Coast are estimated to have had a depressing effect on the numbers. And it shows that the measures that we're taking to turn our economy around are having some impact.

But even though it's better than expected, it's more than we should tolerate.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. He's the author of a brand new book entitled "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness."

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


It's good to be back.

BLITZER: I want to get to this book in a moment.

But look at these numbers. Turn around a -- a second over there. Look at these jobless numbers. In December of 2008, January 2009, the last two months of the Bush administration, 673,000 Americans lost their jobs in December; 779,000 lost their jobs in January. Now we've just received the February 2010 jobless numbers -- 36,000 Americans lost their jobs last month.

How much credit does the Obama administration deserve for this turnaround?

ROMNEY: Very little, if any.

BLITZER: Why? ROMNEY: Well, the -- every recession is followed by a recovery. And, unfortunately, the president's stimulus bill didn't do what it was designed to do. It did not...

BLITZER: But look at those -- look at those numbers.

ROMNEY: Well, every recession comes to an end. At some point, the job losses stop and we start rebuilding. And that will happen here, whether or not the president takes effective action.

What he should have done would be to create incentives to actually do what he said he was doing. He said if you passed his $787 billion bill that we'd hold unemployment at 8 percent and that if we didn't pass it, it would go to 10 percent.

Well, it went to 10. So millions of additional people lost their jobs.

BLITZER: But now it's stabilized.

ROMNEY: Well, when -- when you reach the bottom, when you can't cut any more construction jobs, then, yes, it stabilizes and it will come back. And the -- there will be a recovery. And, of course, President Obama will say, look, there's a recovery.

I don't recall any recession after which there was not a recovery. And I'm happy that this one will see a recovery. We will see that. But unfortunately, we will have been saddled with $787 billion of debt, largely to the Chinese, which was not as effectively spent as it could have been, nor has it pulled us out of the recession as quickly as it could have, allowing a lot of people not to suffer the differ -- difficulty of unemployment.

BLITZER: But you remember at the end of the Bush administration, in the last few months, there was fears of another Great Depression.

ROMNEY: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: They were looking over the cliff at the abyss of that. Now, the situation has improved.

ROMNEY: There's no question but that the action that was taken at the very end of the Bush administration, which was the TARP plan to keep the financial system from completely imploding and a cascade of -- of bank failures going across the entire nation, that that was the right action to be taken. I'm -- I'm glad that that was taken. But there's no...

BLITZER: A lot of your fellow conservatives...

ROMNEY: -- there's no...

BLITZER: -- hated that.

ROMNEY: They're -- they're -- that's true. It -- it happens, however, to have been essential to keep a cascade of failures from basically causing our entire financial system to collapse. And -- and that was stabilized. The -- ultimately, the economy reached bottom. Many more people became unemployed than needed to become unemployed. If the president's bill had actually worked, we wouldn't have had as much pain.

But now we're coming out of it. I think you'll see a recovery. I hope it comes quickly, but I think. You're going to see it come out more slowly than it could have had this bill been properly structured.

BLITZER: Let me read from the book, "No Apology": "His effort," referring to the president's, "his effort to expand the size, reach and role of government is without precedent in our history. His plans would leave us with a crushing deficit and debt far beyond anything we have ever experienced."

Now, as you know, when President Bush took office back in 2001, the national debt was around $5 trillion or so. When he left office, it more than doubled, to more than $10 trillion.

That's a pretty sad state, as well, right?

ROMNEY: Oh, I agree. There -- there's no question, in my view, that the -- but that the spending that's gone on over the last couple of decades in Washington has made it very difficult for America to see a bright and prosperous future. And, of course, what President Obama has done has taken the deficits that President Bush put in place and doubled up on them again -- now multi-trillion dollar deficits projected out through the next 10 years...

BLITZER: Because he inherited a trillion dollar a year...

ROMNEY: Well...

BLITZER: -- annual budget deficit.

ROMNEY: Well, he's -- he's so anxious to talk about what he inherited. But the -- the truth is that at some point as president, you do have to take responsibility for your own budget and your own budget gaps. And he has added to those and is projecting multi- trillion dollar deficits in the future.

Frankly, we could spend a lot of time pointing fingers at who's to blame, but in my view, Washington is to blame. You...

BLITZER: Well, you're ready to blame both the Bush administration and the Obama administration.

ROMNEY: I'm willing to blame anyone in Washington who's consistently spending more money than they we take in and without recognizing that we've got to stop that. I'm not talking about the annual deficits, the inability to deal with our entitlement liability, which is, what, 60, $70 trillion of unfunded liability.

BLITZER: They'll come up with recommendations at the end of the year. ROMNEY: Exactly. And President Bush of course actually put something on the table. He put a plan out there for social security. Like it or not, he took action to try and make social security sustainable. I was disappointed that the president hasn't had a plan despite being in office for a year.

BLITZER: Do you like that plan that Bush had of privatizing social security?

ROMNEY: There's parts of it I liked. I liked the idea of people being able to direct some portion of their retirement savings to accounts that will have a higher return than social security, but I wouldn't replace our social security system with private accounts only. I lay out in my book a way I think to bring sustainability to social security which I like better.

BLITZER: And in the book you have a whole list of recommendations at the end of the book on things you would do. Let's talk about health care because the president and a lot of Democrats say what they want to do nationally is what you did in Massachusetts when you were governor, get a lot more people insured. Are they right?

ROMNEY: Well, it's a great idea to get more people insured, but the right place to get people insured is at the state level. We've shown in Massachusetts you can deal with this on a state basis. You know your own population, you know the number of uninsured that exist in your state and you can fashion an insurance plan that meets the needs of those citizens. That's why I proposed letting each state craft their own program, receiving federal support that cares for the poor as in the past.

BLITZER: Is it working in Massachusetts right now?

ROMNEY: You know, we've gotten or citizens insured. About 98 percent of our people are insured and it's generally popular in the state. Docs sure like it, because they're not having to turn people away for lack of coverage, but there are some problems with the plan, and if I was there, I probably would be making adjustments to it.

BLITZER: If you were elected president, would you have tried to get a lot more people insured nationally?

ROMNEY: Not with a federal plan, not with a one size fits all federal plan and certainly not like the president's plan, which raises taxes. We didn't do that. That's the wrong way to go, and cutting Medicare by $500 billion, having the seniors pay for the plan? That doesn't make sense, either. I would have done was to say we're going to give you the money we sent you last year to help you care for your poor state by state, and you craft plans that you think will be effective in getting more people insured.

BLITZER: Is he going to get it passed?

ROMNEY: You know, he can jam through whatever he'd like. He has the votes he needs to try to do something, but the American people have told him in every way possible, no, we do not want it. If he jams it through, I think the country will not be better off for it, and I think the Democratic Party will suffer.

BLITZER: It's possible that Americans will like it, the fact that insurance companies won't be able to remove them or cut their benefits or they won't have to worry about preexisting conditions. It's possible that he gets it passed that over the next several months between now and November let's say folks will start saying, you know what? That's pretty good.

ROMNEY: I don't think that's likely to happen. I think you're going to find that people are appalled at the rising health care costs because of the new taxes he puts on companies that make health equipment and so forth. I think you'll find that the people of America are not enamored with what he puts through and that's why I think it's more likely that in 2010 and then again in 2012 you'll see a reversal of fortune on the part of the Democrats as Americans say we want a different course. I think you'll see this plan either stopped or repealed or gutted.


BLITZER: All right. That was part one of the interview with Mitt Romney. Later we'll have part 2, and I asked Mitt Romney if he believes that Sarah Palin is qualified to be president of the United States. His answer might surprise you. Part 2 of the interview later in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The dangers of driving in heavy fog hit home in Wisconsin in a very big way.

Wait until you hear what a man in Georgia dug up in his backyard. When I tell you it's explosive, I mean it.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Lisa who's monitoring other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What else is going on Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Talk about terrifying, you're driving down a road, you can barely see a thing and boom you're in the middle of a 31-car pileup. It happened in Wisconsin this morning. There reportedly was a second pileup nearby. Hospital officials say 15 people were hurt, one seriously. They say fog is to blame.

Check it out. It's a robot used to find explosive devices. And in Georgia a man found a live grenade buried in his backyard today. He was already having a very bad day, digging a hole to bury his dead dog. The bomb squad detonated the grenade off-site and they said it could have easily blown up if the shovel hit it.

And a cruise ship was forced to return to Ft. Lauderdale today after 187 passengers and crew members complained of flu-like symptoms. The CDC reports that three other ships returned today because people on board complained of stomach problems. One of them based in South Carolina had a similar outbreak on board during its last cruise. Passengers are now wondering if the cruise lines are doing enough to sanitize the ships. We'll have to find that out, Wolf.

BLITZER: One thing you don't want to do is go on a cruise and get sick. You're supposed to go on a cruise and relax and enjoy.

SYLVESTER: But not so nice of a vacation if you catch a stomach bug.

BLITZER: Thank you, Lisa.

Creative campaign ads and hip-hoppers in the without. Our "strategy session" is next.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us now, our CNN political contributor Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos. He helps create ads by the way, political ads, so he knows what he's talking about when it comes to this kind of stuff. Senator John McCain is facing a tough challenge from a former Republican Congressman for the Republican nomination for the Senate from Arizona and if you take a look at what he's doing, McCain now has brought in Scott Brown who was just elected senator for Massachusetts to come into Arizona and help set back J.D. Hayworth, the opposition. Watch what Scott Brown said today.


SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: If you told me five months ago that I would be standing here in front of you, I would tell you you were full of it. I would never in my wildest dreams believe that I would be here with you all and really standing and helping someone, who I personally long before politics have always thought is an American hero.


BLITZER: I assume that's going to be a big help for John McCain, don't you think?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It will be a tremendous help for John McCain. I think at the end of the day John McCain's going to be fine in that primary. I mean is he conservative enough for a Republican audience? He picked Sarah Palin for vice president. He took on Barack Obama and helped elect Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Also McCain is an outsider and right now always has been a maverick, right? And guess what? Americans are now mad at Washington. I think McCain will be fine.

BLITZER: Look at this ad that J.D. Hayworth is running. Take a look at the picture. Let's put it up right now. In this ad, there it is right there. You can see it right behind you if you take a look. Nominee for best conservative actor, and he's got John McCain up there, suggesting he's not really a conservative.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Also making fun of the fact that avatar has received so many nominations. But John McCain is a decorated war hero. I think he will do very well in this primary because he has a track record that would not only bring in conservatives to the polls. I don't have a - I don't have a dog in this race but if I had to bet on it, I think John McCain will beat J.D. Hayworth.

CASTELLANOS: At least they accused him of being an avatar. If it had been hot tub time machine or something like that, that might have been a problem.

BLITZER: A McCain spokesman said the ad was insulting to the senator.

CASTELLANOS: And that's one of the things I think political folks would advise a political campaign not to do, don't overreact because otherwise people end up talking about it on CNN in THE SITUATION ROOM. I think they did overreact. The best thing to do, laugh it off and move on.

BLITZER: Let's talk about something that happened in THE SITUATION ROOM. Now our THE SITUATION ROOM, but the other situation room. There is another one over at the White House. Take a look at this picture. You see Jay-Z and Beyonce there they are in the real White House situation room. Someone posted that picture that's supposed to be a sensitive area, to see Jay-Z and Beyonce and others in there, what did you think about that?

BRAZILE: I thought it was funny. I don't know what the protocol is. I believe you have to have the highest security clearance but --

BLITZER: You don't think Jay-Z and Beyonce have the highest clearance.

BRAZILE: When it comes to music and videos, you know, they're the best.

BLITZER: How about national security?

BRAZILE: I don't think so. I like to think, they didn't crash, so they're not the Salahis, so they don't get this rap, but if they used this for the next album cover, I would have serious problems with it.

CASTELLANOS: It's interesting thing here. I think some people might wonder why Jay-Z is in the president's chair. Some people may wonder why Barack Obama is after all, Jay-Z has created more jobs, and that's actually I think a good thing for this administration to do. This is a place where Democrats and Republicans can come together, entrepreneurship. Jay-Z is somebody who has created tremendous net worth, created lots of jobs, owns the New Jersey Nets. This is entrepreneurship in America, and this would be a great place and a great team to put together to talk about jobs and growth.

RBAZILE: Not to mention Beyonce. She has a special place in the hearts of both the president and the first lady.

BLITZER: She's in the picture there. BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: If they are in that situation room, shouldn't they be in our THE SITUATION ROOM as well? They don't need security clearances to come in here.

BRAZILE: And the picture they take away from being in the situation room, it will sell millions of albums so I encourage him to come on this show.

CASTELLANOS: You don't have Jay-Z and Beyonce, you have Alex and Donna.

BRAZILE: I know Wolf can dance, what about you?

CASTELLANOS: Big trouble.

BLITZER: And an empire state of mind. You like that song, don't you?

BRAZILE: Yes, indeed.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. We have more coming up, including an Iraq war veteran, now opening up about a nightmare as he runs for political office in Pennsylvania. You'll meet him, hear his story. Stand by.


BLITZER: Let's look at the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In India, two boys cool off by diving into a canal.

In Los Angeles, an Oscar statue stands outside the entrance in to the Kodak Theater in preparation for the Academy Awards on Sunday.

In Spain, Swiss and Spanish tennis players observe a moment of silence for earthquake victims in Chile.

And in Poland children walk with new boots provided by local officials as the town installs new water.

"Hot Shots": Pictures worth 1,000 words.

We have seen a number of Iraq war veterans run for political office, but few if any are like this man. He has been treated for post-traumatic stress. He is now trying to turn his nightmare into a positive experience. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is spending time with him in Pennsylvania.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this Philadelphia neighborhood one-time army Captain Shannon Meehan is on foot patrol walking the street, knocking on doors and talking to people.

SHANNON MEEHAN (D), PENN. STATE HOUSE CANDIDATE: I grew up in this area around here and just recently returned from Iraq and in continuation to my service, I am running for state representative for the area.

STARR: Three years ago in Iraq, Shannon's job as a army platoon commander was to win over the citizens. As he launches his campaign for state for legislature, he is open up his experience in war.

MEEHAN: By I am painting an honest picture for myself because I will be honest, I will show you who I am and who I have become.

STARR: I first met Shannon last year at Ft. Hood, Texas, where he was being treated for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.

You have written extensively about the incident that has caused you to suffer from post-traumatic stress. I'm wondering how that's going for you now.

MEEHAN: Ever since that day back in Iraq in June when I took the lives inadvertently of innocent Iraqi people, I have been forever changed. Their deaths, the memories of those children and that family, they will follow me. They always will.

STARR: When he was in Iraq, Shannon had called in a strike on a building. No one knew Iraqi civilians were there. He felt deeply responsible.

You and I hadn't talked in I'd say a few months, and then you suddenly e-mailed me a few weeks ago late one night.

I asked him to read some of what he sent me.

MEEHAN: It almost feels as if the further I got from Iraq, from the army, the more my mind would delve itself into it all. Now, being completely ripped away from it all by being medically retired, part of me feels that signified the end, the end of it all for me. I'd finally abandoned them all, the ones we lost and the once I killed. I felt like I had this disease inside of me, this dark secret. That if anyone back home had known what I had done, there is no way they could accept me. Someday I would be seen as this monster.

STARR: Shannon says he finally began to see the way ahead with the birth of his son Brady and the support of his wife, A.J.

MEEHAN: What I realized is that I am not done yet. My service does not have to end there. I can continue, and I will continue to serve.

My name is Shannon Meehan.

STARR: Back in the neighborhood, he hopes by campaigning for votes --

MEEHAN: Thank you very much and I appreciate the support.

STARR: He will also find his own way ahead.

STARR: For me it is an opportunity, an opportunity to tell the people of the district who I am and why I want to do this.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.


BLITZER: Good luck, indeed. What a nice story. As Iraqis prepare to cast crucial ballots could the nation be on the brink of civil war? I will ask the son of the Iraq's president here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And there is new hope for patients with a killer brain tumor. It involves a potential breakthrough that works inside of the body like a smart bomb.


BLITZER: It is what deceased Senator Ted Kennedy died from, a specific brain tumor. Few patients actually survive it but a new treatment offers patients the chance to dramatically beat the disturbing survival rate. What if, what if more people could actually survive this kind of brain cancer? Here is our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard you also volunteered to do a spinal tap today for us?


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is Karen who is bracing for another painful procedure. You see, she has cancer, brain cancer. A killer tumor, glioblastoma. It is GBM, and it is typically thought of as the worst type of tumor. Why?

DR. ALLAN FRIEDMAN, PRESTON ROBERT TISCH BRAIN TUMOR CENTER: Because left untreated the patient succumbs to the disease quickly.

GUPTA: Even with aggressive treatment, average survival is barely a year. Chemotherapy and radiation, all of the usually treatments hardly slow it down.

VANEMAN: Good to meet you. I'm fine, thank you.

GUPTA: But here at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, Karen found hope, an experimental vaccine. When people hear the word vaccine, they think this is something to prevent disease but that's not what's happening here exactly.

DR. JOHN SAMPSON, PRESTON ROBERT TISCH BRAIN TUMOR CENTER: No it's not. GUPTA: Dr. John Sampson helped developed the vaccine.

SAMPSON: Essentially all of the cells in our body have fingerprints and the fingerprints of your cells are different than the fingerprint on my cells. But the immune system can recognize the differences in those fingerprints.

GUPTA: The vaccine has a futuristic name called the CDX 110. It uses the body's own immune system to attack tumor cells. It won't work on every GBM patient, just the 40 percent or so whose tumors make one particular protein but in some patients, it will go off like a smart bomb.

SAMPSON: Unlike chemotherapy which really hurts all the body's cells in the body or radiation, the immune system can be absolutely precise, so we l get a tumor-specific attack with very low toxicity.

GUPTA: Which means that the patients don't get as sick. Now, Karen gets a shot, a painful one, every month, but look at the results. We were able to pay her another visit, a full year later. Remember, most patients don't even live that long.

VANEMAN: As long as the vaccine works, then I'll be getting a monthly shot, and when it doesn't work, then I'm in trouble.

GUPTA: What can we say about the vaccine now in terms of educating the patient about it? What do you tell them in terms of what it promises?

SAMPSON: We are always careful not to overpromise what something can deliver. This is still in the experimental stage, but patients are living two to three times longer with the vaccine than we would have expected.

GUPTA: As much as six years in some cases with no signs of returning cancer.


Well, we know that Duke has been doing this for six years now and gotten the results that you heard about, but the real key now is to try to duplicate and replicate these same results across the country in many different hospitals which is under way right now. About 100 patients around the country sort of participating in the trials now. The real question that people want answered is can you treat this type of deadly tumor more safety and more effectively than we do now? When those results come to us, we'll certainly bring them to you. Back to you for that.

BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you.

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