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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Names Supreme Court Nominee; Interview With White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod
Aired May 10, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
After a pair of high-profile bomb scares, the government considers possible changes when it comes to informing terror suspects about their rights.
The president picks the solicitor general, Elena Kagan, as his Supreme Court nominee. She is not a judge, but we have already seen her in action arguing cases before the Supreme Court. We will take a closer look at her record and the possible confirmation fight. That's coming up.
And amid urgent new efforts to plug that oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, does President Obama still stand by his pledge to expand offshore oil exploration? I will ask his senior adviser, David Axelrod.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The Times Square bomb suspect went back to Pakistan looking for help from the Taliban -- that dramatic claim made today by a senior administration official, who says Faisal Shahzad had an attack in mind when he traveled to Pakistan. And top advisers to the president also say the evidence now shows the plot was directed by the Pakistani Taliban.
This development comes amid a big debate over the handling of terror suspects here in the United States. Should they be read their rights, or should the rules be stretched to allow investigators more leeway?
Brian Todd has been looking into this story for us.
Brian, tell us what you're learning.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is all about the last two prominent terror cases on U.S. soil, the Christmas Day plot and the Times Square attack. Both suspects kept talking after being read their Miranda rights.
But there is real concern out there: What if they didn't?
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad was interrogated for four hours before being told he had the right to remain silent, his Miranda rights. Anything he said up to that point could be used against him in court.
That process of gathering information is called the public safety exception to Miranda, used when officials fear there is an immediate threat to public safety. Now the Obama Justice Department wants Congress to help it expand the use of that tactic.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Attorney General Eric Holder called it big news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS")
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have to think about perhaps modifying the rules that interrogators have, and somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That public safety exception to Miranda was first used in standard criminal cases long before the war on terror.
(on camera): When we asked why the Justice Department wants to expand this rule now, a spokeswoman here said she couldn't go beyond what Attorney General Holder said. But some legal analysts say the administration believes now, with the Shahzad case and the Christmas Day airline attack, that it could use more time to interrogate terror suspects and get information on plots.
(voice-over): Shahzad and Christmas Day suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were both read their Miranda rights. Both kept talking, but either one could have clammed up at that point and the plots behind their alleged attacks might never have been divulged.
Former White House aide David Rivkin is a critic of the Obama administration's terror policies and favors military tribunals. He says this about Holder's idea.
DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: You need enough time in an interactive mode to get all the information out of the suspect. You don't know in advance. You may not even know after a few hours. You may need some time to go back and check.
Stephen Vladeck, who has represented terror suspects before the Supreme Court, says more exceptions on Miranda will eat away at suspects' rights.
(on camera): What about just the fact that we're now dealing with terrorism suspects -- these aren't common criminals -- and you have just got to inject a little bit more flexibility into the system?
STEPHEN VLADECK, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Well, I think -- I mean, to me, the flexibility that the government is seeking in these cases is provided by the public safety exception, and has existed for 25 years.
But, beyond that, I think the fact that many of these suspects are U.S. citizens, that most of them are arrested on U.S. soil means there are and must be limits on exactly how much the government can bend the traditional rules.
TODD: Now, liberals like to point out that the Bush administration read terror suspects their rights, too. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was promptly Mirandized in 2001. But conservative advocates say, even if it was done under Bush, it's still a mistake that can tie the hands of counterterrorism investigators when the clock is ticking -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But I think it's fair to say, Brian, that any serious attempt to limit Miranda rights right now would wind up in the Supreme Court.
TODD: It could, and it could be struck down by the court. In 2000, the court struck down a statute that overruled Miranda. The statute essentially allowed prosecutors to use statements that defendants made voluntarily before being read their rights.
And some analysts believe that if Congress gets involved, as Mr. Holder wants it to do, that the Supreme Court is never going to go for that. It's not going to really go for a congressional interpretation of the Miranda law.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much -- Brian Todd working this story for us.
Let's get some more analysis now on what is going on. Joining us is our CNN contributor Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush, also worked in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.
This whole notion of expanding or dramatically changing the Miranda process as we have come to know it over these past few decades, do you think it's seriously likely to be changed?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: There is risk there involved, Wolf.
You know, the public safety exception is one that has been recognized by the Supreme Court, but what happens if you actually legislate it? If you put down the parameters in legislation about what the public safety exception is, it becomes then hardened.
And at the very time, what the attorney general is asking for is flexibility. You know, Wolf, I think this points out the administration's now acknowledgment. It's -- this is something that's grown over time. The criminal justice system isn't a perfect fit in terrorism cases.
They wanted to close Guantanamo. They're having a hard time trying to figure out where to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, though. All of these things, you have to understand that this is not a perfect system, and that's why you need some alternative, whether it's military commissions, Guantanamo.
BLITZER: Well, there is no doubt that decades ago when the whole Miranda rights issue came forward, terrorism was not necessarily a big issue, as it is right now.
TOWNSEND: That's exactly right, Wolf.
And so I think what you're going to see is, there will be a discussion about this. It will be interesting to see whether or not it's taken up, because I think there's opposition on both sides, right and left, to having -- to legislating the public safety exception.
BLITZER: But this public safety exception, that's basically what they call the ticking time bomb exception. You arrest someone, and you think that there might be a ticking time bomb someplace. You want to save lives, so you don't necessarily say you have the right to remain silent.
Let's remember, the requirement is to give Miranda if what you want to do is to be able to use those statements in a court of law in a criminal trial, after the -- after the suspect has been arrested. If you don't care to use them, it's less of a concern.
And so this whole debate about expanding the public safety exception, really, it's -- to your point, in a ticking time bomb situation, we're going to be worried less about prosecuting somebody than we are going to be about stopping the bomber.
BLITZER: When I heard Eric Holder yesterday, the attorney general of the United States, publicly say the U.S. now believes that the Pakistani Taliban was responsible, was behind the Times Square bomb plot, the first thing that jumped out at me was, well, now the United States is going to have to do something about that in terms of retaliation, going after the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan or wherever.
And that could set the stage for what?
TOWNSEND: Well, that's right, Wolf. I mean, we rely on our Pakistani allies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
BLITZER: But if the Pakistani allies aren't going to do it, the United States says now, these guys were responsible. The U.S. is going to have to do something, and I suspect drone attacks will be coming up big-time.
TOWNSEND: I would expect that that's exactly right, Wolf. And they're -- going to be attention now.
Remember, General McChrystal has said he wants to minimize civilian casualties, and if you're taking shots, drone shots, they have got to be supported by intelligence, by special operations. It really requires a good deal of infrastructure.
And, by the way, you need airspace to fly those drones, and that requires permission from your Pakistani allies.
BLITZER: Because so far the Pakistani allies have been willing to go after the Taliban in South Waziristan, but not in North Waziristan, and there is a significant difference.
Thanks very much, Fran, for that.
BLITZER: Warning terror suspects about their rights, so is it time to change the rules? I'm going to ask David Axelrod, the senior adviser to the president. That's coming up.
And, as solicitor general, Elena Kagan argues cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and that gives us a rare chance to see and hear the nominee in action.
Plus, don't ask, don't tell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells our own John King that he thinks -- what he thinks about changing the policy on gays serving openly in the U.S. military.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, coming soon to a state near you: painful spending cuts.
There's a piece on CNNMoney.com suggesting that, although the states have been struggling with huge budget gaps ever since 2008, the federal stimulus money has helped them avoid making some tough decisions. This year, though, those federal dollars are going to be drying up, and the cuts ahead could be brutal.
Think education and health programs like Medicaid. See, the states are required to balance their budgets. And, for the past couple of years, they have been getting help from the stimulus money. To make matters worse, a lot of states have already slashed services and used up their rainy day funds in order to balance those budgets.
As for money coming in, the estimates are that income tax revenue from this past April is likely to drop a lot. States are hoping Congress will renew some of the stimulus money, especially increased funding for Medicaid.
Without that federal money, states are going to be hurting, big- time. For example, Pennsylvania says it would have to slash half of its funding for domestic violence and rape crisis services, 25 percent from the budget for child welfare services, as well as cut payments to hospitals, doctors and nursing homes.
As for education, 275,000 jobs could be eliminated nationwide because of budget cuts. And that would pretty much wipe out the about 300,000 jobs that were saved by the stimulus bill. Here in New York State, as many as 15,000 teachers could lose their jobs.
Here's the question, then, this hour: What services are you worried your state will cut?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.
With another opportunity to put his own stamp on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama today nominated the solicitor general, Elena Kagan, to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Kagan is a former Harvard Law School dean and, at the age of 50, could perhaps serve on the court for decades.
She has never been a judge, but the president calls Kagan one of the nation's foremost legal minds. And he says that, as the government's chief litigator, she has proven her metal before the U.S. Supreme Court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last year, in the Citizens United case, she defended bipartisan campaign finance reform against special interests seeking to spend unlimited money to influence our elections.
Despite long odds of success, with most legal analysts believing the government was unlikely to prevail in this case, Elena still chose it as her very first case to argue before the court.
I think that says a great deal not just about Elena's tenacity but about her commitment to serving the American people.
I think it says a great deal about her commitment to protect our fundamental rights, because in a democracy powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN's Kate Bolduan is here.
Kate, one extraordinary thing about the Kagan nomination is that we have already been able to see what she is like in a Supreme Court setting.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf.
Elena Kagan's first case as solicitor general was a blockbuster, like playing in the Super Bowl and it's your first time on the field. The case was Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission dealing with campaign finance law.
Kagan eventually last the case in a 5-4 decision, but it offers us a rare chance to hear and see a Supreme Court nominee in action, interacting and sparring with the very people she hopes to join, these moments possibly giving us a window into her judicial style.
Number one, she is light on her feet.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I have three very quick points to make about the government position. The first is that this issue has a long history. For over 100 years, Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections, and this court has never questioned that judgment.
ANTONIN SCALIA, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. We never questioned it, but we never approved it either.
KAGAN: I will repeat what I said, Justice Scalia.
For 100 years this Court, faced with many opportunities to do so, left standing the legislation that is at issue in this case.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: In the first minutes of her first case, standing up to the fiery Justice Antonin Scalia, that is the type of style the White House finds appealing. President Obama describes her as a commanding presence.
Listen here, again with Justice Scalia.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SCALIA: I doubt that one can expect a body of incumbents to draw election restrictions that do not favor incumbents. Now, is that excessively cynical of me? I don't think so.
KAGAN: I think, Justice Scalia, it's wrong. In fact, corporate and union money go overwhelmingly to incumbents. This may be the single-most self-denying thing that Congress has ever done.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Kagan is clearly an intellectual, but she also seems to utilize quick wit and personality. Listen here.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOHN PAUL STEVENS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Before you go to your second point, may I ask you to clarify one part of the first, namely, your answer to the question I posed to Mr. Olson, namely, why isn't the Snowe-Jeffords amendment, which was picked on by Congress itself, and which is argued by the NRA, an appropriate answer to this case?
KAGAN: That was my third point, Justice Stevens.
STEVENS: Oh, I'm sorry.
KAGAN: So, we will just skip over the second.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: This offers a little clue into Kagan the attorney, and possibly Kagan the justice.
But, remember, it is two very different things to argue a case before the high court, and then to sit on the bench, a very different perspective, Wolf, a very different job.
BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much, Kate, for that.
President Obama calls her a consensus-builder. If she is confirmed, what sort of role would Elena Kagan play on the Supreme Court?
Let's discuss with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
You have known her ever since you were a first-year law student. Both of you were 23 years old at Harvard Law School, so you have known her for many years. How persuadable is she? And I ask the question, Jeff, because there are four conservatives, normally four liberals. There's one swing vote, Justice Kennedy right now, and her role will be to influence Justice Kennedy.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's a short-sighted way of looking at it.
I know that's one way the White House is trying to support her nomination. But, look, Anthony Kennedy has been on the Supreme Court for 23 years. He knows what he thinks about constitutional law. He doesn't need Elena Kagan to arrive in his 75th year of life and explain constitutional law to him.
I think the way to look at the Kagan nomination is that she can be a leader on this court for decades. Anthony Kennedy will be gone in the next decade or so, but Kagan will be around for a long time. She is the kind of person who could emerge as a leader among justices, not just perhaps to persuade Anthony Kennedy, but to persuade a generation of justices who follow him.
BLITZER: Some of her supporters say, intellectually, she is more than qualified to go head-to-head with the chief justice, Chief Justice Roberts.
TOOBIN: I think that's true.
And I think it's important to emphasize how different Roberts and Kagan are. They have very different conceptions of how the constitutional system should work. Elena Kagan believes in a strong federal government that can regulate, that the people's representatives, the Congress, can pass laws to protect what they regard as the public interest.
John Roberts is much more of a libertarian. He believes that -- in a limited government and the Constitution establishes strict limits on how big government should be. We have seen that clash between the solicitor general and the chief justice. We're likely to see it when they're colleagues, too.
BLITZER: You wrote a great book on the Supreme Court, "The Nine," which everyone who read it loves that book. And you know a lot about the current justices. As far as you know, is there any bad blood between Chief Justice Roberts and Elena Kagan?
TOOBIN: There is not bad blood. This is nothing personal.
But even in Kagan's one-year tenure, which is obviously not that long, it's been clear that they see things very differently. John Roberts and Barack Obama, who was, after all, Elena Kagan's boss, have very different conceptions of how the American government should work.
That's something we're going to see play out over the entire Obama presidency. Elena Kagan is an Obama supporter through and through. She believes in his conception of how the government works. And that conflict, while it's not personal, is very real.
BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, thanks very much. Jeff is going to be watching all of this unfold in the weeks and months to come with all of us here at CNN. Thank you.
Here are some things you may not necessarily know about Elena Kagan. She is the first sitting solicitor general nominated to the court since Thurgood Marshall, for whom she once clerked. He nicknamed her "Shorty."
If confirmed, Kagan would be the only justice on the current court with no prior judicial experience and the first justice without any prior judicial experience since William Rehnquist back in 1972. Elena Kagan would be the third woman on the current court, but only the fourth woman ever to serve as a United States Supreme Court justice.
Chaos and catastrophe with bombs going off throughout Iraq -- we have details of what's being called one of the country's deadliest days in months.
And he's catching heat for taking his time on a repeal of don't ask, don't tell -- why the Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he will not be rushed.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(NEWS BREAK) BLITZER: An urgent huddle -- the president meets in his Situation Room with top officials to discuss the Gulf oil spill. I will ask one of his top advisers, David Axelrod, if the president stands by his vow to expand offshore exploration.
BLITZER: Elena Kagan's record certainly will be closely scrutinized during the Senate confirmation progress -- process -- certain to come up, a past showdown over the issue of gays serving openly in the military.
BLITZER: And joining us now from the North Lawn of the White House, David Axelrod, the senior adviser to the president.
David, thanks very much for coming in.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Was it a mistake for Elena Kagan, when she was dean of the Harvard Law School, to oppose allowing the U.S. military to recruit law students because of the Pentagon's don't ask, don't tell policy?
AXELROD: Well, that's not -- that's not exactly what happened.
The fact is that there was recruitment on the Harvard campus at the time that she was there. She maintained a policy that existed before she came there not allowing the career placement office to -- to -- to host that, because there was a policy relative to discrimination.
When the law was passed and upheld banning that, then she changed the policy. So, she tried to conform to the policy of the school, and the law. And yes, she expressed herself on the law, but she's always been very hospitable to military recruitment and to young people on campus who wanted to serve their country.
In fact, the irony of this discussion, Wolf, is her objection to the "don't ask, don't tell" law was she wanted everyone who wanted to serve their country -- every young person, every young person who wants to serve their country -- to have that opportunity.
BLITZER: Because Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the judiciary committee, he's concerned. He says this is a significant issue he wants to discuss with her, especially her comments back in 2003, that the Pentagon's policy, in her words, was a "profound wrong, a moral injustice of the first order."
AXELROD: Wolf, I think her concern was that every young American who wants to serve their country should have that opportunity. But Senator Sessions should and will have that opportunity to discuss it with her. And I hope that he also talks to the young men and women from Harvard who served in the military who came into contact with Dean Kagan when she was there, and who got her full support, because she is -- she was very close to veterans on campus, and they were supportive of her.
BLITZER: On the issue of gay marriage, as solicitor general, she suggested there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage. On this specific issue -- is she and the president, as far as you know, David, on the same page?
AXELROD: Well, the president spoke on this issue, and he has not supported same-sex marriage. So -- but this -- and perhaps this will come up during the hearings, but she was not representing just his point of view, she was representing the point of view of the government on this.
BLITZER: As solicitor general --
BLITZER: -- her job is to represent the government and argue these cases --
BLITZER: -- before the court. Basically, that's her experience, arguing before the court, right?
BLITZER: You looked at all of the various judges out there and you decided this time you didn't want a judge.
AXELROD: Well, first of all, Wolf, that's not the breadth of her experience. In fact, she probably has got more diverse experience than most of the appointees that we've seen. She's worked in all branches of government. She clerked for a very distinguished appellate court judge. She clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, a legend on the Supreme Court.
She's represented the United States of America before the Supreme Court for the last 15 months. And, you know, she's referred to the -- the solicitor general is referred to as the tenth justice because they work so much with the court. So, she's well-qualified and I think you'll have a hard time finding observers of the court, legal scholars who would argue otherwise.
BLITZER: The attorney general now says it's now time to take another look at the whole Miranda rights that are provided suspects in these kind of cases in the aftermath of the Times Square bombing incident. Is the president and attorney general -- are they -- are they on the same page when it comes to reopening the Miranda rights laws right now?
AXELROD: I think the president is open to looking at that issue. The question is whether the public safety exception that allows a delay in administering those rights is -- how elastic is that, and do we need to make any sort of adjustment to it. Basically, though, the -- that went fairly well. The suspect was interrogated. The suspect obviously shared a great deal of information and the system worked.
So, there may be some things that have to be done. Certainly, we're willing to talk to Congress about that. But they'd be in the -- in the area of adjustments, not wholesale revision.
BLITZER: And as far as you know, Faisal Shahzad, is he still cooperating right now?
AXELROD: My understanding is that they have gotten quite a bit of information from him. I can't speak to what his status is at this moment. But, you know, plainly, they have been able to put together a pretty -- a pretty detailed portrait of what's happened here in the attorney general and John Brennan spoke to that yesterday. They know now that the TTP, the Taliban in Pakistan were involved in this in a very deep and involved way. And that came from -- in part from those interrogations; in part from work that's being done in Pakistan.
BLITZER: I know the president has been up-to-date. He's been meeting on the whole oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm going to play a clip of what he said on March 31st and you tell me if those words are still operable today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness additional sources of fuel, even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable homegrown energy. So, today we're announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that still operable?
AXELROD: Well, what I've said before, Wolf, after this incident and obviously, we're going to -- we're going to look at what happened here to make sure that the appropriate safety precautions are taken in whatever new drilling is done and nothing is going to move forward without that. And we have to review this incident.
But the president still believes that this is one dimension in a multitude of things we have to do to ensure our energy independence and to make the -- to make the transition to a clean energy future, a bridge to that. So, yes, I -- that is still -- that is still his belief. But we have to do it in a responsible way. And if we can't do it in a responsible way, then we won't move forward.
BLITZER: So, just to be precise, he's still open to -- in his words -- the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration.
AXELROD: He -- there were additional areas opened up for that possibility. And we're going to make sure that if -- before anything moves forward, before new leases are let and drilling is done, that it's done in accordance with safety precautions that guard against the kind of incident that we saw here.
BLITZER: David Axelrod, the senior adviser to the president -- David, thanks for coming in.
AXELROD: OK. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Gays in the U.S. military. The Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells CNN's John King his views about changing "don't ask, don't tell." Stand by.
A United Nations report says many life forms on Earth are in danger of disappearing, including a quarter of all plant species.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is reaffirming his support for repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gay service members. But he tells CNN's John King he will not rush into any decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I know there are some that are suspicious out there that this is some kind of effort to slow-roll this process. I've led several huge public institutions and I led change in every one of them. And there's a smart way to do change and there's a stupid way to do change. This has to be done smart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The interview coming up in the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA."
John is here with us.
Did he give a timeline, a timetable, when he thinks the policy of "don't ask, don't tell" will be history?
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": He will not give that timeline because as he as said, he will not go further on this issue, and he was quite defiant about this, Wolf, until the end of the year. He has issued a survey across the military. He wants all servicemen and women and their families to have a chance to weigh in on this.
And he essentially was saying -- Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, the former Democratic National Committee chairman sent a letter to the president over the weekend. There's a big rally in Washington, D.C., tomorrow by supporters of repeal. They want it done immediately because they're worried in Republicans make big gains in the November elections, it won't happen next year.
Secretary Gates is saying, stop, I will not be pushed on this and he seems to indicate he has the president's support that he says it would be insulting for Congress to do this before he can first listen to everybody in the military. So, he made very clear, I will change this policy, but I will do it on my schedule.
BLITZER: And they need congressional action. The president can't simply sign an executive order repealing it.
KING: Exactly right. The president could take temporary steps, but to make it permanent, Congress would have to pass a repeal. And there's a lot of pressure on the House speaker, a lot of pressure from liberals.
And so, Secretary Gates sent a letter up to Capitol Hill last week reaffirming this, saying, I need time. I will do this. He says it's not a question of if, but it's a question of when. But he said, if you will offend the force and make it much harder for him to do this, if the Congress rushes to do this.
And his language was quite defiant. He essentially was saying, do not push me on this or you will not get what you want.
BLITZER: You went to Kansas to interview him. He's also taking a rather controversial position that will seem strange to a lot of folks. He says, you know what, the U.S. taxpayers are paying these military personnel too much money.
KING: Secretary Gates is not new to Washington. He has served eight presidents, Democratic and Republican. He knows what's coming. With the deficits running up, the big long-term debt, he knows that Congress is going to be in a crush to cut spending. And he's not going to get 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent increases like the Pentagon has since 9/11.
So, what he's saying is we have to look around. There are big commands in Europe. They're from the Cold War days.
He says we need to find $10 billion, $15 billion in the short term, cut that spending permanently, not just for one year; get rid of those redundant and unnecessary commands, because that money has to go to the troops in Iraq, the troops in Afghanistan and then to the troops and their families to pay for all the wounded warriors coming home. He's essentially challenging his own bureaucracy, saying you need to find this money.
Interesting question, Wolf, I asked him, if you're going to do this for the next budget cycle, which would be running around this time next year, will you stay on? Because he only promised the president he would stay through Christmas of this year. He wouldn't give any definitive answer. But it's clear that he views this as a personal test of his credibility to find this money.
BLITZER: Rumsfeld tried to do it, too. It didn't exactly work out for him.
KING: On September 10th, 2001, right before the September 11th attacks. And Secretary Gates is well aware of that and he thinks -- he says -- he views this -- he says, when it's on my to-do list, it gets done. So, we'll watch it.
BLITZER: John's interview with the secretary coming up at the top of the hour. John, thanks very much.
All right. Severe weather in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Look at these pictures, tornadoes. Chad Myers is standing by. He has details. We're going to show you the pictures.
Also, Wall Street comes roaring back after last week's startling dip. How action overseas sent stocks soaring here in the United States.
And a senator from New Jersey calls for a boycott of all-star proportions, in Phoenix. We'll tell you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Lisa, what do you have?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf.
Well, it was a very strong close on Wall Street. Today's stocks skyrocketed, bond prices fell, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day with a gain of just under 405 points -- its best day in 14 months. At the core of today's rally, a $1 trillion plan by the European Union and International Monetary Fund to prop up European nations sagging under heavy debt. The Dow closed at 10,785.
And a stark reminder that in opposition movement, however quite, still exists in Iran. Students at the University of Tehran joined opposition members to demonstrate during a visit to the campus by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today. The crowd -- you see there -- they're chanting anti-government slogans and scuffled with security. But no major clashes were reported. Today's flare-up comes on the heels of the news that five political prisoners were executed over the weekend.
And Senator Robert Menendez is calling for a player boycott of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game next year in Phoenix. He wants the boycott to protest Arizona's recently passed law cracking down on illegal immigrants. Menendez is a New Jersey Democrat and only Hispanic in the Senate. He says 27 percent of Major League players are Latinos and should not be subjected to a statute that he says, in effect, legalizes racial profiling.
And what's -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Lisa, stand by, because there's breaking news we're following right now. I want to go right to Chad Myers. He's watching these tornadoes hitting the ground in Oklahoma.
Chad, tell us what's -- what we're seeing. CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Had a storm move over Norman, Oklahoma. And the storm had a hail and rain and it a gusty wind storm. And then all of a sudden, well after the storm went by, Wolf, we saw these pictures, a tornado. They called it literally like a stove pipe that went right on down to the ground. Then this was very close to Norman, Oklahoma.
This storm now is very -- right over Lake Thunderbird. And this is moving to the east at about 50 miles per hour. We do know that there is damage on the ground in Norman, Oklahoma. That's the site of the National Weather Center. And so, they had a good look at it.
But you can see, there's no rain around this storm. This storm -- this tornado is all by itself, well behind where everybody thought it should have been.
The cameraman was in this helicopter, the cameraman said turn around, there's a tornado behind us, literally, and it was back there. They turned around. They saw the tornado and they put it on the air, and it is still on the ground right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Those pictures are so dramatic.
All right. We'll stay on top of this together with you, Chad. Thanks very, very much.
What services are you worried your state will cut? That's Jack's question. Stand by for your e-mail.
And Tiger Woods' tasteless TV slip-up.
BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, "THE CAFFERTY FILE": States are facing draconian budget cuts as federal stimulus money runs out this year. So, the question is: what services are you worried your state will cut?
Scott writes from Illinois: "Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, teachers. Anything that doesn't affect the political cronies' paychecks."
Mark in New Jersey: "I'm worried that they'll fire the teachers rather than the useless administrators. I'm worried that they will lay off police officer. Really, I'm afraid they'll have to review services that we need rather than the ones we have built up over the years with full medical benefits and extortion-like pensions."
Mike writes: "I'm not worried what they'll cut. I'm worried they won't cut enough. As long as my road gets plowed, a fire in my house gets put out, and the police come when I call 911, they can cut everything else."
Steve in Virginia Beach: "I'm not worried. We fired the tax-and- spend clowns in the last election and threw their out-of-control spending budget in the garbage can along with their 17 percent income tax increase. Our budget is now balanced with only modest cuts in many areas and many incentives for companies to increase our tax revenues through job creation."
Rob writes from North Carolina: "I teach in a North Carolina county that's cutting 100 teaching jobs and a half million dollars for teacher's assistants. And that doesn't include the state's other 99 counties."
Joe writes: "Instead of cutting teachers, firefighters and police, let's first cut the governor's staff, legislative staff and administrative expense accounts. That's where an honest politician would start."
And Jeff in Houston writes this: "Education, they'll always cut education. In Texas, Bubba got to have his football, his pick-up truck, his beer, but he don't need to know how to read. Our esteemed governor has done a good job making sure that Texas children stay uneducated and obedient to Republican authority. Oh, yes, we will likely cut some of the benefits for those annoying sick kids and disabled people."
If you want to read more about this, you'll find it on my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile and if you will find me on my way home in about 30 seconds.
BLITZER: Drive safely, Jack. See you tomorrow. Thank you.
CAFFERTY: You're welcome.
BLITZER: "Don't ask, don't tell" -- John King asked the defense secretary, Robert Gates, what's taking so long to change it. "JOHN KING, USA" is coming up right at the top of the hour.
But, up next, the kiss that missed and other favored faux pas.
BLITZER: It's a solemn and serious occasion when one is nominated to sit on the United States Supreme Court. But then, a presidential kiss and an awkward moment.
CNN's Jeanne Moos has a most unusual look at some favorite faux pas -- past and present.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Elena Kagan may be a nominee for the Supreme Court, but the only courting she got was an awkward kiss, one of those which cheek dilemmas. Things could have been worse. At least the president didn't accidentally plant one on her mouth or steal her from a spouse. Sometimes public cheek kissing comes off looking like amateur wife swapping.
But a spouse would know better than to divulge Kagan's nickname.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Shorty.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: She is confident. She is intelligent. She is short.
MOOS: So short at 5'3", that President Obama gallantly --
OBAMA: Let me get this out for you.
MOOS: -- pulled out a pedestal for Kagan to step on to. Not that we in the press ever use anything to make us easier to see.
Whether Kagan climbs to the highest judicial rung may hinge on the argument that she's never even been a judge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She hasn't spent one day in a robe.
MOOS (on camera): Oh, yes? What do you think this is?
(voice-over): There she is with a robe and gavel in her high school yearbook.
Supporters say it's better to have a justice who hasn't been forever stuck in --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The judicial monastery.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The judicial monastery.
DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Quote-unquote, "from the monastery."
MOOS: Vice President Biden wasn't talking like a monk. The last big ceremony in the East Room --
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.
MOOS: So, this time we waited with baited breath when he started whispering right next to the open mike.
BIDEN: Go get 'em, kid.
MOOS (on camera): Go get 'em kid. That's not a gaffe.
BIDEN: They love ya.
MOOS: They love ya. That's not a gaffe either.
You want a gaffe, you should have been listening to the Golf Channel.
(voice-over): When Tiger Woods withdrew suddenly from the Players Championship because of a possible bulging disk injury, the sportscaster Win McMurray misspoke.
WIN MCMURRAY, SPORTSCASTER: He says he's been playing with a bad neck for about a month and thinks it could be a bulging (EXPLETIVE DELETED) -- disk in his upper back
MOOS: Can you believe 15 years ago, another sportscaster on ESPN made the same slip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPORTSCASTER: Hurst has been playing with a bulging (EXPLETIVE DELETED) -- disk in his neck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: He got the giggles over it.
MOOS: At least Elena Kagan's awkward kiss didn't leave her neck with a bulging disk.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.
And remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets. Go to Twitter.com/BlitzerWolfCNN -- @WolfBlitzerCNN is all one word.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.