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Search For Missing Convicts Continues; Democrats Avoiding President Obama?; Interview With White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod

Aired August 9, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: escaped inmates, convicted killers on the run in a violent and deadly effort to elude authorities. Now one has been captured. The other remains at large, considered armed and very dangerous.

Are Democratic candidates avoiding President Obama? Will the first lady be hitting the campaign trail? And what about the uproar over her trip to Spain? I will talk about that and much more with the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Sarah Palin stumping for her candidate in Georgia. What impact will the former vice presidential nominee have on this year's midterm elections?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Was he an unwilling child soldier or a cold-blooded terrorist targeting American forces? Both portraits today painted at a military trial of the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba as the trial opened, a young man who was 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan back in 2002.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is following this case for us.

Jeanne, tell us what we know. What happened today?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Omar Khadr was in a Guantanamo courtroom today for pretrial motions. He entered a plea of not guilty in a case drawing scrutiny because of the age of the defendant and the location of the trial.


MESERVE (voice-over): Omar Khadr was 15 when he was picked up on the battlefield eight years ago. His defense lawyer argues he was a child soldier, unable to make judgments for himself.

LT. COL. JON JACKSON, ATTORNEY FOR OMAR KHADR: Omar Khadr never had a choice. He was told what to do and he did it. MESERVE: The U.S. government doesn't buy the argument.

CAPT. DAVID IGLESIAS, MILITARY COMMISSIONS SPOKESMAN: It's legally irrelevant. What you look to is, did he know what he was doing? Was he coerced into doing it? And we will let the evidence speak for itself.

MESERVE: What is the evidence? The government says it will show that in Afghanistan Khadr built bombs and placed them along roadways and threw a grenade which killed a U.S. special forces soldier.

Confessions were coerced under threats of rape and murder, his lawyer told the court. Khadr entered a plea of not guilty. Khadr comes from a Toronto family known in Canada as the first family of terror. His father, a purported al Qaeda financier, took them to live in a training camp, court documents say.

Last week, one of his brothers was freed from a Canadian jail after being held for four-and-a-half years on terror charges. Khadr's trial is seen as a test of the recently revamped, but still highly controversial military commissions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even the various improvements and changes that have been made over the years have not, in our view, turned this into what can be considered a legal process that meets international fair trial standards.

JOHN ALTENBURG, FORMER MILITARY COMMISSIONS OFFICIAL: I think the commissions are a fair system, and they're an appropriate process for trying people that are captured during wartime.


MESERVE: This afternoon, the judge ruled Khadr's confessions to interrogators would be allowed in court, but he said the government could not show footage of 9/11. Jury selection in the case is expected to begin tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will have more on that tomorrow. Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that report.

Another detainee appeared in front of a military panel in Guantanamo Bay. The Sudanese man accused of being Osama bin Laden's driver, an al Qaeda bodyguard, entered a guilty plea agreement. Details of the plea bargain will remain sealed until he completes confinement at the detention center, where he has been held for almost nine years -- 178 prisoners remain at Guantanamo. The majority of them, by the way, right now are from Yemen.

At the peak, there were more than 750 prisoners from 40 different countries. More than 570 prisoners have since been released. Last year, the White House announced that as many as 100 of the remaining detainees will be moved to an empty prison in Illinois, but no movement on that front.

Now to an extraordinary firsthand look at what Pakistanis are facing in the wake of devastating floods. More heavy rain is predicted for the coming days, sure to make a desperate situation there even more desperate.

Flooding has left more than 1,200 people dead. One U.N. official says up to seven million people are in immediate need of food and other basics.

Here's CNN's Reza Sayah.


REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This muddy lake that you see didn't exist about a week ago. These are the floodwaters that have buried entire villages in a district of Ghotki in Northern Sindh Province.

Thousands of people still stranded in some of these villages. And the navy special services here in Pakistan has been using about 20 boats in this region on rescue missions. We're on their hovercraft and we're along for the ride on this mission.

All right, it looks like we have arrived at the village, and as you can see, most of the homes underwater. What is he saying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's saying, take the people out.

SAYAH: A lot of these people didn't want to go a few days ago, but now you can see most of their village is underwater and now they're saying, all right, it's time to leave. These are conditions these people have lived in for about a week now.

About 40 to 50 people in this village being rescued, and they keep coming. Most of them are children. They're grabbing the belongings that they can. We saw what appeared to be a newborn wrapped in a blue blanket. And they just keep coming.

They're saying about 1,000 more people left in this area stranded, but this hovercraft simply doesn't have any more room. So, they're just telling them, we're going to come back, and just taking a few more people. But they're going to have to wrap up here.

Here's another child. She can't be more than 2 years old, probably terrified.

All right, let's go in. Let's go in. There was a little confusion. An elderly woman here who was rescued started screaming. Apparently, one of the children here was taken, and her mother was left behind. So, the hovercraft stopped, went back, and now we're headed out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She says, "I am 78 years old and never in my history this much of flood has ever came."

At times, you become depressed, but then it also gives us motivation to work more and more day and night to help them out. SAYAH: The navy's responsibility is to get these people to dry land, and then it's up to the local governments to get them help. Most of these people have lost everything. So, the unimaginable challenge is for them to somehow, some way start their lives over again.

Reza Sayah, CNN, in Northern Sindh, Pakistan.


BLITZER: Heartbreaking story unfolding in Pakistan right now. We are going to be all over this story this week.

He vowed to make big cuts in the Pentagon's massive budget. Today, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, made good on that promise, outlining his plan for a leaner Defense Department. Gates says he's ordering a 10 percent cut in spending on contractors who provide support services to the U.S. military, including his own office.

He's calling for a reduction in the number of generals and admirals across the armed forces by at least 50 over the next two years, as well as 150 senior civilian posts. Gates also plans to close the military's Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. That accounts for 2,800 military and civilian positions, plus 3,000 contractors, current annual operating costs, $240 million.

In all, Secretary Gates is tasking the military to find ways to cut spending by $100 billion over the next five years.

Jack Cafferty is next with "The Cafferty File."

Also, one escaped prisoner captured, another still very much on the run, armed and dangerous. We're following the manhunt.

Plus, the hip-hop star Wyclef Jean firing back at actor Sean Penn -- the war over words. The music star's campaign for president of Haiti is heating up.

Plus, President Obama increasingly criticizing his predecessor by name, is that a winning strategy for Democrats in midterm elections? I will ask the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama has been in office just over a year-and-a-half, and he is getting drastically different marks from whites and blacks.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows there is a 56-point difference between blacks and whites when it comes to the president's approval rating.

A whopping 93 percent of blacks approve of how President Obama is handling his job, but only 37 percent of whites do.

President Obama is the nation's first black president, and he was supposed to move the country past racial divisions. That's a tall order, to be sure, and perhaps not even doable by a single person. But the president did get a lot of support from whites when he was running for president.

Part of the problem may be that critics are painting this Obama White House as being out of touch with the American people. Nile Gardiner of "The London Telegraph" points to examples like the first lady's lavish European vacation, the president's move towards big government, and dramatic increases in government borrowing and spending.

Gardiner points to extravagance and arrogance among -- quote -- "the White house elite that rule America as though they had been handed some divine right to govern with impunity" -- unquote.

Just last Friday, the president chose to fly in a helicopter six miles in Marine One to a sign factory in the Washington, D.C., area, rather than drive -- six miles. The helicopter ride took about eight minutes. Driving there would have taken about 20.

Here's the question: Why is there a 56-point difference between blacks and whites when it comes to President Obama's approval rating?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: You know what we're celebrating today, Jack?

CAFFERTY: What's that, Jack?

BLITZER: Today is the first day of year six of THE SITUATION ROOM. It was exactly five years ago yesterday, August 8, 2005, when I asked Jack Cafferty for his first "Cafferty File" question.

I got a little clip. I want to play it, Jack.



CAFFERTY: Cable is changing the way people get their television news. The question for this hour is this. Is television news changing for better or for worse?

You can send us your thoughts -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, you have to tell us the next time how you really feel about some of these issues -- Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."



CAFFERTY: We're just going to get their attention.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.


BLITZER: We both look five years younger, Jack. What do you think?

CAFFERTY: Oh, I had a little more hair back then. You had probably about the same amount.

Somebody told me you guys had a big party to mark this anniversary a couple of weeks ago. Is that true?

BLITZER: Yes. Unfortunately, you were off. You were on vacation.


BLITZER: But it's been five years, "The Cafferty File," THE SITUATION ROOM. It's been a good five years, I must say.

CAFFERTY: Well, it has.


BLITZER: Looking forward to the next five.

CAFFERTY: It has been. And it's a joy, joy to behold, coming here each day and being able to exchange these little bon mots with the Wolf man.


BLITZER: We will do it for a long time to come, Jack.


BLITZER: Thanks very much. Good five. Now on to the next five.

There's new talk of raising the retirement age in the United States, partly a consequence of the lackluster economy.

Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester. She's investigating all of this for us.

So, what are you finding out, Lisa?


Well, this year, benefits paid out in the Social Security system will exceed the revenue coming in. And this trend is expected to continue long-term. One reason, the baby boomers, they are soon retiring. But another reason is the economy. There are seniors out there. They want to work, but they can't find jobs, so they're choosing early retirement. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Paul Skidmore is home now. He just interviewed for a temp job an hour and 20 minutes from his house. The former insurance claims adjuster was laid off when his company downsized last year.

PAUL SKIDMORE, UNEMPLOYED: Looking more than a year now, going into 13 months. And it seems sporadic. At times, things go well and I get a lot of response, get interviews. And then it seems like you can go weeks and months on end at times with nothing happening.

SYLVESTER: Now, at 63, Skidmore is considering retiring early, tapping into Social Security. But to do so means about $300 less a month in benefits than if he waited for full retirement age of 66.

With a weak economy, other seniors are considering doing the same. More than two million people filed for Social Security last year, the most ever in history. That's putting a strain on the system. According to the Social Security Board of Trustees, this year and next year, the amount paid out in benefits will exceed revenue, a trend that long-term is unsustainable.

MELISSA FAVREAULT, URBAN INSTITUTE: The members of the baby boom are going to be drawing Social Security. They will be collecting Social Security benefits for the rest of their lives. So, it's a marker to us that the time for us to make adjustments to Social Security is starting to run out.

SYLVESTER: One possible adjustment, raising the eligible retirement age from the current 66 to age 70. Demographers and economists say it may make sense, because people are living longer and healthier lives.

Republican John Boehner on "Meet the Press" said it's time to have that conversation.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: These entitlement programs serve tens of millions of Americans, and they're critically important. But we also know that these programs are unsustainable in their current form.


SYLVESTER: But it would be an unpopular move among some seniors, and it's meeting resistance on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently took up the issue at a conference of liberal activists.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I will admit and accept the fact that if we -- as we make Social Security more solvent, it will have a positive impact on the deficit, but we shouldn't go looking on reducing benefits or raising ages and all the rest.


SYLVESTER: Now, another option for shoring up Social Security would be raising Social Security taxes. But that could hurt small businesses and low-wage workers. So, again, you're going to find opposition. And, Wolf, there are just no easy answers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Lisa, for that. We will continue searching for some answers, though.

From the Arctic Circle to the sweltering Georgia sun, the former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin campaigns for a Southern gubernatorial candidate and puts the Democrats on notice over expiring Bush tax cuts. Does she have the power to put them on the defensive?

And the singer and would-be Haitian president Wyclef Jean trading some fighting words with the actor Sean Penn -- new information coming in right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A story developing. I just want to go right to Lisa Sylvester. She's monitoring it

Lisa, what do we know?

SYLVESTER: This is a story that is coming to us from Dallas, Texas. There was a motorcycle officer who was apparently assigned to President Obama's motorcade when he was hurt in an accident.

We are told that there was an ambulance, according to our affiliate WFAA. There was an ambulance on the scene almost immediately. And the officer involved apparently was not seriously injured. And the president's vehicle was not involved in this accident.

But there have been a number of these incidents recently. So, it's something that we have been monitoring. And we will have more developments as they come in.


BLITZER: All right, Lisa, thanks very much.

A new verbal shot fired in the war of words between the actor and activist Sean Penn and Wyclef Jean. The Haitian-American hip-hop star announced on "LARRY KING LIVE" last Thursday night he's running for president of Haiti.

Penn was on the same show. He's been living in Haiti, doing relief work. He immediately that night criticized Jean's candidacy.


SEAN PENN, ACTOR: I have to say, I'm very suspicious of it, simply because he, as an ambassador at large, has been virtually silent in terms -- for those of us in Haiti, he's been a nonpresence. I want to see someone who's really, really willing to sacrifice for their country and not just someone who I personally saw with a vulgar entourage of vehicles that demonstrated a wealth in Haiti that, in context, was, I felt, a very obscene demonstration.


BLITZER: Wyclef Jean responded in strong words earlier today on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING."


WYCLEF JEAN, HAITIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want Sean Penn to understand I have been coming to Haiti before six months and the quake. I always wanted stars to go to Haiti to bring the light to Haiti. So I brought Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

I want Sean to understand the place where he is located in Haiti, the reason he has not seen me there, Haiti has a population of nine million people. Yele Haiti, we focus on the rough areas that NGOs would not go to. The idea is not to go to scene Sean Penn's camp to take a photo-op but to be doing the real work. So the majority of the Haitian people understand what we're doing. And it's their vote that counts and it's their vote that I'm going for.


BLITZER: Yele Haiti is the foundation that Wyclef Jean created to help the people of Haiti. He was born in Haiti. He lived there until he was 9 years old, when his family moved to New York and New Jersey. I'm sure this feud is going to continue. We will stay on top of the story.

The midterm election is only a few months away, less than three months away, I should say. And the president's poll numbers are in a slump. Are Democratic candidates keeping him at arm's length? I will talk about that and more with the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.

Also, from the far North to the deep South, Alaska's Sarah Palin inserts herself into the Georgia's governor's race. What impact, if any, will she have?

And Boy Scouts booing President Obama? What happened? We will show you why.


BLITZER: His poll numbers are sagging, and the midterm election less than three months away, is that combination prompting some serious Democratic candidates to try to avoid President Obama?


BLITZER: And joining us now, the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod. David, thanks very much for coming in.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Wolf, it's good to be with you. Happy anniversary, by the way.


BLITZER: Oh, thank you very much. Always exciting to celebrate five years of THE SITUATION ROOM.


AXELROD: A lot of situations. A lot of situations.

BLITZER: And you know what? There will be a lot more situations coming down the road.

AXELROD: There will be.

BLITZER: You guys have your own Situation Room. We have one over here as well.

AXELROD: I know.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk politics first. Then we will get to some of the substantive issues.

The president of the United States goes to Texas, and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Bill White, doesn't want to be seen with the president on this day. Last week, he went to Georgia. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Roy Barnes, doesn't want to be seen with the Democratic president of the United States.

What's wrong with this picture?

AXELROD: Well, Wolf, in fairness, we didn't carry Texas or Georgia, so the politics for us has always been a little challenging in those states.

And these candidates have -- they're running now. They're on the ballot. They're going to make the judgments they think are best for their campaigns. And I'm totally fine with that. The president understands -- understands that.


BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, by the way, a picture of the president arriving in Texas. And Rick Perry, the Republican governor, who is running for reelection, he's there. But you know what? The Democratic gubernatorial candidate isn't there.

AXELROD: Well, Rick Perry is there because he is the governor, and that's an official greeting. And that's nice. I'm glad that he was there. I'm sure they had a nice conversation.

BLITZER: I guess the question is, is the president in some of these states, some of these districts, a liability to Democratic candidates?

AXELROD: Look, I'm sure he's stronger some districts and states than others.

The one thing that I know is that, fairly consistently, across the country, his numbers are substantially better than the Republicans in Congress, so, you know, if you want to make that kind of comparison.

But I think, ultimately, these races are going to be decided on the basis of the strength of those campaigns, the strength of the candidates, sometimes, uniquely local issues. That's the way these campaigns run in midterms. And we understand that.

BLITZER: So, you understand why some of these Democrat candidates would prefer not necessarily to be seen with the president, although, if you have asked me a year ago, or two years ago for sure, that -- that Barack Obama, who was so popular, might be pushed aside a little bit by some of these Democratic candidates, even in states like Georgia or Texas, I would have been surprised.

AXELROD: Well, look, Wolf, politics is a dynamic -- a dynamic force.

The fact is that -- and things change. But, look, these candidates are going to make the decisions they think are best for them. We wish them well. Obviously, the president is raising money in Texas today to help Democratic candidates across the country. He's making a speech about education and its importance in America's economic future. We're down there doing the business we went to do.

BLITZER: Will the first lady, Michelle Obama be out on the campaign trail between now and November 2?

AXELROD: I'm sure that she will, Wolf. She feels strongly about the affirmative things that this administration has done. She's been a leader on some of them. Just last week, the United States Senate passed a bill on child nutrition. As you know, that's been a great focus of hers. We've got a huge problem in this country in terms of child nutrition, childhood obesity. And this would be a big step forward in making sure that schools across the country are feeding kids in a nutritious way, a healthier way. These kinds of things are advances that we've made over the last 18 months. I think she wants to go out and talk about those.

BLITZER: Was the criticism of her vacation in Spain with her daughter fair?

AXELROD: Look, here's my view. Yes, she's the first lady of the United States. She's also a mom. She wanted to take her daughter on a trip. They went with some friends of the family to celebrate another little girl's birthday. There aren't all that many places to go where you get privacy. Wherever you go, security is going to come, not because she asked for it but because that is nature of her position in life. And so, you know, I think people will judge it in that way. She's a very good mom. She's very committed. And she wanted to do something with her daughter. Do I think it's unfair? I'll let other people judge, but I think that she's entitled to do those kinds of things as anyone else would be.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the president. In recent days we've heard him mention by name George W. Bush, and critically saying the Republicans want to just bring back the Bush policies. Frank Rich, the columnist in "The New York Times" wrote this, "Obama and the Democrats are, if anything, flattering the current GOP by accusing it of being a carbon copy of Bush. But even if the Democrats sharpen their attack, they are doomed to fall short if they don't address the cancer in the American heart -- joblessness." Because there aren't the jobs being created that should be created right now.

AXELROD: Wolf, look. Joblessness is, in fact, the number one challenge facing this country. We've been working assiduously at it. There were 300,000 jobs lost in the month before the president took office, almost 800,000 jobs lost in his first month when he took over from the last administration. We've had seven straight months of private sector job growth. The economy is growing. Not nearly fast enough. We have to keep it moving, but the last thing we want to do is go back to the same policies that created the disaster in to the first place, and that's what this debate is about. We're not interested in re-litigating the past, but we don't want to relive it either. And what the Republicans are saying is we want to go back to doing exactly what we were doing before the president was elected. What they were doing before the president got elected was catastrophic for this country. We can't give special interest free reign to write their own rules again. We can't go back to the policies that turned Bill Clinton's $237 billion surplus into a $1.3 trillion deficit. We can't go back there. And that's what -- that's the argument we're making.

BLITZER: Does the president agree with Lindsay Graham and other Republicans that we should take a look at the 14th amendment to the constitution which grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States?

AXELROD: You know, Wolf, that is a debate that seems very political in this campaign season. I'm not going to engage in it here. The 14th amendment has a rather lengthy and proud history. It was written by the Republican Party. I'm not going to trifle with it, even for your fifth anniversary.

BLITZER: So basically, what I hear you saying is the president disagrees with these Republicans that there's no need to re-examine the 14th amendment to the constitution?

AXELROD: I'm not even sure -- I think they're making a political argument for this season. It's not a substantive argument.

BLITZER: When you say it's not a substantive -- maybe I'm missing something. But explain what you mean by that. Obviously the president disagrees then? Lindsey Graham says children of illegal immigrants should not necessarily automatically be granted citizenship. There are some coming here from China and other countries who simply want to have U.S. citizenship for their children. But go ahead and flush that out a little bit.

AXELROD: There's no question that for -- I'm the son of an immigrant. For generations and generations, people have come to this country because of what it represents, because of the hope and opportunity because of the freedom that we have here. That has always been the case. I think that's something we that we all embrace.

BLITZER: On that note, David Axelrod, thanks so much for coming in. I'm sure we'll spend a lot of quality time in the next five years.

AXELROD: I'm looking forward it to, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Air Force One on the ground in Texas, getting ready to fly back here to Washington, always a majestic shot of that 747. We'll watch the president take off soon.

Sarah Palin on the campaign trail, once again this time for a candidate for governor in the Deep South. While she was at it, Palin delivered a gloomy prediction about the Bush tax cuts. Who she thinks may take the biggest hit when or if the cuts expire.


BLITZER: The runoff is tomorrow for the Republican nomination for governor in Georgia. Former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin traveled to the Deep South to campaign for candidate Karen Handel. Palin stirred up the crowd with her take on the pending expiration of the Bush tax cuts. The one time vice presidential nominee predicted a serious toll on the U.S. economy if Congress fails to extend those tax cuts. Listen to the governor, Sarah Palin.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I know our small businesses, our moms and pops that account for 70 percent of our job creation, they're going to be hit the hardest. And I know that as a result of this, government is going to try to grow. And the federal government is going to try to force more mandates on our states. So our states had better be ready. I know that in this time of economic uncertainty and mass unemployment, we need real leadership, and we need common sense in our state houses. We need strong governors who will fight what the federal government will want to do to our states that overreach and to rein in state spending. Governors who aren't going to think they have to be namby-pamby, politically correct to get along with those in D.C. who are doing things that are not in your best interest. These governors are going to have to be ready to rein in state spending and incentivize job growth and Georgia can show Washington the way to do it.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in John King. He's the host of "JOHN KING USA" that comes up right at the top of the hour. What's your take on the Palin effect between now and November 2, the mid term elections?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We'll see what happens in this Georgia endorsement tomorrow. Certainly she helped Karen Handle by getting involved in that race. Think what you will about Sarah Palin, as you know she's a very controversial figure. She has proven in this year's campaigns she's not afraid to take risks. Some of her candidates, Kansas governor's race last week, for example, a Tennessee Congressional race, some of them have lost the primaries. She could have stayed back, played it safe. But she has decided she's willing to take risks. What many people don't like about politicians is when they seem poll driven, poll tested, overly predictable. Sarah Palin takes chances, takes risks, challenge the establishment and among her core group of supporters -- we don't know how quite big it is and how much she can grow it -- she's very, very popular.

BLITZER: She can really energize that Republican base. The question in a general election, will she do more damage or good for a Republican candidate?

KING: That's where you have to go state by state. If you look at her impact in the 2008 presidential election, you could make an argument that she hurt the ticket in the Philadelphia suburbs where you have more moderate or independent voters who lean Republican. That's one of the reasons. She's endorsed a long shot in the Maryland gubernatorial candidate and the former governor says it might help him. It makes himself seem like more of a centrist. In a state like Maryland, a state like Pennsylvania, she probably doesn't have as much strength. In a state like Georgia where the big question is in a relatively competitive governor's race if this woman Karen Handel is the Republican nominee, can you get all the conservatives to get excited and come out? She has proven appeal among the grassroots activists who, especially in a low turnout midterm year matter most.

BLITZER: She can get out the vote, if you will. All right John. A lot more coming up on this and a lot of other political stuff at the top of the hour.

KING: Happy anniversary.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Expletives, two beers and an escape down the emergency slide. Details of a flight attendant's dramatic resignation.


BLITZER: One of two inmates who escaped from an Arizona prison has been captured hundreds of miles away. We've just obtained these new booking photos. The other one is still very much at large after a violent and deadly effort to elude authorities. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian what's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials tell us this is still a very fluid situation. Two dangerous people still on the loose, but one of their cohorts, as Wolf just mentioned, he's a violent offender, he's back in custody. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Though he's a convicted killer, authorities say Tracy Province was still relieved to have been captured outside Yellowstone National Park. Still at large in that area, armed and dangerous, John Charles McCluskey, along with Casslyn May Welch. Officials told CNN affiliate KTBK she is his fiancee and his cousin.

DAVID GONZALES, U.S. MARSHALS: We have learned that McCluskey and his partner who helped break him out of jail consider themselves Bonnie and Clyde. They joke about it.

TODD: Officials believe they cut a swath of murder and fear since that break out on July 30. That's when Casslyn Welch according to prison officials threw wire cutting tools over the fence of this medium security prison in Kingman, Arizona. They say McCluskey, Province and another inmate cut through that fence. The third inmate was caught quickly but officials say McCluskey, Province and their alleged accomplice Welch hijacked an 18 wheel truck, released the two drivers in Flagstaff, made their way to Jakes' Corner, Arizona where they allegedly got help from McCluskey's mother then were seen near Phoenix. They're suspected in the killings of a couple whose bodies were found in Santa Rosa, New Mexico last week. The couple's truck then found in Albuquerque. Then according to officials, they made their way into the Yellowstone area. Geoff Shank, deputy assistant director of the U.S. marshals investigative operations division, has pursued more than 3,000 fugitives. I asked him about the challenge of chasing John McCluskey and Casslyn Welch.

How do couples operate in a situation like this? Do they pose as honeymooners? What do they do?

GEOFF SHANK, U.S. MARSHALS: Well believe it or not they suffer from the same problems and obstacles that normal everyday couples have yet it's times 1,000 because of the pressure of being on the run and it might lead for one of them to break down or they simply get into a fight and storm off in the heat of the moment.

TODD: John McCluskey was previously convicted of attempted second degree murder. If he makes his way back to his mother's place in Arizona, he has this warning from his own distraught stepfather.

JACK WASHBURN, ESCAPED INMATE'S STEP-FATHER: I told the U.S. marshals, I haven't got that long to live. But if I ever seen what you did, I'll shoot you in front of them and serve my time.


TODD: Authorities say they no longer believe that the couple McCluskey and Casslyn Welch are inside Yellowstone National Park. They never evacuated the park even when they thought they were inside because the place is simply too big. It's nearly the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined with about 30,000 visitors a day. The couple is believed to be in that area, however, driving a gray Nissan Sentra sedan, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope they find them soon. All right Brian. Thanks very much.

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 the office of Senator Tim Johnson says he is stable and doing well after being hospitalized yesterday. The South Dakota Democrat suffered an apparent negative reaction to medication. The 63-year-old Johnson suffered a brain hemorrhage back in December of 2006. He did not return to the Senate until nine months later. Doctors say his current hospitalization is not related to the brain hemorrhage.

And President Obama welcomed the New Orleans Saints to the white house today. The team turned the customary visit for Super Bowl champions into a show of support for the gulf coast region. And one player paid a surprise visit to the white house briefing room with a platter of barbecue shrimp from Louisiana. Looks pretty good.

The port authority of New York and New Jersey confirms the arrest of a flight attendant accused of triggering an emergency escape chute on a Jet Blue plane parked at New York's JFC terminal. Steven Slater is charged with criminal mischief and criminal trespass. Now, a source with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN, Slater apparently got into a salty exchange with an uncooperative passenger. And when that passenger refused to apologize, Slater allegedly cursed on the plane's P.A. system, grabbed some beer, deployed the emergency evacuation chute and used it to flee the scene. So I guess that's his way of saying I quit. What a way to go out, Wolf.

BLITZER: Wow, what a story that is. All right. Thanks very much, Lisa. Lisa Sylvester.

Jack standing by with your e-mail, plus, President Obama booed by boy scouts? CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour is why is there a 56-point difference between blacks and whites when it comes to President Obama's approval rating?

Rich writes from Texas, "Bottom line, Obama is black and therefore most blacks approve. You can call that reverse racism or maybe it's just pride. Either way, it is blind and naive. He is still to this day not qualified to be chief executive and commander in chief and perhaps would never have been elected if not for, one, for anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment and two, the media hype surrounding our first black president. As if that's not enough, throw in political hacks like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and we have a truly incompetent combination of so-called leaders. How can people hate Bush so much and think these three stooges are beyond me. It's just blind partisanship."

Tom writes, "Understandable pride and hope, I'm sure, fuels the black 93 percent approval rating. My disapproval is the same with him as with most politicians. They say one thing when they're campaigning and then business as usual after you get in. I don't disapprove of Obama because he's black. I disapprove because he's just another politician."

James from Ohio writes, "What the news media is afraid to say that the whites hate having a black man in the oval office."

Blake writes, "It's no secret blacks have always had to work harder, be twice as good in order to gain the same respect and the president is no different. If McCain had won and accomplished all Obama has up to now, he would already have his face on Mt. Rushmore."

Ray writes, "What are you trying to do? Start riots in the treats again? I would guess that blacks see him as the second coming and he can do no wrong. Whites gave him a chance and his lack of leadership is really showing through. Way too arrogant for me."

Lewis writes from Virginia, "Obviously, Jack, if you were black, you would know. We're going to see him through his presidency and stick by him. He's doing better than the prior person who held that position."

K.C. says, "Racial conflicts in this country are like crashes at a NASCAR race. Everybody expects one, but no one will admit they're waiting to see one happen."

If you want to see more of the subject, check out my blog at

BLITZER: All right Jack. See you tomorrow. Thank you.

President Obama booed by the boy scouts. CNN's Jeanne Moos explains why the commander in chief got this most unusual reception.


BLITZER: The commander in chief jeered at a jamboree? Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's bad enough getting booed whether you're busted for dog fighting or competing for Ms. Universe.


MOOS: But imagine getting booed by the boy scouts. And the person they're booing is the president of the United States. Actually, what they were booing was President Obama sending a taped message instead of coming in person to the recent Boy Scout jamboree. Some 45,000 scouts were celebrating the 100th anniversary of scouting. Two months earlier the white house informed the scouts that the president had prior commitments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't really bother me. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disappointed, but, I mean busy man. What do you do?

MOOS: Just a few days after those interviews ...

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITES STATES: Scouts just like you.

MOOS: Scouts just like these booed the president's message. And this 23-second video made its way to conservative websites that slammed the president for forsaking the Boy Scouts to appear on "The View." Some figure the booing tape was somehow doctored. I don't believe for one second that this 23 seconds of film is accurate. Believe it. Some Boy Scouts booed, trust me, scouts honor. The Boy Scout who shouted wouldn't do an interview, but he told us that though he didn't boo, there was a moderate amount of booing going on around him, mostly from scouts annoyed, not because of the president's policies, but because he didn't show up as six previous presidents have. The White House says "The View" had nothing to do with this, that the president was already scheduled to be on the road that day.

JON STEWART, TALK SHOW HOST: Look on the bright side, Boy Scouts get their merit badge for crushing disappointment.

MOOS: Now on the face of it booing, it would seem to go against some of the 12 tenants of Boy Scout law. A boy scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, wait a minute, courteous and kind? Statement from the Boy Scouts says the organization does not condone booing ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope you're watching this!

MOOS: If the president's watching this, the jamboree returns in four years.

OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly wear.

MOOS: That if re-elected I will try to make it to the next jamboree.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.