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Obama Family to Vacation in Florida; Maxine Waters Trumpets Innocence; DHS Secretary Napolitano Touts New Border Bill

Aired August 13, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama could be making some waves during his family getaway in Florida. How far will he go to show the Gulf Coast is vacation-friendly after the enormous oil spill?

Also, the president signs off on added border security. And the administration responds to a provocative charge that terrorists are plotting to have their babies born in the United States. Stand by for my interview with the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano.

And imagine going to upscale spots in New York and taking home some giant bed bugs. Brace yourself for a look at these creepy-crawly and spreading threats.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just as the Gulf Coast is trying to move beyond the massive oil spill, Alabama is going to new lengths to get some payback. The state attorney general announcing today he has filed suit against BP, Transocean, and others responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. President Obama returns to the Gulf Coast tomorrow for a mini-vacation in Florida with much of his own family in tow.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent Dan Lothian to tell us what the president has planned -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is going to be part vacation, part work, the president and the first family headed to Panama City Beach, Florida. The president will take part in a small business roundtable where they'll talk about the recovery efforts there. The president also expected to make some statements to the press.

But Robert Gibbs saying that the first family will get a chance to have some fun, to take in the scenery there. But these trips do tend to be quite controversial, as you might remember recently when the first family took a mini vacation to Maine, they were criticized for not going to the Gulf region where they could have made a statement about how things are safe there, the food is good to eat, that you can get in the water. They did not do that, instead went to Maine.

And now they're headed to Florida and they're being criticized this time for not spending enough time on the ground there. In fact, they'll only be there for two days, one night, a total of 27 hours. And a spokesperson at the RNC firing off a very harsh statement today to reporters, it read in part, quote: "It's nice to see the president take the time out of his busy schedule of golf games and campaign fundraisers to clear his conscience and visit Florida for only the second time since the oil spill crisis began."

Well, the White House will argue that the president has had his focus on the Gulf region. In fact, this will be his fifth trip to the region and they point out that by going there he'll be able to help instill confidence in the wake of the oil spill.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know that well down the coast of Florida, communities that never saw oil are being impacted economically. Tourism in Florida and along the Gulf Coast is the economy. This is an opportunity to highlight the notion that this important region of the country is still doing well and open for business.


LOTHIAN: The president will also be taking a series of fundraising trips next week before taking an extended vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Now the White House announced today that at the end of that vacation on August 29th, the president will head to New Orleans on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will the president highlight the safety of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico by running into those waters from the beach, going for a little swim?

LOTHIAN: Right. What better way to do that, right, to put on his swim trunks and jump into the water? I did ask Robert Gibbs that question today. He basically told us to wait and see and turned it on me, actually, in a joke, asking if I was going to go there with my swim trunks. I told him that my colleague Ed Henry, instead, would be making the trip, not me. But if I were to go, I would jump into the water.

So certainly I think folks would love to see the president get into the water to say, listen, everything is OK here, we're getting back to normal. Still a lot of cleanup to be done but life has gone on there...


BLITZER: We saw Ed Henry last year in Hawaii -- or maybe it was last summer sometime in his swim trunks. Not sure we want to see that picture again.


BLITZER: But we'll check it out if it happens. All right, Dan. Thanks very much.

Let's get to efforts right now to try to make sure the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico is permanently sealed. Officials say they're still evaluating whether the so-called "bottom kill" procedure is really necessary. Brian Todd is joining us now.

Brian, the weather had disrupted work near the well -- near the well site. Where do things stand right now as far as this bottom kill is concerned?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot of confusion on this, Wolf. There has been all week. We're going to clarify some of what is going on here because of that confusion. Right now the question the incident command is mulling over is what form is the final killing of this well going to take?

This graphic can help us here. What they are trying to do now is to decide whether to do the bottom kill or not. That's the -- what they've already done is the "static kill." They pumped mud and cement to the point beneath the blowout preventer just about right there and a little bit into the top of this well that's going down now.

That succeeded in stopping the oil from flowing into the Gulf. But the question is, do they let that stand as the final kill or do they do that so-called bottom kill that you just mentioned to seal both sides of the well? From up here and down here near the reservoir?

A bottom kill would mean pumping mud and cement to the bottom of the reservoir, which is way down here. That's where these relief wells come in. This is the animation showing you them right now.

To get that mud and cement to the bottom of the reservoir, they need to continue drilling the first relief well and get that inserted into the well head, into the well before pumping that mud and cement down to the bottom of the reservoir and it has to go through the relief well to get there for the bottom kill.

So officials said today drilling of the relief well will continue no matter what. And they're still analyzing the results of pressure tests to determine whether they will then do that bottom kill or not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The pressure tests are really critical. They're crucial aren't they, Brian?

TODD: That's right. Because those -- there are risks associated with that bottom kill. And those pressure tests will tell them whether doing the bottom kill would put too much pressure on the top of the well, and maybe undo the cement plug that's up here.

If they do the bottom kill, it could agitate this, it could put too much pressure from oil pumping up here, and it could actually undo the static kill plug that has been put in place. So they're trying to determine the result of those pressure tests now to see if they even need to do the bottom kill.

Incident Commander Thad Allen said today the good part about all of this is that they have options for the final killing of the well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ADM. THAD ALLEN, COAST GUARD (RET), GULF OF MEXICO OIL SPILL INCIDENT COMMANDER: There is no oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. We have successfully shut in this well. We've had stability since the 15th of July. And we've had something now that we haven't had before, and that's we've had -- we have -- I wouldn't call it the luxury, but we have the trade space to really consider alternatives under a less than a high pressure situation.


TODD: So to clarify, as it stands now, they're analyzing data from the pressure tests to see if they should undertake that bottom kill of the relief of the well and inject that mud and cement down here. They're planning to proceed with the drilling of the relief wells to give them that option if they need it.

The relief well drilling has been delayed by a storm system which moved through the region. They hope to resume that relief well drilling in the coming days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's just hope they kill it forever. Thanks very much, Brian.

On Capitol Hill here in Washington, the quiet of the August recess broken by a congresswoman determined to proclaim she has done nothing wrong. Listen to the California Democrat, Maxine Waters, at a news conference talking about the ethics charges against her.


REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: I won't cut a deal. I will continue to talk about the fact that I have not violated anything.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

She is talking about the accusation that she helped a bank that had links to her husband.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And the Ethics Committee has said that she improperly used her position as a member of Congress to help an institution that she had a financial stake in.

This investigation goes back almost two years to September of 2008 amid the financial crisis. Congresswoman Waters made phone call to then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and she asked him to have Treasury officials meet with some minority-owned banks that were having some trouble amid the financial crisis.

Now, she insists that she was just trying to help a group of these minority-owned banks and not this one particular minority-owned bank in which her husband had a financial stake. But that bank, One United, ultimately got $12 million in federal assistance in bailout funds.

And as she argues, though, that putting that meeting in motion has no connection to the fact that they got -- that this bank got these federal funds. She is pointing to, among other things, this e- mail. It's between Neel Kashkari, you'll remember he was the Treasury official in charge of bank bailout funds, and questions -- he was answering questions from a New York Times reporter.

So the question was: "Did the meeting play any role in the decision by Treasury to provide One United $12 million in CPP funds, those are bailout funds, on December 19th?" Kashkari responded, "not at all, we didn't even know about it." Meaning, we didn't know about the meeting.

Then he is asked: "Did requests by any member of Congress related to One United CCP so bailout fund application accelerate its consideration or play any role in the decision?" Kashkari said, "not at all at Treasury."

So Waters here saying that the Ethics Committee is basically unfounded in what they are accusing her of, and saying she is going to fight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it was interesting, she wasn't the only one who met with reporters. Her chief of staff, who also happens to be her grandson, met with reporters as well.

KEILAR: That's right. Michael Moore, he met with us, not only that, but he gave us a somewhat lengthy PowerPoint presentation. It was pretty interesting because it was almost as if the ethics trial had begun and we were sort of watching it play out there.

The reason that he was there and also defending himself as well is he has a big part in this. The Ethics Committee has found that Congresswoman Waters really didn't do enough to stop him from taking a huge role in this.

He was in that meeting, Wolf. He continued to have interactions with the bank, One United, after that meeting. And so he is defending himself as well.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of the story together with you. Thanks, Brianna. Thanks very much.

There was some less than civil shouting over at the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. A lot of anger over allegations that the Obama administration is treating African-Americans differently.

And the Reverend Al Sharpton on whether Democrats will suffer a bloodbath in the midterm elections.

And Americans mark a milestone for Social Security. Are politicians too scared though to try to save the program?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Tomorrow marks the 75th anniversary of one of the country's most critical reforms. Despite that, new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polling indicates that pessimism over Social Security is at an all-time high. Let's talk about that with our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Our new poll asks this question, Gloria, will Social Security be able to pay your benefits when you retire? Thirty-nine percent said yes, 60 percent said no. And a decade or two ago that 60 percent number was in the 40s and even lower. It keeps going up and up and up, which means politically what?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it means politically that this is still a very delicate issue out there because Social Security is very important to voters, particularly the elderly. And Democrats and Republicans right now are locked in a fight over these voters. Democrats lost a lot of older voters during health care reform because they became worried about their health care benefits, whether they were going to be cutbacks to Medicare.

And so now you see each side trying to fight over the elderly. Republicans had gotten them in their camp during health care. You're going to see in the fall campaign the Democratic Party trying to get the elderly back in their camp where they had been basically since the '80s.

BLITZER: It has been a pretty successful campaign on the Democrats' part when they raised the issue of Social Security by saying the Republicans want to privatize Social Security. This is a program that seniors like.

BORGER: Right. And they've been talking about that since the early '80s when Ronald Reagan was president, 1982. They won 26 seats in the House of Representatives but -- their slogan was, "save Social Security, vote Democratic." They said Ronald Reagan wanted to take away your Social Security.

They said George W. Bush wanted to privatize your Social Security. And they're saying right now that Republicans want to privatize your Social Security. There are some Republicans who have talked about individual retirement accounts, most notably Paul Ryan in the House of Representatives. He's on the Deficit Commission. There are folks who have talked about raising the retirement age.

But again, now, you're heading into a midterm election, you're trying to gin up your base, and so the Democrats are going to try and use this issue once again against Republicans.

BLITZER: And they do have some ammunition when they refer to some of the statements, let's say, Sharron Angle, the Republican Senate candidate in Nevada...

BORGER: Right, right.

BLITZER: ... has made, or Rand Paul in Kentucky. So they're getting some ammunition, the Democrats. BORGER: They are. They are. You know, the interesting factor out there, though, Wolf, is the question of the deficit. People right now are really concerned about spending in this country. And everybody understands that in order to control the deficit you have to get these entitlement programs under control.

So the question is, what can you do to get spending on Social Security under control? So the Deficit Commission, which is due to report on December 1, not before the election, but after the election, is going to have to make recommendations.

Some of their recommendations may be politically unpalatable, such as raising the retirement age very, very gradually, say, to the age of 70. So that's why Congress had to take it out of its bailiwick and put it in kind of a bipartisan commission.

But we'll see what happens. So the deficit is really the big factor in there that may make people say, you know what, we have to do something.

BLITZER: I want to bring David Gergen, our senior political analyst, into this conversation. And, David, this commission, December, they're going to come out with some recommendations. Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator, Erskine Bowles, the former Clinton White House chief of staff.

Here is the question to you. Let's say they come up with some really important Social Security recommendations, is anyone going to pay attention?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They'll certainly pay attention, Wolf. And let me just say, within the commission, Social Security reform is regarded as the easy one; much, much easier to do than Medicare reform, which is a much bigger and much tougher problem. But they've assumed they can get Social Security done. If you can't get that done, you can't get anything done in terms of closing the deficits in a serious way.

So they've assumed that they can get that done. They think that there will be agreement on probably trying to trim benefits some, raising taxes a little bit, and raising the retirement age, and you put all of that together, you can make it work.

But there is a danger, to go back to Gloria's point, that in this campaign if the two sides really get their backs up over Social Security in the campaign, they will back themselves into commitments that as senators and as congressmen coming into the next year, that they're going to promise not to touch Social Security, to defend Social Security as it is.

If you do that, you can't get the deficits under control.

BLITZER: This is a critical issue. And, remember -- I want all of our viewers to remember as well, in a midterm election, especially older people vote in much bigger percentages, David, than younger voters out there. And for older Americans, Social Security is really an important issue.

GERGEN: Absolutely. And so when the Democrats go -- and what we've got now going on in this campaign is a fear and unwillingness on the part of the political leaders on both sides to talk honestly about what the problems are that we face.

So Republicans are going out lambasting the Democrats for what has been -- I mean, they're accusing the Democrats of having raided Social Security over the years, taking all of the money out, and that's why the government is going to owe so much more money, and it's going to cost the government so much in the next few years. There is truth to that, but the Republicans participated in those raids.

The Democrats are accusing the Republicans of saying you want to privatize it. Well, that seemed like a pretty good idea a few years ago, but after the stock market collapse of the last couple years, of course, most Americans are terribly afraid of that. And so there is a real unwillingness to come to grips with what the underlying issues are, how high the benefits are and how little taxes we're paying in, and the fact that people are living so much longer. And until we have an honest conversation, we're not going to get this solved.

BLITZER: David and Gloria, guys, thanks very much. Important subject coming up.

A new strategy in the hunt for the missing Arizona fugitives. Authorities now announcing a cash reward for information leading to their arrest.

Plus, new developments in the case of the alleged serial stabber. Why he's now waiving extradition. We'll have an update.

And the lawyer for a woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran speaks to our own Ivan Watson. Why he says, this lawyer, he now fears for his very future.


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

What's going on, Lisa?


Well, police are now offering a reward up to $35,000 for information leading to the arrest of two Arizona fugitives, a manhunt is under way for John McCluskey and his alleged accomplice, Casslyn Welch. McCluskey is one of three convicted felons who escaped from a state prison last month.

An Israeli agent with alleged ties to the hotel murder of a Hamas leader in Dubai has been released by a German court. He is being investigated for allegedly helping obtain a false passport believed to be used by one of the killers in the January attack. He is free to travel but faces the possibility of a German trial. Israel denies any connection to the murder.

An Iranian reactor that many countries fear could be used for nuclear weapons is one step closer to being completed. Russia, which is contracted to help Iran build the site, announced today it will begin fueling the reactor next week. But the United States is urging it to hold off until there is evidence Iran won't use the site for weapons.

Iran maintains the site is for energy production only -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa. We'll get back to you.

Fireworks over a meeting of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you denying that he used those words?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... several alternatives to what they would be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you denying that he used those words?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finish the entire sentence.


BLITZER: Is the Justice Department stonewalling over a voter intimidation lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party?

We're getting an up-close look also over at the perils of flying small planes around Alaska.

And the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, tells us whether Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform any time soon.


BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the Reverend Al Sharpton is here. Why he suggests President Obama's message is being drowned out by the opposition. Stand by.

And new developments in the case of the alleged serial stabber. The latest on the charges he's facing.

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

Democrats say this could be a first step toward comprehensive immigration reform. The president signed a $600 million bill today to send more agents, more equipment to the border with Mexico. The Senate passed it in a special session this week. Some Republicans say the bill doesn't go far enough, and they accuse Democrats of passing it for political gain in this election year. Joining us now from the White House, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano.

Madame Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What's taking so long to secure the border with Mexico?

NAPOLITANO: Well, actually, the border is safe and secure in the sense of every statistic that needs to go up is going up and every statistic that needs to go down is going down. The number of illegal immigrants crossing the border is way down. The number of drug seizures, gun seizures, money seizures, is way up.

We want to continue to do even more and that's what this bill permits us to do. It allows us to hire at least a thousand more Border Patrol agents, to add more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, two more unmanned aerial vehicle systems, more telecommunications, the entire system that needs to be in place to make sure that the border remains safe and secure all the way across, from San Diego all the way to Brownsville.

BLITZER: And you're a former governor of Arizona, so you're familiar with the subject. But you acknowledge there's still plenty of illegal immigrants crossing in from Mexico into the United States?

NAPOLITANO: Well, we always want to do more. I'm not only the former governor, I'm the former attorney general and United States attorney for Arizona. So I've been working this border for about 17 years now.

And I know that what we are doing at the border, what the president asked the Congress to pass and what they passed will give us the resources we need on a sustained and permanent basis to close gaps in that border and to keep it safe and secure.

BLITZER: Now your critics are saying what you've done now in this $600 million program is largely reacting to your successor, the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer -- and that controversial new immigration law that went into effect but now is on hold, at least some of the more controversial parts. That you're simply reacting to the political uproar rather than taking the initiative.

NAPOLITANO: Well, I would say look at history. We actually began surging federal resources to the Mexican border in March of 2009, well before 1070 became law, well before this issue became national in scope.

I knew as a former governor of Arizona that we needed to make sure that we kept that southwest border safe and secure and that it would require some new initiatives and some new targeting and focus in order to do so.

So we began many of these efforts and began putting record amounts of agents, technology, and infrastructure at that border way back in March of '09. BLITZER: When will the Obama administration introduce legislation for comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants?

NAPOLITANO: Well, first of all, I think -- I don't think pathway to citizenship quite captures what the president has supported, and it's a framework that was announced by senators Schumer and Graham this spring.

It's earning citizenship -- citizenship should be earned. It should be something that you earn by getting right with the law, learning English, making sure you pay your taxes, staying free or not having any criminal record. That you earn citizenship. The president has supported that framework but as you know he cannot, himself, introduce a bill or pass a bill. That requires Congress and in particular it requires Republicans.

BLITZER: When do you think the Congress will do this?

NAPOLITANO: You know, I think we're ready any day but it is up to the Congress and as you, yourself, I think have noted, you know, we're now getting into the election season and that obviously plays a part. But the president continues to urge the Congress to deal with the underlying immigration system. The country needs to move forward to get through with this -- to move forward on this issue, into the 21st century, have an immigration system that really works.

BLITZER: The Pew Hispanic Center recently estimated some 340,000 babies born in the United States in 2008 were from illegal immigrants. That's about 8 percent of all the new children born in the United States in that year. It's raising questions about the 14th amendment to the constitution. Do you think we should take another look at that amendment which grants citizenship automatically to anyone born in the United States including children of illegal immigrants?

NAPOLITANO: No. I think it is surprising to say the least to talk about opening or tampering with the United States constitution and the 14th amendment which guarantees equal protection and due process among other things. Instead of dealing with what Congress can deal with and should deal with right now and that is updating, reforming, revising the entire statutory scheme that governs immigration.

BLITZER: I want you to react to what a Republican Congressman from Texas is saying, suggesting that there is a plot that terrorists want children born in the United States so some day they can come back and kill Americans. Listen to what this Republican Congressman says.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: It appeared they would have young women who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn't even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would return back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists and then one day 20, 30 years down the road be sent in to help destroy our way of life.

BLITZER: You're the secretary of homeland security. Do you have any evidence of what he's talking about?

NAPOLITANO: No. No. And I think that it's, you know, that is so off the mark. Where we need to be is a safe and secure border, and this president has put really unprecedented amounts of resources at this border. And has done so since almost the day he took office. We've been moving agents, materiel, aircraft, and other things to the border. Even more now is coming and being made permanent by the bill he just signed. But beyond that, the overall immigration system needs to be dealt with by the Congress, by Republicans coming to the table and let's work our way through this problem.

BLITZER: One final question on this proposed Islamic center and mosque that's supposed to go up near the world trade center ground zero. Is there any security concerns that you as homeland security secretary have with this mosque going up there?

NAPOLITANO: No security concerns whatsoever have been presented to me.

BLITZER: Madame Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you.

BLITZER: In the aftermath of that deadly plane crash in Alaska, is there a better, safer way to fly across that state or is aviation there stuck in the past? New evidence that President Obama could have a very tough re-election fight on his hands. James Carville and Leslie Sanchez are both standing by for our strategy session.


BLITZER: New video of the part of the wing that crashed from that plane in Alaska being brought to the airport. We have some results from autopsies on the victims as well. The medical examiner says all five deaths were the result of injuries associated with the crash and they were not survivable. The former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe's condition has been upgraded for the first time since he survived the crash. He is now listed in serious condition. CNN's Casey Wian is in Alaska where he is seeing first hand the importance and the perils of small planes.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Alaska is how prevalent the so-called float planes are here. We're at Lake Hood which is the largest sea plane base in the world. 40,000 take-offs and landings at this lake every year. If you wonder why the planes are so prevalent you can see the mountainous terrain. Many cities are inaccessible by car. There are not roads that go to the city. You either access them by plane or by boat. Float planes have become the method of transportation that is most popular in this state. Over my left shoulder here you can see an otter which is the type of plane that was carrying Ted Stevens, the late Senator Ted Stevens, and eight others, four of whom perished. It's an occupational hazard as Ted Stevens once said himself of life in Alaska. These planes in many cases are very, very old. People who fly them say they're very, very safe but the terrain here makes flying often very treacherous.

Here at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum there is an exhibit commemorating one of the most famous float plane fatalities in history. Will Rogers perished in a float plane accident 75 years ago this weekend. What is most remarkable about this is looking at the planes then they don't look much different from the planes still in the air here today.

NORM LAGASSE, ALASKA AVIATION HERITAGE MUSEUM: Up here in Alaska they're still getting the job done. You don't have a lot of new production aircraft being designed or manufactured.

WIAN: Given the terrain, the age of the aircraft, how worried are pilots here about their safety?

LAGASSE: You're always conscious of the environment around you. Here in Alaska the weather can change quickly. You do have a lot of varied terrain.

WIAN: This is an Al Jones Airways plane from the 1920s but not all of Alaska's aircraft industry is stuck in time. Al Jones Airways is one of six carriers that merged over the years and became what is known today as Alaska Airlines.

Casey Wian, CNN, reporting from Anchorage, Alaska.


BLITZER: We want to go right to Lisa Sylvester. There is a story developing in the pacific. What are we learning Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we're learning right now is there was apparently an earthquake, a 7.2 magnitude, about 216 miles from the island of Guam. This is centered in the area of the Northern Mariana Islands. The depth of the earthquake is about 12.4 miles. Given its magnitude, it is considered to be a fairly significant earthquake. We are tracking this and trying to get more information as it comes in, Wolf.

BLITZER: 7.2 is huge but the question is how deep into the ocean was it, would it cause tsunami problems or anything like that? I assume we're just checking to see what the authorities are saying.

SYLVESTER: Right. The U.S. Geological Survey has issued a tsunami warning but keep in mind where this earthquake hit. We're talking about the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I actually spent some time, a considerable amount of time on Guam so we're talking that this happened, Guam is a very small, remote island, and it is actually one of the larger islands in this area so all around it are even smaller islands. So you're talking about pretty much in the ocean and that is why there is a concern, Wolf, that it could create some kind of tsunami. We don't know that at this point. But it's something we are tracking.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of this. Thanks very much, Lisa. It's considered to be, quote, the melting pot of the U.S. military. Could it suffer, though, after some proposed pentagon budget cuts take effect? And a new stumbling block for a controversial U.S. Senate candidate whose campaign already is already in deep trouble.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us our CNN contributor the Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez. She's with the Impacto Group, a board member of Resurgent Republic. Look at this, Leslie, this new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll. We are exactly two years away from the Republican presidential convention and right now Romney's at 21 percent among Republicans, Palin 18 percent, Gingrich 15 percent, Huckabee 14 percent, Ron Paul 10 percent. What do you make of it?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We have a strong slate of candidates but I tell you Wolf it's too early to tell. I do believe especially after 2010 a lot of dynamics are changing. There is a lot of frustration with Washington. We could get new governors in. People may be interested in them as well. Bottom line it's a good opportunity for Republican candidates.

BLITZER: She makes a good point because if we take a look at 2006 at this time two years before the Democratic convention, James, that same CNN poll, Hillary Clinton was at 37 percent, Al Gore at 20 percent, John Kerry 11 percent, John Edwards 11 percent. You know that Barack Obama wasn't even among the top ten or 15 on that. He wasn't even getting 1 percent.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That poll is utterly meaningless. We just as soon look at a Ouija board at this point. I guess it's a conversation point but it means that the more that you're heard of the kind of better that you do. I don't think there is anything surprising in that nor anything particularly relevant.

BLITZER: Here is something probably not meaningless. In the same new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, registered voters' choice for president in 2012, right now Obama among independents is at 39 percent. A Republican candidate unnamed is at 52 percent. So two years before the convention, Obama is not doing well among independents, James.

CARVILLE: No. And if the unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent in 2012 he probably won't do that well among independents either. I mean, it's not exactly a static situation here. And I mean there's no question that this, we're going into a challenging cycle for Democrats. That's when the poll was taken. Again, it means more than the previous one but it's not -- the finding is confirming not surprising.

SANCHEZ: About a year ago or last April we started to see that pattern with independents slipping away from Obama. I think you've seen over a year of solidifying that, numerous polls have supported that. That is something that is critical on and the Republicans certainly understand we had significant losses in '06, certainly in '08 because we lost independent voters so there is an aggressive push now to appeal to not only the base but certainly folks that are concerned about deficits and spending.

BLITZER: Explain this, James. He has gotten a lot accomplished. He got health care. He got a stimulus package. He got financial reform. Why are independents abandoning him?

CARVILLE: Well, hey. They're down to like 40 percent. Okay? To be fair here. We're in a tough economic situation and somebody find me the headline because I can't find it that says unemployment near 10 percent, incumbents sweep back into office. I mean, he has done a lot of things but people, the connections with their lives I guess has a considerable amount to do with it but given everything, his approval ratings tend to be in the high 40s which is not awful. And the Republicans are no less popular today than they were when they were losing elections. So, you know, the situation is challenging, difficult, but not hopeless. And you start seeing some economic improvement and the numbers will get better.

BLITZER: It is in fairness to the president, Leslie, a little bit higher than Ronald Reagan's was at this point in his first term or Bill Clinton's was in his first point. Both were re-elected.

SANCHEZ: Absolutely. You can't deny, Republicans certainly know '81, '82, '83 Ronald Reagan did not look strong and came back for a landslide victory in '84. We recognize that. Barack Obama for all intents and purposes of today's discussion doesn't have to worry about that. Those Congressional Democrats have to worry about this. The independents have moved away and a lot of it has to do with the issues surrounding increased deficits and the lack of jobs, real, good working sustainable jobs. If people aren't working they're really frustrated and they're going to take it out obviously on Republicans and Democrats.

BLITZER: We'll count down to November 2nd together with you guys. Thanks very much for coming in.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: The Reverend Al Sharpton is diving into the ethics controversy surrounding Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters. Stand by for my interview coming up.


BLITZER: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is promising some big cuts in the pentagon's massive budget. Among the changes he outlined this week, a 10 percent cut in spending on contractors who provide service support to the U.S. military and a reduction in the number of generals and admirals across the armed forces by at least 50 over the next two years. He is also planning to close the U.S. militaries joint forces command in Norfolk, Virginia. So what if those cuts hurt the Norfolk community? Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is here and you were down there and checking out the story that is causing consternation in Norfolk. CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you said it, Wolf, this is a huge problem. Back in the 1970s the pentagon would put out 30 to 40 reports. Manageable, right? Well, by last year, they were putting out 700 reports. I mean, you try to slogging through all of that, and so, getting rid of some of the reports that it takes 1,000 contractors to write is just one of the things that Robert Gates wants to do. Now, closing that command, that is a whole different ball game and one that a lot of people are going to fight him on.


LAWRENCE: This is the melting pot of the military where the army and the navy and Americans, Brits, Italians, all learn to fight a war together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we try to do here is to see if we can share our information amongst all of the coalition partners.

LAWRENCE: Joint forces command, with one sentence it went from essential to national security to chopping block.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: United States has largely embraced jointness as a matter of culture and practice.

LAWRENCE: The defense secretary says it is work to be folded into other existing units and save $240 million a year, but some of the 6,000 soldiers, civilians and especially contractors won't make the cut.

CRAIG QUIGLEY, JFCOM DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS: Which positions are retained, and which will be ultimately eliminated is predicated on the analysis of tasks that is just now being started.

LAWRENCE: Plenty of people are waiting to hear. Sure the command is on the base, but it is part of the community. Take it away, and all kinds of folks feel the pinch. How does JFCOM factor into what you do here?

RENEE FIGURELLE, FOODBANK OF SOUTHEASTERN VIRGINIA: Well, they volunteer hours to us, and if we are doing a food force and actually Friday they dropped off 191 pounds of food for us.

LAWRENCE: Some economists estimate that the command brings $1 billion a year to the local economy, so think of the soldiers, civilians and contractors who won't be eating here anymore.

BILLY LIGHTSINGER, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: They come here three or four times a week.

LAWRENCE: Billy Lightsinger opened up this restaurant last year just to be close to joint forces.

LIGHTSINGER: It is going to take a big effect if it does close.

LAWRENCE: But Secretary Robert Gates says that the defense budget can't keep getting bigger. If cuts have to come, better the pentagon use a scalpel now than Congress swing the ax later.

GATES: We have to demonstrate a compelling argument that we have in fact tackled the things that worry them, excessive reliance on contractors, waste, abuse.

LAWRENCE: Pentagon officials tell me it is their call whether to close the command. Virginia Congressmen here on capitol hill say, not so fast.

REP. GLENN NYE (D), VIRGINIA: As a member of Congress, we have a role in the process of deciding how defense dollars are spent, and that will absolutely impact any proposal that the secretary makes here.

LAWRENCE: Representative Glenn Nye says the states Democrats and Republicans will fight to keep those jobs.

NYE: I have a off of the top head proposal by the secretary won't fly in this environment.


LAWRENCE: What is this environment? Well, high unemployment and an election coming up in 12 weeks. Try going back to your voters with a few thousand job losses. Now, the pentagon is saying that some of the money that is going to be saved, Wolf, can be put back into the individual branches, so say that the navy may have more money to buy more ships in Virginia and mitigate the loss a little bit.

BLITZER: We will watch it together with you, Chris.

LAWRENCE: And hopefully watch this stack go down a little bit.

BLITZER: That is a lot of trees.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you. What is behind the fireworks of the civil rights commission meeting today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Denying that he used those words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire citizen --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And are you denying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cherry picking.

BLITZER: Our Jeanne Meserve is standing by with details and fears that the worst natural in Pakistan's recent history is about to get worse. We will have the latest.


BLITZER: A voter intimidation lawsuit stemming from a 2008 video is causing an uproar within the United States civil rights commission. Let's bring in our homeland correspondent Jeanne Meserve. It got ugly out there, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it did. It would be an understatement to say there were fireworks at today's meeting of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, but more like a verbal firefight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you denying that he used those words?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are several alternatives --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you denying that he used those words?

MESERVE: Insults and invective anger flying at Friday's meeting of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you denying that they filed in the case --

MESERVE: It goes back to the 2008 Election Day video still on YouTube which captured members of the new Black Panther party outside of a Philadelphia polling station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that it is a little intimidating that you have a stick in your hand.

MESERVE: The Bush justice department brought a voter intimidation lawsuit against the Panthers, but the Obama civil rights division dropped most of it prompting a lawyer there to quit his job in order to testify that under this administration, D.O.J. will not pursue voting rights cases against African Americans.

J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ATTORNEY: There is a pervasive hostility toward equal enforcement of the law particularly in voting cases.

MESERVE: The department insists that it practices race-neutral enforcement.

THOMAS PEREZ, ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR CIVIL RIGHTS: The Obama administration under the leadership of Eric Holder will enforce the laws, applying the facts to the laws.

MESERVE: The Civil Rights Commission is investigating. Justice has provided thousands of pages of documents but has not allowed a key official to testify to protect the confidentiality of internal deliberations it says, but some members of the Republican-dominated commission argue that the department is stonewalling.

PETER KIRSANOW, U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS: This is an abomination to this process and abomination to civil rights laws.

MICHAEL YAKI, U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS: There is no fire. All of this blowing smoke is just that.


MESERVE: The civil rights commissions final report on the matter is scheduled for release in November and give ten acrimony today expressed over policy and politics and the law, it is a sure bet it won't be unanimous -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Thanks very much.