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Sherrod Declines Job Offer; Boehner Calls on Obama to Fire Economic Team; Clues From Key Primary Races

Aired August 24, 2010 - 18:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, groups like continue to say accountability, accountability, accountability, prove it, and the Corps of Engineers says, we will prove it. We will rebuild trust. The proof will be in the performance the next time a big storm comes in and runs up against this new, much more robust system -- Suzanne.



Happening now: a surprising turn of events, as an Agriculture Department employee who was forced to quit her job turns down an offer from her former boss. I will speak with Shirley Sherrod about racial discrimination.

Thirty-three miners are trapped in a small shelter 2,000 feet below ground. Now officials are trying to figure out how to keep them healthy during a rescue that could take months.

And voters cast ballots in key primaries that may provide clues to the outcome in November, as GOP Chairman Michael Steele speaks exclusively about an issue that has spread quickly across the country.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Government investigators are looking into the recall of half-a- billion eggs and a salmonella outbreak that has sickened some 1,300 people. Now, one of the questions that they are trying to answer, could the way large egg-producing companies treat their chickens be linked to the current outbreak?

Our CNN's Casey Wian, he is digging into that. And we have to note that the conditions that he has found may shock some viewers.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This undercover video was taken at a Maine egg farm in 2008 and '09 by an investigator for an animal rights group whom we will call Jason.

"JASON," ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I was trying to help try and repair some of the egg belts. And a lot of them were broken and there were eggs that had piled up for as much as five days on the belts.

WIAN: His video shows chickens being twirled by the head, then dumped on the floor still twitching and kicked under cages.

JASON: The video that I have shows some of these hens are dead and they're kind of rotting and they're laying there up against the belts. Others, as they are dying, they are basically gasping for breath and drooling on the belts.

WIAN: Other hens are thrown in trash cans still alive. Many birds are in obvious distress.

JASON: They have no feathers left. They're covered in scratch marks. They're covered in dried blood.

WIAN: Animal rights groups say there is a link between animal cruelty, unsanitary conditions and salmonella contamination, but poultry industry experts say no clear link has been established. And what links the New England farm with the Iowa farm at the center of the latest national salmonella outbreak? The chickens involved are owned by the DeCoster family, one of the nation's largest egg suppliers, and witnesses have reported unsanitary conditions at both farms.

In June, the Maine farm admitted to 10 counts of animal cruelty and paid a $125,000 state fine as a result of Jason's undercover investigation. At the time, operations manager Jay DeCoster said in a statement: "This is a matter we take very seriously. And over the past year we have implemented a number of corrective measures that ensure excellent care of our flocks. The mistreatment shown on the video was unacceptable."

Bob Leclerc, safety manager at Quality Egg, told CNN -- quote -- "There is no salmonella here."

A DeCoster spokeswoman directed us to this video from CNN affiliate WCSH in Portland, Maine, showing conditions at the farm today. In Iowa, Manuel Larma worked as a truck driver for DeCoster- owned Wright County Egg until last year hauling away dead chickens.

(on camera): Did you ever have a chance to go in where the chickens were kept in the cages and things like that? Did you see any of that?

MANUEL LARMA, FORMER WRIGHT COUNTY EGG EMPLOYEE: yes. I used to be there many times in the area.

WIAN: What did it look like for you?

LARMA: Well, pretty bad. Pretty bad. They would have feathers and just very dirty cages.

WIAN: A spokeswoman for Wright County Egg said in a statement: "Our farm is committed to excellent care of our flocks and our policy for all farm workers is that any concerns raised about hen treatment must be immediately reported. Mr. Larma never brought any issues to our attention."

DARRELL TRAMPEL, POULTRY DISEASE EXPERT: I did not see any of those problems.

Iowa State Professor Darrell Trampel visited Wright County Egg's facility this spring.

TRAMPEL: I saw operations that appeared to be operating as they should be. For example, there were rodent control traps along the buildings. And every egg operation should have those rodent control measures in place. And everything looked perfectly normal.

WIAN: Normal in modern egg farms includes some bird deaths and feather loss. Trampel says allegations of animal cruelty are not likely related to the current salmonella outbreak, which he suspects is linked to mice and chicken feed.

TRAMPEL: This could have happened anywhere.


WIAN: The FDA still has 20 investigators on the ground here in Iowa trying to determine the original source of the salmonella outbreak. They hope to have preliminary results later this week -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Casey, thank you so much.

Thirty-three men trapped thousands of feet underground in a space that is no bigger than an average American hotel room. And it looks like they're going to be there for months. That is what is unfolding right now at a mine in Chile, where rescuers are focused not only on reaching the miners, but keeping them alive and sane until they are rescued.

Our CNN's Karl Penhaul is there for us.

And, Karl, obviously this is a very captivating story. It's very concerning as well. What do we know about what is happening right now with those men underground?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we do know is that in the course of the day, another much larger drill has arrived here on site. That is going to assembled over the next couple of days.

And it will be that drill that hat over the course of next weeks and even months will drill down those 2,300 feet, make a hole about the width of a man's shoulders and only then will those men be pulled up to the surface, but today, even the health minister was saying that that could take up to four months. So, he said, meanwhile, the focus is on keeping these men physically fit and mentally healthy.

And so, he was showing us even the food that is being sent to these men through a small bore hole. There is a bore hole down to this shelter. That bore hole is no more than about four inches diameter. And so, all of the food that is being sent down is in liquid form, liquid proteins, liquid vitamins, more water, oxygen canisters as well, because the health minister says that the air down there is just not very good right now.

There is a lot of dust there. It is breathable, but there's a lot of dust in there as well. And that has also caused a lot of eye irritations to the men, although he did say that overall, they are pretty healthy.

Now, on the mental health front, that really is a key issue and the health minister was saying that he has not even had the heart yet to these men that they could be underground in the bowels of the earth until almost Christmas. He says that would be too much of a psychological blow at this stage. He says over the coming days, he is going to explain to them how the rescue work and how the drilling work is going to go and break it to them gently, that it could be four months before they come to the surface, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Karl, thank you so much. I can't imagine how they are going to take that kind of news.

Just to give you a sense of what is happening now, these 33 people were killed -- rather, I'm going to move on to a different story here.

Here's -- there's another story -- 33 people killed today when two men dressed in military uniforms stormed a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu and detonated explosives. Among the dead, six members of Somalia's parliament. Now, the attack comes amid a series of gun battles involving a militant group that includes some Americans in its ranks.

I want you to listen to President Obama's assistant for counterterrorism, John Brennan.


JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Al-Shabab has a very violent agenda inside of Somalia. And as was seen in Kampala, with the tragic bombing there concurrent with the World Cup, they have brought that agenda outside of Somalia.

They also have recruited a number of individuals from outside of Somalia, including from the West, including from the United States. This is something that we are very concerned about.


MALVEAUX: Joining me now is CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. Fran is also an external board adviser to both the CIA and the Homeland Security Department.

Fran, tell us a little bit about this organization, this group. This is Al-Shabab, another spectacular terrorist attack that happened in Somalia. What we do know about their threat?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the interesting -- what most Americans know about Al-Shabab is that they have been recruiting Americans to travel from the United States over to Somalia to fight.

Most of these are young men who are misled about what the conflict is over there and many of them are killed, but it remains a concern for U.S. law enforcement, because you worry that these guys will get training, will get experience fighting, and then try to reenter the United States.

Many of the Al-Shabab members John Brennan noted later in that press conference have ties to al Qaeda in East Africa. Al Qaeda in East Africa over a decade ago blew up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And so this is a very serious group. They have had -- they have launched attacks inside Africa, this one inside Somalia. But you worry about their ability then to project their terror into the United States.


MALVEAUX: So, what can the United States do? Considering how stretched our resources are, is this the kind of thing that we can confront?

TOWNSEND: Well, we don't always have to confront everything ourselves and directly.

What John Brennan talked about during the press briefing was we are working with our allies throughout Africa, throughout the region and frankly around the world. It is especially important because of their trying to recruit Americans that the federal investigators are working with state local authorities around the United States to try and identify who these people are that they are recruiting and to make sure that they gather intelligence and prevent them from reentering or interrogating them when they reenter the United States.

MALVEAUX: What is the risk if we don't do anything? What would happen?


TOWNSEND: Right. The real problem is you have like -- remember al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That was the group responsible for the Christmas Day attempted bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight.

What you have is a regional group that suddenly without additional warning projects its power into the United States. So, you can't afford to just wait until that happens. I think John Brennan going out today and doing the press briefing was an indication that they are very concerned and they're working against to thwart this group before they're able to launch an attack inside the U.S.

MALVEAUX: OK. Fran Townsend, thank you so much. Good to see you.

TOWNSEND: Good to see you.

MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty is next with "The Cafferty File."

Then, the House Republican leaders call on President Obama to fire his economic team.

Also, she was wrongly fired over misleading video that painted her as racist. Now Shirley Sherrod has made a decision about going back to work. We talk about it in a one-on-one interview.

And flood victims making the treacherous journey home -- what many of them find is devastating.


MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File."

Hey, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Suzanne, President Obama is a Christian, and yet somehow it's a fact that seems to be up for debate these days, with a growing number of Americans saying that he's Muslim.

It's a false rumor that the president has been battling ever since he was a candidate, and yet for many the issue has become murkier than ever before.

A new Pew poll shows nearly one in five Americans believe Mr. Obama is a Muslim. That's up from one in 10 who felt that way last year.

Most of those who think that the president is Muslim are Republicans, but the number of Independents who think this way has grown significantly from last year. The number of people who are unsure about the president's religion is also higher, even among his supporters.

Fewer than half of all Democrats and African-Americans say that President Obama is Christian.

Part of the reason for this misinformation just may be comments like these: The Reverend Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, told this network, CNN -- quote -- "I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim." Graham says: "The seed of Islam was passed through Mr. Obama's father and although the president says he's accepted Jesus Christ, the Islamic world sees him as one of theirs" -- unquote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also weighed in on this -- quote -- "The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word" -- unquote.

Critics say that a remark like that suggests the debate over the president's religion is somehow legitimate.

The White House says, the president is Christian. He prays daily. They point out Mr. Obama has spoken extensively about his faith in the past, but making sure that Americans know he's a devout Christian isn't his top priority. And they have a point. After all, it's not like there's a shortage of other serious problems that confront this country.

So, here's the question: Does the president's religion really matter?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

It is amazing that this absolute piece of misinformation has such staying power.

MALVEAUX: And he continues -- the White House continues to refute it. And we will see if those polls change at all. But I'm sure you're going to get a lot of people weighing in on this one, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes. It is up on the Web site, too. We have gotten a lot of e-mails.

MALVEAUX: All right, good. Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You bet.

MALVEAUX: The official death toll from Pakistan's massive flooding is more than 1,500, but that is expected to soar as the water recedes -- 20 million people have been affected by the floods. Four million are homeless.

Many are now starting to return to homes that may no longer exist.

Our CNN's Kyung Lah takes us on that journey.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They come back in slow waves, by tractor, by bicycle, and sometimes bare feet, like Goes Chacher (ph) and his family.

(on camera): Everything is gone? Everything.

(voice-over): That is the question they can't answer what they are trying to find out. What happened to the home town they fled when Pakistan's historic floods hit three weeks ago? Carrying what they can, they wade through the receding floodwater, until a tractor empty enough to carry them passes by.

On the tractor, we meet Sumri Banlangi (ph) and her 4-year-old daughter. This is tough on them, she explains, but she wants to go home. "We have no choice. What can we do?" It is a dangerous trek, with contaminated floodwaters and uncertain ground that claim this tractor and a precious cage of chickens.

Everywhere along this journey, water. Though it has partially receded, it still laps at doorsteps, the water now too deep for the tractor, so Goes Chacher (ph) and his wife, Nasiban (ph), board a boat for the final leg home.

"I need to see this," says Chacher (ph). "I need to see what is left of my house."

(on camera): You can see how hard it is for these families just to try to return home to see what is happening to their houses, but this is one those communities that got flooded 16 days ago. They have yet to see any aid. Some of the locals here say that they did see some food airdropped right into their community, but it missed and it landed in the water.

(voice-over): Nasiban's (ph) face tells us we have arrived at her house, the house and their town unspared, and pair of scissors and drawer salvaged, the rest lost. Despair descends. The question about his home answered, now, what to do next?

Kyung Lah, CNN, Karampur, Pakistan.


MALVEAUX: It is terrible.

A fiery plane crash as a jet overshoots the runway, but more than half the people on board have actually survived.

And police take down suspected traffickers and seize pounds of poisonous uranium.



MALVEAUX: A surprising twist, as a federal employee forced out of her job gets a job offer from her former job. That is right. Shirley Sherrod talks to me about racism within the federal government.


MALVEAUX: Forced out of her job last month after a misleading video was posted on the Internet, former federal employee Shirley Sherrod returned to the Agriculture Department today for a face-to- face meeting with Secretary Tom Vilsack. The outcome of the meeting was surprising.

Our Brian Todd has been covering this.

Brian, tell us what happened during that moment.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we were at the Agriculture Department today and when they scheduled this news conference, most of us thought that it would be to announce that Shirley Sherrod had taken a job and would rejoin the department, but Sherrod declined an offer for a position with a new office at the agency, an office tasked with improving the department's civil rights record. She also turned down an offer to return to her previous job. She said there were just too many questions about the new job and with all that has happened, she didn't feel she could go back to her old one. This comes a few weeks after Sherrod was forced to resign. A video of a past speech she made had been posted on the Internet out of context and used to wrongly accuse her of discrimination.

Today, she spoke with a tinge of edgy humor when talking about her apologies that her boss had made and new programs to prevent discrimination at the department.


SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA OFFICIAL: Look at what happened now, and I know he's apologized, and I accept that. I just -- and a new process is in place, and I hope that it works. I don't want to be the one to test it.


WIAN: Sherrod had previously said there was pressure from the White House to force her to resign. The White House has vehemently denied that. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says it was his decision alone.

Today, I pressed Vilsack on that, asking if he was saying that he never spoke to anyone at the White House before Sherrod stepped down.


TODD: If you did speak to someone at the White House, can you tell us who it was?

VILSACK: I didn't speak to anyone at the White House. As I said earlier, this was my responsibility, and I had to take full responsibility for it, and I continue to take full responsibility for it. I will take it for as long as I live. This was -- you know, I pride myself on the work that I do, and I know that I disappointed the president. I disappointed this administration. I disappointed the country. I disappointed Shirley. I have to live with that.


TODD: So, for now, Tom Vilsack's efforts to limit political damage from this scandal seem to have fallen a bit short, but both he and Sherrod have indicated she may come back later this year in a role as a consultant with the department -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Brian, is Ms. Sherrod taking any kind of legal action against anybody who has been involved in this?

TODD: There are rumors that she was going to sue Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who posted the out-of-context portion of her speech on the Internet.

He, for his part, has said he was never trying to get her fired. She was asked about that today. She said she expects a suit will be forthcoming, but she did not want to say anything more about it. So we will be looking for that down the line.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Brian.

Well, after her sit-down at the Agriculture Department, I sat down with Shirley Sherrod for a conversation on the sensitive issue of discrimination in the federal government.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tell me a little bit about today. What was that like to come face-to-face with your former boss, Secretary Vilsack, today?

SHERROD: The second day when he said, "I stand by my decision," that hurt. So I just needed to have some closure, I guess, and hearing exactly what happened. And he did explain what happened that day he was traveling. He explained that they made a lot of mistakes dealing with me and they had -- they are trying to correct those within the department. They are putting new things in place so that that won't happen to others.

So if what happened to me will keep others from having to go through that, hopefully, in the future, then I guess that's a good thing.

MALVEAUX: You said before, though, that they were changing the process, but you didn't be -- you didn't want to be the one to test it.


MALVEAUX: it sounds like you don't have a lot of faith in the Agriculture Department changing when it comes to racism and discrimination?

SHERROD: If the secretary is the only person I had to deal with as we move forward, then it probably would be fairly easy. I think he is very sincere about dealing with the issue of racism in the agency, but if -- like I said, if he was the only one to deal with it probably wouldn't be an issue right now, but that's -- that has been going on -- racism in this agency has been going on for more years than I -- than I've been in this world. It's systemic. And, you know, so, I would deal more -- I would deal with more than just Secretary Vilsack.

MALVEAUX: is there a deep culture of racism inside of the department?


MALVEAUX: Only -- only the Agriculture Department?

SHERROD: It's not just the Agriculture Department. I've run into others as I've traveled through the airports. And I remember the first week when I was on my way home in the Atlanta airport and young women, young African-American women who work in other agencies -- CDC, one of them -- and she talked about what she's dealing with and it was the same kind of thing.

You know, so it's not just the Department of Agriculture. It's the one we know about the most, but there are issues with minorities in other agencies of the government.

MALVEAUX: Some people look at the mosque issue, and they think, maybe Muslims are being targeted. Maybe they're the group now that's being discriminated against and people think it's acceptable.

SHERROD: Let's just say that a lot of discrimination goes on in this country. It amazes me how people can think sometimes, and that's why I say to -- and why I try to say to everyone, I try to treat people like I want to be treated and then, in case somebody doesn't want to be treated right, treat them like you want your children to be treated. And I think we would all be OK if we look at every situation like that.

My whole thing is how can we figure out in this space that we have in this United States of America, there's enough space here for all of us. We can -- we should be able to work it out.

MALVEAUX: What do you think of President Obama's job in dealing with race relations?

SHERROD: You know, the poor president, they -- he can't speak out about anything. Unless they're jumping all over him. I really do feel, you know, and I know he's in a position. He's the first black president, and people look at that.

I do think, whether it's from him or some other way with his administration, we do have to talk about race. We need to talk about race in this country, so that we can move beyond where we are now, because we're not in a good place.

MALVEAUX: Your life has been turned upside down, I know.


MALVEAUX: Since all of this began. What has been the biggest change for you?

SHERROD: You know, and I love people, so it's not a bad thing to be able to go out. And you think you're not being recognized, and people come up to you, and they want to hug you or take a picture with you. I haven't been that kind of public person, but I'm a people person.

MALVEAUX: You've been invited to speak before a lot of groups, obviously, about civil rights and race relations. What is the message? What do you want to tell them? What do you want them to learn from this?

SHERROD: My message hasn't changed in 24 years. It's so interesting that now everybody is aware of it. But you know, I've tried to use my life. I've tried to use what happened to me, and how I have been transformed. I've been able to see that it's not a black or white issue; it's a poor issue. And that as poor people coming together to work on our issues together, we can make a change.

I will say that. I said it back when -- that speech before the NAACP. I will still say it today: we can get beyond this.

MALVEAUX: What's next for you?

SHERROD: Well, I certainly want to get back to many of the letters and cards and e-mail messages and -- you know, the Facebook stuff is something new. You know, I'm trying to -- I haven't even dealt with all of that. There are so many there. I need to try to get back to people who tried to reach out to me. So, that's one thing.

I'd also like to look at finding those communities, those individuals who are seriously working on the problems of race, and try to highlight some of those. I think we need to really look at the good out there and put those examples out there, so others can see. I'd like to promote that.

MALVEAUX: Do you think that there is some fear for people to talk about issues of race? Dr. Laura, who resigned over the use of the "N" word, for example, and she says she's not able to speak her mind, that there is a silencing or political correctness that's going on. How do -- how do you see this?

SHERROD: I didn't see or hear what she had to say. I've heard others comment about it. I think it's the way she did it. But she would have the answer to that.

I think that if this country makes it a priority, that we're going to deal with race, we're going to talk about it, and we'll get beyond this, I think we can do it, you know. I think we can get to a better place with this.

Why should we want to keep this going on and on from generation -- one generation after another? It doesn't even make for a safe place for us to be in this country. If we're -- if I'm afraid of white people, or I'm afraid of Hispanic people or Native Americans, you know, it keeps us fighting each other.


MALVEAUX: The House Republican leader is hammering the president on the economy. Details of his call for the treasury secretary and others to be fired.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: Good morning, everyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: And plus Republican Party chairman Michael Steele speaking out about Arizona's controversial immigration law, and talks exclusively to CNN.


MALVEAUX: In what's turning out to be quite the verbal slugfest, the House Republican leaders taking on the White House over the economy. Congressman John Boehner is calling on President Obama to fire his economic advisers.

Our CNN congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us to talk about what's behind all of this? Clearly, they look at it as a political win, I guess, but this is pretty heavy stuff.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this is a battle, Suzanne, that is all about jobs and the sputtering economy. John Boehner, the top Republican in the House, who would likely be the speaker if Republicans are able to gain control of the House, put up his dukes today, saying the Democrats have failed to create jobs and grow the economy.


KEILAR (voice-over): In the Republican corner, hailing from Ohio, John Boehner.

BOEHNER: President Obama should ask for and accept the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council.

KEILAR: Fighting for the president, Delaware's own Joe Biden.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First, let's review a little bit of history here. For eight years before we arrived in the West Wing, Mr. Boehner and his party ran the economy and the middle class literally into the ground. They took a $237 billion operating surplus inherited from the Clinton administration and left us with a $1.3 trillion deficit.

KEILAR: Boehner jabbed at the president's plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year for Americans earning more than $250,000.

BOEHNER: So, let me be clear. Raising taxes on families and small businesses during a recession is a recipe for disaster For both our economy and for our deficit. Period. End of story.

KEILAR: The counterpunch from Democrats: Republicans are protecting big corporations and overstating the number of small businesses affected by the tax hike.

BIDEN: Let's have a little truth in advertising here. There aren't 3 percent of the small businesses in America that would qualify for that tax cut of the top 2 percent. It's a Wall Street tax cut, not a Main Street tax cut.


KEILAR: Biden and other Democrats also hit Boehner for criticizing them without putting out a Republican proposal on the economy. Boehner promised today the Republicans do have a plan based on what they've heard from Americans, and what's really an online listening tour for the last few months and that they will release that next month.

MALVEAUX: Brianna, I understand they're already using this, punch for punch, for fundraising now.

KEILAR: Yes, that's right. This is a letter that went out from the National Republican Congressional Committee from John Boehner, highlighting what he talked about in the speech today, obviously asking for votes but also asking for money. Anything you can give, it said, $25, $50, $100 or more.

MALVEAUX: All right, Brianna. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The Republican National Committee chairman is also speaking out. In an exclusive interview, CNN special correspondent Soledad O'Brien pressed Michael Steele about Arizona's controversial new immigration law. I want you to take a listen.


MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I can't speak as a national chairman and tell you how to think and feel about a law in Arizona.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So the national chairman doesn't have a position on SB-1070?

STEELE: I might have my own personal decision, but as chairman of the party -- as a chairman of the party, I've got to look at the entire party.

O'BRIEN: As chairman of the party, what is your position?

STEELE: As chairman of the party, I support my Republican governors, wherever they are and whatever they're doing.

O'BRIEN: So if they're instituting 1070 in Arizona, then you support them?

STEELE: Well, they may institute 1070 in Arizona. They may institute a different version of it somewhere else. And so that chairman -- I mean, that governor, that party leadership is reflecting the values of that community. I cannot come in and tell them, "Oh, well, gee, that's not popular" or "that's -- that's not what the rest of the party thinks or feels."

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: Throughout the election season, Soledad will join us in THE SITUATION ROOM with her series, "See How They Run."

Well, voters are casting ballots in key primary races. Our CNN's John King will have all the results in the hours ahead. He is standing by with a preview.

MALVEAUX: There are some key primary elections going on right now that may provide clues as to what will happen in November. Our chief national correspondent John King who hosts CNN's "JOHN KING, USA" at the top of the hour is joining us.

John, I know that results are going to be coming in, start to come in during your show, you're going to be following it throughout the evening. Talk about Florida first. You have got two billionaires who weighed in spending millions of dollars, political novices. Do we expect an upset in Florida?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the one thing you need to do is throw out the polling. The polling would suggest, if we focus on it, that no, that the two traditional establishment candidates, Republican Bill McCullough -- now the attorney general, used to be a congressman in Washington -- he is one of the republican candidates for governor, the polls suggest he has a lead over Rick Scott who is a billionaire, former healthcare executive who has thrown millions of dollars of his own money into race.

The Democratic Senate Primary, Jeff Greene a billionaire in the real estate business, used to be republican, now he's running a democrat against Kendrick Meek, a congressman. Again, Jeff Greene has spent millions of dollars, a huge fundraising advantage -- huge spending advantage, using his own money, over Kendrick Meek. Again, the polls suggest Kendrick Meek will win.

But midterm election, a primary campaign turnout tends to be down, let's count the votes. So we will see if there's a message from the electorate. We'll see if these guys can essentially swoop in and use their fortunes to win these elections.

And many people would say -- Why do I care about which democrat wins in the Senate Primary in Florida? Why do I care which republican wins? These elections will have a huge consequences over the taxes and spending debate. You were just talking about with Brianna here in Washington, what are we going to do about the deficit. Will the Republicans get enough votes to try to significantly change the new health care ball? All of these decisions will be in play in Florida, of course. Whoever wins the governor in that race is immediately a player in 2012 presidential politics.

MALVEAUX: We will be watching, obviously.

Let's talk a little bit about Arizona. Senator John McCain had seen some very nasty races previously, but this is really arguably one of the toughest primary challenges, Republican Primary challenges that he has faced.

How do we -- what do we expect? How is he going to perform?

KING: And to Senator McCain's credit, if you're watching politics, he saw this coming early and he raised a lot of money and he has attacked his opponent from the beginning. And again, the polls suggest Senator McCain has a comfortable lead going into election day.

But it is over 100 degrees in Arizona today. Turnout tends to be down when the weather gets like that, when you have oppressive heat like that. And the McCain camp is a little bit nervous, even though they're ahead in the polls, they're trying to see what the turnout is.

J.D. Hayworth, the former congressman, running against him. If you are mad at Senator McCain, you are likely to be motivated to vote as opposed to in the heat maybe you wouldn't otherwise.

But this could be John McCain's last stand. If he gets beat in this primary, obviously, he would finish his term, but it would be the end of his 30-year career here in Washington and what a rebuke it would be two years after he was the Republican presidential nominee.

However, the polls suggest Senator McCain will survive the primary, and if he does that, he'll be heavily favored in November.

MALVEAUX: Real quick, let's go to Alaska. We know that there's a Tea Party candidate who was not known. Sarah Palin jumped in to support the candidate, and it looks like we've got a pretty hot race.

What does that say about even Sarah Palin's own performance and her political power?

KING: Sarah Palin has a long rivalry with the Murkowski family. Lisa Murkowski is the incumbent republican senator, Governor Palin supported Joe Miller, he's a Tea Party candidate.

A good place to watch to see is there another surprise Tea Party insurgency, or does experience in politics and again, a fundraising edge help Lisa Murkowski.

MALVEAUX: All right, John, we'll be watching all of that.

KING: We'll be here.

MALVEAUX: All of the results coming in very quickly. CNN will have extensive primary coverage, first results come in at the top of the hour with "JOHN KING, USA" and the best political team will provide coverage, results throughout the night.

The nationwide egg recall has just been expanded to another state. Details are coming up next.


MALVEAUX: I want to go straight to Kate Bolduan who is monitoring some of the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Hey, Kate. What do we have?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Suzanne. We have got a couple new things coming in I'm going to tell you about.

Officials in Michigan are now confirming their state has been added to the unfortunate list of those covered in that massive egg recall. People there and elsewhere are being encouraged to find out from their supplier whether the eggs are linked to the two Iowa farms where the salmonella outbreak originated. It's sickened about 1,300 people so far and forced the recall of more than half a billion eggs.

Also want to take you to California. You're looking at -- you're looking at some video here. A wildfire is threatening homes in Southern California, forcing residents to flee. You are now looking at live pictures of the fire going on right now. This is happening in Kern County near Interstate 5, northwest of Los Angeles.

One hundred and twenty-five firefighters are working the blaze which has already burned more than 700 acres. It looks like a pretty nasty fire they're trying to put out right now, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Kate.

Well, results are coming in soon from some of today's most closely watched primary races. John King is tracking them all starting at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA."

And does the president's religion really matter? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.


MALVEAUX: Time now to check back in with Jack Cafferty.

Hey, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Suzanne, the question this hour is -- Does the president's religion really matter?

Pat writes: "To me, it doesn't matter what the president's religion is and I don't understand the brouhaha over this topic. I think it's a real shame that we have grown adults trying to diminish any religion and in particular the president who stated long ago that he's a Christian. So who is muddying the water and why?"

Koopa writes: "Our founding traditions would be better served if the president's religion was kept private and personal and not subjected to the purview of theological gadflies and media voyeurs."

Phyllis writes: "Yes, it does matter. This country was founded on Christian values."

Bob writes: "No, now it should not. If you're born a citizen of the United States, have not been convicted a felony, you can become president. Kennedy caught flack for being Catholic. It's hypocritical stance to take considering the election of an African- American man as president proved to the world that America can live up to its ideals of equality."

Jeff writes: "Nope. I don't care if he profess ace particular faith at all, although I would prefer he be a moderate Muslim rather than an extremist Christian. I am looking for solid consistent leadership across the board. Haven't always seen that with him, but I give him points for trying."

Sandy in California: "No. What matters is his lack of transparency. Everything is a guessing game with him. We're not sure of anything: his religion, his birthplace, his social ties, etc. As far as we know, he slept through the 20 years that he attended Reverend Wright's church in Chicago since he never recalls any of the incendiary speeches the reverend made about the U.S. "

And Dan in Virginia writes: "It's not surprising that one in five people believe this. I'm sure one in five Americans believe in Bigfoot, little green alien, ESP and the Loch Ness monster. What's really scary is that if he was a Muslim, four out of five people wouldn't vote for him for that reason alone. The president's religion shouldn't matter but to the average voter it seems to."

If you want to read more on this -- we got a lot of e-mail on this, Suzanne -- go to my blog,

Another two hours in paradise has once again come to an end, hasn't it?


MALVEAUX: Jack, we'll do it again tomorrow.


MALVEAUX: Remember, you can follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter, you can get my tweets at

And that is us -- that's the end for us. "JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.

KING: Thanks, Suzanne.