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President Obama Tackles Issue Number One; Vice President Biden Arrives in Iraq; Millions Feeling Economic Blow; Iraq Minus American Troops

Aired August 30, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Rick. Happening now, it's issue number one for American voters -- with growing fears of a double dip recession and rising unemployment, President Obama calls for a full scale attack on the suffering economy.

But is it too late?

Plus, Vice President Joe Biden touches down in Iraq on the eve of a major milestone for the White House. Just about 24 hours from now, the seven year U.S. combat mission in Iraq will officially come to an end. And it's a daunting task that could take months -- rescuers in Chile prepare to drill hundreds of feet into the Earth to save 33 miners trapped underground. We'll have the latest.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


In the face of a looming and potentially worrisome mid-term election season, President Obama is making a fresh attempt to convince American voters that his administration is, quote, "hard at work on their number one concern, the ailing economy. Despite those efforts, are there real fears that the country could be headed toward a double dip recession?

I asked one of the president's top economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee, about that very concern.


AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: I don't think we will have a double dip recession. But it's -- clearly, anybody should keep their eye on that. You saw at the Jackson Hole Fed conference in Wyoming that the Fed is -- is eying that. The central bankers from around the world are paying attention to it.

I think if we pass a small business recovery bill, if we do what the president is asking and extend the middle class tax cuts and if we go with this export initiative -- he's outlined various ideas to promote exports -- I don't think we will have a double dip recession. But it's clearly something we've got to be -- we've got to be mindful of and we've got to prevent.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, we'll have the full interview with Austan Goolsbee coming up later. But joining us now, our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

I've got to tell you, Dan when I hear outside economists, like Mark Zandi, for example, express fears, potentially, of a double dip recession it's one thing. But when one of the president's top economic advisers does that and he says, you know, he doesn't think it's going to happen, but he's concerned about it, they've got to do X, Y and Z to prevent it, that's totally different to hear that kind of gloomy assessment, if you will, from one of the president's top economic advisers.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's because it's the reality of the situation, Wolf. This administration very much, a few weeks -- a few months ago, though, thought that the economy was headed in the right direction. Now many saying that they believe it has really stalled. And so that's why you see the administration, like today, trying to show that the president is very much on top of the economy.

As you pointed out, it remains issue number one for voters, even ahead of terrorism. And that when voters head to the polls in the mid-term elections, this will be on their minds. So you saw this administration. They added, at the last minute today, the president's remarks in the Rose Garden, where the president was pointing the finger of fault at the former administration, the Bush administration, and then hitting Republican senators for not moving forward on that jobs bill, the president saying that they are holding it hostage and that they should, quote, "drop the blockade." That is a new phrase that we heard from the president today.

But the bottom line here, even as the president admitted today, there is no silver bullet and that his economic team will have to dig very deep into its tool kit to find answers.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to take a full scale effort -- a full scale attack that not only helps in the short-term, but builds a firmer foundation that makes our nation stronger for the long haul.


LOTHIAN: Well, much has been said as to whether or not there should be another stimulus bill. Frankly, politically, that might be very difficult to do. I asked Robert Gibbs today if another stimulus was out of the question.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And, again, I -- I think you'll hear, over the course of the next many days and weeks, the president outline what he and the team think are important in terms of targeted initiatives to help spur the recovery and create an environment where the private sector is not simply investing, but also, hiring, as well.


LOTHIAN: Now, Robert told me that along with the rest of America, the White House is also frustrated that the pace of the recovery. But today, the president said that he still has a lot of faith in the American economy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's not forget what a double dip recession might mean for millions and millions of Americans, as far as their jobs, their homes, their livelihoods are concerned.

All right, Dan.

Thanks very much.

More on this story coming up.

Now to a pivotal moment in America's involvement in the Middle East. Tomorrow, after seven grueling years at war, U.S. troops will formally end what are called combat missions in Iraq. Right now, the vice president, Joe Biden, is in Iraq, marking the milestone and meeting with political leaders. And President Obama is preparing to address the nation from the Oval Office tomorrow night.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is on the ground for us in Iraq.

He's got all the latest developments -- Chris, this is going to be a major milestone, but it's by no means a "mission accomplished" moment.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. I mean nothing underscores that point better, Wolf, than the fact that just in the last couple of hours, two mortars landed in the Green Zone. It gives you an idea that violence here really is ongoing and an everyday issue here.

Now, publicly, Iraqi officials, like the prime minister, say, look, we're confident. We're OK with this, it's going to work.

Privately, some senior Iraqi officials are extremely worried about this. They say the decision of the U.S. to drawdown its forces while Iraq still doesn't have a functional, unified government, is about as bad a decision as the one back in 2003 to disband the Iraqi Army after the invasion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I heard General Odierno say -- the outgoing U.S. military commander -- that if -- if they don't get a new government, the Iraqis, within the next month or so, he's deeply concerned there could be some serious setbacks for that entire country.

Are you seeing any signs at all, Chris, that five -- almost six months after the election -- they are any closer to forming a government?

LAWRENCE: Publicly, no. But we know Vice President Joe Biden has arrived here in -- in Iraq. He's -- he's sort of taken on Iraq as -- as his baby, so to speak. It's his project. This is about his sixth trip now to the area.

Now, I was here with him around this time last year and interviewed him here in Baghdad when he talked about some of the work that needed to be done. So, again, there is some talk that perhaps with high level officials like the vice president here, that he can start to nudge the Iraqis to forming some consensus. The thing is, as the United States military involvement here draws down, so, too, does their influence. So a lot of officials here will say, look, the U.S. isn't as concerned with Iraq as it was a couple of years ago, but by that same token, Iraq isn't listening to the Americans as much as they once did.

BLITZER: Chris, was there any advance announcement that the vice president would be coming to Baghdad or was this done hush-hush in secret, as is usually the case?

LAWRENCE: Well, I've got to tell you, I don't know. I actually was on an imbed down south and just got back to Baghdad like within the last couple of hours.

But I can tell you, normally that is the case, where even if reporters know that -- know the movements of, say, the vice president or the president, it's not allowed to be reported until they're actually on the ground here -- here in -- here in country.

BLITZER: Chris recently went on that imbed, as he said. And he went to the Iraqi/Iranian border. We're going to have that report later this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Chris, thanks very much.

I think it says a lot that the vice president and top U.S. officials still can't go to Iraq, seven years after the war, without -- without making sure that it is done in complete secrecy for fear of concern, which is understandable. But it says a lot about the situation in Iraq right now.

By the way, CNN will have live coverage of President Obama's Oval Office address tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be joined by Anderson Cooper, John King, Fareed Zakaria and other members of the best political team on television to break down the speech. We'll also have live reports from Iraq, Afghanistan.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is in Pakistan. He'll be joining us. Remember, that's tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, our special live coverage of the presidential address.

Hurricane Earl gaining strength right now. It's just been upgraded to a dangerous category four storm. We'll have the latest tracking data and tell you who's in its path.

And if that's not enough, here comes Fiona. Stormy seas throw a damper on plans to move toward killing the damaged BP oil well in the Gulf.

And the U.S. beefs up its relief commitment in flood-ravaged Pakistan. More U.S. choppers are on the way right now.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in case you think times aren't tough out there, a record one in six Americans is now getting aid from the federal government -- one in six. "USA Today" has a story on the stunning growth of programs like Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance and welfare.

Here are some numbers. Fifty million plus Americans on Medicaid. That's up 17 percent since the recession began. President Obama's new health care law will add another 16 million people to the health care system. Experts are saying that doctors are already indicating that they are at their limit.

More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of almost 50 -- 50 percent during the recession. The food stamp program has grown steadily over the last three years. Ten million people are collecting unemployment insurance. That's about four times as many people that got unemployment in 2007. Congress has extended unemployment benefits eight times, which now means that the unemployed can collect a check for up to 99 weeks -- almost two years. And there are almost four and a half million people collecting welfare -- an increase of 18 percent during the recession.

Critics worry it's going to be hard to cut back on all these programs once the economy recovers. Supporters say the government ought to be there to help people during bad economic times. But just remember this, it's the American taxpayer that foots the bill for all of these government programs. And as case loads continue to increase, the soaring costs will be packed onto our already skyrocketing deficits.

The cost of the food stamp program alone is up 80 percent and jobless benefits are costing us four times as much as they used to.

Here's the question -- what does it mean when one in six Americans takes federal government aid?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It means we've got an economic crisis of huge proportions in this country right now.

CAFFERTY: Yes. It's horrible.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Just horrible.

BLITZER: I want to get into some more analysis of this right now. Let's bring in our CNN senior political analysts, Gloria Borger and David Gergen -- David, are the Democrats, potentially, if the economy continues to deteriorate between now and November 2nd, facing an economic -- a political bloodbath?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, it -- it's very clear, Wolf, that Democratic prospects for the fall are deteriorating just as the economy is. In the last few -- couple of months alone, I think Democrats have lost ground. You know, just a couple months ago, we were talking about the outside possibility that Republicans could pick up 40 seats. Now there are some people out there are predicting -- some experts predicting it could be as many as 60 seats. That would be, I think, a shock to most of us at this point.

But there's no question that the -- it's been heading south for many Democrats.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, Mark Halperin, who all of us know from "Time Magazine," he said Republicans are in position -- are in a position to pick up as many as 60 seats. They need 39...


BLITZER: -- in order to have John Boehner become the speaker of the House of Representatives. And now Democrats have to decide where to allocate their money -- who lives, in effect, and who dies.

BORGER: Yes. You know, it's never -- it's never easy to make those decisions. And, you know, it -- it's funny, because the Republicans are now worried that they're not going to be able to fund those folks who are actually winning in districts, who are surprising people because they don't have enough money to fund those Republican challengers. You know, Charlie Cook, who's a respected guy who watches all of these House races, says that there are at least 32 Democratic incumbents who are trailing in the polls, with less than 50 percent against their challengers.

Now if you only need 39 seats to take over the House, that, you know, that bodes very, very badly for the Democrats. The unemployment numbers are not going to change before the election. What they have to do is convince people that things would have been worse if they hadn't taken over.

BLITZER: It's a tough argument to make, David. You know the unemployment numbers for August will come out on Friday and there's a lot of concern in the Obama administration right now that those numbers are going to be really bad.

GERGEN: Well, I think there is an expectation that unemployment is likely to go up rather than go down here in the next couple months. They've only got a couple more numbers before the elections as you know, Wolf.

But I think it's not just a question of sort of defending, it could have been worse. I have been surprised that they haven't -- the Democrats haven't come up with fresh ideas. It seemed to me President Obama's statement today on the eve of his Iraq speech was a missed opportunity to have some fresh thinking about OK, we're stuck on a lot of things. We're trying to do on Capitol Hill. Is there something else we can do?

Because over the weekend we are hearing from the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, there is not much more that monetary policy can do. We have to look to the fiscal side. Now President Obama is saying there isn't a lot we can do on the fiscal side. That doesn't leave a lot of hope for people.

BORGER: Right, and you know, I think, David, that might reflect really disagreements with within the Democratic Party. As you know there are lots of Democrats who were saying, you know, we should have done a larger stimulus package.

Maybe we ought to do more stimulus packages. There is a jobs bill pending. And there are some Democrats who say you know what? The American public is concerned about the deficit. We can't be doing that right now. So don't you think that reflects a certain division in the economic thinking?

GERGEN: I do think it does.

BLITZER: Go ahead, you answer that question, David becuase I have a question for you as well.

GERGEN: Well, I was just agreeing with Gloria, please go ahead.

BLITZER: If the president called you up today or tomorrow and said, David, you've worked for four presidents and I need your advice right now what is the single most important piece of advice you would give him in order to work between now and November 2nd to help Democrats?

GERGEN: Well first of all I'd tell him to call Wolf Blitzer. But beyond that, look, I think the president has to be out selling big ideas.

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: You know, out today coming with this small business -- it is an important bill, but it's not a big bill. It's not a big, big notion. I think he's got -- Bill Clinton has been trying to feed in some big ideas.

There are other people out there trying to feed him big ideas about an infrastructure, bank or something else. I think the president has to be about we're going to move forward with new things. You know, the elections are important, but help us get this done because we've got to create jobs.

BORGER: You know, it's interesting, Wolf. For being the great communicator that Barack Obama is, and that he was during the campaign, I think the surprising thing to lots of us who have been watching is that he hasn't really been able to communicate very well to the American people. That, yes, he has been looking out for them and these are the things that he's been doing to get them over this terrible time in the economy and that's, he's got to be out there selling that on behalf of Democratic candidates.

BLITZER: And he's going to be doing a lot of foreign policy the rest of this week. That's why in part he did the economic speech today. Guys, thanks very much.

Hundreds of police officers are in Mexico right now are fired. We'll tell you why, coming up.

And the government wants your input on new fuel economy labels it's proposing for all new cars. Find out how you can weigh in.


BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is monitoring some of the top stories in "The Situation Room" right now. What's going on, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf. Mexico's federal police commissioner says links to corruption or failure to perform work has led his agency to fire about 3,200 officers since an internal investigation began in May.

That's about 9 percent of the force, 465 of those fired are charged with crimes. Two groups of officers came to blows in Juarez three weeks ago after some were accused of corruption by fellow officers.

Police say a man accused of fatally shooting a Utah sheriff's deputy has been captured after a five-day man hunt. They say Scott Curley killed Kane County Deputy Brian Harris Wednesday while officers searched for him following an apparent assault. Curley surrendered to police today. Officials say it potentially could be a death penalty case.

Down in the Gulf, a key step in the process to kill BP's damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is on hold. The oil giant says high seas have forced it to put off removing the capping stack, detaching the blowout preventer, and replacing it with a new one. The procedure could pave the way for a permanent fix for the ruptured well, hopefully. The company says operations will resume when the sea finally settles.

And the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department are unveiling two redesign proposals for fuel economy labels to go on all new cars. You are seeing the two proposals right there.

One uses a letter grade to rate the vehicle's fuel economy and emissions levels. The other expands the standard miles per gallon label by adding new information. You can see each of the two departments' labels on their websites and they're asking for public comment for 60 days.

Apparently it's an A plus to D rating, Wolf. No fail, but car makers already coming out saying they're not too happy about it maybe some bad memories from school years.

BLITZER: A, B, C, D, I see that 26-mile-per-hour gallon up there, 22 in the city, 32 in the highway so it averages out to 26. All right, we'll see what our viewers think about that as well.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thank you.

BLITZER: The clock ticks toward the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq. American troops slated to draw down to zero by the end of next year. Who's waiting in the wings? GIs on the border fear Iran, the neighbor, is already widening its influence in Iraq. Chris Lawrence went to the border.

And President Obama is getting ready to address the nation tomorrow. Representative John Boehner will also have his say tomorrow. Is the minority leader right now positioning himself to become speaker of the House after the November elections?

Officials getting ready to drill a shaft to reach miners trapped in a Chilean mine while making sure they have everything they need for the long haul.


BLITZER: You're in "The Situation Room." Happening now Hurricane Earl grows more dangerous by the hour and has just been upgraded to a Category 4. Our meteorologist Chad Myers will tell us where it's headed and when it might impact the United States.

In a Tennessee town fire at a construction site of a mosque, was it arson? CNN's David Mattingly is standing by. He is investigating.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."

As CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence told us earlier, the U.S. combat mission in Iraq ends formally tomorrow night. All American troops are scheduled to be out of Iraq by the end of next year.

Chris was embedded with GIs living on the Iran/Iraq border. From their perspective as the U.S. presence spades in Iraq, Iran's foothold there seems to be getting stronger and stronger.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now the clock is really ticking on American troops in Iraq. Eighteen months to beef up Iraq's border patrol before all U.S. forces plan to leave. Then what?

(on camera): How big an influence does Iran have in what goes on here?

LT. COL. JOHN HOWERTON, U.S. ARMY: I think it's huge. Iran didn't sign a security agreement like we did. You know? Iran doesn't have a responsible drawdown of forces like we do. Iran doesn't have a timetable to be out when we do.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Out to the tarmac and then onboard the Blackhawk, we fly all the way out to Iraq's border with Iran. Together, a small group of Iraqi and American troops man the remote, rugged outpost at Umsa.

STAFF SGT. ADAM STEFFENS, U.S. ARMY: You have to pay attention to the fact that yes, we have a mildly aggressive nation right next door, a nation that has interests here.

LAWRENCE: So soldiers have to be extremely careful they don't cross the dividing line, which doesn't define much at all. For years people have lived on top of what is now an arbitrary line between Iraq and Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A difficult situation because you have villages, family ties and tribal ties in both countries.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Just a few years ago, parts of the border were wide open and completely unprotected. Iraqi militants backed by Iranian money controlled a lot of what came into the country.

Now there are numerous stations like this one where Iraqi officials keep an eye on their own border.

(voice-over): The Department of Border Enforcement is better but the border, itself, too big. It stretches for 1,500 kilometers nearly a thousand miles and U.S. commanders accuse Iran of using Iraqi truck drivers to smuggle weapons to militants. The thing is, everything is connected. Iran's influence may start at the border but it spreads deep into the provinces and cities like here in Nasiriyah. And that's where Iran is buying even more influence. Iran is getting water and electricity to Iraqi families whose own government can't keep the power on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as they continue to accept that they're not producing it themselves so it becomes an economic battle as well as a military battle.

LAWRENCE: Neither of which is one where American troops can engage their rival.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't fight Iran.

LAWRENCE: There are no Iranian troops here and obviously no war between the two countries. The U.S. military has no control over whether the Iraqi government provides basic services so they're concentrating on strengthening the border patrol and encouraging those border officials to build better relationships with the people that live here.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama won't be the only one publicly addressing this milestone in Iraq tomorrow. Republicans will have a voice as well. The house minority leader John Boehner is planning a major speech ahead of the president's. Joining us for more on that our senior Congressional correspondent Dana Bash. It's sort of a prebutal you could say. What are you hearing? What's Boehner going to say?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From talking to his aides, I think the way I would describe it as a give me a break speech, give me a break. He will suggest that the president is now talking about all the success in Iraq when a few years ago both he and other Democratic leaders opposed the surge of troops in Iraq, that they say got to this point. In fact, Leader Boehner released a web video with some sound bites from Democrats from that time including from then Senator Obama.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the violence there. I think it will do the reverse.

BASH: Obama saying it will do the reverse. Boehner's aides point out this speech was scheduled at the American legion before President Obama decided to go primetime tomorrow night on Iraq and they say other issues will be in the speech, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, other national security issues as well.

BLITZER: You know he gave a big speech on the economy only the other day. Now this speech on national security, on foreign policy. It looks at least to some he is getting ready to think about becoming speaker of the House of Representatives.

BASH: Look, it is what it seems. Boehner's advisers, I've talked to them and they say he is trying to raise his profile, lay the groundwork to be speaker. Let's be honest, the speech that John Boehner gave last week and from what we're told the speech he's going to give this coming week won't be really heavy in substantive details but they plan to bring out their agenda in the next few weeks. What Boehner is trying to do behind the scenes is lay the ground work and follow a well worn path, one that Newt Gingrich followed, one that Nancy Pelosi followed and that is get out there and raise money for prospective Republican members and their challengers.

Look at these numbers. I want to point out. This is from Boehner's office. More than 270 fund raising events for Republican candidates. This is during the 2010 cycle. Just this month alone 22 fundraisers. That's what he's doing. Why is he doing that? Obviously he wants Republicans to be elected but more importantly these people he needs them to be, to basically be indebted to him so he knows he is confident he can get the votes to become speaker if he does get to that point. I should note that other Republican leaders are out there raising a lot of money. Eric Cantor for example as well. But he doesn't have a pac named for him Boehner for speaker.

BLITZER: Is it automatic that the Republicans become the majority Boehner becomes the speaker? Would he face a challenge from some other Republican?

BASH: That's a great question. I mentioned Eric Cantor. For anybody who knows the relationship between their offices it is not a secret they don't always have the best relationship. But Eric Cantor has said publicly he will not challenge John Boehner. He feels very confident Boehner and his staff that if they are, do get the majority he will become speaker but it is a good question because look, the people who are rallying out there, people angry at Washington are angry at everybody in Washington, the establishment in both parties. So John Boehner has also been careful to try to appeal to the tea partiers, make clear that for example on spending he is somebody who opposed earmarks forever and that is something he says he'll continue if he is speaker.

BLITZER: Lots at stake for the Republicans and the Democrats. Indeed for the country between now and November 2nd. Thanks very much.

BASH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Pitching great Roger Clemens arraigned on charges he lied to Congress about using performance enhancing drugs. We'll have the latest. Plus federal agents investigate a fire at the future site of an Islamic center in Tennessee. Was it arson?


BLITZER: Let's get back to Kate. She is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again, Wolf. Pitcher Roger Clemens has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to Congress about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The seven-time Cy Young award winner was arraigned at federal court in Washington today. The charges stem from testimony in February of 2008 in which Clemens said he never used human growth hormone or steroids, something he still denies. The judge set a trial date for April 5th.

And it's still anybody's race in Alaska's Republican Senate primary. Election officials say more than 25,000 ballots remain uncounted. Unofficial results from Tuesday's primary show Senator Lisa Murkowski trailing attorney Joe Miller by just under 1700 votes. About 16,000 absentee ballots remain to be counted. Another 9,000 ballots have been deemed questioned. If Murkowski loses to Miller it would be the biggest upset so far this election season.

And a diplomatic official says the U.S. is planning to double its commitment of helicopters to help with the rescue and relief efforts in flooded out Pakistan. A spokesman for the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan says that 15 choppers are already there and 18 more are on the way. He says the goal is to get close to 30 helicopters in the region within the next couple weeks. Wolf?

BLITZER: Those people are desperate and need all the help they can get. We'll go to Pakistan in the next hour. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is on the scene and we'll get his report. Thanks very much, Kate. President Obama says that the U.S. economy is still in a very deep hole as his top economic adviser tells me what it will take to try to dig the country out by small business is the place to start. Stand by for that.

The Arizona Governor Jan Brewer butts heads with secretary of state Hillary Clinton over a report that put her state in the company, same company shall we say as Libya and Cuba and others.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us our two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. Ed, let me get your reaction to E.J. Dionne, the political columnist, writing in "The Washington Post." "It is too late to turn the mid term election into a triumph for the administration. But not too late to salvage his party's Congressional majorities. But doing so will require Obama to think anew about what politicking really means, to pick more than tactical fights with his adversaries, and to lay out without apology where he is trying to move the country." Do you agree with that analysis?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Totally. As I read it this morning I totally agreed with that. This president after this week, obviously three big incidents this week that don't relate to ordinary voters but at the end of the day he has to go out and get from one end of the country to the other and tell people their story. Equally important if he doesn't, and Democrats lose, they'll be furious at this president. There are places he can still be helpful and places he can help get out young voters and a lot of those voters. I shouldn't be arguing this point of view but he can play a far bigger role than he has. It's almost been like they have a hands off strategy.

BLITZER: Because the first year and a half, Donna, this president has been very visible. He's always out there, always talking to the American people. He's done dramatic things on health care reform, financial reform. But the American people don't seem to be liking what they're seeing.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I agree with Ed that I think this president can be very helpful to Democrats and as well as independents down the road especially when they want to know what have you done lately? What have you done with all of the money you've spent? What have you accomplished? The Democrats have a bad case of short-term thinking. They're thinking about the next piece of legislation, the next election. They're not thinking about how they are transforming this country to being a more perfect union. I think the president will be very helpful to Democrats.

BLITZER: If you're a candidate, a Democratic candidate in trouble right now, do you want the president to come into your district?

ROLLINS: Sure I want the president to come in. The president can energize Democrat voters and if they lose this majority it's going to be because their voters don't turn out. Republicans are already energized. We see that in the Beck rally this weekend and Palin what have you. You have to get those Democrats who voted for him to say we need to return you back to Washington or we won't be successful.

BLITZER: You know there are some Democrats who don't want him to come into their districts.

BRAZILE: You know Wolf the good news on the Democratic side is not only do we have President Obama but former President Clinton, we have cabinet members who are very popular, the first lady. You know what I tell my Democratic friends? Choose your best surrogate.

ROLLINS: It's never going to be about because I am standing beside you you get elected. You can help drive the message and dominate the media but each candidate has to make it or each incumbent make his own case why he can represent those people.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears to Arizona for a moment. Jan Brewer the governor of Arizona has written to the secretary of state Hillary Clinton. She is very upset that the state department in a formal report to the United Nations human rights commission was complaining about the Arizona immigration law, Brewer writing this in her letter to Clinton. "It is downright offensive that the U.S. state department included the state of Arizona and S.B. 1070 in a report to the United Nations council on human rights, whose members include such renowned human rights champions as Cuba and Libya." Does she have a point, Jan Brewer? Why is Hillary Clinton complaining about alleged human rights abuses in Arizona to this U.N. council?

BRAZILE: You know, Wolf, it took me about an hour to figure out where this was coming from. There is a report that was issued from the state department on, you know, human rights in general. It's a broad category, which includes education, health, housing, national security and of course human trafficking. This was an opportunity to go across the country, a universal, periodic review, and take a look at these broad issues. She is not condemning the Arizona law but mentioning this law is now tied up in court. I think Governor Brewer should chill out, read the report. She is not -- Secretary Clinton is not making a point of Arizona. They are looking at these universal human rights agreements we've signed on to as a country.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

ROLLINS: I think they have given the Republicans another political issue that we can go around the country and we can say the secretary of state, this administration is condemning a state for basically saying illegals who are coming into this country should identify themselves if arrested. I think it's a good issue for us. I'm sorry to disagree with you Donna on this one but I think the secretary of state is totally wrong. For the federal government to condemn a state for trying to enforce federal law is outrageous.

BRAZILE: Federal law in this case article 10 trumps state law and that is why this case is now before the judicial process. Again, look, Wolf, we politicize everything. Governor Brewer has every right to complain but the state department went to Arizona and talked to local people. This is in the report. BLITZER: But the point Ed is making, politically Republicans will use this.

BRAZILE: Of course.

BLITZER: To hammer away.

BRAZILE: Republicans want to win elections. They don't want to governor lead. They just want to win elections.

ROLLINS: I would argue having started my politics in state government not federal government I would argue states are a very important element and part of the process and this governor and that legislature had a right to basically do what they thought -- the bottom line for us it's like telling the U.N. we got a bad guy down here and I think there's lot of governors --

BRAZILE: I started in local government and I can tell you we don't trump federal law.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much Donna and Ed.

Jack Cafferty is asking, what does it mean when one in six Americans takes government aid right now? He's going to have your e-mail coming up.

Plus, Hurricane Earl. It's now upgraded to a fierce category 4 storm and it could be headed toward the eastern seaboard. Chad Myers is standing by with the latest.


BLITZER: Right back to Jack for "the Cafferty file." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour, Wolf, does it mean when 1 in 6 Americans takes government aid?

Jackie writes, "That there aren't enough good-paying jobs to feed and house Americans. What's the alternative? To have unemployed, underemployed people living in streets begging for food? Have you seen photos of the depression? Bring the good high-paying manufacturing jobs back in this country and maybe we can start living again and actually have a little hope."

Charlie in Washington writes, "Interesting choice of verb. Takes versus needs. The verb takes implies recipients are fleecing taxpayers while needs puts the blame on economic conditions beyond our control. Either way, these demands are unsustainable when talking about a recovery that could be five years in the future."

Bert in California, "How many stats on how many of the 1 in 6 are illegal aliens?"

Carol in Florida, "Times are tough for the working class people. But it can be fixed. Bring our jobs back home. Put our people to work. It's time for those corporations to man up and decide they need to be more concerned about their country then their outrageous profits. We have to make things here and put our people to work. If they won't bring the jobs back home where they belong, then start taxing the hell out of the products coming back into this country from overseas. Make them cheaper to be made here."

Gordon in New Jersey writes, "I would much rather see my tax dollars spent to help my fellow Americans who are in trouble than to see them spent on tax cuts for the rich and tax breaks for politically connected corporations, many of which caused this mess in the first place."

Dave writes, "It means the current stimulus programs aren't working. It means what many of us have known for years, simply giving people money usually doesn't work. Give real stimulus to the small businesses so they can expand and hire more workers who will in turn pump the money back into the economy."

And Tracy writes, "It means the government is failing."

If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog, Wolf?

BLITZER: Will do Jack thank you.

To hear the president of the United States tell it, the United States economy is in a deep hole right now. And his top economic adviser is also deeply concerned. He's concerned about a possible double-dip recession. He'll explain. That's coming up.

And a proposal of marriage from an unlikely place, a half mile beneath the earth's surface. A love story springs from Chile's mining disaster.


BLITZER: Drillers in Chile are about to begin the daunting task of rescuing 33 miners trapped underground and the operation could take months but amidst this tragedy, there's also stories of hope. Here's CNN's Karl Penhaul.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A procession and a prayer to Saint Lorenzo, patron saint of miners. Jessica Yanez watches and thinks about her man. Esteban Rojas is trapped with 32 others, far underground. Imagine how happy we were to find out they were live. We know the rescue will take a long time, but we won't lose hope, she says.

Amid the anxiety, a love story is blossoming anew. I think he thought about his family at that moment and he knew he had to survive and that gave him the strength to fight on, she says. Jessica and Esteban have been together for 25 years, have three children and two grandchildren, but they never got married in church. Now in this dingy cavern, the miners are calling it refuge 33, Esteban has had time to think. In a letter to Jessica, he proposed they have a full catholic wedding. Please keep praying that we get out of this alive, and when I do get out, we will buy you a dress and get married. Goodbye, Esteban Rojas. Jessica, of course, said yes. I read what he had to say and it made me shout with happiness, she said.

On Sunday, families had the first chance to speak one-on-one to their loved ones. It was mine's Minister Lawrence Goldbond himself who dropped the phone line into the ground. This is what the rescue workers are calling the umbilical cord. This is how they're keeping the miner, trapped 700 meter, or 2,200 feet underground, alive. A metal cylinder dubbed the carrier pigeon takes down food, water, clothes, letters and now a phone line. Each relative had only about 20 seconds to speak.

I was the last one to speak so I just grabbed the phone and didn't want to let go, she said. In those few brief seconds, Esteban and Jessica found time to make some marriage plans. I asked Esteban if I should buy the dress and be ready waiting when he got out or whether we should buy it together. He asked me to wait to buy it together, she says. It's impossible to set a date. Experts don't know for sure how long it will take to drill a hole wide enough to rescue the 33 men. One thing Jessica does know for sure is that more than three weeks into this ordeal, her feelings for Esteban are stronger than ever. He always said he planned to grow old with me and I plan to grow old with him. Our love is very deep, she says. It's a love that's half a mile deep, that stretches from the desert above to the very bowels of the earth.

Karl Penhaul, CNN, San Jose Mine, northern Chile.